To my kids in the Class of 2020

Yes, you are MY kids. Once you are in my classroom, you’re my kid. FOR-EV-ER (I hope you just said that in the voice of the police chief from The Sandlot).

When a teacher looks back on former classes, there are some classes that simply outshine others. The relationships were tighter. The memories are warmer. The students have come back to visit over the years. Your class is one of those classes for me. So when I say I feel bad for the seniors in the midst of losing the spring of their senior year, I mean it like I would mean it for my own flesh-and-blood offspring.

This last weekend, I bumped (figuratively-we were adequately social distanced) into the mother of one of those seniors. She told me how devastated her daughter was. Could I reach out? If you aren’t a teacher, you don’t understand the significance of a parent asking you to reach out to a student you had seven years ago. Like I said, it was a special class. I did reach out, but then I thought, “Why not reach out to all of them?”

So here we are. I truly hate that you are missing out on all of the spring events of your senior year. I’m not going to list them. This isn’t about that. I just want you to know I hate it with you.

Instead, I want to beg you to excel during this time. I want you to embrace this opportunity to grow rather than endure this spring. Take advantage of this disguised blessing to spend time with your family. Many of you are going to leave very soon. You’ll be surprised how little time there will be with them as the next stage of your life begins. Also, remember that all of these events you are missing, they’re missing them too.

That year–We had the wall open all the time. The whole team worked together on so many different projects. Do you remember the owl pellets? You loved those. You were talented. Watching you do our Storyworks plays, it was easy to see that some of you were going to be great on the stage in high school.

You were so close to each other and developed or strengthened friendships that are still going today.

Another thing that I love about this class is how many of you come back to visit. Sometimes you come alone. Sometimes in pairs. Sometimes, you come back in packs. I love it. One of you brought me a pizza after school on my birthday and we sat and talked and ate. Special.

One of my fondest memories, and quite honestly, it makes my eyes water whenever I hear the song, happened after you were out of my class. I was blessed to be your 6th grade Outdoor Ed coordinator (how do you think you got those cool cabin assignments with all of your friends). On the night of the DJ/dance thing in the gym, the girls and boys were in there at different times. The girls were having a ton of fun with it. Lots of singing, dancing, laughing. Then, “Girl on Fire” was played. There’s a moment where the music pauses and then over 100 girls belted with Alicia Keys, “THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE!” It was one of those moments when time stands still, the goosebumps raise on your arms, and you get to look around and appreciate life. You were, and are, a powerful group of girls. You were great friends. You had each other’s backs.

I also have a memory that brings about mixed emotions for me. One of our students suffered a devastating loss over Christmas break that year. You took him under your wings. You lifted him up. You helped get him through that time. When his birthday came around, you stepped up and we had that surprise party for him. You were so selfless and empathetic.

Those of you who know me, or have ever sat with me on the last day of school while we read Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, realize that by this time, I’m having an issue with seeing my computer screen. So, I’ll wrap this up.

You showed me seven years ago, and every year since, that you were built for the challenge of the spring of your senior year. You are powerful. You are resilient. You will lift each other up. You will come out of the other side of this, together.

Finally Telling the Story: or How I Became a Teacher

Two decades ago I quit my job, threw my family into chaos, and began the journey to my purpose in life. I imagine there are others out there who aren’t happy in their jobs and know that they are supposed to be doing something else and are just afraid to do it. Maybe my story will help them.

This story has its roots in my childhood when my much older sister ignited a fire for history in me and then a horrible 5th grade teacher almost extinguished it. That’s right, I was ultimately inspired by my worst teacher ever, rather than one of the many wonderful teachers I’ve had.

Fast forward to my 20s. My wife and I had two sons under 10 who really didn’t do well in a Sunday evening church service, but there weren’t any children’s programs for them. So, we created one. We had a blast with our Sunday evening class until, for reasons never really explained to me, the pastor of the church decided he wanted those kids in the main service and ended the class.

Loosing that class left a void in my soul. It created a longing that I didn’t even realize at the time. However, combined with that was my brother-in-law. He was a teacher and would tell me all the time I should go back to school and become a teacher. He said it was the best job in the world. I already had a degree, so I would only need the teaching part of it. Also, add in my boss at the time. His wife was a substitute teacher and when he and I talked about this little tickle in the back of my brain, he always supported my pursuing it.

So, the perfect storm. I had a desire and people around me telling me to go for it. However, my wife is risk-averse. She likes stability. She likes to know where the money is coming from for mortages, food, and you know, necessities. Her biggest fear was that I would do it and then hate it. My biggest fear was being a 30+-year-old student teacher.We talked a bit about. I knew she was afraid of it. But something was pushing me. Looking back, I know it was God because of the way it all unfolded.

Notice the order here. I went into work and told John I was quitting to go back to school for my teaching degree. He said it was about time. THEN, I went home and told Amy what I had done. I contacted the Ohio University branch in Lancaster and the ball was rolling. Amy went back to work full-time. I started looking for 3rd shift jobs to support us while I went to school during the day.

This was all in late 1999. I found some work shuffling boxes around at a big shipping company. Didn’t exactly pay the bills. Then Amy said there was an announcement at her job (she worked for a BIG insurance company) that they were looking for extra 3rd shift security officers because of Y2K. Applied, hired, full-time, quickly promoted, making what I was making before I quit my sales job. Crazy.

Oh, did I mention they also paid 100% for school? I know, right? And did I mention that two years after I was done they stopped paying for classes that weren’t related to insurance or business?

So, for two years I worked third shift in locked buildings often with no one but me around. Studied all night, wrote lesson plans, watched the monitors, did my tours, and crushed it gradewise.

I couldn’t make our bedroom dark enough to sleep during the day so I made a bed in our walk-in closet. That was pretty much life. School during the day, coach my son’s baseball team in the evening, sleep in the closet whenever I had a couple hours, and then work 11p-7a. Repeat. God gave me strength to make it through.

Did I mention that I happened to start classes with a bunch of people my age on second careers? So, other 30-something student teachers. What a group of support we were for each other.

I happened to be placed in Pickerington at a new school for one of my field placements. I instantly wanted to work there. I stayed with the same teacher for my student teaching. I interviewed with the district. I really wanted to work there. To be safe, I applied to other districts. I had an offer from a district on the other side of Columbus. Great district, great school, great job. I called my HR contact at Pickerington. She said things were in motion, but there was no job offer yet. She couldn’t promise me anything. The other district wanted an answer.

So, I turned them down and trusted that Pickerington was going to come through. Finally, she called. “Kyle, I have a job for you.”

“I’ll take it.”

“I haven’t even told you which job yet.”

“I don’t care. I’ll take it.”

She told me it was in the school where I had done my student teaching and the principal was expecting me. I immediately went to see him and finally asked where I was being placed. Not only was I in the same school where I student taught, but I was in the SAME ROOM where I student taught. He had my name already on the door.

God had a plan and two decades after this journey started I’m still at the same school, loving my job, living the dream.

My wife deserves more credit than I could adequately give her in a blog. She sacrificed for me to follow this dream. She supported me unfailingly, even though the risk was enourmous.

Don’t Tell Them Your Plans

There is a saying that goes, “Don’t tell them your plans.  Show them your results.”  No idea who said it or where it came from.  In general, I agree, but probably only because I’m an ask-forgiveness-not-permission kind of guy. This summer, however, I realized that it is a load of (insert your colloquial noun here). In this quick post, I’m going to tell you my plans and tell you why.

Throughout my teaching career, I have had some innovative, even risky, ideas to radically change my classroom.  Sometimes I’ll jump into those things with gusto, and then come up against opposition or realize just how much work it is going to take.  At that point, it’s really easy to abandon the idea because no one really knew I was doing it anyway.

I’ve latched onto three things this summer that have changed this for me; podcasts, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, and Feedback that Moves Writers Forward.

Here are my plans:

  1. Have my advanced ELA class podcast all year.
  2. Each ELA student will have a notebook and will actively track standards mastery and feedback.
  3. Begin a robotics club at our middle school.
  4. Radically change the way I approach reading education.

I promised this was a quick post, so I won’t go into all the details yet.  However, feel free to follow along as I undergo this transformation.

I’m going to do it.  I’m going to blog about it (maybe podcast). Hold me accountable.  Do not let me get up against difficulty with this and take an easy way out.

Are you serious?

Ok, I get it.  I’m a conservative in a very liberal profession. I know it, and I accept it. I have managed to surround myself with fellow conservative teachers, so sometimes I forget just how over the top “educators” can be. I receive the newsletters and emails from the NEA and OEA. The assumptions they make that all of their members think like that are staggering to me.  I follow a few different education sites on Twitter because I want to stay at the top of my craft.  Unfortunately, those sites often push political agendas instead of good pedagogy.

Today, one of the sites I follow was promoting a “First Person” editorial called “I Am Scared to Walk Into a Classroom” accompanied by a scary picture of a handgun and scattered yellow pencils. It was written by a preservice teacher about gun violence and how politicians aren’t doing enough to protect teachers and the awesomeness of the #ArmMeWith hashtag project. And how she just doesn’t know how she’s going to answer her student’s questions about gun violence. And that she’s having to “grasp” that she might be able to carry a weapon. And..on And…on. And no, I’m not going to link to it here.

Of course I didn’t dare comment on the article because having an opinion that opposes their agenda is unacceptable and they really aren’t looking for a real conversation anyway.  However, it was so irritating that I thought I would just get it off my chest here.

As I read it, all I could really think was, “Of course you’re scared.  Two years ago you were probably crying in a safe room on campus because your candidate lost.” If all of the next generation of teachers has this mindset, we truly are in trouble. She is “increasingly terrified to enter a school professionally” because of the extremely remote possibility of gun violence in her school, yet she had no problem driving there?  According to this article on, she has a 1 in 108 chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident.  Dying in a mass shooting? 1 in 11,125.  I’ll take my chances at school.

If this is truly what she spends her time worrying about, and this wasn’t just some attention-grabbing, political agenda editorial,  I hope she never enters a classroom professionally. I especially hope she is never a colleague of mine.

Here let me add to the hashtag project. #ArmMeWith colleagues with common sense.pexels-photo-270271.jpeg


The Dare That Changed His Life

Out in Arizona there is a high-school football player who has been arrested for indecent exposure, 69 counts of indecent exposure, one for every member in the football team picture with him.  You can read about it here.  Basically this kid was dared to expose his private parts during the team photo.  He’s in the second row and the two players in front of him conveniently separated a bit more than any other two players on the front row. This picture was featured in programs all season long.  It made it into the yearbook.  The yearbook was distributed.  Someone finally complained.  After confirming that yes, indeed, he had fulfilled the dare, he was arrested.  Oh, and he was 18 when he did it.

In the world of social media and sex offender status, this choice will have far-reaching consequences.

Kids do stupid stuff every day.  Every day.  I thank God above there was no social media when I was in high school and college.  I can’t imagine what would be out there FOREVER with my name attached to it.

But that isn’t what prompted me to write this.  His arrest and subsequent media coverage has unleashed the typical commenters on the various websites where this story is appearing.  I get it.  People are appalled that a senior prank is going to ruin this kid’s life.

There are two asinine lines of thought running through the comment threads.  One is that this isn’t really his fault.  The blame lies with the school or the editors of the yearbook.  Certainly someone should have caught this.  Trust me; It would have taken someone with a magnifying glass to catch this.  The second thread is that the blame lies with the kids who dared him.

Regardless, there are scores of commenters out there who feel this kid owes little responsibility for his choice.

What is wrong with our society?  Should this young man have his life ruined? No.  Absolutely not.  69 counts against him?  Ridiculous.  But pretending that he isn’t responsible?  Come on.

No doubt, several kids are complicit in this.  The kids who cooked it up and dared him?  They’re a lot more dangerous than this kid. Those two kids in the front row who moved aside?  Yep, they were in on it.  Will any punishment land on them?  Will they jump out to future employers searching social media for job applicants?  Probably not.

Another thought came to mind.  There were 70 kids in that picture.  They knew which one to dare.  They knew which one would do it.  Probably not his first rodeo riding the stupid prank bull.  Don’t be that kid if you don’t want to end up being THAT kid. He deserves punishment.  He’s responsible for his choice.

Parents, talk to your kids.  Kids please understand that social media ups the ante on senior pranks and spur-of-the-moment decisions.  Be smart.  Surround yourself with good friends.

And for those out there passing judgement who were blessed enough to get through college before the Internet, STOP.  Just STOP.  Which one of your dumb moves are you happiest wasn’t preserved for posterity?

The Joy of Eddie the Eagle





I went to watch Joy this morning.  It is an inspiring story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop and many other things.  She faced incredible adversity and fought through it.  She risked everything.  Everyone except a very few opposed her.  No one paved the way for her.

One of the previews before the movie was for Eddie the Eagle. This is the story of a British ski jumper.  From the previews it seems he was mercilessly bullied by peers and adults because of his lack of athleticism among other things.  It was obvious that the more he was bullied and told he couldn’t accomplish his dreams, the more he was driven to succeed.

Here’s what I see every day.  Zero tolerance bullying policies that go way beyond bullying. Bulldozer parents that pave the way and fix everything for their kids. Sports leagues where every kid is given a trophy and told they did a good job whether they did or not.

When I look back through history at some of the greatest stories, they are people who were failures and then picked themselves up.  Generals, presidents, inventors, artists…so many stories of adversity overcome.

Are they going to write books and movies about this generation if we continue not allowing them to fail?


Something Tangible

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There is a scramble going on in Buckeye Nation today.  There is evidence of it all over social media.  One post that I read said, “Help! Meijer is sold out of today’s Dispatch.  Where can I get one???”  In the wake of the Buckeyes’ stunning victory in last night’s CFP Championship Game, people are looking for a copy of the morning paper.

They aren’t taking screenshots of the Dispatch’s website or saving it to favorites.  They want something tangible. They want something they can hold in their hands, put in a scrapbook, tuck away in a hope chest, or frame on the wall.  They want something they can pull out years later and read through, relive the memories, and share with their grandkids.  I wonder if it will always be like that?

I worry about today’s kids.  In our world of texts and tweets, are they going to have anything to take out years from now to relive these times?  My wife and I have boxes of letters we wrote to each other when we were long-distance dating at different colleges.  It’s awesome to pull one of those boxes out of the closet, sit on the floor, and get all sentimental.

One of my most cherished possessions is a collection of letters my dad wrote to my mom before they were married when he was a solder in Africa and France during WWII.  Will my son’s children or grandchildren have anything like that for posterity?

Come on kids.  When you’re communicating with that person who may just become your “til death do you part”, put away the electronics and create something tangible.  Send a card.  Write a letter.  Write notes to each other instead of scheduling an “I love you” text with Hootsuite. One day you’ll want to be able to hold those in your hand and remember.

School Shootings and School Prayer

Yet two more school shootings today.  On Dec. 24, 2012, I wrote the following on another blog that I write.  Thought I would dust it off.  If you happened to read it two years ago, my apologies for bringing you here to read it again.

After recent events, I’ve been thinking about this concept of prayer in schools.  I’m a bit irritated that taking prayer out of schools is one of the things being blamed for what happened.  I’m a teacher and I’m a Christian.  I will tell you up front that those are my only two qualifications to speak on this subject.

There are three sections of scripture I’d like to throw out there to start with:

John 9:31  Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.

Matthew 6:5-7 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (6) But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (7) But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

So, what exactly are the spokesmen of the Religious Right asking for or complaining about when they clamor about prayer in schools?  Remember this, if you get prayer in school, you’re going to get all religions praying in school.  Are you ready for the principal to read a Christian prayer, followed by a Muslim prayer, then followed by a Wiccan prayer? I know I’m not ready for that.

But, I digress.  Let’s get back to my thoughts.  Considering the three scriptures above, what would be the point of an unsaved principal, or an unsaved teacher, beginning the school day by standing in front of the class repeating a prayer?  God doesn’t hear him.  How many times when a prayer is allowed by a chaplain or other figurehead does he end up reading it from something he prepared earlier? Sounds like vain repetition to me.

Let me shock you a bit.  There is prayer in my classroom.  No, not from me standing up in front of the class putting on a show.  But from me before school.  And during the day with a prayerful attitude. Occasionally at lunch.  And guess what else…I’ve seen 5th graders in my room bow their heads before a test or even during a hard test, close their eyes and silently offer up a prayer.  Funny that “taking prayer out of schools” didn’t stop them from doing it.

Let me boil this down for you.  This whole fight over prayer in schools is just another attempt to avoid responsibility.  It is an individual’s responsibility to take prayer into school. You want God in school?  Take him there in your heart.  Parents, you want God in school? Train your child in the way they should go and have them take God there in their hearts.  No one is stopping them from praying in school.  Yes, they aren’t allowed to make a big show of it, but Matthew 6 pretty much tells you not to do that anyway.

How to Grow Even the Highest Students

There is a lot of pressure to show growth in our students. (Value added is similar, but it uses a convoluted formula that no one really understands.) Last time I talked about merit pay and gave you the golf coach example.  That example was merit pay based on achievement.  Growth is totally different.  That same golf coach would never want Rory McIlroy.  Rory is the number one player in the world.  The ONLY way to show growth is if he is still number one next year.  He could win five tournaments, but slip to number two because someone won six tournaments.  In the education world, that coach didn’t grow him a year.

I teach ELA to a largely gifted group of students.  If I have a student who enters my class reading in the 99th percentile, he has to be reading in the 99th percentile at the end of the year.  Otherwise, he is considered to have not grown a full year. I’m often asked to explain how my students consistently show growth.

These are the things I can put my finger on.

Teach to the top 

Differentiation is a major buzzword BINGO term right now.  In my opinion, it’s a certain amount of hogwash.  I teach to the top of my class.  Find out what the highest student can handle and teach up there.  Use questioning techniques that make the highest students work to answer. The lower students will sweep along with the wake.  Certainly, it’s necessary to swing the boat around and pick them up once in awhile, but never teach the whole class with a lower throttle.

Be excited about your material and ENTERTAIN

Some of you are thinking, I shouldn’t have to entertain them.  They should want to learn. Really?  Been in a church service lately? Watched any TV aimed at adults lately? What was the last big blockbuster movie you went to that was black and white without any special effects?  If you, as an adult, have to be entertained to sit still for an hour, how can you expect a 10-year old to be any different?

If you don’t love what you’re teaching, the kids will know it.  If you can’t get excited about your material, which the kids will join you in that excitement, you better reevaluate your job.

Quick-write notebooks and Question/All-writes

In my entire master’s degree program, these were the two strategies that I learned and truly believe in.  You have to make kids THINK about the material you’re covering.  Quick-write notebooks are exactly what they say, a quick write after covering something.  For instance, after reading an article on 9/11, the kids did a quick write in their notebooks.  They have five options: a summary of the material, a connection to their life, a question they had while reading, an illustration about the reading, or an equation using numbers from the reading.  After a few moments of writing, they share with their table, and then a few share for the class.  Questions get explored and answers found. In this case, they made connections to stories their parents told them, drew pictures of the burning buildings, asked tough questions about why?, made equations from the casualties, and a few even summarized the events of that day.

You know those students.  You’ve just asked a brilliant, probing, thought-provoking question and they just sit there.  They have no intention of thinking that hard.  They’ve learned from years past that they have a 1 in 28 chance of being called to answer.  If they are called, they know that an “I don’t know” and some uncomfortable silence will get the teacher to move on to someone else.  Enter the Question/All-write.  Ask that probing question and then be quiet.  Once the kids learn that you aren’t moving on till everyone writes an answer, you know you have everyone working on an answer.  Cruise the room, verify that everyone is giving quality thought, THEN call on someone, or have them share answers with their table before you have someone answer aloud to the class.

Build rapport

This is a huge time and personal investment, but it pays incredible dividends.  This comes from my days in school.  If I liked a teacher, I would walk through a wall to do well in his class.  If I didn’t like a teacher, you couldn’t get me to do anything in that class.  Also, a kid who wants to come to school every day is there for more of your instruction than the kid who fakes stomachaches to stay home from school.

It takes a lot of work to grow your students a full year, especially the ones at the top of the percentiles.  However, if you’re willing to work, to be tired at the end of the day, to not mail it in, you can grow any student.

Quick Thoughts on Merit Pay

First of all, I can’t imagine going on strike as a teacher.  It goes against EVERY reason I went into teaching.  That being said, Reynoldsburg teachers voted to strike last night.  They are fighting an agenda being pushed by Gov. Kasich’s cronies.  Besides class size and health benefits, one of the central issues is merit pay.

Let me break merit pay down for you.  Name one other profession that has merit pay AND it is based on how someone else performs.  When I think of merit pay in other professions, I think of pro golfers.  But, they get paid on how they perform.  Think about a golf coach.  What if he was paid on merit?  He would probably love that if his only pupil was Rory McIlroy.  What if you sent him players who wouldn’t practice?  He’d probably argue against merit pay.  What if you sent him players with one arm?  He’d probably argue against merit pay.  What if you sent him players with broken golf clubs and no spikes?  He’d probably argue against merit pay.  Would he still teach them to the best of his ability?  Yes.  Are they ever going to perform at the highest level? No.

That’s why Reynoldsburg is fighting for all of the other teachers in Ohio.  They are a big district and which ever way this domino falls will have lasting impact for all districts in Ohio.