Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Slice of Life #13: Dad

Today is my dad's birthday, so I thought I'd share 10 great memories of times with my father.

1) Daily trips to the donut shop when I was in pre-school to talk to the locals and eat some yummy donut holes.

2) Years ago we drove in the snow to get me moved to Massachusetts.

3) Our many trips to the Barrio Brewery.

4) Our trips to Pennsylvania with my sister just to get some Yeungling beer.

5) When I would get tired on walks as a toddler, he'd let me sit on his shoulders, even when it was really hot outside.

6) Drives taking the scenic route while singing songs on the radio.

7) Our annual Tucson Rodeo trips.

8) Morning grilled cheese sandwiches every day before kindergarten.

9) The way he always shows up to keep me going during hard times.

10) Our trips to restaurants!

Thank you, Dad, for always accepting me as I am through all of my life's twists and turns. Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Slice of Life #12: Indecision

Anyone who has known me for any amount of years would not be surprised to hear that I'm terrible at making decisions. I should feel so blessed to have these moments in life where I have many options. However, when someone asks, "what are you going to decide?" - I fumble and ramble and can say nothing coherent. I can see the benefits of each path and there are so many gray regions that I never know what to do.

In a simple way, I experience this when I go to restaurants. So many things look scrumptious on the menu and I don't want to be disappointed by choosing something that won't be satisfying or beyond delicious. Or in more life altering matters, the decision is figuring out where to work or what work I will do or even where I might live.

My mother has always encouraged me to think logically when I make important life decisions. That removing emotion helps you see the choice that is best for you. She says this because I often worry too much about how other people will react to my decision that I can't see clearly what I want for myself.

Friends and mentors have told me to think about which decision you could most live without. In other words, they encourage me to think about what I would regret not doing the most. Or I've been encouraged to consider what option I hope will come up when I flip a coin.

One thing that concerns me is that I can't always see the difference between reality and illusion. What if I'm hoping that things will turn out a certain way in reality they will be quite different? What if I just let time make the decision and risk opportunities that are only available right now? What if my current situation really isn't as frustrating is I make it out to be?

 Or I have heard, go with your gut, but what if my gut is wrong?

In the end, I try to remind myself that no matter what path I choose, God will always be by my side. And in the end, those who truly care only want me to do what's best for myself. No matter what choice is made, I will make it be a great experience.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Slice of Life #11: 3:00

On Mondays I am scheduled to tutor Math students at the end of a work day. Students rarely come because they don't know me well; I don't have students of my own this year. After a weekend of recovering from a cold, I was hoping for a chance to leave right on time so I could come home as soon as possible for more rest.

I tried to cover my initial disappointment when a student showed up at my office door for some help with College Algebra.

A few minutes into the tutoring, I was having fun. We were relating operations with fractions involving whole numbers to fractions with algebraic expressions. When you work with students in 11th and 12th grade, you see how gaps from earlier years make it hard to learn complicated concepts. But, we kept working at it and I kept trying to find the entry points to help her learn.

The best part was the sounds she would make as she figured things out. Believe it or not 17 and 18-year olds (even adults) make childlike sounds as they solve a problem. She would exclaim "Ohhhhhhhh!" or "yessssss!" when she figured things out on her own.

I drove home from work feeling like I had accomplished one productive thing, today. And entered relaxation in better spirits than I would have if nobody showed up for tutoring.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Slice of Life #10: Create a Space

There is a place inside where all creative ideas reside - where my years of education, life experiences and observations interact and exchange thoughts. They want to be shared; they want to be written.

But, there are things to do - too many to fit into an 8 (that becomes 10) hour workday. Then, there are chores to be done at home - errands to be run. Decompression time is essential for the last hour or two before bed. And then, I remember, oh, I forgot to write!

To craft writing, I have to create a space inside. It's a place where I can listen to the thoughts and ideas as they mingle together like friends at a cocktail party. I am the waiter bringing food and drinks while I eavesdrop on their conversations.

When they all have gone home, I go behind a closed door to frantically record everything I heard. And then I'm left to ask, what needs to be shared?

Slice of Life #9: Haiku

Quiet weekend days
They are nothing like Monday
I want five not two

Yesterday, I met two old friends for coffee and we talked for a couple of hours. We shared a joke about how we thought the coffee bags were props until the employees actually went over to them to scoop up coffee. Our agenda was to discuss our family lives and work.We shared our struggles and offered one other encouragement. Weekend meetings require no written reports or follow-up work.

On weekend days, hard-working people can stay in bed as long as they want. We have time to make breakfast and time to clean up afterwards. Board games, cards, and favorite television programs are all that is on our to-do list. The objective is to reconnect with loved ones and there is no assessment required. The check for understanding can be found in the sharing of dreams, hopes and wishes.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Slice of Life #8: Fool's Gold

When I was teaching high school Psychology, one of the high school counselors introduced me to the True Colors personality test. There are four that represent different aspects of personality. They are blue (people person/pleaser), green (analytical), orange (adventurous/spontaneous), and gold (organized/traditional). One goal of the test for the students in my class was to learn the importance of working with folks who have different natural strengths for positive interdependence. You take a personality assessment and the results identify your strongest colors.

My strongest color is blue and my secondary color is green.

Often, my co-workers who have also taken the test predict that I am strong in gold. Gold is actually my weakest color. In my office there are papers everywhere. I can say, "it looks messy, but I know where everything is," but it isn't true. I can be seen frantically hunting through stacks and stacks of paper to find what I need. My car is an absolute wreck. And if it wasn't for my partner (who is strong in gold), our apartment would be a disaster area. I also am not very traditional. I love change and I often change my situation when I get bored - almost with too much frequency. I imagine to-do lists could be helpful if I could find them after I write them.

People that I know who predict that I am gold are surprised when they hear the truth. I've been asking myself, what do I do or project that gives the appearance that I'm gold? Is it the fact that I dress up to work everyday? Or have I had to work harder at organization because I have no natural skills? Do I hide my messes well?

Even though what others might see is fool's gold, I'm a true blue guy.

Slice of Life #7: Tested to Death - We Miss You, Informal Assessments

As a Math coach at my high school one of my jobs is to coordinate all district and site common assessments for my school.

I spent two days in the library calling in all of the students who were absent on district test day or needed more time to finish. Of course, more information about our students is very useful, but I feel the teachers' frustrations that between district, state, and site common tests, they have lost even more instruction time than ever.

I calculated the time I have spent proctoring standardized tests since my teaching career began 8 years ago and I came up with nearly 4-5 weeks of my career has been spent monitoring students as they take tests. When scores or performance is low, administrators think - okay, let's get more information about our students.

In the process, our government officials and district administrators have forgotten how useful informal assessments can be. Our teachers can tell with a quick sweep of the room after a whiteboard check who knows and who doesn't know how to "master the objective." We can give a notecard at the end of class and have students do a summarizing activity and we can find out how we need to monitor and adjust our lesson for the next day. We can listen to our students as they discuss and work cooperatively and gain quite a bit of information about their prior knowledge.

Maybe we should be spending more time training and using informal assessments to improve instruction. I think the scales are already tipped too far toward formal assessments.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Slice of Life #6: Comfort List

Everyone around me at work has been sick for the last month. I've managed to escape it so far, but there are some early symptoms that tell me I may have been found by the bug.

Here are ten things that comfort me when I'm not feeling well.

1) Old television favorites like The Golden Girls and Who's The Boss.
2) New television favorites like The New Normal and Treme.
3) Cranberry juice - and lots of it.
4) Sleep - and lots of it.
5) Quiet.
6) Tylenol/Advil.
7) Old photo albums of vacations with my grandparents and times with my family.
8) A good book or a challenging puzzle.
9) Tangerines.
10) Lots of pillows.

And if you're a teacher, you probably understand that sometimes it's better just to go to work than to bother with writing sub plans.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Slice of Life #5: Take a Snapshot

My gym offers a class called BodyFlow that incorporates tai chi, yoga, and pilates. The class starts at 4:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I can never make it on time.

I decided I have to show up when I can. Often I walk in at 4:45, even 5:00 (I stay for the next class) and the teacher is so patient. I just jump right in wherever they are.

I literally show up for the relaxation portion. The last 10 minutes of the class we lay in "corpse pose" and listen to peaceful music. Sometimes, the relaxation just doesn't come. My mind is jumping around from place to place: "Oh, I forgot to do five things at work today - what will I do for dinner - when is vacation?"

Today, I actually relaxed. Something about the teacher's choice of words and the music lulled me into such a comfortable place that I could literally feel the stress and strain melt away. I placed myself back in time to days where I felt totally happy and free and brought those feelings into that space.

She invited us to take a snapshot in our mind of that feeling so that we can call back to it when we need it. I want to make a photo album of those kind of snapshots.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Slice of Life #4: Maybe I'm in the Wrong Challenge

Doing this writing challenge has got me to thinking about my relationship with writing. As a young person, I always preferred Science, Music or Math to anything that involved reading or writing. I liked puzzles and solving problems. Writing was always challenging (and boring) for me. My handwriting was always a frustration for my elementary teachers and so I loathed doing anything with it.

In high school, I had the formulas for writing down pat. My teachers taught me: grabber, introduction, thesis, body paragraph (topic sentence, proof, explanation, quote, concluding sentence), concluding paragraph, summary, clincher. It was a chore. And the red pen markings - ick. When I went to college and grad school, I would work hours on papers and often get Bs and Cs. Professors could never explain to me clearly what I needed to do to improve my writing. I liken my feeling toward writing to when my students say, "I've just never been able to do Math."

When I write my best, I have a clear mind, a quiet room, and hours to work everything to be just right. And most importantly, I write my best when the task is meaningful or it is something I enjoy.

Maybe somewhere out there there is a challenge where I can solve puzzles and share Math strategies with other nerds like me. I'm sure there's a collaborative Math teacher site where I can learn more about teaching to the Common Core.

But, in the mean time I will stay committed with the hopes that my feelings toward writing might change at least a little bit before March 31.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Slice of Life #3: What is Repentance?

This morning I slept until 8:30 which I never do. I forced myself to go to church even though the comfort of my own home was beckoning me to stay in bed. A few hours later I did not regret my decision.

I enjoy my church and one of the highlights for me is that our priest is a gifted preacher. He is known for using his iPod music to introduce a sermon and he weaves comedy with poignant truth to help us get closer to our real selves and humanity.

He talked about a definition for repentance that gave me a lot to think about. Traditionally, we think of repenting is admitting all of our many faults and asking God to cleanse them from our souls. In his sermon, he researched the original Greek for the word repentance. Repentance is like going through a metamorphosis. What I took from the sermon: instead of dwelling on the caterpillar-like ways of our past, we have to claw our way out of the cocoon to be the magnificent butterflies that God made us to be.

It seems that dwelling on the past and our "mistakes" can be what keeps us from God and humanity.

Even if you have a different faith system or no system at all, I believe we all can relate to how hard it is to move on from the lamentations of the past. We can't let it get in the way of our life in the present. Repentance is our opportunity create something new to live out our call in service to others and those we love.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Slice of Life #2: The Salami's in the Cupboard

Lately my mind has been so many places that I've been putting things where they don't belong. Here's a list of random places where I've found lost items.

1) After making my sandwich for work yesterday I placed the salami in the cupboard and put the sandwich bags in the refrigerator.

2) One day my car keys were in my bathroom drawer with the razors and toothpaste.

3)  My cell phone was in the middle of my stack of folded t-shirts or under the stack of mail that I should throw away, but don't.

4) I emptied the cat's food into her water dish and discovered it looking very mushy later.

5) The remote control was on the bathroom counter (I know, awkward).

6) One shoe was found under the bed while the other shoe was found under a pile of clothes in a different room.

7) In my classroom, I would frequently lose my water bottle, projector remote, or pen by leaving it at a student's desk. After a month, my students just bring the items to me when they see me scrambling around to find things.

8) The girl scout cookies were on my bed stand (oh wait, I want them there).

Have you ever found something in a strange place?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Slice of Life #1: What The Presentation Should Say

For this Slice of Life, I realized that what I typed should be selectively seen. But, I spent too much time on it to let it go unread. So if you're interested in reading it, you can e-mail me or Facebook message me and I'll reply with the writing. My e-mail is