Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Apology to My Former Students and their Parents

Dear former middle school students (and their parents),

It's high time that I try to make things right with you all. There are quite a few things I did wrong, and I owe you an apology. Here goes...

I'm so sorry for the crappy busywork I assigned as homework--the word finds, crossword puzzles, "comprehension questions," fill-in-the-blank worksheets, and the like--that took up your time but had very little benefit for learning.

I'm sorry for the too-lengthy problem sets that I gave to everyone, regardless of need or ability.

I'm sorry for the head-scratching poorly-framed instructions on some assignments.

I'm sorry for the lack of context for things I expected students to read.

I'm sorry for the poor teaching I did--hopefully rarely, but I'm sure I did occasionally--and then gave the homework anyway, which meant you had to struggle alone (or together with parents?) on the work I assigned.

I'm sorry that I sometimes assigned things punitively, out of frustration for bad behavior of a few students in class as a way of trying to reassert control in the classroom.

I'm sorry that there were sometimes projects that required far too much parent intervention to actually do the work successfully.

I'm sorry for assigning work over breaks from school, which I didn't do often...but often enough that I need to mention it.

I'm sorry that I didn't always consider the gifts, talents, needs, strengths, and weaknesses of the students in the work I asked you to do.

I'm sorry for generally infringing on family time with low-quality, poorly-designed work that was one-size-fits-few.

I regret the times I wasted your time. I regret the times I caused strife between you. I truly regret the fact that I wasn't always aware of the impact of the things I asked--demanded!--of you outside of school hours.

This apology is probably too little, and too late, but it is honest, and heart-felt, and I hope you can forgive me.

Sincerely,

Your teacher, who truly cared about you but was sometimes blind to the effects of his actions

Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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If you are a former student (or a parent of a former student), please know that this is an honest piece of writing from my heart to you.

If you are a fellow-teacher reading this, I hope it might prompt reflection for you on your own homework practices.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Ensuring Valuable Homework

This one popped up on Instagram for me this morning. Got me thinking, of course...

[Screenshot of my phone this morning...]
You really should follow Bored Teachers on Instagram.
I guess what got me is the fact that I actually really agree with this statement.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Feeling Saucy: Living in an Incongruous Age

I was out shopping with my wife today, picking up some groceries for the coming week. We were hurrying our way through the store, and she would send me on "missions" to grab something so we could get our shopping done quickly. (Okay, so she doesn't call them "missions"...that's a game we used to play with our kids when we took them grocery shopping with us...and somehow I still call it that in my head. My own private universe...)

Wife: "Grab some barbecue sauce, okay?"

Me: "Sure thing."

Down the aisle I go...and stop short...because, well...this is what I saw:

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Network Neutrality

This past week, the FCC voted to end what has been called "Net Neutrality." I've shared on various social media in the past couple weeks leading up to the vote that I am strongly in favor of Net Neutrality, and I've recently had a couple of people ask me why, so I figured I'd write a post to explain my thinking.

The principle of Network Neutrality in a nutshell, is that a network (such as the Internet) should treat all the data passing through it the same. It's "neutral" in the fact that no data is given priority over any other data--none is "sped up" and none is "slowed down" as data is transmitted through the network.

Now that sounds reasonable, doesn't it? (Well, I think it does, anyway.) If we think of the network as being the means of transmission, data is data, and the network shouldn't "care" what the data is passing through. Sort of like the wires bringing electricity to your home, or pipes bringing water, though this is just an analogy. Does it matter what you're going to use the electricity for? Is plugging in a lamp different than plugging in a radio, or a refrigerator, or an electric razor? Does it matter what you're going to use the water for? Is washing the dishes different than taking a shower, or filling a water bottle? As far as the wires or pipes are concerned...electricity is electricity, and water is water. But is it different somehow when it comes to data transmitted over a high speed network connection?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Ending Well

It's been an exciting challenge for me to teach this Geography course for the first time this semester. My students have been fantastic, honestly. As I was welcoming them into our last class meeting today, I was handing out candy canes to wish them a Merry Christmas--a small token of my gratitude for their willingness to play along with all of my "crazy ideas" throughout the semester.

(Funny: a colleague who has also taught many of the same students paused at the door, seeing me with the candy canes. She looked in at the group of students who were getting settled for class, and said something like, "Wow, this is an amazing group of students!" So it's not just my bias here, right? She has taught them too, and can vouch for the fantastic-ness of this crew.)

Last-day-of-class group selfie, of course! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Blindspots

It is almost the end of the semester--I had my second to last class meeting for World Regional Geography today. I'm pleased, overall, at how the course has gone. Room for improvement next time around? Absolutely! But that doesn't mean this first time through was a bust.

We began the semester looking at different "tools" of geography. We spent some time looking at different types of maps. We learned about population dynamics, and the demographic transition model. We considered different economic systems, and different political systems, and what it means to be a "developed" country.

The middle part of the semester--the bulk of it, really--was spent considering different regions of the world. We began with a region that is "home" for most of my students: North America. And from there we globe-hopped through "Team West" (Western Europe, Australia & New Zealand, and Japan--strange, I know, but they are definitely "Team West") before heading to other regions to learn more about "the rest": Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America, the Middle East and Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and all of the subregions of Asia. It was a busy semester!

And now, we are near the end. Today we spent our class time examining various "hot spots of conflict" around the globe. Some of these were obvious and well-known to my students, such as Israel vs. Palestine, and the U.S.'s involvement in Afghanistan, and North Korea vs. ...the world? Others were less well known, such as the ongoing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the long-term distrust between India and Pakistan, or Russian influence in former Soviet republics like Georgia and Ukraine.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Arrival of the Underdog: An Advent Devotional

What follows is a devotional I wrote for the Royal Family Kids Camp of NW Iowa dinner and dessert auction. *

The Arrival of the Underdog

Christmas is coming. We are about to enter the season of the year we call Advent. The word “advent” comes from a Latin root, meaning “arrival.” So in this season we are awaiting the arrival—the advent—of Christ.

One of several Nativity scenes we have in our home...
During Advent, we hear the gospel stories about Jesus’ birth, often multiple times throughout the season, year after year. The story of the angel bringing the news to Mary that she would be giving birth to the Son of God. The story of the angels visiting the shepherds to tell them the good news of Jesus’ birth. The story of wise men, coming so far, seeking the newborn king. In Sunday School Christmas pageants, in candle-lit church services, in devotionals and picture books, we hear these stories again and again. And when I’m honest with myself, I know I’ve heard these stories so many times that they have lost a bit of their impact on me.