Tuesday, May 31, 2011

End of an Era...

This is it. Today will be the last time Libby and I will be sharing a classroom. And, believe it or not, we are both sad about it. Not that we don't look forward to having a room to ourselves (and 25 students at a time), we do. But we will miss out mornings together.

I love my roommate. We share one of the smaller rooms in our high school, but we make it work.  She calls me mom, tells me I am old but fun, and shares my liberal idealism.  She makes me feel good about myself. She is also the same age as my oldest son. I am proud to say that this pseudo-daughter is also my friend.

I first met Libby when I began co-coaching speech with her. We got along great and found that we shared many of the same ideas about teaching and kids. The next year I moved to the high school  and Libby went half time because she was pregnant with her first child. Since I was still teaching a couple of junior high classes in the morning and Libby was only teaching in the morning, it made sense for us to share a room. It has been one of the best teaching/learning experiences of my career--and a lot of fun in the process!

Mornings in our classroom can be hectic. Generally, one of us has a student or two coming in--this year it was mostly her. She went out of her way to tutor several students in Spanish.  Plus, we have others who just drop in. But we do manage to find time to talk about anything and everything.

And that is what we will miss. The morning chats over bagels or muffins and coffee or juice.  Some mornings we laugh til we cry over happenings at home or in our classes. Other mornings we cry til we laugh over the same things.

Libby has taught me many things in our years sharing a room. My desk is usually clean now at the end of the day. It is so much nicer to start the day with a clean desk. I only have one file cabinet now. When I left the junior high, I had two! And lots and lots of sample textbooks that I just couldn't get rid of. I guess a little OCD is a good thing!

Libby does such a great job connecting with kids and I think I am better at it now after watching her.  She always seems to have just the right words for them. I love how she always introduces me to students who come to our room. It's nice for me because I meet students I wouldn't necessarily know and it treats students with the respect they deserve as young adults.

She writes thank-you notes for everything. Personal notes, that lets the person know she really appreciates what they did for her.  She is the best advocate for kids I know. She loves to teach--anything.

There are those oldies amongst us who think they know everything there is to know about teaching and life. They poo-poo ideas that come out of the mouths of anyone younger than they. Not me. I am in awe of this young woman. She keeps me on my toes, and I learn from her every day. She truly is one of the finest teachers I have the pleasure to work with.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Poor Imitation of the Original

Mitch and Greg sampling the potato salad to make sure it's "OK"
There are two things my mother is famous for--her baked beans and her potato salad. The family enjoys them so much that some won't eat anybody's elses! My husband's and sons' greatest joy is opening the fridge at her house and seeing "the potato salad bowl"

When my boys were kids, they did't think they liked potato salad. Then one Christmas they decided to try Grandma's. Of course, they loved it. They looked forward to it every year, so I decided to try to make it myself. I, of course, asked Mom for her recipe.

"Well, I use 5 pounds of red potatoes and boil them in their skins. Then Miracle Whip, a little mustard, a little sugar and a little vinegar. I mix that together while the potatoes are boiling so it has time to set. Then just mix it all together when you have peeled the potatoes."

OK--sounds simple enough. I set to work.

The results weren't even close.

"It's good, but...."

I call Mom the next year when I attempt potato salad.

"Hmm, I don't know. Did you peel the potatoes when they were hot and mix everything together right away?"

Well, no!  That wasn't part of the directions she gave me.

I try that. After burning my fingers the results that were a little better, but still not good. I quiz her at Christmas when she pulls out the famous bowl.

"Exactly how much mustard, sugar and vinegar?"  That's got to be the problem, right?


We went through years of me quizzing her and finding out more little secrets to the potato salad. There was crumbled bacon, hard boiled eggs, and how long to boil the potatoes. My results were always close, but a poor imitation of the original.

The last secret divulged came at the lake one summer. "Well, do you mix the bacon grease with the Miracle Whip and other stuff and let it sit while the potatoes cook?"

Bacon Grease?!?!?!?!?!??!  At no time in the 7 or 8 years I had been making potato salad did she tell me anything about bacon grease!!!!!!!!

My husband has now labeled my potato salad almost as good as my mom's.  So have the boys. They figure it's as close as anyone is going to get.  My mom thinks it is as good as hers and said if we put my potato salad in her bowl, no one would know the difference. A couple of Christmas's ago, she told my sisters that the potato salad bowl was mine when she dies...

It's an honor--but I still think mine is a poor imitation of the original.

Friday, May 27, 2011


It's here. The last day of school--well, the last day with students. Students are out early and I will have time to evaluate writing portfolios and enter the grades. I still will have to come back on Tuesday to finish up last minute "teacher duties", but I. Am. Done.

It's been a long year. More classes, more kids, more stress. A lot of drama (it is high school after all). A lot of SSB nonsense. Teacher cuts. Principal resigning. Angry parent. Today is a day I just want to be done.

I read through old posts and realize that I had a really good year!  Reason 791 why blogging is a good thing!

Students grateful for any help you give them. Successful speech season ( and another speech post). Really creative students in all classes. Battle of the Books and kids who like to read. All-State performers. Former students who stay in touch! Students who just make me laugh.

OK--enough of the linking to posts. I guess the point I made to myself is that I had a great year teaching a lot of great kids. I am ready for summer, but come August, I will be ready for school.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Decisionsphoto © 2009 Felix | more info (via: Wylio)

I know that my speech class is not the favorite of every sophomore who comes through the door. And most of them who don't like it, are afraid of it. Face it, speaking in front of a group of people is a scary thing, particularly when you are sixteen years old.  I remember it well. I also know how good it is for people of any age to learn public speaking skills--especially the one about coping with nervousness.

I also know that sometimes kids try to take the easy way out and cheat. Now how do you cheat in speech class?  You plagiarize.

It has happened before, and, unfortunately, it will happen again.  The semester final is a commencement speech. Students have a week to write it. They have example speeches to watch on the internet and examples from former students to read. I will help any of them develop ideas. And the day I go over the requirements for this, I talk about plagiarism.

I don't know why, but this is the speech gets plagiarized the most. And it's the easiest one to catch them on. It has to sound like the student. It needs to be personal. I tell them how I find out they have cheated (Google is a wonderful thing!) Twice before, I have Googled speeches. It's hard to deny that you copied and pasted when the evidence is right in front of you.

Today was a different kind of plagiarism. A student in one class copied and pasted the speech of a student in another class into a word document and delivered it as his/her own. Really. And how did I find out? Two students who had read the original came and told me after class. I looked into it and found the evidence. Geez...everyone has to turn in a copy of their speech. Did he/she really think I wouldn't notice at some point?  My stupid sign must be flashing again!

The hard part of the whole scenario is this. The offending student will fail speech--a requirement for graduation--by having to take the zero. This class was very difficult for the student and I know it wouldn't be any easier the next time. My first instinct was to just let him/her fail ( (this was also the reaction of the parent when I called home). But, everybody makes stupid choices once in a while during their life. You make a decision you think will help you out and no one will be the wiser. . . unless you get caught.

  I cooled down and came up with a "solution".

Tomorrow morning, the student will come in and work on a new speech, which will need to be delivered by after school on Friday. If done, he/she will pass. If not, he/she will retake speech next year. I hope this time, a wise decision is made.

"Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions."  ~Author Unknown

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Am a School Teacher

I read a blog post this morning on The Principal of Change about the importance of school teachers as opposed to classroom teachers. In the post, the author states he believes that classroom teachers are those more concerned with their position and subject matter. I always think of those as the "shut the door and teach" people. They don't worry about the things that happen outside their door. 

School teachers, on the other hand, are "focused on the success of the school as a whole". "School teachers are the ones that see kids outside of their classroom and deal with them in good times and bad.  They never see a student doing something wrong and simply march them down to the principal’s office.  They see, even in mistakes, that an opportunity to talk with a child is an opportunity to build a relationship." (I love the last line)

I am a school teacher.  Sometimes I want to be a classroom teacher. I would love to be able to just shut the door and teach, drag a kid to the office when need be, and not worry about their feelings or if they are having a bad day.  I want to be able to sit in the lounge and gripe about how ineffective those around me are and feel superior in every way.

But, I am a school teacher. I can't watch a student do something wrong and not say anything to them, but I don't hold it against them for the rest of their lives. I don't believe that my class is the most important thing in their lives, because I take the time to get to know them and find out what is the most important thing in their life.  I help students with their homework, even if it isn't for me, because I know they need someone in their life who cares.

I am a school teacher.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Yell Because I Care

In The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch describes a football coach he worked with as a nine-year-old kid. He describe a practice one day where the coach rode him pretty hard. An assistant said to him that it was a good thing the coach was getting on him, "When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you".

That quote has stayed with me since I first read it several years ago. Roomie and I had it written on the white board in our room for several months. We yell at kids a lot. Now I don't mean screaming at the top of lungs yelling. I mean that stern teacher/mother voice that is better than a kick in the butt any day.  We want them to succeed. We want them to be responsible human beings. We want those around them to see the possibilities that we do. We yell because we care.

At the beginning of every year, I believe I can reach every student. I know I can be the teacher that makes a difference. I don't just teach my subject area, I teach the kid. I help them learn how to be respectful--even to those who don't return the favor. I help them figure out where their crazy lives are headed--even if it's just for the afternoon. I help learn how to deal with parents, bosses and other teachers--just to make their days a little easier.

Really--I do. If I care enough about a kid, I care about what they do, how they act, the things they say. When I quit yelling, I have given up.  I have given up on a couple this year. I simply don't care anymore about what they do. It is now up to them. Make me care. Make me want to yell again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

If It Was Easy, They'd Call It Catching...

"Fishing: If it were easy, they'd call it catching."  Sunday, it should have been called catching...

Last fall we bought two kid-friendly fishing poles. A Dora the Explorer and a Spongebob.  Sunday, Josh took his two oldest kids down to the little dock to try them out. Grandpa went along to help. I joined them after a short while and the first thing I was greeted with, was a friend shouting, "Grandma, where's your camera. These kids are catching fish!"

Then both kids yelling, "Gramma, I got a fish."
"Gramma, I caught three fish!"

"Gramma. . ."

" Gramma. . ."

"Gramma. . ."

What's a grandma to do?  I ran down to the trailer and got my camera!

 Of course, there were a few missed fish. In typical four-year-old fashion, Tony talked to everyone around him,  touched every bluegill as it passed him on its way to the fish basket and needed multiple drinks of grape kool-aid.

"Tony, reel your line in a little bit."
"Tony, jerk your pole!"
"Tony, your bobber's under water."

He didn't get too upset. "Gramma! I almost caught that one!"

Mostly, the kids had fun. The fishing action was fast enough it kept their attention, but not so fast the adults couldn't keep up (their dad caught his own share of fish). In the end, it was a perfect afternoon of catching...

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Hear the Ocean...

The things that bring the imagination out in kids...

Holding a seashell up to his ear, Tony first told me he couldn't hear the ocean.

"Listen more carefully," I said.

"Oh, Grandma, I can hear the ocean.
And I can hear the boat coming in,
And I can hear my mom!"

I don't know what she was saying, but it was pretty powerful.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Party On

Here I sit on a quiet Saturday, drinking coffee and watching the lake. It's a little chilly this morning, so I sit and watch the news with Chloe while I write.

Everyone has favorite coffee mugs, I'm sure.  Those ones who seem to fit your hand just right. Ot were given to you by a former student.

This mug is one of the silly things we bought the first summer we had our trailer at the lake. Everyone likes it. When we moved from one trailer to another a few weekends ago, the mug was one of  the first things our youngest son, Josh,  moved.  "I'm taking my mug," he proclaimed.

I guess you can't mess with memories and tradition.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Water Babies

It starts slowly and innocently enough.

"Daddy, can we play on the beach?"
"Sure, just stay out of the water. I don't want you to get wet."
""K, Daddy."

And I know they intend to follow that rule. But soon, off come the socks and shoes. The rule begins to bend. A toe, a fake scream about how cold the water is. A Dare, "You try it" Soon both feet...

"You can wade, but don't get wet!"
More bending...

Dad leaves for a few minutes and Grandma is in charge. Grandma, who loves her lake babies....

Pretty soon, they are wading. Still with the admonishment to not get wet!

Who are we kidding? Kids and the lake and not get wet. Those things just don't go together! The rule breaks.

Soon they are at their knees. Before I know it, they are "washing" their faces. A little splash, a big splash. Up to their knees and running. Giggles of joy.

Oh, oh. Here comes dad!
"I thought I told you not to get wet!"


Monday, May 9, 2011

It's the Final Countdown

If you are a teacher or a student, you understand the title of this piece. 14 more days and counting. Now some would say we have 15 days--but they are counting today. I don't count the current day--I'm up. I'm here. Cross it off.

There are many things on my to-do list that need to be accomplished during these last hectic weeks.  The amount of paperwork waiting to be filled out and turned in is amazing:
Insurance forms,
    inventory forms,
        order forms,
            computer check-out forms,
                maintenance forms,
                    permission to go crazy forms---

Plus, I have a to-do list I want to accomplish at home. Things that need to be done, which normally I would do on the weekend, but now that we are going to the lake they seem to never get done. Plus, I don't want to think about them after Memorial Day:
   DUST (really, the dust bunnies are taking over)
         clean the litter box
                plant flowers in beds
                   plant flowers in pots
                      take donated items to 2nd hand store
                         paint the deck
                             get the deck chairs out
The list goes on and on. I, however, don't. It's time to work.  But I like this to-do list a lot better:

kid to do list, list, Be happy and go homephoto © 2008 Carissa Rogers | more info (via: Wylio)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Daughters of My Heart

My sons have married two wonderful young women. And let me be honest, sometimes I think the girls are too good for my sons!  The things they put up with...oh my. And remember, girls, I really did teach them better!

Kristen and Max 2/2011
Kristen is the wife of our youngest son, Josh.  Besides the fact that she loves our son with all her heart, there are two reasons she has a special place in our hearts--Kaylee and Tony and how she has handled the whole "step-mom" thing. This young woman loves these two kids as if they were her own, truly. And I couldn't ask for more than that. And now, of course, there is little Max.  How she handles three kids on the weekends when Josh is working is beyond me. She's kind of a Wonder Woman!

Rainy at baby shower  4/2011

Rainy married our oldest son, Mitch, last summer.  She has brought our son back into the family and made us close again (and, Mitch, if you are reading this, you know I am right!).  She gifted him (and us) with a ready-made family and helped him appreciate the one he had.  She is the calmest person I know--nothing seems to fluster her! She is really our go-with-the-flow woman.  She even let Mitch have a Hawkeye wedding and let him name their son after a famous Hawkeye football coach.  Wow--the things you do for love! 

I want to thank-you girls for loving my sons and being wonderful mothers to our grandchildren. We are truly lucky to have you in the family.  Happy Mother's Day

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Today I Walk

Today is our school's annual Memory/Survivor walk. It began as a way for our students to give back to the community that supports them. It began in a year when several in our school community had been diagnosed with a form of cancer. It began a few years after my dad lost his battle with throat cancer.

Today, I walk for him. Oh, there are others, but it is always my dad I think of during this walk. I think about what he is missing out on. How proud he would be of my two sons.  How he would chuckle over the antics of his great grandkids. How much he would enjoy the lake.

I think about the things he has missed in the last year. Both boys got married and became fathers. He would truly love the women they chose to spend their lives with. The get-togethers at our house and the chaos that ensues--he would love that. He would tease the kids about the pink elephants in The Wizard of Oz and baffle them with "Two Little Blackbirds". With a twinkle in his eye, he'd tell them that Grandma Pat was the Wicked Witch of the West. He'd play catch with them and go for walks. I'm sure he would teach them how to make french toast and keep the "secret ingredient" a  secret.  And one more time he would make sausage patties under his armpit.

He misses spending his "golden years" with my mom, a cancer survivor herself. He'd golf with Greg and I. He'd come up during the winter and cheer on the Hawkeyes. He'd love Chloe and her silliness.

So today, I walk for all who have been affected. But it's my dad I'll remember.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can't Never Did Anything

An ostrich-like man, he sat in the front row of the theatre, left leg crossed over the right, with the left foot tucked again behind the right ankle. A double- cross of sorts.  And both feet flat on the floor. Really. He was that skinny. Coffee thermos at his feet, cigarette in his hand, smoke making puffy clouds above his head. This is how I always envision the most important teacher in my life.

A very shy sophomore, I don't know what possessed me when I signed up for Drama I.  I never wanted to be the center of attention and certainly never did anything that might make people laugh at me. But he saw something in me that I didn't know was there. He was gentle at first. "Porter, you should come out for contest speech. The meeting is next week." Then came, "Porter, you should try out for the spring play."  He wanted me. I belonged somewhere. I came home.

Rehearsals became the best learning experiences ever. He would stomp up to the stage, playing every character at times, just to cajole us into seeing his vision. He was a hard taskmaster, and I have never learned more in my life than I did during my time with him. He never accepted less than your best.

Quickly, newcomers learned never to utter the dreaded, "I can't". A believer in the phrase "I yell because I care", the words "Can't never did anything!"  would echo through the theatre when anyone tried to explain why they couldn't do something. No one ever laughed at the unfortunate whiner because we knew the feeling. We also knew he was right.

To this day, although I am sometimes still uncomfortable in new situations and trying new things, I do them anyway. I do not say "I can't" before I have even tried. I do not say "I can't" when I am afraid of being laughed at. I do not say "I can't" when in unfamiliar territory. Because somewhere up in heaven the words "Can't never did anything" will thunder across the sky.

RIP, Mr. Niceswanger. Your legacy lives on.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I really hate going to "meetings" alone. Those ones where you have to go out of town and mingle with teachers in your area that you don't really know but are supposed to have something in common with. You know the ones. Usually you come out of them with something good, something positive, something useful. I like that part.

What I don't like is entering the room and having decide where to sit. Always a dilemma--join an established group and be the awkward "5th wheel" or sit alone and still feel like a wallflower.  Today I went the wallflower route. It's OK. I'm in a solitary mood today. And eventually someone comes and sits by you. You go through the stilted "get-to-know-you" conversation and then settle in for the day.

Thank heavens today's meeting is full of "stuff" and not much down time!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Month Of April

Calendar* photo © 2011 Dafne Cholet | more info

(via: Wylio

Here's what happened in April:Co-hosted a baby shower for my daughter-in-lawHeard news about the royal weddingshoveled snowopened up the trailer at the lakewent to the casino and won 1/9th of a $500 jackpotdealt with the SSB'sblogged a week about lake memorieswent to son's for weekend and played with the grandkidsheard news about the royal weddingstayed at the trailer moved trailersgrandbaby #6 arrivedgot new golf clubs tried new golf clubs--LOVE my driverdealt with the SSB'swent to book club and discussed Bitter in My Mouth
unintentionally watched the royal wedding--not much choice, since that was all that was on

Spent a fairly relaxing weekend at the lake (after trying to figure out where to put things)

3/17 I'm So Lucky

  I'm so lucky to have a birthday on St. Patrick's Day☘️ Everyone likes to celebrate my birthday (even if they don't like green ...