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!

teacher blob

i love the movie freedom writers…it is one of the most inspiring movies about teaching that i’ve ever seen…

there’s one part (see below) that gets me every single time–can’t help it…

 

at the same time, one of the things that “smells funny” about the story freedom writers is that…

you get the idea that there’s no student erin gruwell can’t connect to, can’t reach, or can’t teach…

maybe that was true–in her case (if so, it makes the whole thing all the more remarkable)…but, in my experience…working with kids for 16+ years…i’ve never known it to be so–for myself…or for any other teacher/youth worker i’ve had the privilege to know and work with…

[importantly, this isn’t me taking shots at that movie, that story, erin gruwell or anyone connected to that amazing tale…their story is one that we should celebrate after all]

but, what has been true for me and others is…the reality that no one can make it on their own–in this line of work–no one can do it all for all kids…that’s the plain truth…

simply put–and as much as i hate to admit it–i cannot reach all kids, though i try…i cannot teach all kids, though i try…i cannot impact all kids, though i try…

[day in and day out]…

but, there’s a good chance one of my colleagues can…

and that’s good news…

we’re not alone, we’re not on our own…

there have always been (and always will be) students that my colleagues relate to and teach better than i do…and, i’m glad that they can do that…i’m glad that they’re there…for many reasons…but, especially for the fact that they can reach those kids…

truth be told, i didn’t always feel that way…in my early days, i thought i should be able to reach all kids, no matter what…i was overly optimistic to say the least…but then, i was young and naive, too…now, i’m older (much older) and wiser…and i know what lies at the heart of the matter…

ultimately, i know now that…despite the fact that i can’t reach all students…the story doesn’t end there…some things are yet to be written…on their hearts and minds…and those students (most of ’em)–can run, but they can’t hide (heh, heh)…

from the great, unstoppable, inescapable…

teacher blob…

somehow, somewhere, sometime…

we’ll get you ūüôā

 

note:¬†the term “teacher blob” was coined by my wife, who also happens to be a teacher

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…

boomerang

it’s been great to hear the response regarding the last blog post…thank you!

as a postscript to that:

it’s funny, right in the middle of making the decisions i mentioned in the last blog post–to permanently remove 2 students–i had some former students show up to class and visit…students who really took to the class and are continuing their education at the next level…

it’s always good to see students again and hear (as we often do) that they are enjoying the ‘next steps’ in life…whether in college/university, community college, the military, another job, you name it…the ones who ‘were rowdier’ when they were in class are always a bit sheepish when they cross the threshold…but, they still come back and that’s good to see…

because there’s always that part of you that thinks…i wonder what happened to that kid???

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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