Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chipmunk Day

Chipmunk Day

A Berry-filled shrubbery

A Chipmunk

High-wire scrambling

Tasty treats


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Forever Summer

I retired from teaching on June 7, 2015 after 33 straight years in an elementary classroom.  If you count my own school career, I spent 49 straight years in school.

So what now?

I'll be substitute teaching for 32 days next year,  but other than that,  I have no firm future plans.  However, one thing I do plan to do is reboot this blog.  I've ignored it for the better part of three years as I've gotten my life back together.

I suspect that I have a backlog of content cluttering my brain.  So look for what's to come.

Forever Summer

Monday, April 13, 2015

Vote Early!

I'm experimenting with online polls.  So today, you have the opportunity to vote for United States President. 

It's all fun.  Vote today. It's a cinch. Just click on your favorite declared candidate on the right side of the page.  

May your choice please you.

Thursday, March 12, 2015



After being at school today,  I realized that I made a great decision to make this school year my last year as a full time teacher.  I won’t go into the details of what happened to get me thinking that way, but I will share that it has NOTHING to do with the students.  I dearly love them.

If you know me, perhaps you know of my distaste for anything in education that’s trendy, flashy, showy, or jargonistic.  I’ve seen it all over the last 47  years in school. One fad after another.  Reading labs to computer labs; whole language to phonics; whole village to austerity; basal readers to book study to leveled passages that are two levels too hard. Of late, I've battled the hype demon of “rigor”.  Thankfully, that faddish word is passing from usage by those seeking to impress. Then there’s the case of STEM.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics…or STEAM if you want to cleverly toss in some Arts... or STREAM if you actually think Reading should be a part of this foundation-- not to be confused with Stem which is the basic design of a modern technologically enhanced standardized test question) is especially sticky in education lexicon.  It seems to have greater legs than the acronym for After School Suspension.

I’m no fan of STEM as it’s portrayed to the public.  A good dose of STEM has the same effect on learning as a ranch dipping sauce has to curly fries at Chik-fil-a, we’re led to believe.  STEM activities supposedly lead children to critically think through problems and develop creative solutions. Yet, the rigorously rigid definition of what STEM is and isn't is (love those three is’es in a row?) in direct opposition to the creativity it’s supposed to foster… 

...which led me to attempt my first ever “Anti-STEM” lesson yesterday.

We’ve been studying “Simple Machines” as part of the regular third grade Science curriculum for the past couple of weeks. The children are directed to understand the six identifiable simple machines and understand their uses and advantages.

A STEM simple machine project would require a “Design Brief” whereby the children teams would utilize a series of simple machines constructed of defined basic household/school materials to conquer a real-world problem.  Such a STEM project is time intensive, fun, and educational; but not the savior of all science.

Yesterday,  I decided to rock STEM with a simple Anti-STEM project.  After completing some test review, I passed out a blank piece of white copy paper to each of my students and did not tell them what to do with the paper.  For third graders, this simple action drives them crazy with intrigue.  After staring them down for a minute or so, I finally gave them some direction.  They were to use their one piece of plain, white paper to create sculptures to represent each of the six simple machines. Immediately, I could see the wheels turning in students’ heads.  Of course, some students were already blown away with confusion by that first direction.  Then I told them what ancillary materials they could use.  With STEM projects, paper clips, toilet paper rolls, craft sticks, string are all par for the course.  So they were more than a bit surprised when I told them that the only things they could use to help them create the sculptures were their hands.

“Can we use scissors?”

 “No, just your hands.” 

“Can we use string?”

“No, just your hands.”

“Can we use M’s?”(markers- I hate markers in the third grade classroom, so I ordained that everyone must refer to them, if at all, only by their first letter, and I have banned them…but the kids still like to rattle my chain by asking to use them every time)

“No, just your hands.” 

“Can we….”


Then I fell silent and let them think it through.  I began patrolling the room,  watching with keen interest what happened.  At first, most of them just sat there staring at the large piece of blank paper.  Then some bravely began gently tearing and building simple simple machines.  A tent shaped wedge…a daring paper see-saw lever.  But then they began tackling the more intense machines-a threaded paper screw, wheel and axle, and the impossible pulley.  Amazingly, every single child ended up proudly crafting unique sculptures, and I realized a powerful new educational idea: Anti-STEM.

My Anti-STEM activity harnessed the spontaneous, purposeful truth of powerful, creative teaching.  Back in my formative teaching days, my mentor used to refer to this as “The Art of Teaching.” Alas, the teaching arts have been lost inside the Crackerjack box of educational reform, but they’re still there if you dig all the way down to the bottom of the box.

Thomas Ryder is a 33-year practitioner of the teaching arts working these days in a Roanoke County elementary school.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Engagement

The Engagement

For a decade, Christopher Jacob Ross, known affectionately as “CJ”, had contemplated asking his beautiful girlfriend, Reena Nadler, to marry him. Paralyzed by fear, CJ could never embolden himself to utter the magic words.  The words were never just right, the situation was awkward, or the timing was off were all a part of his stone reasoning.

Meanwhile, CJ’s family got to know Reena.  Year after year, she’d stand by CJ’s side in fine times and dark times.  Each Christmas, he’d trek to his aunt and uncle’s house in Roanoke with Reena happily along for the endless banquet.  Reena, who grew up in a house without Christmas, received an education.  Wine, trashy reality TV, uncontrolled board games, bizarre letters to and from Santa, and ripped packages to the ceiling were her lessons.

It was over Christmas this past December that everyone sensed that CJ had a more determined outlook regarding his future with Reena.  Perhaps it was the fact that Reena’s identical twin had successfully married last year.  Perhaps, he was realizing that no person could put asunder their love.  All of us wondered when and how he would pop the question.

As fate would have it, CJ won an Amway promotional trip to Snowbird Resort.  His team signed up more team members than any other team in the eastern region.  So CJ and Reena dashed off to Utah, and he thought that THIS would be that magical moment.  Armed with a ring and his gumption, CJ planned the perfect romantic proposal. 

In his head, CJ played out the whole scene.  They’d take the lift to the top of one of the most remote runs and then would ski together down the slope drinking in the intoxicating beauty of the stunning vistas.  There, halfway down, CJ would motion for Reena to stop.  He’d release his bindings and drop on bended knee in presentation of the ring framed by the magical words.

Yet things didn’t go exactly as planned. 

Reena, a direct person, consumes her space from point-to-point.  CJ, the calculated one, missed this variable.  Once at the top, Reena rocketed down the mountain, leaving CJ staring at nature’s beauty and a ring in his pocket. No worries.  He figured that he’d be more ready the next time down.  So he began exploring his way down the mountain, seeking wayward cross-over paths and virgin snow.

CJ also neglected to consider one other variable.  When CJ was 14 or so, his uncle was tossing the football with him at a church vacation bible school.  A dedicated receiver, CJ dove for an errant pass and crashed into the concrete stairs of the church building, smashing his clavicle into several pieces.  Such is his athletic fortune.

It’s unclear how CJ ended up in the ravine off-trail with a wrenched knee.  Perhaps he was gazing at the pristine snow-capped peaks.  Perhaps he was consumed by proposal fear. Regardless the cause, CJ found himself alone on a seldom-used spur trail with a ring in his pocket. His dream was shattered.

Reena, meantime, had made it to the bottom and headed over to the brunch bar to await CJ’s arrival.  She figured she could sneak in an early lunch without him knowing.  Time passed.  Lunch was over. CJ had not appeared.  She knew that something must be wrong.  CJ was never late. Connected and attuned to each other as they had been for a decade, she knew that there must be trouble.

Decisively, Reena trammed back to the top to search for her love.  She made it to the point where she left him for her early lunch and brought her  focus on CJ to think like him for a moment. He most likely would have fallen into a ravine somewhere on a spur trail, she thought.  Carefully she explored each possibility, looking for spurs where only lonely tracks could be seen.  Finally, she saw promising tracks.  She veered off the main run and onto the spur through a stand of pines.  She followed.  The tracks then disappeared over the edge.  There, lying at the bottom of a shallow ravine was CJ, her love. He grimaced in pain and explained his plight.

Reena, fully understanding his dire plight, zipped away and sought help.  She returned to CJ and worked her way down the steep to be with him as they awaited medical assistance.  It was there, as they waited together in that lovely spot gazing at the beauty of the western world, that CJ asked Reena to marry him.  Of course she said, “Yes!”

When the ski patrol arrived, they really couldn’t understand why the two were laughing and crying.  It took just a moment for Reena to explain that CJ had proposed.  They placed CJ in a splint and sledded him down the mountain after taking a picture of the two of them together on the slope.

The real story from Reena

Jacob fell into a ravine and twisted his knee (but he's fine now!) I skied back to attempt to rescue him and there we were, stranded on a slope overlooking the most beautiful vista we'd ever seen. He asked me to marry him while we waited for ski patrol medics to come evacuate him :) The best laid plans of mice and men...

Monday, January 19, 2015


Let me be critical here. I had a school board member ask me recently  what is causing morale problems among our school employees.  I'm rarely good at coming up with articulate responses on the fly. Frankly, I've been hamstrung in finding words to place in writing. The writer of this piece has tapped into the stream of discontent. Her piece is not definitive, but it is something.  

Our own school system suffers from the same issues she raises. Meteoric rise in children from poverty in classroom. Check. Loss teaching and assistant positions and the struggle to squeeze more of yourself to cover for the losses.  Check.  Irrational Testing/ Data-Stream Pressure. Check. Lack of aligned and developmentally appropriate teaching materials. Check.  Grief from "excessive" paper use in response to the lack of aligned materials. Check.  Blind focus on frequently unwieldy, unreliable (weak infrastructure), or unneeded technologies (I love useful technology). Check.  Stagnant compensation and benefits. Check. 

In my estimation, it all circles back to poverty.  Poverty in funding. Poverty in training. Poverty in ideas.  These rub and grate against the compassion and intensity staff members must harness to reach today's students of poverty.  Such friction wears.

It's really past time for society to decide if they truly care.  

Sunday, November 02, 2014

My Expensive Diet Dr. Pepper

My Expensive Diet Dr. Pepper

I've grown to love large Diet Dr. Pepper from convenience store fountains.  So this afternoon, I was out picking up Warner for Senate signs for election day in the back lot at Salem's Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea.  After collecting my stuff, I decided to cruise down Main Street to the Sheetz on West Main for my Diet Dr. Pepper.  Gas prices have been tumbling, so I noted that they had their regular unleaded at $2.59 (and 9/10).  So I decided, what the heck, I'd go ahead and fill up!  Then I went inside for my fountain drink.

Drink in hand,  I pulled over to wait in line for some free Sheetz air. That's a great thing about Sheetz.  When you need air in your tires, they don't charge you.  However, the machines are quite busy.  I was the next one up, so I wouldn't have to wait long.  The guy in front of me was taking a LONG time, but I waited patiently.  No worries.  I had my Diet Doctor and the Skins were playing well on the AM radio. Sonny was being prodded every now and then to speak up, and he'd say something insightful like, "He's short (of the first down)."  Sonny talking would actually be a great drinking game if I drank, according to Carter Turner. 

While in line, I saw the Sheetz car wash and realized that my blue party van was soiled.  I made a mental appointment to drive around back after I filled up with air.  No worries.

The guy finally finished after about 15 minutes, and I waited patiently for him to get in his car, talk to his wife, start his car, talk to his wife, put his car in reverse, realize I was behind him, put his car in a forward gear, creep ahead enough so that I could almost pull up to the hose. Eventually, he was clear!

I primed the hose and began inflating.  I suspected that my air was quite low since cold air tends to lower pressure.  Sure enough, the gauge said I was about five pounds low,  but the machine was seriously laboring at inflating.  So after about five minutes of inflating one tire,  I gave up and headed for the car wash.

I love automatic car washes,  but I should have remembered that this particular wash didn't do a very good job at washing.  It was quite effective at splaying colorful suds over the entire exterior,  but as for real cleaning, it left a lot to be desired.

But that wasn't the worst problem I had.

As I pulled in to the bay,  I guess I lined up my minivan wrong,

and I mostly missed the sensor cradle that begins the wash.  So I backed up and turned my wheel to see if I would slide in.  I felt the car slide into the slot with a rough clunk.

Minutes later, when I exited the bay, it was obvious, I had popped my left front tire.  So I wobbled the car over to an empty parking area next to the Sheetz and began  switching out the deflated the Cooper CS4 Touring tire.  Sidewall punctures are not repairable.  So during this most busy week of the year for me,  I will be shopping for two new Cooper CS4 Touring tires.  At about $120 a pop, my Diet Dr. Pepper has become quite expensive.

Which reminds me,  please vote Tuesday.  Don't let my financial loss be in vain.