Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Am Not Michelle Pfeiffer

The student must have been having a particularly boring day. I must have been having a particularly cynical day. When she asked me why I didn't teach like the teacher in the movie "Dangerous Minds," I couldn't resist a smart aleck comeback. Now, I hadn't seen the movie and I assumed it was one of those Hollywood creations about the awe-inspiring teacher who saves the world and looks like Michelle Pfeiffer. My smart aleck comeback was:
Send in the hairstylist, the makeup artist, and the wardrobe expert so I can
look the part. Have someone write my script for the eight hours I stand in
front of students every day. Have someone from the commissary bring me my
meals so I don't have to cook. Have someone else do everything for me, so
all I have to do is stand up here and talk. Then pay me a million dollars
for what I've done, and I'll teach like any Hollywood starlet on the silver

I was tired of students thinking all teachers should teach like in the movies. School is not like Hollywood. Teachers are not usually actors or actresses. And their pay falls far short of those million dollar Hollywood salaries. The real teacher, LouAnne Johnson, probably made between 30 thousand and 50 thousand a year when she taught. Michelle Pfeiffer probably made millions for her performance. Somehow, it just doesn't seem fair.

I have since seen the movie and read a little about the teacher whose life the movie was based. I applaud her teaching style. She has done fantastic work, but even she is not Michelle Pfeiffer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

10 Stress Busters for Teachers

I found that the worst part of teaching is the stress. While the actual teaching is fun and the kids are usually great, almost everything else about the job is pure stress. It's not a job, it's a career. It's not what you do, it's who you are. You are a teacher...24/7/365. It never goes away...not even when you retire. If you're not careful, it becomes all you do. You teach, and when you're not teaching, you're still working for the job. There are discipline problems to deal with, parents, administration, school board, school law, new legislation, low pay, keeping up on your own coursework to renew your certificate, working on a higher degree, checking papers, making lesson plans, counseling, motivating, meeting state standards, implementing new strategies and innovations and initiatives, documenting, being a nurse until the child can get to the real nurse, keeping up on latest research and technologies, parent-teacher conferences, grades, email, school events and activities, patrolling hallways and bathrooms, filing, and a million other things.

So how does a teacher do it all without going insane? Every teacher has to have some stress relief. My favorite was a Garfield poster on my wall. Every once in a while during the day, I would look it over. It said, "I've had it with reality. I want a fairy godmother." Just that little break with a bit of humor was often enough to send me on through the rest of the day.

Below are 10 more methods teachers can use to deal with stress.

1. Concentrate on your breath. Breath in through your nose for a count of four, then breath out through your mouth for a count of eight. Do this several times. It works like a mini meditation.

2. Take a quick walk around the halls between classes. It gets you out of your room and gives you some exercise.

3. Drink some water.

4. Daydream for a few seconds. Imagine that you're sitting on a sandy beach with the sun shining down watching the waves roll in.

5. Pop some bubble wrap.

6. Keep some fresh flowers on your desk. Enjoy them frequently during the day.

7. Hum a song.

8. Squeeze a stress ball.

9. Go to and click on your choice of rooms.

10. Keep some lavender scent on hand for its calming effect.

Always remember how important you are. This video from YouTube may help (

Monday, September 28, 2009

Smackdown: Barbara Walters vs Paula Deen

Yesterday I watched this video.

Wow! Did Barbara Walters say Paula Deen makes kids fat? Yes, she did, sort of ... all while she was eating Paula Deen's creations.

Barbara is right in that obesity in children is a horrible problem. WebMD says that one out of every five children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. That number is growing and may very well lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, skin conditions, diabetes, stress, self-esteem issues, and perhaps depression.

Paula Deen was on The View to promote her new children's cookbook "Paula Deen's Cookbook for the Lunch-Box Set." The recipes are simple and fun and designed for special activities such as bake sales, sleepovers, and pool parties. As Paula said, "Moderation...we don't eat this way everyday of our life."

So Barbara and Paula are both right. Paula's recipes can be fattening if eaten all the time. But Paula is also right in that these kinds of foods should be eaten in moderation. Both Barbara and Paula failed to mention what an important part physical activity plays in all this. No food need be off limits if children are getting plenty of exercise.

I was also thinking that a cookbook for children is a great idea. It's fantastic quality time that parents can spend with their children. And children can learn the skill of cooking while also improving their reading, math, measuring, and science skills.

After watching this, I began wondering what our local schools were serving for lunch this week. I was pleasantly surprised. Items on the elementary and middle school menu include hot ham & cheese on a whole wheat bun, broccoli and cheese, oranges, cheese dippers with salsa, garden salads, mixed veggies, pears, and Sun Chips. The high school menu didn't seem quite as healthy to me. It had the broccoli, salads, fruits, and green beans, but also had cheese burgers, pizza, oven fries, chicken drummies, chili crispitos, and school made cookies. But I did notice last time I was there that vending machine choices included milk, juice, water, sandwiches, cereal bars, and crackers. So there are good foods, if children make the healthy choices. This is something parents and teachers must stress to children...healthy choices.

It appears schools are moving in the right direction. What about parents? Two other videos I found show how parents can also move in a healthy direction. These are not recipes for children to make, but are ones that parents can use to get more fruits and vegetables into their children's diet.

The first is Jessica Seinfeld, author of "Deceptively Delicious." The second is Missy Chase Lapine, author of "The Sneaky Chef."

Enjoy! And Be Healthy!


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seven Rules for School Lockers

When the subject of school lockers first popped into my head, I thought, "I don't even want to think about school lockers, let alone write about them. I've seen what they have inside them." Then I thought, "Oh, go ahead, it's probably information students, parents, and maybe some teachers need to know, no matter how gross it may be or unfair it may seem." So, here it is.

1. Don't share your locker with anyone. If the locker is assigned to you, you are responsible for what's in it. While we'd like to think our friends wouldn't put anything in there that shouldn't be in there, unfortunately, that's not always the case.

2. Don't tell anyone your combination. Also, be careful when using your combination because someone could be looking over your shoulder. Once they can get into your locker, nothing is safe.

3. Don't keep things in your locker that shouldn't be there. You are responsible for those items. Inappropriate or illegal items have no place at school, or anywhere for that matter. It is the owner of the locker who will suffer the consequences for possession of those items.

4. Don't put your books or other items in someone else's locker. Often times students will put their books in a friend's locker overnight because it's closer. The problems come the next day if that student is absent from school and you have no access to your things.

5. Don't leave open food wrappers or pop cans in your locker. These draw bugs. I've been at school at night and have seen cockroaches, spiders, ants, and even mice. I'm sure they make the rounds of student lockers looking for food and drink. If you carry your lunch to school, make sure it's wrapped properly, eat it that day, and take home or throw away any leftovers before you leave school that day.

6. Since school has been in session for a few weeks now, it's probably time to clean out your lockers. First, look through your papers. Some should be filed, some should be recycled, and there may even be some that should be turned in to teachers for a grade. Second, look for library books that need to be returned. And third, if you haven't already, it's probably time to take those gym clothes home for a good washing.

7. Remember that the school locker is the property of the school. School officials have the right to check lockers at anytime as long as they have provided their locker policies to students at the beginning of the school year. As it turns out, they can also check the contents of anything you leave in your locker. That includes your coat pockets, gym bag, purse, and backpack. As long as there is "reasonable suspicion," these searches are legal and have been upheld over and over in the courts. Students should expect no privacy when it comes to their lockers since school officials own and control those lockers. Even searches with dogs have been deemed legal. Random locker searches have also been done if there is a suspicion of drugs or weapons. Keep in mind, these searches are done to keep students and staff safe.

So, there it is. Now stay healthy, stay safe, stay happy, and keep your lockers clean.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Case for Challenging High School Math Classes

In the academic world of mathematics, Algebra 1 is usually considered a 9th grade course. Geometry is usually taken in 10th grade, Algebra 2 is generally for juniors, and PreCalculus (or Trigonometry or Advanced Math or Discrete Math or Statistics or Calculus) is considered a course for high school seniors.

Most state standards now recommend at least three years of high school math. Those three years are, at a minimum, Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2. Courses with titles like General Math, Business Math, PreAlgebra, Consumer Math, Career Math, or Applied Math are probably low-level math courses and do not fulfill the state standard.

If a student takes those low-level math classes, they will not be prepared for college. Many students find themselves in college having to take remedial math courses. They do not get college credit for them, but still have to pay college prices for them. Once they get through the remedial courses, they are then ready for College Algebra. How much better it would be for them to take the challenging classes in high school in order to be ready for College Algebra as soon as they enter college.

Students should keep in mind that if they graduate from high school having only taken Algebra 1 as their highest level math course, they really only have the equivalent of a 9th grade education in mathematics. Those taking only PreAlgebra are graduating at the 7th or 8th grade level.

Every student planning to go to college should also take a challenging math course during their senior year. I had some students who were able to take PreCalculus their junior year. Then they chose not to take any math their senior year. Once in college, they made it through College Algebra, but they struggled. Having been away from it for even one year made it difficult for them. Students with fewer mathematical skills, who opt out of math their senior year, will have even more difficulties in college.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Toxic Water

I was putting Windows updates on the computer this morning when a news item scrolled across the screen..."School Drinking Water Contains Toxins." "Well," I thought, "how 'bout that. I was wondering what I was going to write about today."

The article says that thousands of schools have water supplies that contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides, and dozens of other toxins including copper, arsenic, and disinfectants. These have been found in all 50 states, in public and private schools, and in small towns and inner cities.

While the problem seems to be worse in schools that have their own wells, it also exists in schools that get water from local utilities because of the school's own plumbing. Lead from lead-soldered pipes can flake off and in this case, the level of toxins can vary from drinking fountain to drinking fountain.

When I was teaching, I remember having to run the water for about five minutes early in the morning before it would run clear. It looked like coffee before we had even made coffee. On Monday morning, it took until about 10 am before clear water resulted from a flush of the toilet. The water from the drinking fountains always looked pure, but who really knew for sure.

I would recommend that parents request water samples to be tested in their children's schools. Many schools do not have money in their budgets for fixing such problems, so it may be up to the parents to make sure their children have fresh, pure, bottled water that can be carried to school.

Article "AP IMPACT: Drinking Water at Thousands of Schools Contains Unsafe Lead, Other Toxins" by Garance Burke, Associated Press from

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tell Someone, Anyone, Everyone

When I was in kindergarten, I remember my teacher telling me, "Don't be a tattletale." I don't remember what I had told her (or how many times I had tattled), but I do remember her response. Of course, that was over 50 years ago. My, how times have changed.

Today, students should never have to worry about tattling or "ratting" on someone. In fact, they should be encouraged to do so...whatever it is. If students see bullying or are bullied, if they see someone doing something illegal, if they see someone cheating, if they or someone they know is a victim of abuse or some other crime, they must tell someone. Tell a teacher, a parent, a minister, a policeman, or someone else in authority. And don't take "no" for an answer. If the teacher doesn't do anything, tell another teacher. If that doesn't help, tell your parents. Just make sure you're telling someone who can do something about the problem. If your teachers can't help, tell your parents. If they can't help, tell your minister or a police officer.

Students may feel helpless in these situations. Those that feel helpless might feel that the only way to handle the situation is with violence. But violence often ends up being a permanent solution for what may be a temporary problem. The solution is to tell someone. Be a tattletale. Be a tattletale until the problem is solved.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Which Intelligence Are You?

When we think of really intelligent people, for some reason we always think of mathematicians or physicists. If you ask people to give an example of someone they think is really intelligent, many would answer "Einstein." But I'm guessing Einstein couldn't write a novel like "Les Miserables" or dance like Rudolph Nureyev or swim like Michael Phelps or paint like Van Gogh or sing like Pavarotti or design a house like Frank Lloyd Wright or act like Tom Hanks. People are all different and all talented, but not talented in the same areas. That's what makes the world a diverse and interesting place.

Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, saw these differences and developed his theory of multiple intelligences in 1983. Because everyone is different, with different interests, strengths, and learning styles, he proposed a system of measuring intelligence using eight different intelligences rather that just the one traditional IQ score. What he called intelligences are what many previously had called abilities.

These eight intelligences are:









Because of these different learning styles, Gardner felt that it provided teachers with eight different pathways for learning. He felt teachers should present material to students using as many of these learning styles as possible in order to reach as many students as possible.

Let's say, as a teacher, you're presenting a unit on the solar system, you could first present a physical model of the solar system or have the students draw one to scale (visual-spatial). Next have students pretend they're the planets while orbiting another student who represents the Sun, sort of like the Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sandwich commercial (body-kinesthetic). Third, have students listen to "The Planets" by Holst or compose their own songs (musical). Use social media like Twitter to send notes about the solar system (interpersonal) or have students write a personal blog or diary (intrapersonal). Read about or write poetry about the solar system (verbal-linguistic), study mathematical and scientific formulas related to the solar system (logical-mathematical), and finally, get out a telescope and try to find the visible planets on a clear night (naturalistic). By doing these things, a teacher should be able to reach the learning styles of all their students.

Parents can do the same things for their children. If a teacher hasn't tapped into your child's particular learning style, perhaps you can. Often, teachers simply do not have the time to present every topic in eight different ways. They might hit two or three, and this is where parents can really help. Find ways to supplement your child's learning at home. In the case above, perhaps the teacher does not have access to a telescope, but there might be an observatory or planetarium nearby where the parent could take the child some evening. And with advances in multimedia, it will become easier for parents and teachers to cover all the learning styles of children.

Jimmy Dean commercial:
More information:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Penmanship ~ A Lost Art?

I remember when I was a kid, my grandmother had a family Bible that she kept in a drawer. I was always pulling it out and leafing through the pages, because in it, there was a small family tree written in the most beautiful handwriting I had ever seen. Grandma said that her grandfather had done the writing, that he was an expert in and teacher of penmanship. I don't know what happened to that Bible, but I do remember the beautiful artwork that graced those pages.

When I was in first and second grade, my teachers taught me how to print. When I got to third grade, the teacher asked my class to write a paper in cursive. None of us knew how. She became agitated, saying "You were supposed to learn that in second grade. I don't have time to teach that to you. See those letters above the chalkboard. Write them just like that and connect them." That's how I learned cursive writing.

Two years later they closed the school I attended and I had to go to another. None of us from the closed school had ever learned to write properly and this new school had penmanship tests. They even sent samples of our writing in for evaluation. I worked and worked to try to do it right and finally, by the end of the school year, I had earned a certificate in penmanship. I was so proud, but it wasn't anything close to the artful handwriting I had seen in grandma's Bible. So I practiced and practiced. As it turned out, I never could write like that.

When I started teaching high school students, I was amazed that so many of them still printed. They had learned cursive, but printing was easier for them (and I might add, more legible). I thought it was important that they actually have a signature that looked like it had been written by an adult, so I always made them sign their papers. After many years, I gave up on this. I was happy if they just remembered to put their names on their papers at all.

Now, I'm reading articles that say cursive is no longer being taught. Students learn to print so that they know their letters and can communicate in the form of notes. But because everything they do is in the form of word processing, emails, or text messaging, the need for penmanship no longer exists.

Usually I have strong opinions about topics like this. I hate to see students no longer learning cursive writing and penmanship. Yet, on the other hand, why spend valuable time that could be better spent learning skills they actually need?

I don't know? How do you feel about this?

Some information at: and

Monday, September 21, 2009


I spent time yesterday with my family celebrating my mother's 78th birthday. My nephew's son was there. He is three years old and, I might add, the cutest child ever. He was so involved, so excited, so curious, and so wanting to eat cake, that we all spent a good deal of our time watching him and enjoying his antics.

He watched Spongebob. He climbed on chairs. He stuck his fingers in the cake. He wanted to look at the gifts and cards. He drew pictures. He was interested in everything...sometimes all at once. He made us laugh ... alot!

When I got home, I started to think about some of the students I had taught. By the time they were in high school, it seemed as if all the joy had left their lives. They were no longer involved, no longer excited about anything, no longer curious. I always wondered what had happened in their lives to make then so uninterested, unappreciative, unmotivated, and cynical at such an early age. Was it some teacher, parent, classmate, or event that sucked the joy from their lives? I never knew for sure.

I do know that every child starts out with a wonderful curiosity that leads to experiences and learning. But somewhere along the line, this curiosity can disappear. I had students who absolutely felt no sense of wonder for anything. Trying to teach a child like this is practically impossible. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get the student interested. I couldn't seem to make them curious. I couldn't make them care.

I found a wonderful quote by Dr. Bruce Perry. "Curiosity dimmed is a future denied." It made me think of all the students whose future's were denied because I (and others) could not inspire or motivate them.

Also, in the article by Dr. Bruce Perry, he states that adults squelch a child's curiosity through fear, disapproval, and absence. He also states that "the less-curious child will make fewer new friends, join fewer social groups, read fewer books, and take fewer hikes."

At some point in time, these uninterested, unmotivated students have had their curiosity crushed. We need to take special care not to let this happen. All children should be encouraged to explore ideas, objects, and activities mentally and physically. They should also be guided so that their exploration is appropriate and safe.

I hope that my nephew's son always keeps his curiosity and enthusiasm. It will be the adults in his life who determine that.

Additional information: "Curiosity: The Fuel of Development" by Dr. Bruce Perry,

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Day For Family

I usually write about school or education or study. But I have found that not everyday has to be devoted to these topics, even though they are they things I know and love the best.

Today I relaxed. Today I was with my family to celebrate my mother's 78th birthday. We had barbecued pork sandwiches, macaroni salad, baked beans, chips with cheese salsa, chocolate cake, and vanilla ice cream. Tomorrow, back to the diet!

Every once in a while a person has to take a break. They have to relax. They have to be with family. They have to enjoy life and be grateful for it. That was today for me.

Tomorrow I will face the school, education, and study anew. I will be refreshed and ready to take on new topics. All students, teachers, and parents need to do this every once in a while.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

School Activities

All students should get involved in extracurricular activities. Most schools view these as an extension of the classroom and many scholarships are given based on students' participation in these activities. Because of this, schools often provide a variety of clubs, organizations, and sports. These activities enhance school relationships and help students develop leadership skills, make friends, and have fun.

Consider some of the following: band, orchestra, choir, cheer leading, class cabinets, dance team, DECA, forensics, Key Club, honor societies, publications, Renaissance, SADD, Student Council, Varsity Club, foreign language clubs, art clubs, science club, math club, chess club, and others.

If you're interested in sports, most schools have football, basketball, and track. But there are many others including tennis, swimming, soccer, cross country, baseball, archery, volleyball, ice hockey, diving, golf, wrestling, gymnastics, and lacrosse.

If your school doesn't have an activity that interests you, you may be able to start one. Or check around with surrounding communities. There might be a chance you'd be able to participate there.

One word of caution is needed, however. Don't overdo. Remember that your school work is your first priority. Only participate in those activities for which you have time and that don't interfere with your education. After all, that's what school is really for.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Conferences - Part Four

Communicate! Let the teacher know anything about your child that might affect his or her learning. For example, are there any disabilities such as ADHD or epilepsy? Is the child taking any medication that might affect his learning? You might think the teacher already knows about these things, but that may not be true. Let the teacher know what motivates your child, what does he or she like or hate about school, what has worked in the past with other teachers, and what do you do at home that works.

Ask about your child's grades, but remember there is nothing wrong with getting a B or a C. Almost every straight A student will eventually get a B or C in something. It happens. You may not like it, but for the most part, I think the child will be a little better for it. It is a humbling experience and one, in my opinion, that many straight A students need.

Remember to ask about other areas of your child's school experience...things like being a good citizen, being respectful, being responsible, having good character, working well with others, and caring about them. Often times, later in life, these are the things that will be far more important than the C they got in Algebra.

And finally, ask the teacher what they would like you to do to help your child be successful. They can offer tips on studying, homework, and time management. They may be able to provide you with study guides, course outlines, a syllabus, and directions to websites that will make the school year a little easier and more enjoyable for you and your child.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Conferences - Part Three

Parents should try to not be distracted during a parent-teacher conference. You want to concentrate on what the teacher is saying so that the two of you can work together for the benefit of your child.

My suggestions are:
1. Turn off your cell phone.
2. Leave other children at home, if possible.
3. Bring paper and pen to take notes. It will help you focus.
4. Ask questions.
5. Keep the conversation centered on your child.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Conferences - Part Two

When I first started teaching, my day consisted of seven low-ability math classes. It was a challenge, but I was happy to have a teaching job. At that time, teachers who had been there the longest were given the "better" classes. But I actually found the General Math classes to be a lot of fun ... a lot of work, but fun, nonetheless.

I remember the first night we had conferences. It was really more like an open house, but conferences were a part of it. I stood in the hall, waiting to welcome parents to my room. I waited. I waited. I waited. I stood there two hours and not one parent showed. I remember the principal walking by and asking me how it was going while he looked around my room. I told him I getting pretty lonely. He said, "It's your clientele."

I laughed it off at the time, but over the years noticed there was a definite relationship between the ability of the students in the class and the number of parents who came to conferences. When I was finally given upper level classes, I was amazed that almost every parent came to discuss their child's progress. The other teachers used to say that it was always the parents you least needed to see who made it to every conference.

So I would say to all parents ... go to conferences. If you don't go, the child may get the message that school isn't that important. Worse, the child may think they aren't that important. It may also give the teacher the impression that your child's education is not a priority for you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Conferences - Part One

I am so tired of people thinking they can say anything they want, no matter how mean, how intolerant, or how rude. Then all they have to do is apologize and everything is supposed to be okay.

Well, it isn't okay.

This past week there have been three instances of this type of behavior...Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and Kanye West. I couldn't believe any of the three did what they did, and yet it is not new. In my opinion, civility has been dying for a long time.

As a teacher, I noticed the death of civility starting quite a few years ago. You would think I would have first noticed it in the classroom, but it was actually more apparent during parent-teacher conferences. Now, most parents were well-behaved and wanted to work with me to make sure their child was getting the best education he or she could. If there were behavior problems, they wanted to work for a solution. If there was an academic problem, they wanted to provide help and support.

Unfortunately, there were always a few who were not supportive. I always assumed they wanted the best for their child, but just didn't know how to be civil. Often times, the child's behavior problems were reflections of the parents' behavior. If there were academic problems, these parents were accusatory, blaming everyone else, but never working towards a solution. Their explanation was that the teacher didn't explain things, the teacher wouldn't help their child, the teacher wasn't available, last year's teacher didn't like their child, their child was afraid of the teacher, or a variety of other excuses. And their accusations were often rude and mean-spirited and sometimes threatening.

No matter how many wonderful, supportive parent conferences I had, the rude conferences were the ones that I would dwell on. They truly bothered me for days and days.

So my suggestion to parents who go to conferences this fall, be civil. You may not like the teacher, but that is no reason to be rude. There are tactful ways to deal with any situation. Remember that you are there for your child. If the child is having success, great. If not, ask the teacher for specific ways you can help. Perhaps additional study time is needed at home or extra help is needed before or after school or maybe a tutor is required. Always try to work toward solutions with the teacher. And try to do it in a civil manner.

Monday, September 14, 2009


The sixth and last pillar of the Character Counts program is Citizenship. This means:

• Do your share to make your school and community better
• Cooperate
• Get involved in community affairs
• Stay informed; vote
• Be a good neighbor
• Obey laws and rules
• Respect authority
• Protect the environment

Citizenship is such a large part of a person's character, that there is often a place on scholarship forms to list community participation and school activities.

As I look back over the last week of blog topics from the Character Counts program, I realize how important these qualities are. We are judged by our character and we judge others by theirs.

A case in point is my neighbor. He's a middle-aged man who is obsessed with his yard. He waters, then mows, then waters, then mows. He uses herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and probably some other "cides" I don't know about. His yard is beautiful. His character isn't.

I have a beautiful pine tree that sets back about ten feet from the lot line. The lower branches extended into his yard. About two years ago, he cut those branches off. Worse, he cut them off at the trunk of the tree on my property. He recently started cutting branches off another tree, again at the trunk. Of course, I had to confront him about this. Now I feel that I have to check my trees regularly because I can't trust him to leave them alone. This speaks to the "trustworthiness" of his character.

The second quality of character is respect, the "do unto others" part. I can imagine that he would be quite angry if I started cutting branches off his trees. He becomes very angry over many things. When we placed mulched leaves under the pine tree to cut down on weeds and fertilize the tree, he was livid. He demanded to know why we were doing that, that the leaves were going to blow into his yard. Since there is no sidewalk, people walk through his yard and he yells at them. He has even chased teenagers down the street swearing at them because they have walked through his yard. This speaks to the "respect" part of his character.

Responsibility is the third quality. This means using self-control and considering consequences before you act. Fairness means being open-minded, not taking advantage of others, and not blaming others carelessly. Caring is about being kind, compassionate, and feeling gratitude. And then there is citizenship...being a good neighbor and protecting the environment.

So, have I judged this man based on his character? Yes, I have. Is it right that I should do this? Maybe not, but I think we all do this. That is why it is so important to teach the values of good character to children when they're young. These qualities will follow the child throughout his or her life and they will be judged on those qualities.

Character will determine the kinds of friends a person has, the kind of job a person gets, the kinds of activities and interests a person will have, and the kind of neighbor that child will grow up to be.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


The fifth pillar of the Character Counts program is Caring. This means:

• Be kind
• Be compassionate and show you care
• Express gratitude
• Forgive others
• Help people in need
Of course the first story that comes to mind when I think about caring is The Good Samaritan from the Bible. Two names that invoke images of caring for me are Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa.

But there are so many more. The troops who protect our country are caring. The environmentalists protecting our wildlife, oceans, air, and natural resources are caring. Nurses and doctors care. Nursing home workers care. Teachers care. All who are working to make the world a better place care.

Just planting a flower so that the world is a little prettier, shows a person who cares.

Caring gives a person character. Be a person who cares about the important things.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


The fourth pillar of the Character Counts program is Fairness. This means
• Play by the rules
• Take turns and share
• Be open-minded; listen to others
• Don’t take advantage of others
• Don’t blame others carelessly

We all seem to notice when someone else is not being fair. It's a little harder to see it when it's us. Think about your actions and make sure you're playing fair, also.

Friday, September 11, 2009


A third pillar of the Character Counts program is Responsibility. According to the program, this means:
• Do what you are supposed to do
• Persevere: keep on trying!
• Always do your best
• Use self-control
• Be self-disciplined
• Think before you act — consider the consequences
• Be accountable for your choices

Thursday, September 10, 2009


There are six pillars of the Character Counts program. I've already talked about Respect. A second pillar is Trustworthiness. The principles of Trustworthiness are:
• Be honest
• Don’t deceive, cheat or steal
• Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do
• Have the courage to do the right thing
• Build a good reputation
• Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country

I think if everyone aspired to these values, what a better world this would be. The best example I can think of took place at a restaurant. A friend of mine received his bill and had been overcharged. He was livid, called the waitress over, didn't quite make a scene, but made sure she corrected the ticket. She was pleasant and made the correction without complaint.

A couple of years later, we were at another restaurant. This time the mistake was on my bill. The waitress had forgotten to write down the iced tea I had. When I attempted to let the waitress know, my friend was once again livid, but this time with me. He said the mistake was her fault and that I shouldn't say anything; I should just let it go. Well, that's not me. I called the error to her attention. She was surprised and thanked me over and over, because, as she said, those mistakes came out of her wages. I did the right thing, the honest thing. And I felt good about it. I also learned a lot about my "friend" and his character.

Information from:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Aretha Franklin wanted it. Rodney Dangerfield never got any of it. What is it? Respect.

Rodney used to say:
"I don't get no respect. I told my landlord I want to live in a more expensive apartment. He raised the rent!"
"I tell you, I got no respect, even as a kid: we'd play hide-and-seek, and nobody would look for me."
"I get no respect at all. My dog keeps barking at the front door. He doesn't want to go out. He wants me to leave."
While the jokes are funny, showing disrespect isn't. As I watched the news during the past month, "respect" kept popping into my head. It led me to think of the way some students acted when I was teaching.

Some had no respect for themselves. They used drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. They were promiscuous. They cheated in their school work. They broke the law.

Some had no respect for others. They bullied and harassed classmates. They physically hurt others. They were mentally and physically abusive to their boyfriends or girlfriends or parents. They would talk behind their friends' backs.

Some had no respect for property. They would write in their textbooks or damage them. They would purposely destroy drinking fountains or faucets or toilets. They would use permanent markers on walls or paint graffiti on buildings. They would kick walls or doors or desks.

Some had no respect for authority. They would talk back. They would do eye-rolls or laugh when corrected. They were openly defiant.

If this lack of respect had just been attributed to the "problem" children, I guess I might have understood. Unfortunately, it was often the better students; the ones you thought were "nice," who secretly did the bullying, the cheating, the drinking and drugs, the damage to property, and the talking behind one's back. They were pleasant to their friends and teachers to their faces, but would later ridicule or complain about those friends and teachers to their parents or other friends.

I often wondered how this lack of respect developed. What made them like this? Then I thought about what has happened throughout American history. When the country was first settled, there was no respect for Native Americans. As the country grew, there was no respect for the slaves. As industry flourished, there was no respect for laborers who eventually had to form unions. There has been no respect for the environment and that has led to global warming. There has been no respect for the land and that has led to dumping of sewage and toxic chemicals. There has been no respect for animals that have been hunted to near extinction. The prisons are full of people who have had no respect for other people's property or lives. They are full of people who've shown no respect for themselves by using illegal substances. They are full of people who have cheated, scammed, or otherwise taken advantage. I'm beginning to think that such lack of respect is inherent and pervasive.

As I watched the town hall meetings this last month, I saw a lack of respect I could not have imagined. When parents and grandparents show such behavior, what can we expect from the children? I could not believe they would shout others down. Freedom of speech isn't just for your point of view; it means the other person with the other point of view has a freedom of speech, too. We may not like their point of view, and we may try to persuade them to see our side of things, but we must at least let them speak, just as we would expect them to let us speak.
"Respect means listening until everyone has been heard and understood, only then
is there a possibility of "Balance and Harmony..."
Dave Chief, Grandfather of Red Dog (Oglala Sioux)

The dictionary defines "respect" as a "sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability." It also means "deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment." (

"Respect" is also one of the six pillars of Character Counts (a widely used program to build character in students The principles of "respect" according to Character Counts are:

* Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule
* Be tolerant of differences
* Use good manners, not bad language
* Be considerate of the feelings of others
* Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone
* Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements

I think we all need to study the definition of "respect," learn the principles from Character Counts, and start practicing them in our every day lives.

Rodney Dangerfield jokes from:,

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The President's Speech

I just read the transcript of President Obama's remarks for his Back To School Event. What an excellent speech! These are the same ideas that I and thousands of other teachers have been telling our students for years and years.

My hope is that parents will be listening to the speech along with their children. When I was teaching, so many students dropped out and in almost all cases, parents let them. Some parents were so uninvolved in their children's lives, they didn't even know their child wasn't attending. Some were ill and needed their children home to run the household. Others were out of work or unable to work and needed their children to have jobs to support the family. Some needed high school students at home to babysit for younger children. I remember one parent who actually pulled his daughter out of school in the 9th grade because he was going to have her work at his taxi cab business and decided she didn't need an education. I remember her being an exceptionally bright child and hope that when she got older, she pursued her education and her own dreams. These parents needed to understand that their children's first priority should be an education and that they, the parents, should be supporting that.

And that is what the President's speech is about: That regardless of what is going on in your life, you must be the best student you can be. Take responsibility for your own education, go to school, do your homework, learn what you need to learn even if it's hard. How can anyone argue with those values?

For a transcript of the speech:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

I spent Labor Day relaxing and enjoying time with family. We had a nice cookout and as always, there was way too much to eat. So I have leftovers for tomorrow. That's a good thing.

As I was relaxing, I started wondering about Labor Day. What is it? Why do we celebrate it? How did it start? All those years I worked, I never considered these questions. I knew it was a day to honor workers, but I was more concerned with just having the day off.

So today I looked it up and here is what I found: The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City. The Central Labor Union started promoting the idea across the country and as labor unions grew, so did Labor Day. It was a day to honor the contributions of the working man with speeches, parades, and festivals. By June 28, 1894 Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September the federal holiday called Labor Day.

For more information, see:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy

I woke this morning with the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in my head. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but I started thinking about happiness. I believe we are happiest when we are doing something we enjoy, when we follow our passion.

The problem is that so many people don't have a passion; they don't know what their passion is. I also believe that in order to find that passion, we must have lots of different experiences. If a child never experiences dancing, how will they ever know if they're passionate about it?

I believe that parents and teachers should help provide all kinds of experiences for their children. There should be dance and art and singing. There should be baseball and hockey and soccer and tennis. There should be math and science and Spanish and history. There should be trips to museums and parks and lakes and libraries. Children should join Little League and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and chess club. They may find they hate art, but love to sing. They may hate Little League, but love chess club. Only by experiencing things, do children learn what they love to do.

And this shouldn't always be what parents or teachers want them to do. I had a student in class that at an early age decided he liked ice hockey. There were no ice hockey teams in town and I can only imagine what would have happened had someone dashed his dreams by saying, "Sorry, but there are no teams here. We don't even have an ice skating rink." Instead, his parents found that there was a team about 70 miles away. They took him there and he made the team. He loved it. It was his passion clear through high school and probably still is.

It seems to me that so many parents are not around for their children. The children are left to fend for themselves. They get their own meals, choose what they want to watch on TV, choose when and if they'll do their homework, and are left unsupervised. These children lack positive experiences in their lives and instead, many times, end up in trouble with the law or with drugs. When this happens, the chances for them to have positive experiences almost disappear. They never realize their full potential or find their passion.

Of course, the best outcome for finding your passion is to have it become your lifelong calling. If your job involves your passion, life is usually good and people are usually happy. Children who find something they're passionate about, and who have parents, teachers, and counselors who can guide them into a similar career path, will, I believe, be the happiest people.

So sing and dance, play chess, visit a museum, and don't worry, you'll be happy.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Believe it or not, now is the time for seniors to start applying for scholarships. Many have deadlines early in the school year. For instance, the deadline for Coca Cola scholarships is October 31.

Start looking at different types of scholarships. Some are based on merit, some on need, some on ethnicity, and some on the college or university to which you're applying. Check with guidance counselors, churches, businesses, foundations, labor unions, schools, and your chamber of commerce. There are also unusual scholarships. Left-handed? Tall? Good with duct tape? Star Trek expert? Skateboard? Check them out at Remember, there are large corporations offering scholarships, but don't forget those offered by your local community. They may offer smaller amounts, but can add up quickly. One word of caution: the internet is a great way to search for scholarships, but beware, there are scams.

Now is a good time to start gathering your materials together. You'll need application forms, letters of recommendation, and transcripts. Some scholarships will require that you write an essay. Read the directions carefully for filling out applications. Fill them out neatly. Check your spelling. Make sure you include everything they require. Some may only require the application, but others may require several letters of recommendation as well as an essay. And lastly, make sure you meet the deadline.

Excellent information can be found at:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Freshmen Only

Burlington Community High School in Burlington, Iowa had their first day of school on August 20. But it was not back to business as usual. This year the first day was only for freshmen.

In an attempt to help freshmen move from middle school to high school more easily, upper classmen were asked to take an extra day of summer vacation. The freshmen were able to follow their schedules, go to their classes, meet their teachers, and ask their questions without the crowds and noise of a thousand other students in the building. Their classes were only seven minutes, but the rest of the day was spent in assemblies, advisory groups, and planned activities such as a scavenger hunt, games, and a club carnival where students could see what clubs and organizations are available and join them if they wanted.

For more information go to:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Note Taking

Note taking is an important skill all students must have. In middle school a teacher may slow down for you because you're still learning how to take notes. But by the time you're in high school and college, you are expected to keep up with your teachers, and they can lecture very quickly.

First, you should not try to write down everything. This will be impossible. Instead, listen for items the teacher repeats or emphasizes and watch what he or she writes on the chalkboard. These are the items the teacher thinks are most important.

Write these things in your own words and use a system of symbols and abbreviations that make sense for you. If you're into text-messaging, some of those skills can carry over to your note taking. For instance, if the teacher says, "George Washington's army camped at Valley Forge in December 1777, staying there for the next six months," your notes might read "GW rmy Val Forg 12/1777, 6 mo." Later you should review your notes and write down any additional information.

An excellent website with many note taking strategies, documents, and handouts is:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

School Cafeteria Food

Yesterday I was thinking about some of the food available in the school cafeteria when I was a kid. I thought, "Wow, I haven't had any of 'that' for a long time." The 'that' refers to school-made cinnamon rolls, yeast rolls, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, turkey tetrazzini, weanie winks, and creamed chipped beef served on toast or mashed potatoes. It got me thinking, "Wow, I wonder if those recipes are available anywhere." To my surprise, I found many of them on the internet.

Since many of the recipes are copywrited, I'm going to provide links to them. Just remember, these are cafeteria recipes. Check to see how much the recipe makes before you dive in. The turkey tetrazzini recipe makes 6 gallons. If you wanted just four 2-cup servings, you'd have to divide each recipe ingredient by twelve. If you wanted just one 1-cup serving, you'd have to divide the ingredients by 96.

I think that a lot of school cafeteria food today is prepackaged and not homemade like these recipes were. Make one or two of these dishes and your children can see and taste what school food was like when you were in school.

Turkey Tetrazzini:
Yeast Rolls:
Toastie Dogs (we called them Weanie Winks):
Peanut Butter Cookies:
Cookies and Cinnamon Rolls:;read=6201
Creamed Chipped Beef:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Open House

Schools will soon be having their open houses, if they haven't already. These are usually happy visits with lots of student papers, projects, and artwork on display.

During this time, parents should visit with each of their children's teachers. Learn their names, walk around their rooms, get a feel for what your child will be seeing and doing all day. Ask what the teachers' expectations are. Many will have handouts for you which may include a course syllabus, classroom rules, grading procedures, study tips for their class, and end-of-year goals. Look through the textbooks. Ask about homework: how often will it be assigned, how is it checked, how much does it count toward the student's final grade. Ask about tests and if there are any long-term projects or research papers. Are there supplementary materials that are needed such as a dictionary or calculator? Does the teacher put assignments on the internet in case a student is sick or forgets to write it down?

One thing parents should not do is ask teachers how their child is doing in class. Open houses are not times for conferences about student progress or behavior. Teachers will not usually have that information readily available, nor will they want to discuss your child in front of the many other parents. If you want a conference, call or email the teacher at a later time and set up an appointment. Also, many schools will be having scheduled conference times within a few weeks.

So enjoy your open house. It's a good time to establish a friendly relationship with the teachers. Also, don't forget to visit the cafeteria, library, clinic, counseling office, and main office. You will at some point be dealing with the staff in these areas, possibly more than you will deal with your child's teachers.