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.