parent fail – good friday

i think enough time has passed…

i think enough time has passed to tell you this story…without it being a complete and total sacrilege…

so, there we were…

getting ready to go to church on good friday…

and we find ourselves in a conversation with our kids, our four year-olds…about Jesus dying…actually about Jesus being killed…

my wife: so, today you’re going to hear about how Jesus died.

me: actually, that Jesus was killed.

our son: Jesus died? Jesus was killed?

me: yes.

our son: who killed him?

me: some people who were not very nice.

our son: were they bad guys? were they bad ninjas?

and that was the end of the conversation…as my wife and i looked at each other knowingly–“well, that went well”…

[and chalked up parent fail #85]

kickstart my heart

it’s new year’s eve…the end of one year and the beginning of another…a time to think back on all that’s happened…a time to reflect on life…

with that in mind, let me tell you one of the best stories of 2015–it happened about four weeks ago…

so, there i was…

out on the street corner in downtown minneapolis, waiting for a cab to take me and my friend, LA, down to the motley crue concert — final tour, baby! ūüôā

and there’s a couple (husband and wife) waiting for a cab right by us…so, we start talking to them…small talk…which normally i hate…but, i’m “super-amped”…i’ve always wanted to see the crue in concert (and my amazing wife got me a ticket for christmas!)…and,¬†here i am…in this surreal place, within hours of the metal storm that will ensue…so, i engage…

turns out, that the couple we’re talking to is going to the concert as well…they make special mention of really wanting to see the opening act–alice cooper–which takes me a little bit off-guard…i’ve never heard anyone say that before ūüôā

anyways, i don’t judge it (i’m seeing motley crue, after all;)…and they seem friendly and as excited as we are to see the show…so, we continue to wait for the cab, which takes way longer than it should to pick us up…so, as the conversation goes on, it turns out that they’re from the town that i teach in…so, right away, upon hearing that, my shields go up, i pull back and regard them suspiciously…

and i think to myself, do they know my school?!

[LA recognizes this reaction, he’s seen it before…occasionally, i’ve crossed paths from community members and parents that are familiar with the alternative/career-technical school that i teach at…usually it turns out o.k., but you never know how it’s going to go–because of our school…because despite having amazing teachers who do amazing things for students…we’ve been fighting some negative perceptions and stereotypes for years…as an example, some of the reactions we get sound like this…oh, you work at the ‘alt-school’¬†(the tone lets you know what they really think–that it’s not a real school, it’s not real education, it’s just a place for outcasts and throwaways)]

and i know it’s coming…the what do you do for a living question…so, i come clean and tell them where i work…

[at this moment, i risk a side glance towards LA and i can tell that he’s ready to jump in and change the subject, if need be–possibly even throw down, if necessary…he’s a good man to have watching your back, if things get tense]

and then, the most unexpected thing happens…

immediately, the woman’s eyes light up…and she smiles…

[important thing to note here–she seems sober¬†ūüôā ]

she goes, NO WAY–WE LOVE THAT SCHOOL–YOUR SCHOOL SAVED MY SON’S LIFE (turns out he was a student at my school a couple of years back and he and his family had some really tough years)–anyways…

she gives me a hug (i’m pretty sure she’s sober, seriously ūüôā …the cab arrives…and that’s that!

so, with that story in mind, i’d like to raise a glass to all my colleagues–here’s to you and the work you do! cheers!

happy new year and rock on!

keep striving

‚Äúexcellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.‚ÄĚ

-pat riley

in a few weeks, i will begin my ninth year as a high school teacher and my 17th year working with kids (of some sort and in some kind of setting)…

i don’t know how it is with other people in other careers, but in teaching, there is (lurking in the shadows) that ever-present temptation to get complacent or to “phone it in”…i mean, after you’ve been teaching for a while, there are certain things you’ve got down, things you know, like the back of your hand…

but, going down that road is precarious…

at the same time, you can see how it can happen, how all of us can fall into that trap…for instance, when i first started this “herding cats work”, i made great strides right away and really “wowed ’em”…my achievements were shiny and could be seen (by myself and by others)…but, as time went by, day after day, going through the same routines–it made me weary (on occasion) and i’d think, “what more can i do?”…

well, as an answer, i was recently re-inspired by a little japanese man named jiro ono…jiro is the subject of a 2011 documentary film (by david gelb) called, “jiro dreams of sushi”…and the story, his story is completely captivating…

jiro is the owner and head chef of the three-michelin-starred* sushi restaurant called, “jiro sukiyabashi” in tokyo, japan…and there’s five important things you need to know about this guy:

  1. jiro is 89 years old.
  2. jiro works every day.
  3. jiro has been making sushi for more than 70 years.
  4. jiro is widely recognized as the best sushi chef in the world.
  5. jiro still believes his sushi can be better.

[*important detail: michelin is a french company that publishes an annual guide on fine dining and accommodations–and, a three star rating is the highest–in this case, it means “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”.]

the last fact is the most remarkable to me…that, after all this time, after all this work…

jiro still believes his sushi can be better.

think about that for a moment…talk about inspiring! ¬†at 17 years into my profession, i’ve got nothing on this guy…absolutely nothing…yet, there is a silver lining–the strides i make, nowadays, might not be as big, bold, or bright as the one’s i’ve made before…but, they are still significant little steps…

so, along these lines, i’ve tried to challenge myself for the past couple of years…by asking myself one simple question (to stoke the fires)…

how can i better “my last year self”?

and if i had to give an answer to that question right now…it would be…

i don’t know, but i know i can…and then…maybe, just maybe…coming to my classroom will be worth a special journey…

jiro

“always strive to elevate your craft.”

-jiro ono

sponge blob

“when you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave” – master kan, kung fu

one of the worst things for a new teacher to do is to surround themselves with only other new teachers…and in doing so, thinking that it’s gonna make them the best teacher in the world…it’s kind of like teenagers who expect to become mature, amazing grown-up people by surrounding themselves with only¬†other teenagers

the last time i checked, it takes about 3-6 years to go from an apprentice to a journeyman in the trades…

teaching is a trade, people…one of the toughest trades in the world…so, it’s gonna take some time to get it down, it’s gonna take some time to become skilled at it…

sure, there are old-timers who are “phoning it in” until retirement…to those types, to those guys and gals…i’ll say,¬†time to clock out, buddy–get to steppin’, chica! but, what job doesn’t have people like that?! ¬†all in all, those ‘hanger-on’s’ make up a small percentage of the larger teacher blob…

anyways, what new teachers need to do is to…spend time–lots of time–around seasoned instructors…ones who are tried and true...ones who are still creating, dreaming, and working hard…ones who are still committed and passionate about what they’re doing…

the last time i checked, it takes about 10 years to go from a padowan to a jedi knight…

i mean, any rookie can be fired up about this kind of work–for a minute…yeah, they’re good out of the gate…but, the best of the best do it year in and year out…so, my advice would be to…get next to those people, ask a lot of questions, learn from them–soak up as much as you can–be the sponge…embrace the teacher blob, for you and for your students!!! ūüôā

[one of the current issues and challenges in teaching in america today is that…the average time that a new teacher spends in the profession of teaching, before leaving, is five years (walsh, 2014)…in my opinion, it takes about just that long, 4-5 years, to figure how to do the job well and get to a place where you’re on top of your work as an educator…so, if people are leaving at that moment in time…they are leaving just when some of the rewards can be reaped (i.e. when the hard work starts to pay off)–for them and for their students–and they are leaving just when they’ve become a skilled and valued member of the trade…if this trend continues, it does not bode well for the future of education in the u.s.]

‚Äúexperience is something you don’t get until just after you need it‚ÄĚ – steven wright

tradecraft…boundaries (part III)

boundaries in structured settings — an example (for professional youth workers):

in settings like schools, juvenile rehabilitation centers, faith-based organizations, summer camps, etc…professionals have the luxury of being guided by state laws and organizational policies in boundary setting…at the same time, depending on the individual group plan within a structured system, the boundaries may look very different:

different programs = different expectations & consequences

student/teacher classroom scenario:

expectation: no talking in class (when the instructor is presenting–unless we’re in a discussion, of course)

consequence: if you disrupt the class by constant talking you can a) be moved to another seat; b) be moved to the clas program; c) be given ISS

note: the clas program is an option at our school; it is a ‘intermediate removal action’ — where the student is removed from the classroom and sent to the clas program room (near the front office)…typically, for only an hour or two – it’s the step we use before ISS (ISS stands for ‘in-school suspension’ which is an entire day stay) –“b” and “c” can be implemented if “consequence a” doesn’t make a dent in the behavior…and the student continues to exhibit disruptive behavior that interferes with the learning process…

here’s a pattern/pathway i’ve followed before…

john commits a boundary violation:¬†john talks loudly about the great time he had at a party over the weekend and disrupts a lesson; his talking distracts other students and pulls them into his story…¬†

me (response = a choice is offered):  john, would you rather stop talking and continue to sit by your friends or continue talking and move to this seat (near the front of the class)???*

john: stop talking, i guess…

me: ok, let’s move on then…

[a few minutes later…]

john repeats the same boundary violation: talks in class and disrupts a lesson

me (response/action = consequence):¬†i say, “john,¬†your talking is interrupting my teaching–please move to this seat”**

note: i¬†didn’t say, “who do you think you are? you never learn, do you, john?! i can’t stand you–move over here”

*importantly…offering choices can be an extremely valuable thing to do within the “expectation-consequence” scheme…doing so, puts the ball back in their court, where they have some power over ‘the outcome’ & can decide on a course of action–though, all choices/options are ones that you are alright with (as the authority figure) — in other words, the only options on the table are the ones that can get what you want, what you expect…as far as boundaries go…offering choices also keeps things from “getting heated” or “escalating” — nobody likes a tyrant ūüôā

**the response that i gave here was the right one…because it focuses on the behavior–what the student did, not who the student is …the response that “i didn’t say”, on the other hand, would’ve been wrong…because it makes the issue personal, confrontational, and (often) an “instant battle”…in fact, taking that tact may very well escalate the situation…by making it about who john is as a person and not about john’s behavior-his talking in class…not what we want to be doing as professionals…

anyways, let’s say that…john ‘behaves’ for the rest of the class period

the next day i might allow him to go back to his original seat (i might even give him “a carrot” in the middle of a consequence …or thereafter…and let him know that he may be able to return to his original seat tomorrow if he can handle his new location for the rest of the day)~

note: in this scenario, i didn’t keep giving the student¬†choices and choices and choices and choices and choices¬†or keep doing the ask, ask, ask, ask, ask thing–which, honestly–doesn’t do a damn bit of good–but, some people go that route in these situations…usually, they are new and inexperienced…and often…they are unsure, afraid or lacking confidence in their authority (or, they want to be seen as ‘cool’ or they want to be ‘friends’ with the kids–one of my least favorite incarnations of a ‘professional youth worker’)…so, if you give an expectation for behavior…it’s really important to¬†follow through¬†(consistently) with the known/stated consequence–pull the trigger, people!–in doing so, you will gain the respect of the kids in your charge and there will be no limits on what you can accomplish together; if you, on the other hand, give an expectation for behavior and don’t follow through with a known/stated consequence–then, not only will you lose the respect of the kids…but, it will become increasingly difficult to manage their behaviors…therefore, making anything you try to accomplish with them much more difficult, if not impossible–

consistent follow through is key in ‘boundaries work’ in structured settings–it shows them (the kid who is ‘acting out’ and the rest of the group) that you’re “not playin'” and “mean business”…¬†

you can’t handle the truth…

there are traits that make a 16, 17, or 18 year-old male student truly amazing; like fearlessness, youthful optimism and a sense of adventure about the world around him — however, there are two significant adolescent male traits that can be a challenge in the classroom, home and community: ¬†1) the edgy and ‘confident’ attitude that reveals itself as — i know it all¬†and 2) the attitude/posture that says–i don’t care…about anything…

because boys don’t know it all AND¬†should care¬†(about something) …teaching boys is a really important thing for us to do well…in fact, we are at a critical time for ‘bringing up boys’ in u.s. history…a time when we need a few good men–to teach our boys…and i’m not talking about teaching specific subjects or curriculum components…i’m talking about teaching them¬†what it means to be a man…we need male teachers who will stand “toe-to-toe” with boys and shepherd them into adulthood — truly!

don’t think this is teacher’s job? think again…it’s one of the most important things we can do in schools today…and, believe me, there are countless opportunities each day to help ‘grow boys into men’…in fact, there’s probably a teachable moment every time a boy opens his mouth to say something in class, guaranteed–in addition to a responsible male parent and/or family member (if available), most boys need a responsible male teacher in their lives–one who will smack ’em upside the head–figuratively, of course, in the school setting (heh, heh)–in the way that only a grown man can do…

don’t get me wrong, i’ve had amazing women teachers throughout my life; my wife and my sister are two of the best educators i’ve ever seen–they can rock the classroom…and there are thousands of great women teachers out there…and women can teach boys any subject in the book, no doubt…but, we’re not talking about teaching boys subject matter here…

we’re talking about teaching boys man matters

and when it comes to teaching¬†man matters…no one is better equipped for this task than a man…as evident in this quote from dr. leonard sax:

“…when it comes to showing boys how a gentleman behaves–how a gentleman interacts with women, how he responds to adversity, how he serves his community–then there is no substitute for having a male role model…that’s where boys can benefit most, in my judgement, from seeing a man, perhaps a teacher or a coach, who loves to read in his spare time, who participates in projects for habitat for humanity or in community service with his local synagogue or church, who’s a regular guy–not a saint, not rambo, not john wayne…just somebody real”(sax, 2007).

let me give you two, real-life examples about teaching boys man matters from my classroom…times when i needed to go ‘toe-to-toe’ with the boys in my class…

classroom case files (fall, 2007):

male student: men are smarter than women, that’s a fact¬†(other men in class are nodding in agreement)

female student: i agree with them

(i am shocked at this!)

(other male students clap and laugh)

other male students: see, mr. d.!

mr. d.: let me ask you something young men, and the woman over here — where in the world did you get this idea? (we engage in debate and discussion — where i include facts/research that debunks and challenges what the boys put forth)…

it’s important to not let some comments slide; to openly challenge what has been stated with strong counter-arguments that are based in fact–and this was one of those times… and in the back of my mind, i was thinking…come on, do you really believe this? do you really believe this in the year 2007? come on, this is mad men shtuff…

let’s move on to the next example…

classroom case files (spring, 2014):

this next story takes place during a week when were discussing risk factors (for juveniles that may need social services and/or become delinquent)…on one particular day, i had them write down all the things that they do that drives their parents nuts…things that their parents wouldn’t want them doing …and¬†they came up with some good ones: staying out past curfew, lying, using alcohol or drugs, ‘back talking’, not answering their phones, not cleaning their rooms, skipping school, etc…then, i had them flip it and write down all the things that would drive them nuts if they were a parent–things they wouldn’t want their kids doing…

[a few of my students are actually parents (teenage moms), so that always makes these exercises a bit more interesting; fyi-the teen parents i have in class this semester are not in this particular block of students, though i wish they were]

“things they wouldn’t want their kids to do” items: use/become addicted to drugs, drop out of school, bully another student, get arrested, get thrown in ¬†jail, etc…then came one that was gender specific¬†(daughter specific)

get pregnant…

while most parents (regardless of gender) would agree that they wouldn’t want their daughters to get pregnant in high school…this item was voiced by a boy in class and then, immediately, a bunch of other guys chimed in to agree with him and comment on that item…some of the girls agreed, some stayed silent…but, the boys got louder and made “the getting pregnant thing” a one-sided deal, they talked about it like it was “her problem”…this is when i stepped in…

mr. d.: say that again? 

male student: you know, i would definitely be upset if my daughter got pregnant, i wouldn’t tolerate that…but, i would’ve kept her under lock and key beforehand…

mr. d.: what about your son? i take it that you put this item into a different category, according to gender…because you think it’s different for your son?

male student: of course, he’s got more freedom to date and see girls…it would be different with my daughter…you know…it’s what guys do…

mr. d.: what if your son was involved with a girl…and got a girl pregnant? then what? i mean, it takes ‘two to tango’, you know…are you gonna give him a free pass?

the male student started to lose steam…it was at this time that his friends tried to save him, to take his side and come to his rescue…so, they came at me and tried to back me down…

but, i didn’t back down…i continued to push back, hard–against this group of boys…i was forceful and there was iron in my words…

mr. d.: you know, we teach teen moms over here…i’ve had quite a few of them in my classes…and these girls have to take responsibility for their actions–the part they played in the pregnancy, no doubt…but, so should the boys, the teen dads…the boys who chalk this up as a ‘notch on their belts’…a ‘conquest’…like it makes them a man…but, let me tell you something…these guys…most of ’em…they don’t ‘show up’, they disappear–after the fact…you think that’s what it means to be a man?! you think that’s what it means to be a father?!

it got real quiet after that…

importantly, i didn’t shame, belittle, or ‘name-call’ any of the guys in my classroom…but i didn’t sit there quietly either, i didn’t let their comments slide, like it was nothing¬†[importantly, a lot of where they get this mindset from is…the media, their male peers, and some older males (who get it wrong)…the double standard for men and women on this issue is pervasive throughout our society (i’ve got to guard against it myself)…but, it’s no excuse]…it was something they needed to be challenged on, it was something they needed to be called out on…because it’s part of the greater negative worldview regarding women…a negative worldview that some men hold and pass onto the younger generations–that women are objects…for the amusement and pleasure of men–and that kind of thinking affects how men treat women…thinking, after all, affects action (i am one to know, i’ve been there–intentionally and unintentionaly)…so, if you can influence the way a boy thinks, positively, he’ll be a better man for it, he’ll treat the women in his life with love and respect…

there are countless other issues that come up at school that need to be addressed with boys…bullying and harassment, work ethic, motivation, problem-solving, perseverance, responsibility, adversity and how to respond to it, ‘admitting when you’re wrong’, etc…i chose these two examples (that focus on gender bias) because it is an issue that comes up a lot at school (out of the mouths of boys) and in our society, in general …where it is common to equate masculinity with the ‘degradation of women’...male teachers can change that

when a male teacher confronts a boy in class, it lands differently than if the same conversation had taken place in the presence of a female teacher (just as it would be different if a female teacher confronted a girl in class about the domain of¬†women)–it carries¬†a lot weight…or, in biblical terms (proverbs 27:17):

iron sharpens iron, and so one man sharpens another

in these moments, it becomes immediately clear that when boys are up against a male teacher who won’t back down (yet talk to them with respect and reason)…a male who possesses real¬†swagger, who really knows something about the world, who really cares about the world–that their ‘(over) confidence’ and i know it all¬†attitude is most often revealed as a front…and that, most of all,¬†they’ve got a lot to learn

who better to challenge a male than a male teacher? who better to counter a negative behavior in a male, than a male? who better to call out a male on ‘what he thinks is cool’ — but is, in fact, a harmful approach to life, than another male? who better to encourage and support a male, than another male? especially, at this time in their lives, when they really need it — when they are pushing up against every parent and every other authority figure around them…when they are looking for an opponent, a fight — intentionally and deliberately — who better to push back with bravery, wisdom, and love…than another male?

the following observation from poet robert bly soundly sums up such things:

“during the sixties, some young men drew strength from women who in turn had received some of their strength from the women’s movement…one could say that many young men in the sixties tried to accept initiation from women…but only men can initiate men, as only women can initiate women…women can change the embryo to a boy, but only men can change the boy to a man” (bly, 1990).

we don’t need perfection, but we do need a few good men…

a male who is brave is best, a male who is tough is best, a male who is stubborn is best, a male who has been through some shit is best, a male who has¬†moral fiber is best…and above all,¬†a male who cares is best…*

in 2011,¬†84% of public school (k-12) teachers were female (Feistritzer, 2011)…and, given the impact that a male role-model can have–it is clear that we need more men in this field…men who will match, step for step, the young boys they will go up against every day…and given the class-sizes of schools across the nation, i think we can add men and balance the ‘teacher-profile ledger’ without threatening the jobs of women teachers…

so, men, sign up today!

*nowhere in this section do i mention that the male has to be straight…that’s not a prerequisite for this kind of work…for teaching man matters…one of my former colleagues–that i still hold in the highest regard–was/is¬†an openly gay choir director at a church i worked at in omaha, nebraska…talk about stones…try doing that in nebraska, people…anyways, this guy had the respect and admiration of the staff, the families and the kids in the church community…and was an outstanding leader and role model for the boys in our youth programs…

recommended reading:¬†boys adrift: the five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men–video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs, environmental toxins, and the devaluation of masculinity, dr. leonard sax, 2007; (one of the best books i’ve ever read about teaching and parenting boys in america);¬†profile of teachers in the u.s. 2011, c. emily feistritzer, 2011: http://www.ncei.com/Profile_Teachers_US_2011.pdf; iron john-a book about men, ¬†robert bly, 1990.

digital demeanor…

with the regular and on-going controversies of adolescents involved in inappropriate on-line communications continuing to surface (the most recent one involving a “tweet” from a student attending a high school in minnesota)…

the issue of¬†digital demeanor…is worth mentioning…

so to are the harms that can result from “behaving badly in electronic spaces”…spaces that “seem private” or “distant from the real world”…but are, in fact–real in their consequences

since we don’t know enough about “the recent minnesota high school case” to judge it appropriately, let me give you ¬†an example about what i mean by digital demeanor...from an experience in my classroom…to illustrate¬†how things can go horribly wrong…

[note: while digital demeanor can include words and images transmitted by way of desk-top and lap-top computers, phones and other digital devicies…this blog post primarily focuses on “cell-phone issues and demeanor” because the use of cell-phones is prevalent among my students]

classroom case files: nearly eight years ago,¬†in my first year of teaching…one male student sent another male student a text message that included images of¬†brokeback mountain…with harassing statements that included¬†the sender¬†calling the other student “gay” and a “f**” and other inappropriate comments that¬†the sender¬†thought “were funny”…the incident came to light (in-class) because of a verbal altercation that happened as a result of that message…the sender, of course, received consequences for his actions–from me and the school administration…in this case, the consequences were only “school-based”…but, had it gone differently…it could’ve easily reached the level where criminal charges were filed by the victim…

stuff like this is serious and¬†far from funny…and unfortunately…stuff like this still happens regularly…

specifically, these virtual spaces allow people to post words or images that may harm or harass another person…or come back on the person who posted the word or image, if they did so impulsively, without thinking, or without “the proper training”…it should come as no surprise then, that¬†a lot of these cases involve teenagers who text, tweet, or post something in a public/on-line venue of some kind–in other words, they involve cases of people whose¬†brains are not fully developed…

these posts and images, as you know, are sent out into the world by way of mobile digital devices (most often, by way of cell-phones)…devices that have been provided to adolescents by adults (parents) in their lives…because, ultimately, it is socially acceptable to do so…

so, let’s review…

we give teenagers…people whose brains are still developing (specifically, the impulse control and decision-making parts) a tool of unbelievable and unprecedented power when we give them a hand-held digital device…a tool that allows them the¬†unsupervised and¬†unrestricted ability (often times)–to transmit/receive unformed, uninformed, irrational, immature, reckless and impulsive messages between them and the world at large…

so, should we be surprised when a teen makes a mistake here?! ¬†it is like handing them the keys to a 2014 ford mustang sports car…a la ‘fast and furious’…(without driver’s education, a permit, and a license) and saying, ‘have fun!’…

let me be clear…i am not making excuses for teens here…absolutely not–digital demeanor¬†is, clearly, a major social problem–especially for adolescents

at the same time, it is not just a concern for adolescents but for adults as well…i mean, i’ve had to exercise self-discipline in my own use of this kind of power…at times, i’ve made mistakes…and hit “send” on an email or a text that was¬†reactive¬†or¬†aggressive–the kind of messages i¬†wish i could have back, you know…

so, i guess, what i’m asking is…where is the line? ¬†are we setting the boundaries that we need to set for our young people? ¬†are we holding them accountable when they violate those boundaries? are we teaching them to make good choices? ¬†are we teaching them to be responsible with this kind of power? ¬†importantly, while a significant amount of parents need to “tighten-up” their house rules and monitoring of their teen’s digital use…this is not a rant against parents or a “blame the parents” blog post…believe me, i can feel for parents who have done the right thing, who have set limits and boundaries for their kids–and to their horror, their kids “still messed it up”–teens make their own choices, after all…and have to accept responsiblity for those choices…but, what can we do? ¬†how can we do the “digital thing” better? ¬†how can we improve our digital demeanor?

finding answers to these questions may be difficult, but a good starting point is with nationally known, parent/child educator, dr. david walsh…

dr. walsh travels around the country and talks about ‘the teenage brain’, boundaries, and digital responsibility (the lessons he shares are extremely valuable and can be taken from both his books and his “face-to-face” presentations)…from his research, he has identified three pillars of digital health (walsh, 2014):

  1. Digital participation: Young people who participate meaningfully in their digital lives learn that technology isn’t just for entertainment; it is also a tool for learning, networking and engagement.
  2. Digital citizenship: We like to think of digital citizenship as the habit of mind that guides the way we treat one another online.
  3. Digital discipline: Digital discipline is the set of skills, behaviors and practices that enable us to power down and unplug when we need to.

of these, digital demeanor falls most certainly in the category of digital citizenship…or, what i would call the ‘moral category’…the right way and wrong way to behave and treat one another online…the guidelines and boundaries that parents, teachers, and other meaningful adults can set for young people in our society…

a good general rule that applies to this situation is one that we all learned in kindergarten–if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all…

because just like kids who inappropriately¬†over-share¬†and¬†blurt¬†(verbally) in homes, schools and other settings all over the world…they also, inappropriately¬†over-share and blurt online–and i believe we can curtail that type of behavior–i believe¬†we can¬†herd dem cats on the digital frontier, as well…

personally, given the fact that these digital devices are such “life and learning disruptors” for adolescents…especially, phones (i see it regularly as a high school teacher)…i cringe at the thought of my children having and using cell-phones some day…so, here are some things that i promise to do as a father (if phones and phone usage are still a major social issue¬†at the time my children start asking for one)…to establish ‘phone guidelines’ in our house (this is what my top 10 would look like)…

  1. i will make it known in our family that it is privilege to have your own cell-phone (not a right…and point out, that a cell-phone is a luxury item)
  2. i will make it known in our family that we will make decisions about phones together (who gets one, when they get it and what kind they get)
  3. i will delay getting our children cell-phones for as long as possible (i will be stubborn about it, regardless about what “their friends are doing”)
  4. for their first phone…i will get them one in “the ugly, un-cool, flip-phone” category with limited features–an 80’s cell-phone would be ideal (no internet access, no camera, etc…just the ‘bare bones’)
  5. once they demonstrate the ability to use the phone in #4 responsibly (for at least two years)…they may earn a phone with more power/features
  6. with each level of “increased power and features” i will give them “increased guidelines” (about how to use those tools responsibly)
  7. i will let them know that they will pay for their own phone and phone plans…whether by chores or own employment
  8. i will establish house rules for “shut-off” times…where they can’t be on their phones and/or have their phones in their rooms after certain times at night (see dr. walsh’s digital discipline)
  9. i will limit my own usage of technology around my wife and family (especially at the dinner table)
  10. i will pray that this plan works and that they use their phones like they’ve been taught:)

bonus: i will add any additional rules headquarters (my wife) tells me to;)

i’ll let you know (in 12+ years) if this works for us…

recommended readings: dr. dave’s cyberhood: making media choices that create a healthy electronic environment for your kids, dr. david walsh (2001); why do they act that way?: a survival guide to the adolescent brain for you and your teen¬†, dr. david walsh (2004); no-why kids (of all ages) need to hear it and ways parents can say it, dr. david walsh (2007); girls on the edge: the four factors driving the new crisis for girls–sexual identity, the cyberbubble, obsessions, environmental toxins, dr. leonard sax (2010)

quiz song

i wasn’t formally trained as a high school teacher…

many of my friends and family were–and they have the degrees and licenses to back it up…i got my training¬†from¬†the school of life…working as a soccer coach, camp counselor, juvenile justice worker, church youth director, and community college instructor…my educational background is in sociology and criminal justice…

at the school where i’m a criminal justice instructor, ¬†i’m allowed to teach under a ‘community expert’ license…meaning, i can teach in a career and technical setting because i have work experience and education that is directly related to my subject area¬†(and¬†because there isn’t a minnesota state license for those who teach criminal justice at the high school level)

all of my past experiences working with kids come to bear in my current teaching role…my history impacts everything i do in the classroom–from my philosophy¬†to my¬†methods…

i approach every class like a chef might before making a great meal…you have to have just the right ingredients…this is a bit more challenging because we have students who want to misbehave and we have an insane daily schedule–as an example, block 1 may include three separate arrival times for students + two separate departure times…so, you have to be a bit creative, to say the least¬†(see my schedule in the above menu bar for the full breakdown)

one of the things that i use to spice-it-up, or to change-up the classroom vibe is something i call a quiz song…basically, what happens is…i say something to the class like, this quiz is as hard as this song…so, to intimidate you…i will introduce you to this quiz without smiling or laughing, because you know me to be the most serious person you’ve ever met…then, i ‘press play’ and hold up the quizzes to the group (and try not to smile or laugh)…but, i always do…then, they laugh too…

this is the kind of thing that a colleague and i call edu-tainment…ridiculous? absolutely! does it keep kids engaged? absolutely!

sometimes when you’re getting schooled¬†by¬†a group of students and they’ve got you on the ropes, so to speak…you tend to get away from what makes you the teacher you are–you pull back and lose that spark…it’s during those moments…when you’re stuck, when hard times come…that you need to get your mind right, press¬†resetgo to the well…and, find a way back, find a way to laugh…¬†

so, press play

quiz song catalog (jean jacket included): eye of the tiger (survivor), live wire, kickstart my heart,¬†and¬†dr. feelgood¬†(motley crue), whiskey in the jar and enter sandman¬†(metallica), ¬†you’ve got another thing comin’ (judas¬†priest), crazy train (ozzy¬†osbourne), in my dreams (dokken), thunder struck, money talks, and who made who (ac/dc), we’re not gonna take it (twisted sister), round and round (ratt), and symphony of destruction (megadeth)

teacher man

when you are in the middle of a moment that is a bit tougher than what you expected (like the one i described in the post titled hard lessons)¬†you tend to reflect, contemplate, and ponder…

now, how did i end up here? why did i decide to pursue this job?

it’s only natural…

for years…my sister (who’s a teacher as well) had been telling me, you should be a teacher

so, after working with kids in a variety of settings (for years), i finally went to a career counselor (about 8 years ago)…the end result of the conversations and questionnaires was–you should be a¬†teacher–it was my highest scoring category…i remember voicing aloud, if i could just teach criminal justice to high school students–i would like that…

about six months later, there was an ad in the paper...criminal justice instructor, career and technical high school program…so, i applied and interviewed…

and then, the call came…

they offered me the position! ¬†i still remember when/where that happened…i was driving (and yes, i took the call) and en route to my job as a youth work supervisor at a screen-printing shop (during one of the hottest summers in minnesota, ever!)…after a couple of minutes, i pulled to a parking lot alongside highway 100 and talked with the principal…i was excited…to do the job i wanted to do–they were going to pay me $40,000+ and provide health insurance!!! ¬†i thought i had hit the jackpot…heh, heh…that should tell you something about what i was getting paid in those other youth positions:)

since my past jobs often required day, swing, overnight, weekend and holiday shifts, i knew there was one more significant benefit–a good amount of time off to spend with the wife (who’s also a teacher–junior high!!!) and twins (now)…the chance to live a more balanced life! ¬†work hard, yet play hard with the family! ¬†the quality of life¬†factor was/is a big deal!

i was 35 when i became a teacher…it took me a while to find my career (it was a great and strange journey…my friends and family can vouch for that) …sometimes it takes a while to find your place in the world and while i don’t think i’ll be here forever…i do think i finally found my place in the world, the big time (for me, at least)…maybe, a better way to put it would be to say, i finally found¬†my best right place–where i’m at the point of convergence for my vocation…where everything i’ve done (truly) comes into play, where it “all comes toghther”…

and, i’m here…for as long this wild ride lasts…

it should be noted that…while this job holds its share of struggles, there are a lot of rewards that come with it–meeting and influencing young people…being influenced by them–it’s a great gig (most of the time)…so, maybe this kind of work could be your right place, too…

if you’re looking for your best hard time…we can always use a few more good teachers…

i mean, you could be this guy…

hard lessons

one of the hardest things to admit about working with kids is the fact–the reality–that you can’t reach all kids–which is one really good reason why we need a lot of good and different teachers, youth workers, counselors, etc–because someone probably can reach them, even if you can’t…

this past semester has been one of the most difficult semester’s i’ve experienced since becoming a high school teacher…there are a handful of kids who are really causing problems in class, and ultimately, interfering and blocking other students’ ability to learn…

you might think that because i teach elective courses…that all of the students in my classes would want to be there and want to learn–not true…and it is hard to believe, i mean, i teach criminal justice…the subject matter is interesting and fun to learn about, right?! ¬†i would’ve loved to have had the chance to take a class like that in high school…but, some kids still don’t want to be there or participate…it blows my mind?! ¬†and, in addition to the quiet non-compliant ones, you get kids who ‘want to be bad’ or ‘take an attitude’–and take as many other kids down with them as they can…which has been more often the case this semester…

this kind of thing is exhausting and it’s what a lot of teachers are up against each and every day…most people don’t have the faintest idea about what kind of energy it takes to do this kind of work (the worst detractors have called our occupation ‘part-time employment’–such a statement tells you more about the person making that kind of comment than the realities of teaching in american public schools)…i worked construction for a couple of years and the only occupation that is as tiring as that–is teaching…and it’s the student behaviors that take their toll–i spend more than half of my time each day motivating, persuading, re-directing, confronting, reminding, pushing/pulling, disciplining, and¬†herding students re: appropriate classroom behaviors–then, once i’ve got ’em where i want ’em–wham, i teach ’em!!!ūüôā granted, i work in an alternative environment…but, not all my kids have been ‘in trouble’ or ‘at risk’…

anyways, this is all to say that…because of the state of things this semester i’ve had to have 2 kids permanently removed (and not to be back next semester), with another group “on deck” for the same treatment…this is a big deal…to permanently kick a kid out of class–and it is something that is not done lightly…because if it happens enough, a kid can end up being permenantly kicked out of school–and for the kid, for society–we want to keep kids in school until they graduate, as much as we can (don’t believe me, spend a few hours looking over the research on juvenile delinquency in the u.s.–there is a strong correlation between not having a high school diploma and criminality)…

a lot of time, energy, and behavioral strategies have gone into the last four months (including a few sleepless nights)–incidents, consequences, ‘encouragements’, one-on-one conversations, and home contacts have all led up to this moment (at the same time, i haven’t been giving my time, energy and attention to the students who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing–which, of course, is the majority of my kids)…so, as much as i hate to admit it…i have to acknowledge that i just can’t reach these few troubled ones–i’m not getting through, didn’t even make a dent…

i hope there’s someone out there that can…

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