Friday, September 27, 2013

Say Cheese

September 27, 2013

I got my school pictures back today. Not good. I'm sad that whoever took the picture looked at me, looked at the image he got on the camera, and thought to himself, "Yup. That's awesome--we've got the shot! That's as pleasant as she's gonna look." I look like I'm scared that the photographer's going to smack me in the forehead at any minute. Also, I look like I've got three chins, which--you know, fair enough--but couldn't he have done a little coaching before he took the shot to minimize that nonsense?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Class Discussions

September 25, 2013

I find it really tragic that students associate school with such drudgery and mindlessness--so much so that they tend to think that when a teacher allows them to have a discussion about a particular topic, they have succeeded in getting the teacher to 'waste time' and thereby make class go by much more quickly.  It says something about us that we think talking, debating, exchanging ideas, supporting those ideas with facts or  anecdotal evidence, making connections to ourselves or among ourselves is somehow a waste of time.  That's THINKING, people!  That's processing, formulating. re-formulating, and articulating.  That's opening up to new ideas and new perspectives.  That's never a waste of time; that's where some real learning takes place.  How sad that kids think they're 'tricking' the teacher into 'not teaching' if they continue the conversation.  I love it when kids are invested and engaged in the conversation, even when their extrinsic motivation is to 'waste time'.  If they are fully engaged in order to pass time, they are, in fact, tricking themselves into thinking, which is the whole goal to begin with.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I Don't Know

September 20, 2013

"I don't know" doesn't work in my classroom.  I hear it often, and I think far too many times, kids have said it because it's far easier than having to process a real response.  And we in education let them get away with it because we don't want to put the kid on the spot, or embarrass them.  Or heaven forbid, we think that the kid couldn't come up with an answer anyway, so why even bother.

That's not my philosophy.  If they have an answer, but just don't quite know how to articulate it, I'll help them-ask guiding questions, get to the heart of what they'd like to say.  If they genuinely don't know, I may ask another question, or I may tell them they've got time to process and I'll come back to them in a few minutes, or I ask them to ask someone else they think might have a good response--and then I'll ask the first student to reiterate what the second student said in his own words.  No matter what, I'm coming back to the "I don't know" kid, and he'll contribute to the conversation.  No getting off the hook here.

I don't do this because I want to 'call out' a kid who didn't do his homework; I don't do it because I want the kid to feel bad for not knowing how to join the conversation.  I do it because I believe--really believe--that all of these kids can join the conversation, and have something worthwhile to contribute.  They may not know it or believe it, but that's just because someone, sometimes they themselves, has convinced them that they don't have a voice.  They don't have confidence in their academic voice, so they don't practice their academic voice, so they don't build confidence in their academic voice.  It's a vicious circle; those with some degree of confidence expose themselves to criticism and critique as they join the conversation, and they learn how to refine and articulate and support their ideas because they have opened themselves up to that critique.  Those lacking academic confidence remain timid, sideline observers of the discourse, rather than active participants, stretching and flexing and building their mental muscle.

So I drag them in from the sidelines.  To borrow a sports metaphor, I don't make them jump in and start right off expecting them to sink a three-point shot; we can start with dribbling the ball.  Some of these kids use to be pretty good dribblers some years back, before someone else grabbed the ball away and sent them to warm the benches.  Let's start with that again and remind 'em how they used be good dribblers--pull them back into the game and show them how we can all--including them--contribute.  If we build their confidence and start to stretch that mental muscle, and expect that everyone can be a factor on the court, maybe they'll eventually be less apt to sit out on the sidelines, and more likely to jump in the game.

That's my game plan, anyway.  Everyone plays.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pre-Season Robotics Tournament

September 13, 2013

Nicholas got to head up to Sacramento for the first pre-season robotics tournament this year.  Their robot did pretty well, but got knocked out in the semi-rounds.  Even though they didn't make it all the way through to the finals, Nicholas got to hang out with lots of good friends, including these lovely ladies.  Good experience, great memories!

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Make a Teacher's Day

September 9, 2013

Out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from a former student who is currently studying abroad in Austrailia.  This is a girl I absolutely adored--the kind of student who is full of life, love, wonder, and curiosity.  She has such a positive outlook and a generous heart, and is fiercely intelligent besides.  Imagine how completely gratifying and humbling it was for me, then, to receive this post from her:

Haley Laningham:  You should know as I'm sitting in a cozy flat at the bottom of the world, that the teaching you did and the literature you used to do it had a very important and lasting impact on my security and identity as a woman within which I find clarity and substance every day.

My response:

Donna:  Oh my dear, you can't possibly know how you've made my day. My job is not just a job to me--it is a calling, and it's a calling where I can only hope that in a small way I am able to make a connection with some of the kids I get to call my own for a short time. Most of the time, I can't really know how successful I am in that endeavor; these are not things that are measured on a test somewhere. If anything I did helped you even in the slightest realize or connect with yourself or the world around you, I am touched, and I am grateful to have shared in that. I have had the pleasure to have met some wonderfully spirited, intelligent, loving, curious, and beautiful-hearted individuals in my years of teaching--a handful of students who have left an imprint on me more profound than I am likely to have left in return. Please know that you are one of these, without a doubt. My very best wishes to you on this current adventure--I very much look forward to hearing all about it!

Seriously--this just may be enough of an emotional battery charge to carry me for months.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dapper Dog

September 8, 2013

More evidence that Danielle rocks as an artist.  This dog started off just your ordinary dog, but then Danielle thought perhaps he was a little more sophisticated than that.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


September 7, 2013

We attended the second annual Sangerpalooza, where Doug and the boys provided rockin' entertainment for the crowd.  Although it was terribly hot in the afternoon, the evening breezes began to blow and it cooled down enough for dancing, which is always a good thing.  Photo highlights from the evening:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pre-Show Preview

September 2, 2013

This is the last full out rehearsal before the upcoming Sangerpalooza gig on Saturday.  Don, the new keyboardist, invited everyone over to his house to practice, and he and his wife decided to host a little bar-b-que while we were there.  I got to meet Don's wife and kids for the first time, and we got along great!  She loves photography like me, and our kids aren't too far off in age.  It was fun getting to know her, and I'm looking forward to hanging out again at the Sanger concert.  I played around with some different settings on my camera during practice, and even did a little video.  I think I got some fun shots of band!