Pride: The Mysterious Element.

September 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Junius H. Rose High School is a fairly normal public high school. That begs the question, “What is a ‘normal’ high school?”

A few weeks ago, I talked with both of my parents and my sister about the high school I attended. We discussed how the school went from a powerhouse both in academics and athletics to a middle-of-the-road high school in just a few short years (although JHR experienced a decline, it is quickly on the rebound under the watch of its new and energetic principal). Even through this decline, JHR remained one of the most popular schools in the county. Most students at JHR graduate on time and are on the path to attending a four-year college. Many student athletes receive scholarships to play sports in college. Each senior class consistently pulls in thousands of dollars in scholarships. Rose was in fact so sought after at one point that numerous parents bent rules and used relatives’ addresses in order to enroll their children at JHR. The school I teach at in Charlotte is quite the opposite. It is perhaps one of the most notorious schools in the district and parents constantly try to pull their children out of the school. I disagree with the general consensus that my school is a “weak” school because there are many outstanding programs at the school which set it apart from any other school in the district, perhaps even in the nation. Discussing this with my parents really made me think about what makes one high school more appealing than another.

The first distinction that comes to mind is a predominance in extracurricular activities. While students should be focused and driven to do well in the classroom, the activities they are a part of after school most likely motivate them to come to school and to become passionate about something (whether that is football, photography, or law). Extracurricular activities also foster teamwork and relationship-building among students. The reach of successful extracurricular activities at a high school can do wonders for the pride students carry for the school.

A consistent voice throughout the school and community also explains why some schools are more appealing than others. Rose is constantly supported by local media, restaurants, and businesses. The community backing means a lot to students at JHR and helps create a sense of pride at the school. More importantly, the greater Pitt County community has a certain vision and expectation for what JHR students are capable of. JHR students are students that attend college, excel in athletics, and that give back to the community. This expectation has caused students to subconsciously uphold themselves to a certain standard.

Last but certainly not least, academic success sets schools apart from one another. Schools with honors classes are great. However, schools with AP or IB programs get way more attention than those with honors  classes. Schools that push students to perform at these higher levels of rigor create the upper echelon of public schools. As a result of having higher academic standards, students feel empowered with knowledge and with a sense of possibility for what their future has in store.

In each of the three items I mentioned, school pride has been mentioned either directly or indirectly. Extracurricular activities, community support, and academic success each help foster school pride. Creating a sense of pride amongst students for their accomplishments and their successes, whether they are big or small, really helps distinguish a “great” high school from a “normal”  one.

As a teacher, I am finding myself more and more committed to building pride at my school. Not only pride among students for the school they attend, but pride as a staff that leads students to success and pride in the community for the rich traditions and culture that my school has fostered for decades. Each day, I am committed to helping this once rampant pride to the forefront and bringing my school back to the powerhouse it used to be. One day very soon, it will return to its full potential.

My two musical goals for this week: Learn the chord sequence for the chorus in Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted,” and listen to Jarod Niemann’s “Shinin’ on Me” every morning before work.



June 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Just before leaving our apartment on Friday night, one of my friends asked me if I wanted to join him for yoga in the morning. Since it was a Friday night, my first question was, “What time?” (actually, I may have asked how much it cost first, let’s be real). The response was not quite ideal; 8:30. I was then informed that in order to obtain a yoga mat I would need to arrive by 8am at the latest. Now those of you that know me well surely have gathered that I enjoy resting during the weekend since I don’t quite do that during the week. Despite my initial hesitation however, I agreed to join my friend for yoga at 8:00 on a Saturday morning.

Many of you probably already know where this is going but I’ll keep you in suspense for a few more minutes. Myself and two others were able to stretch with an instructor before the actual session began. Once it started, we were completely lost but had an excellent instructor to show us the unfamiliar poses and coach us through the more difficult ones. The females in the class (100% of the rest of the class was composed of females) were most likely amused with the three men at the front of the class who had absolutely no idea what was going on. At times I exchanged glances with my friends. The thoughts behind these glances were, “Whoa,” “What’s happening,” “Seriously?!?,” “Holy cow,” etc…

After leaving the yoga session, I did not feel very transformed. I did not feel especially refreshed and I also was unsure if I had gained much from doing yoga in a formal setting for the first time. When I got back to my apartment, I decided to go for a bike ride since the weather was very pleasant. Towards the end of my ride, I started feeling very energized and in control of my own body. This new sensation was a very sober one, and exciting. As the day went on, I continued to discover benefits of the hour-long morning yoga session. I realized that I had worked a set of muscles that normally does not receive attention and that I was more in touch with fine motor skills than I have ever been before. I realized that I was already sore just a few hours after the workout, which normally does not happen. For me, this was a good sign. I love the feeling of a nice productive muscular soreness. I also observed an immediate improvement in my posture. Needless to say, deciding to attend a (free) yoga session at Lululemon was probably one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. I can’t wait to delve into this new activity throughout the summer!

Conclusion: Add yoga to the list of crazy things that I do.

Notes on Productivity:
Least productive part of today: Passing out on the couch for 1.5 hours.
Second least productive part of today: Walking aimlessly around Lowe’s with my roommate (almost found some materials for an epic idea, but didn’t pull the trigger on it – counterproductive).
Most productive part of the day: Learning 4 new guitar chords (Hey, that’s productive for a lazy Saturday during the summer).

Quote of the day: My roommate and I were en route to Target. As we passed a park, a man was holding what looked like a rug up to a water fountain. We got closer, and soon had a view of what this item actually was when we passed it; a dog. My awesome roommate remarked, “What is that sheep?”

Post songWhiskey Girl (Toby Keith). Roomie and I both started singing as soon as it came on.

Time to get after it again. Here’s to a productive Sunday!

The Calendar.

June 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Opening thoughts:
“You’re in the wrong business, man. You need to be in planning” -fellow teacher
“You had to have been in a frat[ernity] in college. You don’t just pick up skills like that on the street.” -Colleague at Teach for America

Over the past several months, Teach for America has bestowed upon me many wonderful strategies associated with highly effective teachers. As a part of my journey with TFA, I have been exposed heavily to Teaching as Leadership. The TAL rubric, one of TAL’s most powerful documents, can be used to help teachers run their classrooms in a very purposeful and efficient manner. Teaching as Leadership emphasizes that excellent instruction can be achieved through setting big goals, investing students and their families, planning purposefully (which is always done backwards, instead of forward), executing effectively [best achieved with moderate (not excessive) amounts of caffeine],  continually increasing effectiveness (CIE), and working relentlessly. The TAL rubric is lovely in the classroom (although it is quite a bit of work to accomplish, trust me). However, I have learned that the TAL rubric can be slightly modified and adapted for everyday use outside of the classroom as well. Consider the following two examples:

Daily summer planning

Big goal: Begin planning for the upcoming Mock Trial season, run errands (drop off dry-cleaning, return items at Target, grocery shopping), continue working on new mentor program, etc…
Investment: I will not waste today. Additionally, if I succeed in completing these tasks before the sun sets, I can enjoy the pool (delayed gratification)
Planning: Create a list of all items that need to be completed. Split items into categories for easy organization. Make separate Post-It notes or Remember the Milk lists for each category.
Execution: GO! (Check items off list as they are completed)
CIE: Milk will spoil if I go to Trader Joe’s first. Postpone and go to Target to exchange bicycle pump first.
Working relentlessly: GO, GO, GO!

Bank of America 500/Coca-Cola 600

Big goal: Enjoy one of the greatest ‘Murican traditions ever to the fullest extent possible.
Investment: Skip this step since investment is not needed for NASCAR (it only comes around twice per year).
Planning: Create list of essential NASCAR items [tickets, chariot, epic campground space, American beer, sunglasses, sunscreen (optional), plywood, designated drivers (or tents), spare cash for funnel cakes, Five-hour energy shots, obnoxious wig(s), redneck accent, camera for documentation, cell phone, etc…]
Execution: Once at NASCAR camp site, open first beer. Consume. Recycle can. Repeat.
CIE: Beer remains in oversized cooler at campground site (fail). Find soft cooler and carry into race (winning).
Working relentlessly: Don’t stop believing.

 A dear friend and legendary teacher (I would say legendary human but the general consensus is that he is actually superhuman) took on the challenge of increasing the Teach for America corps member happiness quotient in Charlotte (CIE-ing, if you will). I have been fortunate to experience and benefit from the epic events that have occurred over the last calendar year. As a result, a few other 2nd year corps members and I have committed ourselves to CIE-ing (note: CIE can and oftentimes should be used in verb form) the mission to improve the Charlotte corps member happiness quotient, especially for incoming corps members. In doing so, an internal social calendar has been created. While working on this calendar, the TAL rubric was really put to the test. The big goal is obvious. Investment is easy. Long-term planning has occurred but event and daily action plans still need to be generated (e-mail lists work wonders for event planning). Execution will be glamorous. Events will be CIE’d as they are in progress and second (and third) year corps members will work relentlessly towards the big goal. Throughout the year, this magical calendar will be released to the necessary individuals to make sure that each event can be a huge success. Consider the social calendar for 2012-2013 CIE’d.

Closing thoughts:
A teacher at my school posted this as her Facebook status yesterday: “Balance is my new goal.” Using the summer to plan out social events for the next school year is the ultimate way to achieve a work/life balance throughout the school year. A better work/life balance will lead to increasing the corps member happiness quotient. In turn, this will result in successful corps members  who can lead their students to success. Let’s close the gap.

-2nd year.

The things that matter

May 6, 2012 1 comment

I visited a student at his home today (yes, on a Sunday) with another teacher. His home was pieced together with random bits of furniture that created the bare necessities of a “home.” This student, whom I shall refer to as “Elmo” (one of his nicknames) does not live with his parents. In fact, Elmo’s parents live in Mexico. Elmo lives with a legal guardian. Clearly, as we all do, Elmo has his own set of problems.

Elmo is able to sort of escape reality because he really enjoys working on his car and making sure it is in tip-top shape (by the way, the car was paid for entirely by Elmo, who is still in high school). Just before I left, I talked to Elmo a bit about his car. The things that matter to a 16 year old child are quite interesting. Elmo has not yet been introduced to the concept of waxing cars. Today, I told him about it. He was very curious and asked several questions. I made a deal with Elmo today. I told him that I would teach him how to wax his car if he got an A in my class. Although I didn’t think it was a big deal, Elmo was thrilled and his face glowed with excitement. He doesn’t know it (yet), but Elmo taught me something today.

One must remember in life that each human being is unique. What matters to one person may or may not matter to you or to any other person. Choose carefully which stories you tell to each person, and the questions and responses that you provide. Be respectful of every person’s history, traditions, culture, and background. Be kind to the things that matter.


May 1, 2012 Leave a comment

I have a ritual. It involves watching Friends before going to bed. Usually around 11, I’ll turn on the television and flip over to Nick @ Nite. The fact that Friends is on Nick @ Nite is very concerning. Not only does it make me feel old, but this also symbolizes that Friends is on its way to only being found in a dusty media rack near you, only in the form of a DVD. Today, Nick @ Nite was not airing the show. Hopefully this doesn’t mean the end of Friends on television. Instead of watching it on television, I had to leave the comfort of my bed and trek into the living room to procure one of the 10 DVD season-sets that I have. On my journey back from this treacherous expedition, I started thinking about why this show has clicked so well with me. Maybe it’s because I highly value friendship, especially in the familial sense that is portrayed in this show? Or because Jennifer Aniston is gorgeous? Perhaps because it’s somewhat realistic, in a fantastic way? I never did really come to a conclusion as to why I like the show as much as I do – so much that I watch it every single night before going to sleep. But, for tonight, I am going to assume that the light-heartedness of the show is an ideal way to ease out of the real world and into a deep cloud of slumber. Joey also coincidentally happens to be the name of my grandparents’ parakeet. Coincidence? I think not. Goodnight.

Hi, I am a hippie (Seth and Josh, don’t worry – I’m only occasionally a hippie).

April 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Today’s blog post is certainly a result of the content I teach in the classroom; Earth & Environmental Science. Due to the topics I cover in class, I have become a lot more environmentally conscious in many aspects of my life. The image below is from one of my favorite websites, the GOOD website. In conjunction with a book that I have been reading by Thomas Friedman (Hot, Flat, and Crowded), the infographic below has sparked what may be the next project that my students work on in class.

Sure, a few Americans recycle. In the process, they do good for the environment. However, for various reasons (see infographic below – click image for original), a good number Americans do not recycle. A mini-project I am considering implementing after Spring Break in my classroom involves this nifty diagram. After printing several copies of this infographic and laminating them (so that the diagrams can be reused – practicing what I preach), I’m going to have my students try to describe simple ways in which they can use the information from this image to help foster a culture of recycling at our school. As an educator, I find that having students educate others is one of the best ways of learning and sparking passion. I’m hoping that a healthy discussion can also be had during class, centering around the issue of a lack of urgency towards recycling in general (and how to fix that). This project (too soon to call it a movement?) will hopefully help supplement the recent initiative to refurbish and maintain our own greenhouse on campus (started by one of Garinger’s finest, Ms. Hendee!). My school is truly beginning to answering Thomas Friedman’s call to create a greener America (‘Merica)


A Transparency

Obscure Fishing Trip

April 5, 2012 1 comment

I’m going to jump back into this as if June 4, 2011 was not almost a full calendar year ago. Here it goes…

Yesterday, I had my annual physical. My former physician has moved since my last appointment, so yesterday was my first time seeing a new doctor. Not surprisingly, he asked about my cardiovascular activities and what I do to stay in shape during the physical. I gave him the information he asked for, and he paused. He looked at my cholesterol levels (which I now can’t even remember) and applauded not only how low my cholesterol was overall, but also the ratio of HDLs to LDLs. He then rambled on in doctor-speak for about fifteen seconds before I did something that caused an unexpected reaction.

Instead of nodding my head as if I understood, I told my doctor that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Rather than translating the doctor-speak into English, my doctor pulled out a chair and told me to hop off of the examination table. His exact words were, “Pull up a chair. I’ll teach you something.” These words alone, when spoken to an educator, have a profound impact. My doctor’s subsequent actions had an even greater effect on me.

A summary and shorthand version of the implication of cholesterol levels simply would not work for him. In place of this, my doctor took the time to fully explain how cholesterol works and what my levels indicated. Essentially, he taught me how to fish rather than merely giving me a fish. As cliché as it may seem, this is something everyone should strive to do on a daily basis. If you have knowledge to offer, don’t hoard it for yourself (unless, of course, it involves a lucrative business scheme such as … CONTENT CENSORED DUE TO CONFIDENTIALITY). Spread the information you have in hopes of enlightening someone’s perspective. This can look different for everyone. Whether you are offering specific knowledge about medicine, or correcting a social injustice that you happen to witness, take the time to explain rather than tell.