Lunch Time

The older I get, the more I realize how much students are affected by the events that happen at lunch. It’s a crazy time of social experimenting. Kids are finding their niche in a circle of friends and trying so hard to hide the fact they’re all insecure to some degree.

As a teacher, I have the chance to step in and do something. I’m not suggesting all teachers should be friends with students, but we can create opportunities to help students survive one of the most volatile times of their life: middle school.

While teaching in Hong Kong, I took the opportunity to invite students to my classroom to watch movies during lunch. We would pick a movie, split it into 25 minute segments, and finish it in 1-2 weeks. The reason I began showing films was because I saw some students eating alone, and I invited them to hang out in a non-threatening environment. It was super successful, and lots of kids have told me how fun lunch became for them.

Unfortunately, this can’t happen at my current school. Lunch is too short, and the systems/structures we have in place are just too rigid to allow for this. However, that means I need to adapt and find new ways to help kids during lunch.

An opportunity slapped me in the face this week. On the way up to lunch, a student simply asked if they could have lunch with me in my classroom. On a whim I decided to put aside the million other things I could’ve done, and committed to talking and hanging out for 20 minutes.

Although short, I think it changed the way understand one another. We not only touched based on school stuff, but we also had a chance to share a little about our families. It was one of those moments that could have positive, rippling effects throughout the rest of the year.

Will I be able to turn my classroom into an engaging cinema for lunch-time-loners? Probably not. But I can do some one-on-one mentoring, and this is an encouraging thought.

Taking That Extra Step

As teachers, we’ve all had students that are looking for extra credit. This is especially true after mid-term progress reports come out. In general, I think it’s ridiculous. Looking for a quick fix to boost one’s grade doesn’t make up for the daily work and effort that was lacking.

That’s why I’m a fan of the ambiguous brush-off. Here’s how it works: A student asks for extra credit. I respond with, “Sure, let me think of something.” This simple line without any follow-up works for about half of the students seeking that golden ticket to a passing grade. Seriously, half the kids won’t bother to even ask again.

However, there are some students that press on a little further, and they need more than a brush-off. They need the line, “Sure, come by after school, and we can talk about it.” This works for most other students because: A. they forget by the end of the day, or B. they have a million other things to do, and extra credit usually takes a back-seat.

Finally, there are a few persistent students that actually follow through and seek me out at the end of the day. By this time, the students that do this tend to be the responsible ones that work hard and don’t even need the extra credit. Therefore, I’m generally happy to oblige and offer the students a chance to grow their knowledge.

Today was one of those days when a persistent student sought me out beyond “the brush off” and didn’t buy the “after school” line. In fact, this student asked me on Friday about extra credit, reminded me in class today (Monday), AND came by after school. This student was calm, professional, and went about it all in a mature way, and I was happy to oblige him with an extra credit project.

A big “Woohoo!” to all students that care about their grades. Now, let’s see if this kid actually completes and turns in the project… 🙂

Remember the Why

Even though teachers have existed for hundreds of years, we have not found a way to make teaching easy. That’s because we’re dealing with people, and people are always changing. In spite of this, it’s one of the most important jobs in our society. It’s not only about feeding students information, but it’s about helping kids become better people.

Like any job, I sometimes get caught up in all things I need to do. I need to create lesson plans. I need to grade this set of tests. I need to call this parent. When this sort of task list consumes me, it’s hard to see the truly important things happening with my students. It’s hard for me to find the drive to reach deeper inside myself to give more when interacting with students. Teaching becomes, well, hard.

Lately the principal at my school has been pushing for all the teachers to remember why we do what we do. After a series of emails and staff meetings, I’m thinking it’s finally getting through my thick skull. That’s why I’ve decided to start writing in my blog again. I need a place to reflect and recall some of the good things that happen in my classroom. I need a place to put down all the positive things that kids say and do. As I cling to “the why” and jot down the noteworthy interactions with students, it will help me brush off those bad days and press onward at school.

Here we go…

Noteworthy moment from this past Friday: One student, normally passive in the classroom, saw another student that was having a bad day and decided to do something about it. Her eyes unglazed, she stood up, and proceded to spend a little time listening and quietly counseling her classmate. Was she off-task from the lesson? Yes. Was she out of her seat? Yes. However, sometimes there are moments when a little relationship investment pays off. The rest of the students in the room, previously distracted by a girl’s breakdown, were able to ignore the quiet whispers and move on with the lesson. Learning happened, a girl’s bad day was turned around, and a student showed me she’s not quite as passive as I previously presumed.

Ultimate in the US… So Far

I started to play ultimate (disc, ultimate frisbee) at Valparaiso University. While running around campus, I was asked by two ex-swim team hippies to join their game. And so I did. This might say more about my personality than I’m willing to admit, and you’re free to add your input in the comments.

The hippies and I had fun, and the legitimate rules and strategies went out the door simply because no one actually knew them (and the Google search engine was not widely popular yet). Ultimate at Valpo was just known as “4 o’clock disc” and was open to any able-bodied person. It was glorious and entertaining and social and epic email stories were woven by one Adam Ortman (thank you sir).

However, I walked away with precisely 1.5 types of throws and was full of bad disc habits.

Fortunately, that changed when I joined club ultimate in Hong Kong. For five years (minus two years of injury) I played and competed in tournaments with HKUPA, which vastly improved my ability. Those five years were also glorious and entertaining and social, but this is a post about my US ultimate experience.

Kristin and I are now back in the US, and we’re eager to continue playing ultimate. USA seems to dominate the world, so I’ve been a little intimidated by this prospect.

After 12 days in the US, we’ve played two games. The first was with the South Bend club in Indiana, and the second with a group mainly composed of engineers from Hamilton-Sunstrand (United Technologies) in Rockford, IL. Though I know they are not anywhere near the level of top club play, it’s been fun and has put me at ease regarding US Ultimate. It’s shown me that I’ve learned a few things while in Hong Kong, and I know that I can keep up with some good players.

Our next stop is Princeton, New Jersey, and I hope the club team there will be a good fit for me. I’m not as nervous, but I’m sure I’ll be challenged in lots of ways. For now, I’m thankful for all the groups that have helped me along the way – Valpo for helping me fall in love with ultimate, HK for teaching me how to play competitively yet still have fun, and South Bend/Rockford for giving me a smooth transition to the US game.

A Change of Pace

We’ve left Hong Kong, but it still feels like a holiday and that we’re going to return someday soon. I’m sure the reality of it won’t really sink in until Kristin and I rent a U-Haul and finally move all our stuff to a new flat in Princeton. For now, we’re relaxing and settling in to a new pace of life.

Hong Kong was extremely busy. Everyone even said so. All you have to do is ask, “How have you been lately?” and the default answer will most likely be, “I’m really busy!”

While enjoying some froyo with our friend Andrea Bremmer (another former Valpo student), Kristin mentioned that she’s going to miss the buzz of life that is always zooming in Hong Kong. I hadn’t really thought of that before. I knew that I would miss my friends, the ultimate scene, the food, and the church communities we were part of, but I didin’t realize how much I had adapted to the “big city” life.

Elkhart, Indiana, USA (‘Merica!) just isn’t the same. There’s family here, which is amazing, but life is just slower. Instead of waking up late and staying out late, we’re getting up early and going to bed early. Part of the problem is jet lag, but moreover the reason for our elderly-like sleeping schedule is that everyone just goes to bed early here. There’re no late night activities or late night socializing over drinks at a pub.

It’s weird. But that’s just the way it is. I guess this is one area I’ll have to continue to adapt my frame of mind. For any of my friends in HK reading this: Enjoy the crazy-busy pace while you can!

Love Dare – Day 40 (The End)

The final dare or challenge is listed below. If you don’t know what this is, you can start from day 1 (or at least read about it to figure out what’s going on):

(Day 40) Write out a renewal of your vows and place them in your home.  Perhaps if appropriate, you could make arrangements to formally renew your wedding vows before a minister and with family present.  Make it a living testament to the value of marriage in God’s eyes and the high honor of being one with your mate.

Kristin and I were married just over five years ago. I went back through some of my old emails to see what sort of communication we had when we planned our vows. Here’s the one email I came across:

hey there hottie!
i was doing some more work on my vows and also doing a few searches and came up with this dr. seuss inspiration.  check it out.  🙂
if the link doesn’t work, go to about.com and the title is “wedding vows inspired by dr. seuss”
love you k-bizzle,
g-funkalicious
I want to note a few funny things about this:
  • I still call Kristin “hottie” on a regular basis, but “k-bizzle” and “g-funkalicious” have become nearly obsolete
  • I’m really glad that Dr. Seuss was one of my potential inspirations for my wedding vows
  • I found this email from an old Yahoo account
  • Why did I think that “about.com” was the go-to search engine at the time?! I hope it was only the fact that the Dr. Seuss-like vows were posted on that site. NOTE: Google.com, Gmail, and other Google Apps have become regulars in my web interfacing

In the end, Kristin and I based our vows on a passage from Philippians 2 rather than Dr. Seuss. It’s the part of Philippians where Christ talks about being a servant and how we need to imitate Christ. If you’re unfamiliar with it, check it out here. For just a snippet, here ya go:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but inhumility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of youlook not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I don’t have any plans at this moment to publicly renew my vows, but I do want to do that someday. For now, Kristin and I have our vows and our scripture passage framed, and we hang it up wherever we live. Since we just moved from HK it’s currently in a box. However, I can assure all my readers that it will be one of the first things we hang in our new flat.

As an aside, I thought it would be fun to repost a link to my wedding photos.

Kristin, if you’re reading this, I love you, and I’m really glad we’re married. I’ve finally finished my 40 day Love Dare series, even if it took me far longer than 40 days to complete. Enjoy reading it, and know that I will continue to practice many of the things learned in my journey.

Love Dare – Day 39

Almost done!

Today I was challenged with the idea of reaffirming my marriage commitment to Kristin. I was prompted to write a letter telling her how I feel and how I plan to commit to her for the rest of my life. I suppose it was like unofficially renewing my marriage vows, except in written form and not before an audience.

I thought it fitting to remind her how much I love the fact that we’re not only married, but also best friends. Therefore, I found a lovely little card about friendship that I also filled it’s insides with mushy and gooey details describing my bottomless love for her, etc. etc.

It said,

We’re such good friends that if I suggested a long walk, you’d know I meant sitting. With coffee.
(inside) And possibly muffins.

The reality is that we like all of those things. Sitting with coffee and muffins – even walking. I told her we can do any and all of those things again anytime she wants. Anyway, the card wasn’t really the point. Rather, it was important to tell her how deep our love is for one another and how it’s based on a love greater than ourselves – the love of Christ. He is amazing, and as long as we both remain firmly rooted in Him, we’re bound to remain firmly rooted in marriage.