Workouts and Growth


Most teachers I know have some goal that they set for their summers.  Sometimes it’s to spend time with their families, travel a lot, or even spend time reworking their classroom for the following school year.  For me, this summer is being characterized by waking up early to do P90X early in the morning before the rest of my family wakes up and growing a beard.

I have done the P90X program before, but this summer (so far) I have really committed to staying with the schedule.  It’s been really good for me to wake up a little early and work out because it gives me time to finish and relax a little bit before our baby gets up and it’s family time.  The workouts usually take about an hour (sometimes more) and I use my upstairs game room to keep the noise to a minimum downstairs.  Oddly enough, I’ve really enjoyed trying the Yoga portion of the program even though I’m terrible at it and usually give up well before the end.  I’m also still working to finish the Ab Ripper portion of the program, but I get better every time I try it.  I’ve also been going on long-ish walks every night when I have the opportunity.  I started downloading podcasts to keep me entertained on my walks.  I’ve even thought about starting back up on the Couch to 5K program, but as of yet I have not.  Overall I’ve enjoyed the summer workout regime and hope to keep it up through the summer and into the school year.

I have a love/hate relationship with the beard growing enterprise.  Some days I really love the look of me in a beard.  I’ve always humored the idea of growing a full beard and I usually grow some sort of facial hair during the summer, since I can’t grow any during the school year.  The problem I’m finding with my beard is that some days it doesn’t bother me at all and other days it is itchy and almost unbearable.  My goal was to grow out my beard for the entire summer, but depending on the day that may or may not happen.  For now, I’ll keep it and I’ll post some before and after pictures after I shave again.


Hypothetical vs. Reality


I feel like compared to a lot of classrooms I was presented with during the teacher certification process I have done a really good job of innovating in the classroom and putting into practice a lot of the neat ideas that we are presented with at any number of conventions and seminars we attend as teachers.  I wouldn’t call my classroom cutting edge or overly progressive, but I would put myself further on that continuum than the old fashioned, sit and get methodology that we know to be archaic and outdated.  Recently though I’ve had a tough time marrying the big, new ideas of the people attempting to revolutionize teaching and the reality of the classroom that I have to teach in.

I see a lot of educational bloggers and authors talking about how we should do away with learning standards and how we should end the push for a common core. I would tend to agree with the idea that we for sure have too many standards and that standards tend to make us teach to the lowest common denominator, not push our students to achieve more.  I would love to be able to throw out all standards and just teach what is best for kids.  There’s only one problem with that, I would probably lose my job.  The administration at my school and even my district is among the most progressive group in the wonderful state of Texas.  On top of that, we are among the highest performing districts in the state as well.  With all that being said, if I didn’t teach the state standards to every kid in my class, my administration would find a way to get me out of teaching…and they would have a good reason to.  We can all debate the points of state standards, standardized testing, and how they should be reformed, but until that day happens I will be teaching the standards that are put in front of me by the state I teach in.  Knowing the content that you are expected to teach well enough to relate it to kids in ways they with receive it and have it change the way we look at the world is the essence of teaching.  I’m not in the business of making kids read a history textbook, take endless notes about the reading they did, and test them over it in by having them regurgitate exactly what I told them the previous few days.  I am in the business of teaching kids the big ideas of history, the cause and effect relationships in history, the amazing stories of epic people in history, and having the kids internalize history to make it real to them in modern times.  All this is done keeping the state standards in mind so that I can be above reproach with my administration and teach the kids the topics and ideas the state wants them to learn in my classroom.

As my brain wandered through these ideas, I started to imagine a school where the teachers all taught what they thought would be best for kids and completely disregarded the state standards.  I imagine the super-artistic teachers completely going off on tangents that have little or nothing to do with anything the kids need to cover during their tenure at our middle school.  I see the overly political teachers standing on their soap boxes going off on their political tangents that make them look like talk show host.  I see people that cover only a chapters worth of material in a school year because their belief is that the state got it all wrong.  Call my cynical if you like, but without some sort of standards we are doomed to the whims of people who have taken up the mantle to teach.  People tend to be fickle and that is exactly why we need some standards.  Not to mention if everyone taught their particular passion in life, the kids across the country would get vastly different educations which would be very difficult to measure in any quantifiable way.

The problem with the modern day idea of state standards is that we have seen them as the bar for teaching.  Our outdated attitude is “all kids need to know are the standards” and once they have those committed to memory our job is done.  Speaking as someone who has only been teaching for four years, the standards gave me legs to stand on my first years of teaching.  I luckily teach in a district that does not prescribe exactly what I need to teach and at what pace, I am given the ability to teach things how I see fit and how it would best make sense to my kids in my classroom.  We walk a fine line calling for teachers to forget the standards and completely teach with passion alone.  While I’m sure there would be wild creativity and imagination there will also be far less new teachers with much stamina in the teaching field.

First Father’s Day at Pecan Lodge


Pecan Lodge

When my wife, Haley, came up to me about a week ago and asked me what I’d like to do for my first Father’s Day it took me approximately a second to respond with, “Could we go to Pecan Lodge for lunch?”  I explained to her that it had made Texas Monthly‘s list of the 50 Best Barbecue Joints and had gotten rave reviews with other local and national reviewers and she said ok.  Little did she know that meant we also had to brave the line to get such awesome food.

Today started off just like a normal day with morning feedings.  After the 6:00 AM feeding we casually began loading up the car to head down to my parent’s house in Irving, about forty minutes south of us in Denton.  We made it to their house at about 8:45 AM and that gave the grandparents about 30 minutes of play time before he next feeding.  At 9:15 AM my dad and I left for the dreaded line since Pecan Lodge is located in shed #2 of the Dallas Farmer’s Market.  We made it to downtown Dallas, parked and were at shed #2 by about 9:40 AM.  I was a little surprised we could get inside because every review I had read said the building didn’t open until 10:00 AM, but we entered and began to notice the intoxicating aroma of smoked meats.  We quickly found Pecan Lodge and followed the line until the end, and we estimated the line to be about 50 people deep.  For good food that’s understandable, but Pecan Lodge didn’t even open until 11:00 AM!  My father and I took turns waiting in line until my mother and Haley came around 10:30.  We sent them to go save a table for us and we continued to wait in line getting hungrier and hungrier.  Finally at a little after 11:00 AM we heard the dinner bell ring signaling that food was now being served (the first person in line when they open gets to ring the bell).  The line inched forward one person at a time until we got to the front.  We ordered “The Trough” which is the family style barbecue plate with sausage, pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket, and a beef rib as well as an order of mac and cheese (or as the sign had it labeled “crack and cheese”).  As soon as we ordered they made the announcement that they were out of beef ribs…boy were we lucky!  Soon thereafter, a gentleman from the back brought out our tray loaded with food (pictured above) and we got down to business.  We ate to our hearts content on the tray of smoked meats and there was plenty left to take home for later.  Our consensus winner was the brisket.  It was thick cut, rubbed to perfection, and literally fell apart when you tried to grab some with your plastic fork.  I personally was not a fan of the mac and cheese, but it was all gone by the time we left.  Since our table was right out in front of Pecan Lodge, we talked with a lot of passer-bys asking us what different meats were on our tray.  All this time our six week old daughter Caroline slept in her stroller, only stirring to get a bottle of milk at noon.  Altogether a wonderful first trip into public with our baby girl and an outstanding first Father’s Day.

On the way home, Haley and I talked smoked meats.  Her father competed in barbecue competitions in the past and still to this day owns a large smoker-on-wheels trailer and Haley always said he made the best brisket she had ever tasted.  She even admitted that Pecan Lodge had the best brisket she had ever tasted.  I’ve had her father’s brisket and I’ve been to a handful of other places on Texas Monthly’s list (although none rated as high or higher on their list) and this was by far the best brisket I’ve ever tasted.  I look forward to trying out some other places on the list, but until I find something better, Pecan Lodge sits alone at the top of my personal best barbecue I’ve ever eaten.

People and Places


There’s a really good chance that next year I’ll be teaching at least one strand of history that I have little or no experience teaching.  Because of the way scheduling works out this summer, I’ll probably have a couple of my normal social studies classes as well as a Texas or US history course.  I’ve taught Texas history before, but it has been a few years now.  With Texas history being the most likely subject for me to teach next year, I decided that some of my summer reading should be to brush up on my Texas history.

Before school was out, I printed off a copy of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) from the TEA and just read over what I’m expected to cover in my classroom next year.  Just rereading this document helped me rediscover all the things I’ve taught in the past about Texas history.  As I read, I realized that my main shortcoming the last time I taught this material was that I didn’t emphasize the people the state would like me to cover.  The concepts of the material I think I did really well covering though.  I decided to really emphasize the people this upcoming year and made a point to remember what they did for Texas history.

My next step was to dust off my old Texas history texts that I constantly referenced a few years ago.  My favorite of them was called Passionate Nation by James L. Haley.  The book was recommended to me by a colleague who taught Texas history with me a few years ago.  The book does a great job of putting history in understandable terms and creating a narrative story of what happened in Texas at that time.  The main character is Texas, so they don’t go into a lot of the causes for exploration but rather focus on the people and places of Texas.  As I’ve read through the book, I’ve been highlighting the people and their stories from my list of TEKS so that when I get to that spot in history class next year I can be sure to emphasize the stories of these people.

Our department has also chosen to really do our best to link US history and Texas history as well as help the US history teachers out by trying to really teach the civil war well so that the kids will come in with a really great knowledge of that landmark era of US history.  One of the ways I’m going to try and link these two histories this upcoming year is through the idea of a love story.  I went to a training this year where they talked about US history as the “greatest love story ever told” where the states all fall in love with each other, develop a relationship, get married, attempt to get divorced but the judge says they must stay together and work it out.  The divorce is the Civil War era and the working it out is the Reconstruction Era.  I really like that theme throughout the story of US and Texas history, so I’m going to see if it resonates with the kids.  It could be a really powerful idea for connecting knowledge if it is used by both Texas and US history classes in back to back years.

I really love history and I really want my students to love history.  It breaks my heart when I talk with students or adults that had a really bad experience with a history class and ended up hating history from then on.  Hopefully I can do my part in creating students that love history and want to better understand the great history of our state and country.

Leadership and Beyond


This week was a typical last week of school.  Two days of finals, a half day to end it all with the kids, and a day of checking out of school.  I am not the biggest fan of the last week of school, for the most part.  I hate killing time with kids because we have to be there because the kids get bored with that so quickly.  I feel like I always have run out of energy and get short with my students more quickly during the last week.  By the time the kids leave on the last day my mind is clouded by my frustrations of the last week of school and not the wonderful memories of the past school year.  The kids are interesting though because even the ones that have hated school all year long reflect on the “good times” and don’t want to leave.  That’s one thing my school does really well, we create an atmosphere of family that the kids can recognize.  They are excited to leave for the next step of their educational journey, but they always look back with fond memories of their junior high days.  I’m so grateful to work at the school I do with the people I do.

Yesterday we met as a leadership team to discuss changes for the upcoming school year.  It is basically all the grade level leaders, department heads, administrators, and a few selected teachers meeting for a day to review policies and set new ones for the upcoming school year.  Usually it’s in the middle of the summer, but this year we decided to have it really close to the end of the school year.  This year we decided to change our schedule just a bit and talked a lot about welcoming new teachers onto our campus.  I think this a bigger problem in teaching than most veteran teachers actually realize.  I lucked out being closely linked with a couple of other coaches and had them looking out for me my first couple of years, but rookie teachers don’t always have people looking out for them.  We decided to take it upon ourselves to train up the new teachers to our campus as well as reminded each other of some of the difficulties of transitioning to a new campus so we can all be aware of where the rookies may need some more support.  Hopefully we’ll do a better job of welcoming these new people to our team.

I’m pretty sure we’ll be welcoming a new member to the history department this year, so I really want to make sure they feel supported and integrated well into our department.  Maybe it’s just my perception, but I feel like I have a very fragmented department overall.  This year I really want to try and get everyone on the same page and move forward as a department.  We have some challenging personalities in the history department so it won’t be easy, but I would really like to see movement toward a cohesive group.  We’ll see how this goes in the upcoming school year.

Summer Plans


The end of the school year is here.  This was signaled by the 6th grade taking their annual field trip.  In previous years we’ve gone to a roller skating rink, but since the past few years we’ve had some fairly major injuries we decided to take them to a local water park.  My comment was that now we’re trading possibility of serious injury for the possibility of drowning a middle school kid, but everything went fine.  With the end of the school year, my brain automatically starts to plan for summer break and what I’m going to do with my time (outside of family time, which is a given).

  • Planning for our pilot project next year.  A few teachers on my campus are going to be trying standards based grading as well as some other parts in Mark Barnes’ book Role Reversal.  We’re going to be meeting soon after summer begins to try and plan for next year and see how we can support each other through this major transition in the way we teach.
  • Getting ready for Confratute.  I’m going to be heading to the University of Connecticut in July for some training in gifted education.  There are a number of things that need to be planned.  I need to read up on the course options for my time there as well as some sights to see on my days after.  I also need to figure out how I can help Haley to be successful since she’ll have a four month old and this will be the longest we have ever been apart from each other since we’ve been married.
  • Updating my reading list.  I’ve done my best to collect an overwhelming amount of books to be reading over the summer about a variety of topics.  At the beginning of putting this list together I was trying to borrow as many as I could, but I’m running into a few books that I had to order.  Some reviews to come (assuming I read as much as I plan on this summer)

I also have a number of projects that need to happen around my house this summer.  It should be a busy summer and hopefully a productive summer.  Any ideas for any other ways I can fill up my short summer break?