Quick Rant: 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Published 1/22/14 by:

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My Olympic idol, Michelle Kwan, at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics


While I’m more fanatical about the results and winners of the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics are much more fascinating, terrifying and awe-inspiring to me. This is mainly because all the winter Olympic sports make me nervous, and I’m too wussy to participate in them. Therefore, I’m really engaged in what’s happening because I can’t imagine somehow making my body do all of the things these winter Olympic athletes excel at. When I was a kid I swam, dove, played softball, and had a very brief stint with gymnastics. While those sports are grueling, difficult and require copious amounts of coordination, they’re fairly traditional. Whereas someone lifting their entire body into a triple axel while on tiny silver blades, and sliding around on ice is unfathomable. Someone opting to ski or snowboard up a half-pipe and throwing their body into the air to do as many rotations as possible? Flat out nuts. Rocketing yourself down an ice tunnel on a sled with blades? You’re certifiably insane. It’s these daring feats that make the Winter Olympics so thrilling – what’s that saying about the great unknown? Because I’m into it (from my couch).

Here’s the other aspect that makes the winter olympics such a show-stopper: a lot of these athletic events don’t have bigger venues. While gymnasts and track athletes have competitions that may not be as prestigious as the Olympics (but possibly more monetarily rewarding), most winter Olympic athletes don’t attend any tournaments or competitions in the same realm as the Olympics. In other words: if you’re a bobsledder, a speed skater, or on a luge team: the Olympics are it. This creates such a do-or-die atmosphere, that you’re literally fist-pumping for sports you hardly know any of the rules of (maybe I should just speak for myself). Unlike the World Series, or the Stanley Cup Playoffs where winners have 7 games to prove themselves, Olympic sports call for perfection on game day – one failed triple salchow double-toe-loop combination and you’ve just bought yourself another four glory-less years until the next winter games.

What events and athletes are you all looking forward to seeing this February? Who should I be keeping an eye on as the next “Gold medal hopeful”?

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Quick Rant: Establishing A Culture of Effort

Published 1/15/14 by:

Calvin & Hobbes Butt Kicking Comic Strip


The school district I teach in uses the term “a culture of effort” on a regular basis. It was a major selling point for me when I started teaching there in September 2011, because I don’t consider myself one of these “naturally smart” people.  I worked hard for every grade I received, every school I got into, every degree I earned.  I can honestly say that my effort has been the deciding factor for every opportunity or rejection I’ve encountered. So how did my culture of effort get instilled in me?  I grew up in a household where effort grades were held in higher regard than actual academic grades. In middle school, my mom didn’t care if I got a C in science if my effort grade was A- or better. “Did you do your best?” was a phrase repeated at every meal, every bedtime tuck in, and during every trip to the softball field. The  middle school I teach in doesn’t have effort grades, because they’re not easily measurable. I’m not completely convinced of that because homework, notes taken, and participation could be indicators of daily effort. Some of my students (if I were to give homework grades) would be at a 10% for the trimester, which started immediately after Thanksgiving. It’s this general lack of commitment to academia that is holding quite a few of my students back. They listen to my lessons, my demonstrations, and my general instructions, but they don’t follow through with doing the daily practice. The most essential part of learning is practicing skills. I often tell my students, “I didn’t wake up one day and know my multiplication tables. It was a labor of love.” To which they say, “what do you mean by labor?” Herein lies my most difficult work: motivating students to complete the practice so that they can eventually master a skill. Everything is so instantaneous for them in their personal lives, that putting in leg-work day in and day out seems ridiculous to them, and I’m not sure how to begin fixing that.

Oftentimes when I give my students feedback on rough drafts of their writing they’ll actually moan and complain to their classmates about having to fix things. It’s a nuisance to them that I told them they needed to add, elaborate or completely follow the directions. I’ve actually had to say to students, “I could just collect it the way it is, but you wouldn’t like the grade you’d receive. I’m giving you a second chance here. Take advantage.” It’s pathetic. Part of effort is showing up with the right stuff, being responsible for your things, and taking ownership of your mistakes. All of those things exhibit good daily effort. My students, and probably a lot of the students of 2014, have no interest in progressing in their daily effort levels. While society’s instantaneous nature that I alluded to may play a factor in this lazy mindset, I think a lot of it is at home culture and environment. Making excuses for your kid, blaming the teacher for lack of motivation, and bailing your kid out when he/she leaves is unprepared does not cultivate a work ethic which is essential (in my opinion) for leading a successful life. Hold your kids, students, neighbors, relatives et. al. accountable. You’re not doing them any favors by teaching them that tenacity, persistence, and the good ol’ college try aren’t necessities.



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Quick Rant: Snow Days and Winter Vacation

Published 1/5/14 by:

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Background information:

I teach sixth grade English (or language arts, or language & literacy – it’s all the same) at a middle school. We don’t call ourselves a junior high because we encompass grades 5-8 (10-14 year old people), and so we’re really “the middle”. Most public schools have a full day of school on December 23rd (it’s torture for both adults and children), and then the winter break begins on December 24th. This year a miracle happened: Christmas was on a Wednesday, so the scheduling gods made the brilliant decision to not have school on Monday December 23rd because they assumed most families would travel to their destinations over the weekend, and attendance would be very low. On the other end of the vacation is New Year’s Day. This year January 1st was a Wednesday, so it meant that not only did we get almost two full weeks off, but when we returned, it was to a two day work week!

I don’t want to hear all of your boos about how teachers have the easiest schedule of all time, because honestly: homeroom starts at 7:30am at my school, and the amount of (unpaid) overtime I do creating (dynamic) lesson plans, grading essays or quizzes, and pre-reading novels that I may want to teach our youth would make you weep for me. Loudly. In Massachusetts a funny thing happened at the end of our break. As teachers (and students) prepared to head back to school on Thursday the 2nd, it was announced that we were going to have a 48 hour Nor’Easter which could plop anywhere between 8 and 30 inches of snow in our yards. The snow day buzz started early on this one, folks. In the end, my school (smartly) toughed it out on Thursday and had a full day of school, and we had Friday off. I went back to a one day work week, which wasn’t very productive, or well-attended. Over 200 schools in Massachusetts canceled school on Thursday, and some schools (mostly private) had finagled their schedule so that students weren’t returning to campus until Monday January 6th. Teachers have been spoiled, as have the kids., but according to multiple media feeds, parents have been “suffering” through this long break.

Quick Rant

Full disclosure: I’m not a parent. I have nannied, taught swim lessons, been a camp counselor, and taught elementary and middle school (combined) for over a decade. I get that kids make you weary. I understand that kids have meltdowns. What I can’t understand is parents moaning and groaning about the opportunity to spend two weeks with their kids. Parents are jokingly threatening to kill their kids if we don’t head back to school for a full five day week on Monday. The parents have had it. They’re at their wit’s end. So here’s the rub: I’m with your kids ALL.THE.TIME. I spend more (awake) hours per week with your kid than you do. It’s a fact. Numbers don’t lie. So when you (parents) start complaining about being blessed with a two week vacation with your kids I have a problem. And don’t even get me started on the fact that you think your kids are such a burden, but you didn’t even have them write their teacher(s) a holiday note saying, “thanks for being my teacher”. Wake up, folks. As the great Coach Taylor (of “Friday Night Lights”) once said, “These kids of ours? It’s a one time deal.”

End of rant.

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