Archive for Student

Frequently Masked Questions

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by erikball123

Today I mourn with hundreds of Faith students, parents and teachers at the tragic, unexpected passing of one of my students. She died in an accident while on vacation. We just started the new school year…and already my heart is heavy and I’m kinda mad at myself, because I find myself (in my efforts to make sense of all of this) questioning my own mortality. I suppose that’s a natural knee-jerk reaction. But, I’m mad because I feel like “how dare you focus on YOU at a time like this!”I suppose when tragedy occurs, the coming together of friends and family is what gives us peace. It centers our focus so that we may commiserate together. I look forward to a tough Tuesday as we head back to school.

For the record, this young lady was a student in my class…a hard-working, creative, clever, fun-loving beam of sunshine in my every day. I loved that she considered herself unique and had a will of steel. She was determined, she loved her friends and she never hesitated to stop me in the hall for a hug. On top of all of this, she loved her Lord, and I can sleep at night knowing she’s with her Father in heaven right now.

I remember when I was a freshman in college and my parents got divorced…I got so angry. I prided myself in having a great family life and this particular bomb, just blind-sided me. I couldn’t forgive my father for walking out. “This decision was obviously fueled by a mid-life crisis situation and a desire to find happiness”…I kept telling myself. How dare he be so selfish. I have always said, and I will continue to say, you create your own happiness. I was so angry at my dad for giving up on us.

Flash forward to today and the current tragedy…I continue to struggle with the question “why?”…I find myself in a similar spot. I’ve always said (from an ignorant Lutheran’s point of view) that it is okay to question God. It’s okay to go to God in anger, fear, resentment, frustration and sadness. Questioning is okay…so long as you DON’T STOP looking for the answer. That’s why I love God’s style. It’s a selfish man who demands results RIGHT NOW…but a caring, contemplative man who is willing to wait for the answer to unfold over time. God’s blessing of free will and patience is something I take for granted, especially when I want something. I want answers about this young lady’s death. The same investigative mind-set is snooping Facebook searching for details. (I had to physically shut my computer off in order to knock some sense into myself.) The bottom line…this tragic accident shouldn’t have happened to such a wonderful person, and I’m angry. At first I thought…you know what, it’s out of our hands, it’s God’s will. But you know something. That’s not right. God’s will does not include brilliant 16-year to die a tragic death. In Genesis, God didn’t want people to die. It wasn’t until Satan stuck his nose into things that the first tragedy occurred. It’s NOT God’s will. I’ll tell you what it is….it’s God’s PROMISE, that no matter what the devil does to us…no matter what tragedy befalls us…if we trust in the Lord and we know with our mind and our hearts that Jesus is the only way to heaven…then we will be saved.

There’s a cheesy moment in the movie “White Christmas” when Bing Crosby and what’s-her-face is sitting around a fireplace guzzling buttermilk and singing about how we should all count our blessings. I’ve never tried to actually sit down and count my blessings. I tried. First and foremost…hand-writing a list is something I haven’t done in a while! (Welcome to the age of technology!) I got to about #54 before stopping and thinking….this could go ON AND ON! There is a never-ending amount of blessings that we should all sit back and think about. Little ones, like my dog, the roof over my head, my car with working air conditioning, a job to look forward to every day, clothes on my back, food in my stomach and an amazing wife who I get to share life with. There are blessings we forget about…like my friend Joel in NY, who throughout all his schooling and travels and spunky, care-free nature, still takes time to reflect how none of it is possible without the Lord. He’s what I call a “secret witness.” Or even, the beautiful children being born every day! Or the beautiful people of this world who so desperately want to have children, but cannot. Silly things, like television shows that make us laugh. That songs we play over and over again on our iPods that makes us feel “normal” again. The feeling of peace and quiet that moment just before you fall asleep at night. The hot shower that soothes your aching, aging bones. The friend who does something nice for you (like, bringing you a Starbucks!)…or that Grandparent who still drops a letter in the mail for you every now and then.

I could go on and on. I cannot begin to tell you all the things I have to be thankful for…that I take for granted every day. Walking the halls of Faith Lutheran, I look into the eyes of hundreds of students. Students with goals, and dreams, and hopes and fears. I guess what’s hardest about all of this, is the fact that God’s plan is not necessarily laid out for us to interpret. I suppose it’s not expected of us to understand God’s will.

I think I need to study up. I feel myself confusing God’s perfect will with something else…a “Just Do It” or “Trust No One’s” soceity that tells us…”oh well, it’s God’s will.” God has bigger better plans for us. Those plans do not include accidents that claim people’s lives. I can trust that this young lady’s faith in Christ has delivered her to her Father, and that the devil has lost this one.

I guess that’s what I’m struggling with. I’m a power-hungry, control freak…who has to trust in God enough to relinquish control of this situation. To put this (like all my doubts, fears and frustrations) in God’s hands. I’ll try.

To the parents of this young lady…God’s blessings to you. I promise I will continue to pray for you and your family. I will not, even remotely, attempt to try and understand the grief you are experiencing. But I will say this…your daughter was beloved on earth, as she is beloved by our Father in heaven. I will miss her terribly.

Just so you know…my dad and I did make up. It wasn’t too long before I thought to myself, “well, you can’t stop loving your father simply because you can’t understand or, rather get-over a situation.” We talked it out. (It was rough at first.) Down the road he remarried. She a very nice woman. (Her name is Chene…I call them “the old Ball and Chene!” He hates that. It makes me laugh.) But, we do talk, and he and I have a very respectable, loving relationship now. I may not ever truly understand why he decided to get the divorce, but part of life is taking the good and the bad…wrapping it up tight in your head, praying about it…and then attempting to generate something productive with it. I think that’s what God wants us to do.

I will continue to try and do that with both of these situations.

Everyone needs a father, especially in times of struggle. Rest peacefully, knowing that you always do…and He always has an answer…whether you fully understand the questions or not.

Psalm 18:2  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Little People: Big Fight

Posted in THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by erikball123

So, check it out…I broke up my first fight as a teacher this weekend. Don’t be so proud of that Erik??? Are you kidding me? It’s a milestone. In fact, most teachers (granted, of the athletic dept. variety, mind you) would argue that you’re not really a teacher unless you’ve scuffled with a sophomore or stepped between Johnny and Billy during their noon-time quarrel over Betsy’s honor. I say this to you fight breaker-uppers: “this drama boy from Illinois can sock it to ’em like a skilled teacher-ninja, when push comes to shove.”

Okay…so it actually was merely a pushing match that I stepped in the middle of and merely held a student at bay long enough to cool them down. I don’t really have an impressive story, or a shattered pair of D&G glasses to show off. In fact, the scuffle ended with the student and I talking it out, and it turns out the boy (who wound up truly regretting the incident and apologized for it later) wound up being a pretty nice kids, down on his luck.

COME ON! Leave it to me to get the one “fight” that ends with a freakin’ hand shake! I mean…help me out here! Throw me a bone! Let me drag someone by the hair, or disarm a switch blade! Now that’s the action! Ah….dang it. Oh well…I suppose I should feel thankful that it wasn’t any worse than what it was and no one really got hurt. But I can’t shake that hour after the incident when I couldn’t settle down, doctoring  a sudden case of restless leg syndrome and wiping the adrenaline from my brow.

I wonder sometimes if I would be cut out to be a dean of students or a principal, and I think this particular answered the question: absolutely not. I see students as these little people who are trying hard to be big people, but can’t quite figure out why the real big people are treating them like little people, when in their opinions, the world should begin accepting them as big people. (Sounds like a reality show on TLC.) But students have lost the fundamentals, haven’t they?

In watching this generation of kids come up through the years, and meeting and greeting with their parents, I’m going to suggest something absurd. I think the issues with students today begin with the parents.

Big statement, I know. (I’m sure to win friends with this one!) But, seriously, how can a student be expected to respect anything if they don’t have to respect anything at home. (Their personal ground zero…their comfort zone.) I have the privilege of working in a private school, so I don’t have many opportunities to break up fights. (Like the caged, death match I easily settled.) I say one of my biggest challenges with students is wrestling the sense of entitlement out of their heads. No one DESERVES anything and when your parents are sending you to a private school at great cost, before you even enter the door, there is a certain sense of expectation. (You’d better get straight “A’s” for the money I’m paying.) So, these unreasonable expectations are being piled on the already burdened students by parents who don’t have the privilege of working with them every day. You know something….state standards aside….a “C” on a paper is considered “average.” And yet I’d argue that 90% of the students at my school expect their children to bring home “A’s” or nothing at all. Is that a warped level of expectation? Or is it the mind set of this generation, that ultimately shelves the personal education and expects a cookie-cutter finish line? Hmmm.

The school where I was at when the “fight club-like” assertive altercation took place was a public school with a strong outer-campus fence. It was a great school, mind you…but it felt sterile and automaton-ic. I wonder what this student’s situation is like. I can’t imagine it being exactly the same as some of the students I teach…but I suppose I’m just as entitled to think that way. My guess is that all students to some degree hold their futures in such a personal way (as they journey through their every day routines) that the unreasonable goals of their parents, teachers, etc. pale in comparison to the ones they hold for themselves. The actions they take as a result, are merely responses to a call to duty of sorts that keeps this sterile, everyday refreshing and approachable.

This student felt disrespected, and acted out. Afterward he was remorseful, for he saw that the overall outcome was more overwhelming than the moment, and that grounded him quickly.

It grounded me too.

I joke about the event because that’s my action. I find great relief in making others laugh, and when I’m scared or if I need to question my worth, or challenge my walk with Christ…I can at least settle in the safety net of what I know. That’s all anyone does: big people and little people.

I have a hard time writing detentions. “Stop chewing gum in class. Stop chewing gum in class. Stop chewing gum—-ah, here’s a detention. That’ll show him!” The temporary action doesn’t manage the problem. It’s an Alka-Seltzer. Takes care of the immediate heartburn…but it doesn’t solve the problem, especially if your prone to eating spicy food. Changing lives in the classroom is a challenge, and yet that’s what teachers are expected to do everyday. Teach, nurture, guide, protect, reward and serve.

I would hope that the goals of a parent for their student reflects the same goals the teacher holds for the student. A quick fix to any problem (at home or in the classroom) is as useful as breaking up a fight, or an Alka-Seltzer. Stops it…but doesn’t address the issue.

Hm. I wonder what the other students thought of me when they witnessed my breaking up that scuffle. “Dude, that teacher’s a stud.” Maybe not. “Don’t mess with him!” That’s right! Eh. Maybe….”Dang. Look away. Glad it’s not me.” We’re probably getting closer.

Do you suppose students who act out in class are ones that need attention? I wonder if they don’t need attention so much as they know that involuntary attention will be offered to them regardless through their classmate’s observations…and that in return aligns them, putting them in the same category in a defense against those who lead the class. An interesting thought…but I would hope that it wasn’t totally true. After all…I can handle one student…but if they gang up on me, I’ll see you in the water with the crocodile, Peter Pan.

Phew! What a weekend. Well, it’s back to night owl work. I have a lip sync to choreograph, and I need to sharpen my cat-like skillz (yes, with a “z”) in case a fight breaks out after they announce my group the winner.

AUDITIONS: The Aftermath

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by erikball123


Well….the dust has settled.

Who am I kidding. The dust will be whipping thru the air for some time! The aftermath of a high school audition tends to linger and simmer into deep resentment, broken hearts and hurt feelings that snowball into entitlement issues, brazen commentary and yet more hurt feelings. Regardless of the length of the pre-audition pep talk….regardless of the post-cast list “open door”…..It’s high school. It’s gonna happen. Let’s not forget that there is much to celebrate for all. Those that DID get in the cast…congrats! Those that barely missed it….congrats! You did great. But, you can’t really have a dialogue with a piece of paper stapled to a bulletin board, right?

My wife (who is the director of this particular show) and I sat in the drama classroom with 20 hopefuls who were called back for round two. When we left, we were SO very impressed. Without pouring myself into specifics regarding each student, let me just say that I was surprised at the level of dedication that each student achieved. Truly, the cast could have been generated in a dozen different ways. I didn’t envy my wife last night as she toiled away, sitting at the dining room table.

Of course, I chimed in from time to time. I’m pretty sure that’s why she turned up the volume to the Cosby Show episode that we Tivo’d.

I love my wife because of many things…but one of the top ten reasons remains the fact that she’s a stellar director. Far superior to anything I’ve ever offered in many ways. Her philosophies and HOW she executes her vision is VERY different than the way I do things. (But from a creative aspect…that’s a good thing, right?) I think we compliment each other well. Her cast is brilliant. They will flesh out the farcical “CLUE” amazingly, I have no doubt. But I can’t help but thinkg that it is the students that DIDN’T get the role today, that they thought they deserved (who may walk away gritting their teeth) that brings me to my blog today.

Emily and I have the unique privilege of working with very talented students. There is always a forum for dramatic arts: inner city, gold-plated suburbia…and, of course Summerlin….and there is never a short-handed supply of those who WANT to perform. (How many students went to sleep yesterday with visions of Prof. Plums dancing in their heads?? I argue: many.)

What we don’t get is a consistent stream of opportunity for those interested. We chose, with great care, mind you, plays and musicals that will be appealing to patrons as well as performers, something enriching, something fun, something challenging……something borrowed, something blue! We have to think about marketability…who wants to play to an empty house. And on top of all that (and more) we’re the ones to light the fire under those students who are on the fence as to whether or not they even have the confidence to attempt to get a role! (That’s a hard fire to shovel coal into.)

That cast list is posted and the smiles will turn upside-down. The nervous hands will go limp. The tension will release. And emotion will take over. I will have 9th graders scorning 11th grades. Young hopefuls will turn into young hatefuls. And I will have students never return to the stage as a result. I argue that passion is never a bad thing, if it’s about something you care about. (Imagine students having passionate feelings about something they believe in…might be a nice change.) It only when they lose sight of those beliefs do their passions turn into pains. Am I being too dramatic? How dramatic is TOO dramatic, when you’re the drama teacher? I think I’m just being honest.

I want so badly to just…..shake these kids! (Reason #56 why Emily and I don’t have kids yet!) How can someone SO talented….so dedicated….so thoughtful… so unbelievably clueless. I’m sorry for the reality check…but the fact remains, students DON’T get roles 90% of the time because they are OUT AUDITIONED….not because we don’t think they’re good enough.

“GOOD”….heh. Funny word, isn’t it? Yet, it’s used all the time in things like auditions. Students tend to think we’re looking for something “good” in them. What they don’t know….is that we already know there is. What we’re looking for is a means by which to compliment the students by fulfilling the demands of the show…all the while, educating them. That’s not as easy to say as “Good.”

Granted…not all students are alike. I’m addressing a few, only. There will be those who sing praises regardless. I’m not even concerned or upset. Merely, I want all of my students to know that I believe in them. Mrs. Ball believes in you. We have Faith that win, lose, or draw….God has a plan for all of you. If that means not being a part of the High School Play “CLUE”….so be it. But, until we meet again onstage or off…you are always in our hearts and prayers, for we want you to succeed.

I love my students. I love my job. I love theatre. But, until the day comes that someone somewhere develops a less human way to cast a show that leaves everyone involved chipper….I will stand by my wife, and stand by the formula that is the audition. It works. It works very well. I hope some of the students who were in the room during auditions will selflessly reflect on what those who DID get cast did what was right in order to garnish that role. Until then….with my door wide open….I will continue to offer a shoulder, an ear and thoughtful consideration to anyone who wants to talk about drama, post-audition.

Counselor, I’m not….but I am a human being with feelings. And when my students are crushed….I’m crushed. I don’t have the constitution to be any less a person.

“We’re actors. We’re the opposite of people.” – Tom Stoppard

There’s a ROCKAFIRE EXPLOSION of Technology In and Out of the Classroom

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2008 by erikball123

Gone are the days of the SPEAK-N-SPELL and the quirky Furby! (I always used to lock mine in the closet. Is there something hugely morbid about that or what!) I recall, vaguely, the boxy Apple computers in the corner of my middle school classroom in Tecumseh, MI. I also recall selling my wife’s boxy Apple computer for $20 at a Garage Sale to a guy who wanted to make a fish tank out of it. (I can’t make stuff up like this.) I currently utilize a MACBOOK PRO, a Gateway Tablet PC Laptop, GarageBand, iMovie, Blog Sites, Wiki Pages, Podcasting and many other updated “Tomorrowland” technologies in my classroom today! Aren’t I up-to-date?! I’m also building a rocket ship in my garage. It’s called Thor, and someday we’ll see the moon!

My wife, who incidentally is working toward her Doctorate, (I’m still convinced she married me because she felt sorry for me. She volunteers at the SPCA too) has completed her research review on Globalization and how secondary education must embrace the philosophy of generating a better global learner within every student. It’s called “No Teacher Left Behind.” She’s brilliant.

Faith Lutheran High School continues to execute a one-to-one initiative, where every student will be supplied with their own wireless laptop instead of a backpack full of books and a note from their chiropractor. The entire campus is wireless. We offer streaming videos of weekly chapel services and desire to change is firmly implemented by the administration. It’s a refreshing, exciting, hard-working environment. Gone are the days when Lauren Engalls was kept after class to bang erasers together after wiping the slate board clean.

Look at how jealous Mary is. She's like "That darn Laura. Even though she has buck teeth and breath that smells like vittles...shucks, I wish I could have the aisle seat just once."

Look at how jealous Mary is. She's like, "Look at that stupid Laura. Even though she has buck teeth and her breath smells like vittles, shucks! I wish I could have the aisle seat just once. It's enough to make one go blind."

(Side note: Anyone else think Doc Baker was also the town “dealer?” Anyone?)

That ain't

It may look like a full house...but them ain't cards. Uh-uh. Thems tiny envelopes of nose powder!

Sorry about that…back to the topic.

Kicking or screaming…we’re looking at a new tomorrow. A different tomorrow. One that allows students to collaborate WITH teachers instead of being TALKED AT by teachers. (Thank you Chelsea for teaching me how to turn off my bloody screen saver!) Instead of the wig-clipped Eagle, Robin and Sparrow reading groups, we’re mending our wings and flying through lessons on embedding produced videos to share with collaboration teams in foreign countries. (But, we’ll still give you a detention if you don’t have a hall pass….irony?)

It’s all new! It’s all exciting! But….is it really? I don’t think so. Progression in any technological medium doesn’t wait for permission. You blink and you’re suddenly surrounded. Embracing this “new-math-like” way of teaching is sometimes fiercely rejected. (Usually by teachers who have found a nice rut. Aren’t teachers suppose to want to be forever learners?) “What happened to good ‘ol recycled, perforated paper (with reinforced holes so that it doesn’t tear out of your binder) and mechanical pencils?”

I had a student ask me the other day if they could just write their script in “text” format. I’m not kidding. I was kinda taken for a second….then I said yes….just to see what it would be like. I was curious! After the first sentence, I reneged and said no. This was his actual sentence: “1: ok, lets go2the stor thn! hrry ^ wll u?”

Yikes. I asked the student to please write is out “normally.” (Which I felt funny saying.) He really struggled. I’d hate to be this student’s English teacher! But, that kinda shows you what we’re looking at. Instead of wedgies in the bathroom, we have cyber bullying (it’s real! It was on Dr. Phil)…students are asking one another out to Homecoming via text message. On mandatory dress days at our school (we have a dress code), each class sends out mass texts asking everyone in their class to wear the same color polo so that when they sit as a class, they all look alike. A phone call to my Grandmother is feeling like an old school smoke signal nowadays!

Let’s go off topic for a second.

I was surfing the web last night and came across Showbiz Pizza Place. First and foremost, if you don’t know what Showbiz is…you’ll be uninterested in this part. Scroll down. For those of us fortunate enough to know the wonder and sometimes creepiness of this amazing, over-the-top family pizza joint…read on. You’ve heard of Chuck E. Cheese, no doubt? The two companies merged at some point…but Showbiz was the first and it was freakin’ awesome. I would even go as far as to say that Showbiz is probably the very first thing to open my eyes to theatrics. That, and the double-cheese pizza was WAY nummy.

I totally

I totally owned the Rockafire Explosion album.

Try to see it from a 6 year old’s perspective. Where else can you go to play Skee Ball, take a swim in the Ball Bin, spend copious amounts of money on “Dragon’s Lair,” stuff yourself silly with greasy pizza and watch a full-fledged, life-sized performance by a troupe of colorful animal caricatures bee-bopping to Elvis, The Doors, Michael Jackson and of course the Beatles…all animatronic. Sounds cheezy? Yeah, it was…but I won’t scrimp on my conversational flair here. You see, this was first class animatronics for the time. The only equal was like Disneyland stuff…and living in Michigan, that seemed like a universe away. (And, no offense to Jackson, MI, but I wasn’t necessarily raised in an entertainment mecca.)

My Grandma Ball was the first to bring me to Showbiz. I was literally in awe. Imagine a pre-Ritalin Erik (in the hay-day of mischief) walking into a loud, colorful playground. What’s more…I was given permission to be wild. I LOVED Showbiz. I also spent hours last night soaking up all the info on the web I could find on the place. I haven’t felt a surge of nostalgia like that in a long time. The best part of Showbiz WAS the animatronic show. They were called the ROCKAFIRE EXPLOSION!  Billy Bob, Fats the Gorilla, under appreciated Looney Bird, Duke and Earl and of course Mitzy Mozzerella. Dude….Mitzy. She was seriously….my first girlfriend. I was in love with her. Wonder Woman….step off! Daisy Duke….kiss my Rosco P. Coaltrain! No, no. MITZY….she was the coolest.

Every 15-minutes, the Showbiz gang would fire up and perform little skits, and sing songs, and thoroughly entertain. I wouldn’t even eat my pizza. I would just sit and watch. Front row baby. I had their albums, I collected the figurines, and I cried when my dog chewed my my Mitzy frisbee.

Well, Showbiz is all but gone now. I hear three Showbiz Pizza Places still exist. I also hear that nearly every set of animatronic characters (over 250 sets were made) have all been dismantled. Then I happened upon a site where this guy, from Alabama I think, bought one of the last existing sets. He worked on it, and kept it in pristine condition and now takes bids on his website from time-travellers like myself who want to see the Rockafire Explosion sing songs from today. The highest bidder wins and he programs the song into the show and posts the video on the net. Here’s one of them. (This is Usher’s “Love in the Club.” Hilarious.)

Or, how about SHAKIRA’S “Hips Don’t Lie.”

Kinda funny to look back on the whole thing now. (Especially because I think Mitzy has a lazy eye…am I right?) Back then these silly animatronic beings seemed like the closest thing to magic to me. And it was always right in front of me. I think as a kid I KNEW they weren’t real…and that they were mechanical. But, that’s why I was fascinated with them. I was hooked. But, now…looking at these YouTube videos of them rocking back and forth and rigidly gesturing and blinking, I think I wouldn’t be terribly impressed as a kid.

But, that’s where we’re at, I think. (And this is my sad attempt of bringing things around full circle.) I think God wants us to delight in past memories. I think God wants us to create anew, and expand our knowledge based on experiences from the past. I think He wants us to experience things that instill a sense of wonder in us. I believe that’s what makes us all such beautiful, colorful, creative beings. We have moments, memories, and goals that keep our minds and hearts active. God is there to tell us how we may be good on our journey.

Faith Lutheran’s technology initiative is a far cry from Mitzy Mozzerella. And while many years have past since I stepped foot in a Showbiz (I’m still King of the Ball Bin!) I will continue to look forward to working hard as a teacher in the technologically infused Education world. Students, kicking and screaming or not, will need me to be. The world is changing, and we all need to prepare to be global learners. I thank God I have people like my wife next to me on this journey so that I can rely on her intelligence as I get older, so that I can save space in my brain to store embedded memories of wonderful cheese-scented nuggests of nostalgia from the past as I look into the future.

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