Archive for School

To CHEAT or not to CHEAT? That is the question.

Posted in THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2009 by erikball123


Sophocles would rather “fail with honor than to win by cheating.” W.C. Fields contests that “anything worth having is worth cheating for.” Even Tommy Lasorda quips “Nah, we don’t cheat. And even if we did, I wouldn’t tell you!”

Next week is Final Exam week. Our school’s faculty collaboration network is buzzing about how we should be aware of would-be crib-sheet enablers. We should be cognizant to the fact that the average Faith Lutheran student cradles their iPhone neatly in their hoodie posket next to the pack of gum they shouldn’t be chewing. So shortly after Christmas break and officially into the new year, our first resolutions include rounds of that tried and true game: “Name that Cheater.”

Kinda discouraging.

Granted, Faith Lutheran has the benefit over the average public school of having primed paint on the walls and a nicely designed iron gate between the road and the students’ neatly parked SUVs and BMWs. We’re cozy…and those padded walls that keep us warm when there is a draft, and sheltered from the evils of the world are also the same walls that are sometimes so tall, that we forget that there is another side to them.

An alumni recently visited me and made the comment about how college is SO different than she ever imagined. I inquired how. She said that people there don’t care so much about stupid things like the girls at Faith did when she attended school. I delved further. “You know…their hair. The brand they wear. What type of phone, what type of car. They just don’t care what other people think.” She said that at first it kinda turned her off of the whole college scene. But after a while, this forced independence was nothing more than…well,  refreshing. Apparently the “alternative to the public high school education” wore on her and she never knew just how much so until she left the nest.

Perhaps it’s a good problem to have, to be too sheltered.  I can imagine the side effects, however. I mean (and with all due respect) take EVERY home-schooled student you’ve ever met. They’re either brilliant and highly functional, above-average, thoughtful individuals….or they’re awkward, antisocial wallflowers that never break out of their shell.

Back to final exams. I don’t like ’em, truth be told. First and foremost, I have A.D.D. I’m diagnosed, I take medicine, and I’ve learned to live with and love my disorder. I find myself harnessing the creative outpouring of thought that approaches my everyday from a vastly different perspective than most people….and I LOVE that. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would say that it is the reason why the conventional testing situation is hard to approach by me. But, just like a theatrical audition is never anything more than a subjective means by which to determine a cast… taking a test an effective way of evaluating ones scope of understanding? Hardly, I would argue. (That is unless you testing ones ability to regurgitate facts.) I suppose a separate posting on that topic would be appropriate.

Our school requires final exams. I’m fine with that. But I’m not fine with the fact that we live in a world (or in my case work in an environment) where cheating is a problem. There’s always going to be unfair advantages. Always. But, for the majority of students, getting caught cheating on the final would garnish not nearly as much punishment as getting a failing grade for the semester. So, the risk is low enough to consider that tiny crib-sheet.

Blind texting, selling answers off of last-year’s exams…stolen exams….crib sheets. I’ve hear of some pretty interesting cheating methods. (Hiding answers under a large band-aid on the arm. Writing the answers on the bottom of the INSIDE of a Starbuck cup…and putting a shallow pool of liquid in the cup so that on the onset, all appears normal. But when the student takes a “drink”…they’re staring at the answers. Pretty slick!)

I can’t help but think that we’re approaching the cheating issue in a counter-productive way. What is cheating all about anyway? Break it down. Students want a “good” grade. Why don’t they study? Maybe it’s easier that way. Maybe they’re lazy. Maybe they’re uninterested. Perhaps bogged down. Perhaps family expectations create an overbearing stigma. Whatever the reason…we need to set up a cross fire of dialogue with our students about that cheating is really about.

It’s NOT about the test or the class…or the grade. It’s about the student’s character, integrity, morals, and personal self-worth and expectations. On top of all that, and most importantly, God doesn’t want you to cheat. I would rather take an honest D- over a cheated A, any day. (To paraphrase Sophocles.) But kids don’t work that way. They have a hard time thinking past their own noses.

I was the same way. I totally cheated in high school. (I wrote the answers to the test on the FLAP of my high top Chuck Taylors and sat cross-legged on the floor to take the test. Easy access.) Yeah…totally got caught. At the time I recall freaking out and my heart beating hard. I was taken to the principals office…got a Saturday detention and received a zero on my exam. Sucky. But, today…looking back….I can’t even recall what CLASS it was in. I knew it was a Math class of some kind, because it was Mr. Kastle that busted me. But, it’s amazingly insignificant NOW in the big picture. I remain ashamed that I did that. That’s not the type of guy I am. I don’t cheat. I don’t take the easy way out of anything. And that moment still weighs heavy on my heart as a time I KNEW what was right and wrong…and I fell short.

So, the question remains…how to you effectively impress upon a student that the true reason to attempt an honest final exam has nothing to do with right or wrong answers….but rather, their character? How does that talk start?

I suppose that conversation in a private school would be different that, say at an inner-city, public school. Most students carry their “get out of jail free” cards with them everywhere at Faith Lutheran. Parental bail outs are common and holding their students accountable is becoming less an option in order for these proud papas and mamas to save face. From the student’s perspective, the consequences after getting caught are not great. Their approach to the standardized  (and mediocre) means by which to effectively evaluate a student’s knowledge retention….is just as “everyday” as sneaking onto the Internet after mom and dad go to sleep to chat with their 24 year old cyber-boyrfirend/girlfriend. It’s super easy. It’s also super scary.

Impressing the importance of a student’s SELF-WORTH with regards to their character is not an easy thing to do. They already hate the amount of homework you assign them! How about this:

Leviticus 6:  1 The LORD said to Moses: 2 “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, 3 or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do- 4 when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, 5 or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering.

Oh no…he didn’t go Biblical!

As teachers, if we DON’T share with students that final, all encompassing reason for NOT cheating….as parents, if you don’t reinforce with supplemental consequences that same philosophy…cheating will always be a huge problem. WHY? Because it’s too easy and the risk of getting caught is too small. Enron officials cheat and it’s a scandal. Celebrities cheat and their faces are on every magazine and television in the country. Students cheat…..they get a slight slap on the hand….maybe. They’re not scared.

There not way to express to students that the ULTIMATE TEST is the test of Faith, and I’m sorry….but there are NO pockets in your heavenly robe for blind texts and crib sheets.

“He’ll cheat without scruple, who can without fear.” – Benjamin Franklin

No Child Left Behind? Well, how’d they get behind to begin with!?

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2008 by erikball123

An under-advantaged young adult with “issues” finds inspiration in something they never knew they had a talent in and uses their talents to extend themselves far beyond what they ever thought they could possible offer. They are inspired by someone they care about, and in the end persevere over extreme adversity.

Their stories are told at every motivational conference. Devotional books and Lifetime specials are chuck full of their stories. Oddly enough, they are also the plot structure of nearly every Adam Sandler film I ever watched! But I’d like to talk to you today about “No Child Left Behind.” Not the Federal law about increasing standards in the public school systems. Rather, the concept of always offering that second chance.

The Bible says that through Jesus we a forgiven of our sins. (Act 10:43) It also says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7) I like that verse a lot. It reminds me that I continue to be a student every time I step in front of a class as a teacher. And without getting too specific, you can probably drudge up some personal reference of a teacher you’ve had or a boss…or neighbor…or friend, who simply “did their job” everyday. They showed up…checked in…and did there job. Not much more than that.

I have the privilege of teaching over 135 students at Faith Lutheran. I direct onstage more than that in a year. That’s a lot of impressionable minds….listening to me! What power! (I can even write detentions!) But, if you think about that….what POWER. These are students who arrive everyday with preconceived notions, varied backgrounds, and wild opinions. These are the same people that will grow up to become my boss, or your superior, or the next world leader. (Cliche’s aside.) Who knows what will happen, but for now, their focus and attention is all mine. I can crack open text books and pour out words from publisher after publisher. I could have “free time” and allow them to rest or exercise their opinions in whatever way they like. I could even lean in close…and talk seriously about what I believe…and if I’m persuasive enough, motivate them to begin thinking for themselves. What POWER.

It’s like driving a car. Here’s an expensive, powerful, and forceful luxury item that has been entrusted to me so that I may make travel more convenient. It has the capacity to move fast or slow…manipulate through traffic…and honk to ward off danger. But it also has the capacity to kill people. It all depends upon the driver. Teachers are “driving instructors.”

School is far too concerned about a student’s progress and behavior to worry about things like “are they interested” or “do they care?” It’s sad really. I can’t recall a single time my high school History teacher or Math instructor leaned over and asked me if I liked what we were doing. Imagine that! “Um, not really.” What then? I think it is every teacher’s job to not only instruct…but to make sure that the student is engaged enough to want to re-approach the next period. After all we only have them in class for 1.5 hours every other day. (We have block scheduling people. I don’t know how public schools do it!)

Students are not statistics, and I don’t care how badly Nevada’s SAT scores are, nothing reflects WHY students did poorly. (And don’t even get me started on standardized testing content!) Shouldn’t we be concerned about that? After all, isn’t high school supposed to prepare students for the real world? If there was a team working around the clock every single day for four years to pin-point HOW you learn best…put it into practice…challenge those boundaries so that we can exceed our own personal expectations…and then foster a supportive environment to nurture that type of learning…wouldn’t the secondary education world be producing MORE leaders…and fewer teenage mothers and overly confident jocks with nothing to fall back on but their own overloaded testosterone. (Probably not the best example. And while it’s certainly not the norm…especially at Faith….it’s true, isn’t it?)

Strong statement there. But that’s what a school should be. Sports are great and I support them 100%. They are certainly appropriately part of the high school experience. But they need to build a student up so that they can coach themselves later. While Faith nurtures every teenage pregnancy issue, the bottom line still remains “are the students interested in that care?” And if so, my biggest question would be, why weren’t they that interested BEFORE they found themselves making a life-altering decision?

We need to take two giant steps back and look at High School. We have specialized fields of study that we offer. I teach Drama…does that mean I should prepare student’s for Broadway? Heck no. It means that I should PREPARE STUDENTS…by using the tools and fundamental techniques that Drama demands…in an appealing and acceptable way. (And that’s the important part.) Once we tear ourselves away from the ultimate objective…once we make a student’s failing grade in our class personal…then we’ve compromised why a student SHOULD be attending school altogether.

Once a colleague of mine argued that it’s not our job to be liked by students. I beg to differ. That IS our job. It is our job to be that student’s BEST FRIEND. By definition, a friend is a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.  That’s what a teacher should be. Someone who is not only invested, but attached by FEELINGS.

Which brings me to my final point. Students are kids. Young people…with wild ideas, and stupid notions. They cannot be treated like adults. They shouldn’t have the same expectations as adults. They come from all walks of life…they possess passionate feelings that they will suppress/express….they love and hate…and they all will have an opinion. (If you prick them, do they not bleed?)  They will make mistakes…they will fail…they will graffiti the walls…they will overextend themselves for the sake of another….they will hold hands and make-out in dark basements…they will over indulge…and they WILL listen to you. That is, if you give them something to listen to.

I have a huge problem with people who hold grudges. My wife leads Chapel service at Faith and the topic last week was forgiveness. Her students offered this very clever skit using Veggie Tales characters and leach-like grudges that attached themselves to the miserable “un-forgiver.” These grudges suck out a person’s joy and leave them empty and shallow.

I don’t ask…I plead with parents, teachers…anyone who has the great fortune to work with young adults…forgive them. They’ll test you, and you’ll want to ring their necks sometimes…but you need to forgive them. Secondly, believe in them. There is good in everyone…and if you ever look at a person and say that they are beyond hope…well, perhaps your close to  being right. But do you wonder why? Do you care? Should you? If not…aren’t you just as “hopeless?”

No Child Left Behind means something different to me. It’s my own personal law. It enforces me to forgive. It enforces me to leave the judging to the ultimate judge, my Lord. It enforces me to keep my eyes on the prize….excuse me….keep my eyes on my students’ prize. Because in the end, don’t we WANT them to persevere over extreme adversity? (Even if it is their own?) If not…why?

*Special thanks to Lauren Nichole for the photograph.

“Every Turn a Surprise…”

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2008 by erikball123
It’s a new year…officially. It’s Monday, and the weekend is finally behind us along with the first week of school, or as I call it “Syllabi and get-to-know-you” week. Indeed, especially for Drama Class, the days in that first half-week tend to lend themselves to an almost “and these are the rules” type atmosphere. As a high school student myself I remember loathing the first week of school (which was odd because I loved school)…but I guess it was the starting over part that bugged me. I had a pretty good routine wandering the halls of Tecumseh High School…home of the Indians….er, excuse me, Warrirors. (Ah, it’s a PC world we live in.)
I’m excited about my classes. Good kids, every one of them. Everyoneseems to be enthusiastic…and why not! We’ve got a new drama classroom…costume room, scene shop, dressing rooms and a 804 seat Auditiorium that will be used for the FIRST time this year. Even non-drama peeps are like, “dang.”

The school in general has had a facelift of sorts. We implanted teh new Chapel / Performing Arts Center in the center of campus, (you can’t miss it.) The Student Center was injected with a new kitchen staff and Head Chef…who is awesome by the way. (No offense to Chef Tony…who is STILL the man! Love ya, Chef.) The Tuna Melt was to die for…and those students who scoffed that lovely offering are just mad that they didn’t get their Choco Taco fast enough.

We’ve got a new Golf Chipping and Putting Practice Green. (I mean, c’mon…who has that!) They’ve even put a fence around the thing to keep the artificial turf nice and neat…and to keep half of the male faculty off the green during prep periods. (I was tempted.)

The Football Field is celebrating the second year with a Press Box…We have a brand new Dance Studio for dance classes, the Resource room and Computer Depts. now have their own spaces….sheesh. It’s like Extreme Make-Over: Faith Edition!

We’re blessed.

What a way to spend the day, I tell ya. I wake up, shower, grab a cuppa Joe and head over to Faith Lutheran…the exception to the everyday high school education. I sit across from students and I’m able to speak about the grace and love of our Lord….I get to watch as young hopefuls succeed onstage. I get to rub elbows with bright, friendly, loving colleagues. I get to worship with 1000 young adults every week. I get to poke my head in to my wife’s classroom and say “hi” anytime I want. Shoot….next time I’m complaing about the copier being jammed, kick me. They say to count your blessings. It’s hard.

I’m blessed in so many differnt ways. As I sit here, my wife is driving back from her first class in her doctorate program. (Dang…how did I hook up with a chick like that? Poor smug kid from da hood. Shoot.) I’m so proud of her. She’s everything I want to be in a teacher and everything I’m not. Every year that I look back at my classes and accomplishments, I review how things went and try to get a grip on what could have gone better. My wife’s teaching career just keeps getting better and better, and her kids love her. They learn so much in her class and I couldn’t be more proud.

I look forward to this evening. I’m heading off shortly to Beauty and the Beast callbacks with Signature Productions. For those of you who didn’t catch the show at Spring Mountain Valley Ranch this summer….whooooo! What an experience. I’m so thankful for the amazing cast, caring directors and supportive wife that made that possible. What a treat, I felt I learned so much. Due to its popularity, they re bringing the show back by popular demand for 22 more shows in Oct. and November. I get to strap on GASTON’S boots again! Yee-haw!

The auditions are for those cast memebrs not returning, and a padded chorus/ensemble they are adding. A few of my students are going to be there. I hope they make it. How cool would it be to actually work onstage with them. Talk about a good mentoring opportunity.

There is a way to look at all that is happening and think to yourself, “look at all I have to do.” Instead I choose to look and the laundry in the basket that needs folding and the grass that needs mowing and think…rock on. This year….BRING IT. I’m ready. Are you? REgardless of whether or not you are, it’s going to come…and when your schedule is full, and you take two steps back and think to yourself “look at all this stuff I have to do”…just remember, those “stuffs” are all blessings. Thanks be to God!

First Blog…As I Anticipate the Upcoming School Year

Posted in THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , on August 7, 2008 by erikball123

There is something to be said about the thrill of anticipation. That second right before you go over the first hill of a roller-coaster you’ve never been on. (“Oh, I’m going to die! I’m going to die! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!! That rocked!”) The moment right before you tear open your first Christmas preset. (“I wonder what it is…..hmmmm….a sausage and cheese basket! Thanks Uncle Steve.”) Or, maybe it’s just me…but the second before you meet a new class full of freshly vacationed students, I just get…eager and nervous. (“Hey there new class! I’m your teacher!” When all I’m thinking about is what I had for breakfast and whether or not I have a smile full of Grape Nuts.

Well…it’s that time again. Time to look at your closet full of faded dress shirts and equally flimsy dress socks (you know you have them) and take a deep breath, because you’re about to launch that rocket ship into a new school year.

This year is particularly exciting for me. Our school, Faith Lutheran, is opening a new Chapel and Performing Arts facility on campus. Being a humble drama teacher with a giant ego and lots and lots of talent and tact…you can imagine that I was slightly excited to see the tile go down and the proscenium take shape in the theatre space. We are SO blessed at our school. I have the tendency to take SO much for granted (don’t we all?) that when I take two steps back to actually see what’s being built…it hits me like a ton of bricks! (They make you wear hard hats, by the way.) This building is for…MY drama students. This is an unbelievable opportunity to pick yourself up, dust yourself off…and start all over again. Re approach those yearly goals and daily scholastic obstacles with vigor and say, “Let us use our talents to glorify God, who made this building possible!”

I have a new classroom in the building. There is a costume storage room….dressings rooms….scene shop….(I’m seriously shaking right now)….it’s just too much. Our orchestra will be in an orchestra pit from now on….what a novel idea. I love it.

With that said…I have much more than a well-designed, 11 million dollar house of worship and wonder to look forward to. I’m embarking on my 6th year as a high school teacher. That’s crazy to me. Seems like yesterday I was a student teacher and making fun of my adviser’s hair. I read somewhere that a Lutheran school teacher’s career averages between 6 and 8 years. Hmmm. I’m sure it wasn’t the Lutheran Annual I got that info from…but if that is even remotely true, then I’m approaching the beginning of the “beat the odds” years. I LOVE BEATING THE ODDS. (Anyone who knows me will tell you that.) Have I found myself frustrated with my job and the daily approach to humble offerings to elective class students, half of which are in my classroom because they didn’t want Computers fourth block? Yup. I have. Do I find great reward in watching students who doubted themselves step onstage and blow people away with their gifts…yup. Been there too. But there seems to be a very fragile line that must be walked daily in order to avoid finding yourself in one or the other state of mind. It’s a long walk to your car in the parking lot when your lesson is not well received and the bitter coffee tends to match the bitter approaches by some students far too often.

I suppose that is another reason I get out of bed every day. I like to think that I’m a pretty positive person. I saw the musical “Will Rogers Follies” recently and you crusty old folks out there might remember Will Rogers’ famous tag line, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I thought about that for a minute…and I think that holds true with me. I like to try to give everyone the  benefit of the doubt. I try not to judge. I smile at passers by. I even take my grocery cart to the cart corral. (Those cart workers don’t want to be in the sun any more than I do!) But that’s always been my problem. I love kids…I love teaching my students and sharing time with them, and listening to their daily adventures, and sharing moments from my youth with them….it’s fun. But I’ve always said that my biggest opportunity as an educator is my ability to crack the proverbial whip when it needs to be cracked. Oh, I get upset sometimes…but most of the time I’m pretty darn happy. In this age of immediate satisfaction, and uber-sensitive personalities, I guess you could say that more than anything, I’m looking forward to walking into a new classroom, a new theatre, a new school year….grabbing myself by my bot straps, and dusting myself off for another adventure. It’ll be good…you’ll see. High Schoolers will love Sweeney Todd. My Middle Schoolers will love making sock puppets. And we’ll all love to be able to worship in a space together that is as reverent, and beautiful as the sound of voices raised to the Lord during chapel. I’m blessed. We’re blessed.

“Lo, let the backpack be heavy as the first block eyelids of every students at Faith….hear thee this….be happy, share hope and faith….and love thy neighbor. For thine is very lucky to have such a nice place to be…and supportive people to be around! Now…get thee to class!”

Blessings to you all. I need to get back to updating calenders. (Ok, let’s be honest…I’m putting colorful tabs on the outside of my calender’s pages. They’re look like Christmas lights when you open it up!)

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