Sunday, September 13, 2015

Getting My Ear Removed

Getting My Ear Removed

I met a lot of very nice people today as I was knocking on doors for Mike Hamlar​.  I mean that, a lot of very nice people.  I knocked on one door expecting a female voter, but a man answered.  He explained that he and his wife had a mixed marriage.  He's a Republican, and she has "other ideas."  He laughed.  We shared a congenial chat-as it should be. 

I met many older people today.  A great many were in their 80's or late 70's.  Most wanted someone with whom to talk.  One lady had her husband walk out on her a few months ago.  Another was struggling to get by in the wake of a divorce after 35 years of marriage. 

One stood out, however.  A 78 year-old lady shared that she is raising her 6 year-old great-grandson.  He's a very active, but nice young boy.  We talked for about a half hour. She was feeling alone and was somewhat soured on people and the direction our country is heading.  But through our discussion, I pointed out that, in fact, there is a whole lot of good in this world, and sometimes we just need to stop and focus on that.  She agreed and then began citing examples of people who have shown her kindness.   

I know I'm rambling, but I think what I'm trying to say is that there's a whole lot more good in the world than we give ourselves credit for.  As she was about to turn away from the door at the end of our conversation, she said, "This always happens when someone comes to the door.  Since I rarely get to talk to anyone, when someone comes to the door, I talk their ear off."  

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Script Ohio

Ohio State vs Virginia Tech
September 7, 2015

The game is over and the grim reality of the Brewer injury hangs heavy over the Hokie landscape.  If you were like me, when Brewer dragged his shoulder off the field in the third quarter, you figured he’d find a way back onto the field.  We know that, belying his stature, he has an elastic quality about him.  As the news was whispered from devices and passed through the crowd, as the offense sputtered in response, and as the defense lost focus and discipline to fatigue and disconsolation; the crowd diminished into the east.

The anticipation I felt for this game was unlike that felt for any game in recent memory.  All off-season, I spent countless hours following the developments of the team and the news from the opponent. I understand that the Master would not allow his team to forget last year.  That alone was reason to suspect a different outcome.  But I dreamed and hoped for bottled lightning uncorked.

The Game and the Opponent

Would the same defensive scheme work twice? No.  We were unable to play tag in the OSU backfield this time. There was little disruption of what OSU wanted to do.  We did stay disciplined for most of two quarters, but that devolved as the game edged into the fourth quarter and OSU began dominating the clock.

I’ll leave it to others to dissect, but it sure looked to me that we suffered from the inability of the interior defense to cover the inside options when they chose to run.  When Cardale chose to launch his darts, he was unharried and able to get the ball to whomever he desired a reasonable amount of time.

Zeke is everything he’s advertized to be, an amazing back.  However, his touchdown run in the first quarter was greatly aided by a mugging and hugging that Dadi was receiving as Zeke slipped past him and off to the races.  With that blatant hold happening right below me and right in front of an official, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a flag.

Braxton Miller’s run was, quite simply, the most electrifying run I’ve seen since Michael Vick zipped through Pitt.  That spin move left our defense and our fans murmuring.

We, in turn, looked solid on the ground.  Our three backs each had positive runs.  Gone are the frustrating days of having backs attacked three yards deep struggling just to get back to the line. Those runs, in this game, weren’t met with resistance until the line with our backs able to fall forward for three yards or even five on good runs.  That, in my estimation, is the greatest improvement I noted.

Loeffler called a fantastic game with both quarterbacks.  There wasn’t a single time in the game when I turned to my wife and said, “What the hell was that call?” Again, improvement!  I especially loved being on the right side of the Matty Ice/McNabb puke play for a touchdown.

Our receivers, Malleck aside, had a pedestrian evening.  Bucky seemed to have a hard time shaking “snug” coverage.  Malleck’s catch while fully extended as well as Ford’s toe-dance with the sideline were remarkable.

The Sideshow

I have to confess that one of the things on my bucket list was watching the OSU band perform “Script Ohio” in person.  While they didn’t have their full band and only performed it to two sides instead of four, I enjoyed the heck out of it and consider that a check off.

My season tickets are in the twilight zone of section 35 where, at most games,  the occasional opposing fans mix in as the opponent’s crowd transitions to their obligatory corner.  Last night, many OSU fans surrounded us.  I asked the kind, large OSU gentleman who sat behind me jamming his knees into my back when I sat down during a red man break how he got his tickets.  He told me that he finagled them through Stub Hub.  I’ll be saying a word or two to that “fan” if I ever see him at a future game.

My knee neighbor was quite nice, however.  He told me that he and his two friends decided to make it a football weekend.  They traveled to Morganhole to watch the cousins win their first game.  Then they moved on to catch the Herd upend the Boilermakers before cruising into Roanoke.  By the way, they said that Perdue is HORRIBLE.

As the game was winding down out of reach, I poured on the good karma and complimented the knee guy and his friends on their win.  One of them was dismissive.  He told me that this win was way too sloppy.  I told him that it was the first game of the season and you have to expect a certain amount of sloppiness since there are no preseason games.  He snorted at that and said in an authoritative voice, “We have higher expectations at OSU.”  How often over the years have I heard similar?  From Miami before we began regularly beating them.  From Alabama before the Music City Bowl.  From USC before the FedEx Interference Game.  From Auburn’s drunken War-Damn-Eagle fans before a Sugar Bowl.  From FSU in the biggest game.  From Georgia , The Pine Trees, UCLA, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, Nebraska, and Texas during bowl games. 

After hearing “Exclusive Club Talk” yet again from another fan base, I realized something.  We lost the game. We tragically lost our offensive cog. But we have not lost our soul.  Who could watch Frank and Shane try to guess the song and not feel lighter?  Who could dismiss the helmet sticker in honor of Adam and Allison from WDBJ as being overly sentimental?  Who could not shed a tear at the Billy Hite tribute and the video piece on Frank?  Who could not look out over the sea of orange glistening in the early evening twilight glow and not feel the satisfaction of being home?

Sure. We lost the game, but, as Frank might say, “There’s a whole lot more to this deal than that.”

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Guess What's under the blanket

It really could be anything.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Teacher Hacking


Teacher Hacking

Brigid Schulte of the Washington Post recently wrote a favorable piece celebrating “The 21-day Timehacker Project”.

Schulte showcased a Leadville, Colorado kindergarten teacher who utilized five time hacks to get the reins on her burn-out. I think there's a good chunk of "Pie-in-the-sky" thinking in the article. I agree with the principle, but practice is a much different animal. Teaching burns. Having just exited on the flip-side of 33 years, I know this truth all too well. Through my career, I found my own "life hacks" that enabled me to manage stress and fight burnout. I was moderately successful, but still ended up battling hypertension, anxiety, family disassociation, weight gain, and genie dancing.

First, here's a summary and brief commentary on the WaPo article.


It sounds like a no-brainer, right?  I can guarantee you that if you enter the education profession without really having a passion for it, you won’t last.


Here’s the rub with this advice.  If you are in a classroom for any length of time, you quickly learn that matters presented to you by the students, parents, administrators, and the requirements of the job all matter most.  To ask an inexperienced teacher to rate and rank the mind-boggling flood of matters plated for each teacher is, at best, a life’s work.


Plans are all well and good. Frankly, this idea is unrealistic in today’s education world.

• Work 30-60 minutes every morning on lesson plans before school. On Friday, she should work a bit after school to get ready for the next week.
Many of the best teachers I know come in to work an hour or more before contract time. The morning hours are an ideal time to gather materials and visualize the upcoming day.  Working only “a bit after school” on Friday is laudable; however, “a bit” doesn’t accurately describe the actual amount of work that needs to be done.

• Put lesson plans in Google docs in order to build on them for the following year, instead of always starting from scratch.

This is a fantastic idea; one that should be incorporated in all schools.  It doesn’t have to be Google Docs, OneDrive, Dropbox, or other cloud storage services.  Most teachers have drifted away from the traditional paper and pencil planning grids to computer-based templates that are editable.  Making plans and teaching from them year after year is a troubling concept. In my experience, each year is completely new.  Each class is unique, as is each student.  You can have a template, scope and sequence, for instruction, but the details of that instruction should be tailored to meet the needs of the current class.  So, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you just have the build a new one every year.

• List To-Do’s by week, not day “to add flexibility of doing them when you are in the right frame of mind and diminishing the tension of a deadline.”

Survival in the job requires a teacher to keep a mental or written To-Do list. That list must always be flexible as deadlines tend to be as fluid as the nature of the job.

• Make tasks fun

or enjoyable; they are not tasks but just part of your life. Experience them.

An admirable goal. Experiencing and being mentally present and invested your life is vital. Without that, you are merely an empty vessel. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything should be fun or enjoyable.  Life doesn’t work that way.

• Put everything back into its place so you don’t have to hunt for it.

Some are much better at this than others.  I’m good at making piles, but less good at sorting through them unless, somehow, I miraculously whittle my “To-Do” list away.


Gifts are wonderful.  Everyone likes presents!  However, when you give yourself gifts, you have to purchase them or pay for them somehow.  Of course, you could just steal your gift. Stealing, though, is not a victim-less crime.


·         Write about her worries, then tear the paper up and throw it away every Sunday.
While I’m busy writing down my worries on Sunday night, I could be catching up on grading, planning, watching Sixty Minutes, or experiencing the tumultuous gymnastics of restless, stressful sleep.

“With the time hacks, I was able to provide a much higher level of academic rigor, differentiate my lessons more, spend more time analyzing student data, and finding activities that really focused on what they needed, rather than blanket fun activities for all students,” she said. “And all because I found more time in my day.”

I’m sorry that the teacher found these particular truths through time-hacking.  I had hoped that she would find time to practice the art of teaching.  I’m concerned by the whole premise of the article, however.  The 21-Day Timehacker Project, on which Schulte reports, seeks to find ways for the teacher to avoid burnout while continuing to meet unrealistic expectations. 

The real issues that must eventually be addressed are the unrealistic expectations and demands being heaped on the plates of already over-burdened educators.  Why is the American teacher rigorously burning-out and leaving the profession after five years?   How have austerity personnel cuts and ratcheted accountability measures affected the heaping job demands on today’s educators? 

When I retired in June, my third grade level colleagues and I sarcastically joked that I wouldn’t be replaced and that the grade level, which used to be served by four teachers and an assistant, would now only be served by two teachers and no assistant.

In part two, I will delve into specific, personal life hacks that I used which allowed me to stay in the elementary classroom for a full thirty-three year career.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Broken Rope

Broken Rope


Rope a’Dope

The rope broke on my string trimmer Sunday, which set into motion an interesting story.

I ended up taking the trimmer over to John’s Mower Service on Plantation Rd.  John, an older gentleman with engine wisdom written across his wrinkled brow, explained to me the deal…

John showed me an Echo trimmer that was hanging on the shelf and pointed out the starter housing assembly on the back of the engine. This assembly contains the tension spring, pulley and rope.  To replace/repair it, all you have to do, he pointed out, is remove three or four easily accessible screws and then proceed with the simple repair/replacement.

My Poulan Pro, he said, would have to be completely disassembled.  With the tank and shields removed, the clutch assembly comes into view. The final step to accessing the starter assembly is removing a small screw inside a 3” shaft in the center of clutch assembly.  This screw, he said is sealed with Lock-tite and is extremely difficult to remove.  In fact, he said that successfully removing it is a 50/50 proposition.  If  you make it that far, you lift out the clutch assembly and are finally able to attack the repair.  In the end, he suggested that I might as well invest in a new trimmer as the cost of disassembling would cost about $70 before the repair was even attempted, and that’s IF he could get the small screw.

As John was telling me this, I found myself filling in his statements, because I knew exactly what he was about to say.  I had spent a couple of hours wrestling with the trimmer the other day.  I had disassembled the tank and shields only to encounter the clutch and shaft with the tiny screw.  I tried and tried, but I could not get that screw to budge.  That’s why I quit and decided to offer it to a professional. Failure was an option. I thought that I must be inept; that there must be some sort of mechanic’s trick to access that housing.  So, John’s words were a vindication of sorts.

That’s sort of how my day has gone.  The Blue Party Van (BPV) had difficulty starting on my way over to John’s.  She’s been a bit “cranky” of late, and as soon as she fired, the “check engine” light popped on.  I usually don’t worry much about that light as it is usually related to an emission issue; but, to be on the safe side, I didn’t turn her off on my errands.  I stopped by Sheetz to get a Diet Dr. Pepper fountain drink, but it was out of order, so I had to pay full price at a 7-11. I eventually made it home after my John consultation without further disappointment.  In the driveway, I decided to put up my windows in case the rains come this evening.  That’s when I heard a grinding crunch in the driver’s side door, and the window crashed down almost inside the door.  It’s definitely stripped a cog or something inside there and will never work again unless repaired. You probably have to disassemble the door and then remove a screw in the window’s clutch shaft.  This is unfortunate because I was about to trade in the BPV for a shiny new pick-up truck, but this and the check engine light will certainly negatively affect the trade value.

Overall though, these problems are insignificant compared to the big picture of a full and joyous life.

Thursday, July 09, 2015


A darkness surrounds me these days.

I'm not sure why; however, the fact that my health has not been great lately might be adding to it. Next Thursday, I go in for hernia surgery. My doctor will perform a traditional surgery. On the dark bright side, he said I'll be out of work at least two weeks up to six weeks. That, of course, will keep me from school through winter break. Never before have I been so happy to have my body cut open so I wouldn't have to go to work.

Work...teachers are being mauled by the financial times this year.

We are working harder to attain certain federally mandated standards (100% pass rate by 2013). Yet, we have larger class sizes, lay-offs, and fewer supplies due to the recent wave of budget cuts. We wouldn't want to inconvenience the American public by raising their taxes, however.

My job is wearing on me. Hard.

Last week, the school board voted to give teachers a one-time bonus with one-time surplus money in the health insurance account. All that was needed was final approval from the county board of supervisors (Virginia is a rare state where the school board, although elected, does not have a fiscal authority). They chose to deny the bonus.

Teachers in my school district were devastated.

On Tuesday, there is a county board of supervisors meeting at 3pm. I suspect that there will be more than a few teachers there to silently protest the snub.

My job as a leader in the teacher association wears on me and makes me feel older than I am. Oh yeah...did I tell you that the Virginia legislators will try to mess with my retirement package this spring. They may just add 5 years to my minimum retirement age (Rule of 90). :( Plus, they may vote to destroy the teacher pension program for future teachers. Let's face it...4 billion dollars in a fund sitting within sight of a cash-strapped commonwealth may be just too tempting for legislators to not raid.

I grow weary of all of this.

Project Updates

The Knee:

I was granted a release from my three month crutches and brace sentence this past Tuesday. I can walk slowly.  My rehab starts next week and will run for at least 8 weeks.

The Basement:

It's been completed.  It sort of looks like a knee surgery scar across the floor. However, we no have no currenqt crap problems.

The Deck:

This us a new project.  My teaching friend, Loretta (aka Tim) came out to measure up the project. He will resurface our deck and add some design elements.  He's also going to reconstruct our front entry and fix the darned front door.

My Mother:

She is currently battling for her life at Lewis Gale Hospital.  She appears to be shutting down, but she isn't going easily.  The scene is hard to take. Thrashing. Moaning. Calling out.  IIWII.

The Vacation:

My wife and daughter are on a New York City excursion.  They are visiting my niece and her husband at their Bronx flat.

The Knee Redux:

My wife will have her problematic right knee operated on at the end of the month. We've known for thirty years that she would need work done.  The time has come. Hopefully, her surgery will go better than mine.

Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS  July 9, 2015.

A Declaration in the United States of America,

When in the Course of educational events, it becomes necessary for Educators to dissolve the constrictive bands which have connected them with Deformers, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of educators requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all students are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Learning.--That to secure these rights, public schools are instituted among the populace, deriving their just powers from the consent of the people, --That whenever any deform becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the educators to alter it, and to institute new Governance, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect student Liberty and Learning. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that public schools long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that public schools are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such stifling regulation and oversight, and to provide for their proven methods and designs.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these public schools; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of regulation and oversight. The history of the present Secretary of Education is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these public schools. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

When Barak Obama was elected, many educators and parents thought that Obama would bring a new vision of the federal role in education, one that freed schools from the test-and-punish mindset of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind. But Arne Duncan and Barack Obama had a vision no different from George W. Bush and doubled down on the importance of testing, while encouraging privatization and undermining the teaching profession with a $50 million grant to Teach for America to place more novice teachers in high-needs schools.

During Secretary Duncan's tenure in office:

- He used his control of billions of dollars to promote a dual school system of privately managed charter schools operating alongside public schools;

- He has done nothing to call attention to the fraud and corruption in the charter sector or to curb charters run by non-educators for profit or to insist on charter school accountability or to require charters to enroll the neediest children;

- He pushed to require states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, which has caused massive demoralization among teachers, raised the stakes attached to testing, and produced no positive results;

- He used federal funds and waivers from NCLB to push the adoption of Common Core standards and to create two testing consortia, which many states have abandoned;

- The Common Core tests are so absurdly "rigorous" that most students have failed them, even in schools that send high percentages of students to four-year colleges, the failure rates have been highest among students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students of color;
- He has bemoaned rising resegregation of the schools but done nothing to reduce it;

- He has been silent as state after state has attacked collective bargaining and due process for teachers;

- He has done nothing in response to the explosion of voucher programs that transfer public funds to religious schools;

- Because of his policies, enrollments in teacher education programs, even in Teach for America, have plummeted, and many experienced teachers are taking early retirement;

- He has unleashed a mad frenzy of testing in classrooms across the country, treating standardized test scores as the goal of all education, rather than as a measure;

- His tenure has been marked by the rise of an aggressive privatization movement, which seeks to eliminate public education in urban districts, where residents have the least political power;

- He loosened the regulations on the federal student privacy act, permitting massive data mining of the data banks that federal funds created;

- He looked the other way as predatory for-profit colleges preyed on veterans and minorities, plunging students deep into debt;

- He has regularly accused parents and teachers of "lying" to students. For reasons that are unclear, he wants everyone to believe that our public schools are terrible, our students are lazy, not too bright, and lacking ambition. If he were a basketball coach, he would have been encouraging the team to try harder and to reach for greater accomplishment, but instead he took every opportunity to run down the team and repeat how dreadful they are. He spoke of "respect" but he never showed it.

This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.

It will take years to recover from the damage that Secretary Duncan's policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. [Ravitch]

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Secretary of Education.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our legislators. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their Department of Education to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our meaningless mandates and chronic under-funding. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common interest, children, to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in Practice, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Keepers of the education public trust, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, That these educators are, and of Right ought to be Free to practice their craft; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to spurious mandates, and that all professional connection between educators and the deformers, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as liberated professionals, they have full Power to create and modify curriculum, conclude instruction, contract Alliances, establish assessments, and to do all other Acts and Things which professional educators may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

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.