Category Archives: education

Dear Graduates,

Congratulations!  You’ve made it through high school!  All of your work has paid off and you are getting a diploma.  You’ll sit and listen to the valedictorian gushes about the wonderful memories you’ve all made together.  You’ll clap as the senior class president regales tales of homecoming and prom.  You’ll role your eyes as the principal talks about the responsibilities of adulthood.  You’re friends and family will cheer when your name is called.  You shake hands with education board and the principal and the assistant principals and you get to finally move that tassel (is it left or right?) to indicate that you have reached a major accomplishment in your life.  You’ll hug your best friend (friends for life) and kiss your significant other (we’ll always be together) and you’ll have an amazing night.

And then you’ll get up the in morning and realize that it’s over.  High school is officially done.  Now what?

It’s an okay feeling to have.  There might be lots of excitement for the future.  There might be some dread that you have no clue what you are going to do with your life.  There might be some anxiety over college or the military or your job.  It’s all perfectly normal things to experience.  As you enjoy your summer and prepare for your future, I hope that you’ll remember the lessons learned from your friends and teachers in high school.

Some friends are worth keeping and some friends are there because of circumstance.  I know it’s hard to hear because BBFs and all.  I’m still friends with a few people from high school, and yes, one of my best friends from high school is still one of my best friends today.  But I rarely talk to other people that I considered close friends in high school.  It’s not because we didn’t care for each other, but we grew up and went separate ways.  I still remember them fondly and see occasional updates on Facebook, but our lives no longer bring us together on a daily basis.  It’s okay to let friends go and make new ones.

Teachers really do care about you.  It might not seem like it, and maybe all teachers don’t care specially about you.  But I’d bet that every single graduate can point to at least one teacher in high school who genuinely cared about you.  That gets more difficult to find as you go into the scary “real world”.  Professors and bosses and drill sergeants are more likely to see you as just another number or responsibility unless you do something to make them see more.  Be involved, introduce yourself, try as hard as you can, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, don’t be afraid to push yourself and show your dedication.  Get to know these people as people, as much as you can, at least.  I mean, don’t cross any lines where you will get kicked out or fired.  Have some boundaries, of course.  My point is, make connections with people and show that you care about what you do.

You will forever be a student.  You might not always be in the halls of a school or sitting at a desk, but keep learning.  Find things your interested in and passionate about and read about it or listen to podcasts about it or watch YouTube videos.  Get involved in local organizations or clubs were you can experience new things.  Travel and experience the world because there are so many things out there that are interesting and cool and fun.

Good luck to you all.  I wish you all the best whatever the future brings you!

Congrats, class of 2016!!

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Dear Students

I just want to tell you that it’s time to take responsibility for your own learning.  I’m trying my best.  Are you?

I had a student ask me the other week why I kept lower their grade.  Why I was lowering their grade.  Not how they could help their understanding.  Not what they could do to increase their grade.  I was lowering their grade and they wanted to know why I was ruining their GPA.  Seriously.

I’m not ruining your GPA or lowering your grade.  I enter grades in the gradebook based on your performance and understanding.  Why are you turning in assignments half completed and expecting full credit?  Why aren’t your taking responsibility for your learning?

I had another student ask if they could have extra credit.  This student is missing half of the assignments I have given out.  Why should I go out of my way to give you extra credit when you don’t do the regular credit?  Why aren’t you taking responsibility for your learning?

I am at school at 6 am every morning and I leave school around 3:30 pm every afternoon.  I work nights and weekends to ensure that you have fun in class, are engaged, are stimulated, and are learning the material.  I bring papers home and ignore my pets and friends because I need to grade and provide meaningful feedback.  I lose sleep at night because I’m trying to figure out new and better ways to teach concepts that I know are difficult.  Please don’t mistake this as a complaint.  I love my job (despite what pop culture leads you to believe about teachers).  I really enjoy working with you and teaching you and watching you grow into the young adult that you will become.  I don’t mind grading and planning on my off time.  I understood the time commitment of the job when I signed up.  So I don’t mention these things to complain.  I mention them to illustrate my dedication to you.

I know you have other things going on.  I know you have sports and clubs and jobs and friends and family and stuff.  I don’t expect you to live and breathe chemistry, but I do expect you to try.  I do expect you to do the work.  I do expect you to ask questions.  I do expect you to get help when you are struggling.  I don’t think it unreasonable to ask that you think about things and challenge yourself.  You will certainly be expected to once you leave the comfortable halls of high school.

So please, start taking responsibility for your learning.  If you don’t know, ask.  If you don’t understand, get help.  I am here for you and I am always happy to help in any way that I can.  But if you don’t do the work, don’t blame me for your grade.

Sincerely,

Your teacher


Too Hard

School is back in session and I have a whole new group of kiddos, including 2 sections of honors chemistry.  These are the top kids in their class; these are the kids who most likely want to go into science (either get a degree in science or are pre-med).  They are smart kids who believe a B is failing.  Then they get to honors chemistry.

I’ll be the first to admit that chemistry is hard.  It’s this weird combination of math and concepts and application that most students don’t see in high school.  I don’t just require them to know the information, I require them to apply that information to new and interesting situations.  Not all classes do that.  History is just names and dates to these kids.  English is just writing some stuff down.  Math is just solving for x.  And it’s easy for them.  Suddenly they find themselves in a situation where it’s not so easy.  They don’t have all the answers and they don’t always know all the answers right off the bat.  It’s frustrating to them.  I totally get that.  I’ve had classes like that.  But I truly believe that those type of classes made me a better student, and maybe even a better student.

I had a class in college that was super hard.  It was called terrestrial arthropods and it was a 400 level class.  It was the only invertebrate class that semester and I needed it to graduate at the end of the semester.  I dreaded that class.  For a week before classes started, I seriously debated if I should drop it and take a different class the next semester.  But that would delay my graduation and I was done with school.  So I took the class and I got an A.  It was the most difficult, time consuming A I even received.  It was also the best A I ever received.  I actually worked for that A.  I put blood and sweat into that A.  I fucking aced that class, damn it!  It taught me something (I mean, besides how to ID an insect and how spiders breathe):  just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

Ok, back to chemistry.  So, I hear students talk in the hall.  One thing I hear my honors students say is “that class is too hard”.  And I have to think to myself “Too hard?  We’ve done, like, maybe two things.  They had to count significant figures and design a lab.  If that’s too hard, well shit…”  I hear it a lot in class too: “That homework was too hard.  That test was too hard.”  I’m trying to figure it out.  Is it really too hard, or do they just not want to do the work?  Sometimes, I’m not sure.  I don’t think it’s too hard.  It’s not easy, to be sure, but too hard?

My knee-jerk reaction is to make it easier.  “Ok, I’m sorry it’s too hard.  Here, let me hold your hand while I walk you through this step by step.”  I want them to enjoy my class.  I want students to want to take the class in the future.  I want students to do well.  That’s when I realize that I’m already doing that.  Students do enjoy my class.  Just today a student was telling me that they “loved this class” even though they weren’t sure about it in the beginning.  I would be doing my students a disservice if I made it any easier.

My message to students is a simply one: Try harder.  I know somethings it’s difficult and you don’t understand.  Take a break.  Go watch a show, listen to some music, play a video game.  Then sit your butt back down and figure it out.  Life isn’t going to get any easier and if you give up on something just because it’s “too hard” at first, you’re going to miss out on a lot of stuff in life.  Besides, your A in honors chemistry will mean a lot more to you than in any of those “easy” classes.  You just have to work at it.


Some of them can actually think for themselves

I have the pleasure of being the Science National Honor Society sponsor at my high school.  As the sponsor, I arrange trips for the students to engage in community projects.  Some of those projects involve students teaching elementary school kids about science.  Some of the projects involve the students pulling weeds in order to help native habitats.  And some of the project require students to interact with grad students in order to learn more about science.  In all of those projects, I’m super proud of my students.

Today, I took about 20 students to ASU to hear presentations from grad students at the Institute of Human Origins.  The grad students walked my high school students through the basics of human evolution.  Then they asked my students to arrange a set of skulls from oldest to newest.  My wonderfully fantastic students were not only able to put skulls in a mostly correct order, they were able to justify why they chose that order in the first place.  And their reasoning was sound.  Given what they knew and what they just learned, they were able to work together and solve the problem.  They impressed me and the two grad students who were leading them through the lesson.

It’s easy to become jaded when you teach.  You see a lot of students who give up, who don’t challenge themselves, who don’t try hard, who don’t leave their comfort zone.  It’s easy to think that they are lazy and stupid and that the future is doomed.  It is easy to give up on humanity and turn your back on the younger generation.  Then you see students work together to solve a problem.  You see them think it through and put thought into their decisions and take each other’s opinions and critics in order to accomplish a goal.  And you realize: things are not doomed.  There are smart students out there, smart young people who will go on to be smart adults and contribute their knowledge to the collective good of humanity.  They talk about their future with such optimism in their voices and in their eyes.  They are excited about college and learning and becoming better.

It’s easy to forget that not all of them will become parents at 15 and work at McDonald’s for the rest of their life.  I’m glad I get to see those students who will really change the world.  It makes my remember why I want to be a teacher.  Why I want to stay a teacher and inspire students to continue their education.  I’m glad I get to be their sponsor and see them use their skills to solve problems.


What Students Really Need to Hear

I just said the same thing to my classes today because they didn’t do some homework. The point wasn’t that they didn’t do their homework. The point was that they didn’t even try because it was “too hard”. That thought drives me nuts! As I told me students: Step up and figure it out. Life’s hard, get a helmet.  This essay is exactly what I wanted my students to hear.  The point of school isn’t the academics, although those are good things to know, the point is to step up and learn to overcome difficulties.  Thanks for writing it. 🙂

AFFECTIVE LIVING

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

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rethink my classroom

The Buckeye Union High School District just passed its bond on Thursday. This means that my district gets some money to build some badly needed buildings (cause we have on average 40 students per class and no more rooms for new teachers), some extra buses (cause our district is growing like crazy), and a laptop for each student. BUHSD is going one-to-one with technology.

This is an interesting change to this district. Buckeye is a fastly growing community and I see this as a step in the right direction for the school and the community at large. Time to enter the 21st century. Students that I teach are going to fact completely new challenges than the ones that my generation is facing and technology is going to be key to their success. These students need to use the resources available to them is super important and often overlooked. We expect these kids to know how to use technology because they have smart phones, but the truth is that they are just as clueless as other sects of the population. They just know how to snapchat better. It boggles my mind when I ask students to look something up. Most just Google the exact question asked, read on the first link (they don’t actually click on it), Yahoo answers or Wikipedia. They don’t know how to use key words or how to look for creditable sources. So that becomes a challenge as a teacher.

The second thing this bond does it’s make me think about how to redesign my curriculum in order to effectively use these new devices. Students having laptops completely changes the way I need to teach. No more PowerPoint notes and worksheets. Or is there still a way to use those? How do students turn stuff in? Which program is best to use for file sharing? How do you administer tests? How do you charge 30+ laptops in a class using the four outlets available?

All these questions need to be thought out and answered. But despite going into the unknown, I’m excited for the change. This will be something good for my students, my school, and the community. It’ll be exciting to see how it plays out next year.


Flying Time

I’m always amazed at how fast time flies by when I’m teaching.  Seriously, wasn’t it just August.  Midterms have been taken.  Fall break is over and done.  We’re almost to Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving break.  Then finals and winter break.  It goes by so quickly.  I know that’s kind of a cliche thing to say, but it’s also true.

It’s a weird thing to get older.  I wasn’t sure I was so aware of this when I was a teenager or even in my early twenties, but it’s kinda bizarre.  I’m sure all of my older relatives smile and laugh when they see me saying this, because I’m sure they went through it too.  At least I hope they did.  It’s something that dawns on me as a teacher from time to time.  15 years ago, I was one of those kids sitting in the classroom.  I listened to my teachers, but I secretly thought they were full of crap.  Did they have the realization that they too once thought their teachers were full of it?  Does every teacher ever realize that even as we give sage, worldly advice to our students, we realize that they will believe us or heed our advice until they are in their late twenties and early thirties?  And, of course, by then they could be giving worldly, sagely advice to a new group of teens who just couldn’t give a shit about the great things the adult was saying.  It’s a cycle of disinterest, unbelieving, realization, and then trying to pass on unwanted wisdom.

My father is chucking to himself right now as he reads this.

So time flies by us.  At the end of this month, my grandmother will turn 95 years old.  I wonder how she feels about giving advice to foolish young people who will never heed it away.  Maybe I should ask her.


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