Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"You Are a Super-Hero!" (Special Guest Post)

Hello, colleague.  I hope you, like me, sometimes come across a reading that stops you in your tracks. I was surprised, wowed, pleased . . . you name it, by this energetic, empathetic, and encouraging essay I came across in our Michigan Education Association magazine, Voice (December 2016). It's by Bill Triolet, teacher and union local president at South Redford district, a stone's throw from my hometown of Farmington. I contacted Bill about posting his words here and within a couple of hours he responded most positively and then sent me his essay, "For Days You're Feeling Low."

As we are at a de facto mid-point of the school year, and at the start of a new calendar year, these words reach us with very good timing. With no further ado, here's Bill in his own write, © 2016, all rights retained by the author. Enjoy!

This year will be starting my 20th year teaching in South Redford, and my 10th year as a [union] local president. I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when I was frustrated, disenchanted, or just plain depressed over the direction public education moves, how the government treats us, or my inability to reach a student.  I can’t help but wonder sometimes, “Why am I doing this?”

But then something always brings me back to the most important reason I come back year after year - really the only reason that matters:

The kids.

Recently a student I had back in 2007 sent me an email.  In it he recounted some fond memories he had of my classroom, then concluded with this:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The social media are rewiring our minds. Are they worth it?

I know the headline looks weird with the verb "are"; but I always try to use "media" as plural with my students, to stress that there are a number of ways reality is mediated to us, usually filtered through a profit motive. 

I digress already and I haven't even begun!

I was surfing the online news, one of the media I use to waste time -- I mean, entertain myself. [Long ago in Latin class,  I learned "entertain" comes from "inter" (between) and "tenere" (to hold).  Hence, whatever holds your attention between times spent on important stuff is "enter-tainment."]

Ironically (since I'm blogging) the article that caught my attention, one of the New York Times' top hits today, was about the risks of social media. It's an op-ed by Cal Newport, a millennial computer scientist. First, he disputes social media's importance to your career. That part isn't something I see a lot of, at least in the teaching ranks -- a felt need to maintain an online brand.

But more importantly for all of us, he discusses how he is not on social media (including blogging) because of what it does to your mind.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Sprinkling of Follow-Up on Salt and a Sense of Mission

I want to follow up just briefly on my last post. I was talking about a mission statement I've had close in mind for a couple of weeks: to "be an agent of salt and light." It comes from my religious tradition, the words of Jesus of Nazareth. By accident yesterday I read about salt in the ancient world.

It was a fertilizer! (And still is, in some places, such as the Philippines, where it helps grow coconuts, of all things.)

So as salt of the earth (literally "salt for the soil"), if this were your mission, you would go about "promoting the life and flourishing of others" (Anthony R, Bradley).

If we were to translate Rabbi Jesus' words into modern usage, we might say, "Be manure for the garden." That's kind of a crappy image (see what I did there?), but if you garden, you know just what good some natural fertilizer mixed into the soil does.

I wish you well in the coming week as you go about promoting life and assisting the mental and moral flourishing of children and young adults!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

These two quotes can ease pain and give you purpose.

Sometimes I screw up. Often I do ok. Occasionally I do something very right. Yesterday (post-election day), by God's grace, I think I did good. I resisted mansplaining the election results to my progressive facebook friends in pain. 

(Please understand, this would not have been to downplay their pain. I wanted to help people understand how the other side could choose as it did. I live in a very blue-collar town.) 

Rest easy: I’m not going to attempt any such explaining here either.

But I do want to share a couple words from my religion that help me. If you’re of a different faith, I hope you have similar helps. I’m not trying to convert anybody here, believe me.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

This Annie Dillard quote is really helping to motivate me today.

Novelist and essayist Annie Dillard writes very insightfully. This one sentence of hers really cuts through a lot of noise for me today as I think about the present and the future.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Hmmm. That's got me thinking about my days. And my life in general.

Here's the good news . . . At least you and I, colleague, get to spend our days -- mundane or stressful though they may be -- in the service of a greater good. We are building up fellow human beings (often remediating what was not done for them by parents). In so doing, we're helping to make a better society in the long run. This is significant and consequential!

You are an agent of light in a very dark world. Be well, and try to enjoy your days!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

This quote from Lolly Daskal is a good reminder of your significance. . . .

"Shift your focus
from being successful
to being significant."

~ Lolly Daskal

Lolly is an inspirational speaker, motivational coach, and author whose emphasis is on leading from within. She writes about how personal values are more important than management strategies or fads. I'll bet if you're in the education profession, you're not obsessed with success or getting ahead; sometimes mere survival is the order of the day! But Lolly reminds us to remember our focus: as educators we are significant in the development of future men and women. As the school year goes by, with all its drudgery and stress, remember that you really matter in students' lives as you help them grow.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

This video is a good reminder that our students are human beings dealing with many real issues.

A couple of days ago we had an assembly about a tip/help line in Michigan called ok2say. It covered a number of topics. One was bullying. The presenter showed a video where a boy shown bullying others is handed a pair of empathy glasses by a custodian. Now as he looks at other students he sees words above them that tell what they're going through.

It was a very sobering reminder to me: I have 170 students this term, thus 170 human souls, all in different situations, some good, some far from good. Looking for that video, I happened on this one for teachers. It's geared toward the secondary level, but is really applicable for all walks of life. Many of the people we interact with are "dealing with something"; sometimes they are wearing their game face, sometimes it's really affecting them. Regardless . . .

I usually try to keep my offerings encouraging or cheerful here on UpTeach, but I pass this along to you today with the hopes it might be of service.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What Bill Gates had to say - about you!

public domain image
Hey, Bill gets us! It's nice to hear a person so identified with technology and business understand that educators are what actually make the difference:

"Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important."

I don't know about you, but sometimes it seems we're In a field where technology is adopted first and then somehow worked into the curriculum later:

"IPads for everyone! Oh . . . wait. . . ."

(Plus that's the other computer company. Sorry, Bill.)

But as Mr. Gates notes above, the important work going on in the classroom is getting the kids collaborating and being interested in what they're being asked to do. All with the ultimate goal of living a life of collaboration and passion. That's what you are doing, colleague!

Thanks for the reminder, Bill!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

These words from Haim Ginott might be a little scary, but they're a lot inspiring.

Here we are, colleague, with about a month under our belts.

I'm a bit late, but I'd like to offer the annual re-posting of one of my favorite thoughts. A few years ago Mr. Matt Reeves, then my assistant principal, read this to the staff on the day before school. I like to pass it on as a first post of the school year, a message that is both cautionary and inspiring:

"I have come to a frightening conclusion.

I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child's life 

miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis
will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized."

~ Haim Ginott 

from Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers, 1972

Sunday, May 1, 2016

You are part of a cause larger than yourself!

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week! I thought I'd pass along some encouragement I encountered while attending a great college commencement ceremony yesterday.

First was something one of the (many) speakers mentioned as an aside, regarding her professors: "They never belittled me for what I didn't know; instead they shared what they knew." What a nice encapsulation of what teaching can be. Even though I know not who or where you are, let me say Thank you, for sharing with your students what you know about your content and about living life positively.

2. The student speaker was from Traverse City, Michigan. She had children at a young age, but still transferred to the four-year university. For some reason she felt she couldn't move. So she commuted. Four hours each way. 30,000 miles in two years. As they say where my wife's from, Holy whuh! There are students out there who care about learning and growing. Not necessarily 30,000 miles' worth, but still. And some of them are in your class and have been blessed in their endeavors by . . .  you.

3. Last but not least, I saw a number of young men and women graduating not in robes and mortarboards, but in dress blues and whites. After being pronounced duly graduated, they took their oaths of office to protect and defend a country. Earlier, at the start of the day I had seen a squad of them in two parallel lines hoist and salute the colors of the nation they believe in and are dedicating their lives to. I realize that, like all human beings, they are doing what they do for various reasons, but it cannot be denied they will also be living for something larger than themselves. They did not merely go to college to get credentialed to get a certain job, in order to have a relatively enjoyable life at a certain economic level. They also will live for a larger purpose.

This can be true for most people, though it might take some mental recalibration. We can just exist or do a job to pay the bills and take the occasional trip (or -- Argh! -- pay the regularly-arriving tuition bills). Or . . . we can know and feel ourselves involved in an important cause, and wake up each day in order to serve in that effort. I would put to you, colleague, that you are involved in the mission to fight ignorance and incivility, and to promote reason and compassion. 

Trust me, I know that the tyranny of the urgent, the mud of the mundane, the drudgery of data-driven-ness all serve to distract us from what we are doing daily: dispelling darkness and engendering growth. But allow me to urge you to remember that we have the good fortune and joy (and yes, stress) of not merely having a day job, but being part of that great cause. We are part of a profession that has at its essence living for something larger than yourself. 

Take heart in that, and have a great Teacher Appreciation Week.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

You'll feel better when you read this hopeful article about teaching.

HERE's an essay recently published in Houghton, Michigan's newspaper, by my former student, Heather French of Lake Linden Public Schools. Heather has a cheering disposition and writes very positively of our profession. This will remind you why you went into education. Hopefully you can echo her closing line. Enjoy.


I am so late to the party! The official #loveteaching week is almost over. It goes through tomorrow, Mon., Feb. 22.

Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, with some friends, organized a week, complete with hashtag, for teachers to promote to each other and to the world the joys they find in their profession.

HERE you'll find his essay about it and some encouraging words.

HERE you'll find a collection of tweets using #loveteaching for identification. Why not add to them?