Archive for Teacher

“Excuse Me, I Have to Take This Call.”

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by erikball123

One of the shows that I used to watch as a kid was The Cosby Show. I still value the wisdom and humor of Bill Cosby as one of the most influential forces in my life, personally. The show itself, which featured the life lessons of the loveable Huxtable family, lives in the annals of time as one of the most beloved television shows ever, and I can recite half of the episodes word for word. Sometimes I wish life was a little bit simpler, perhaps more “scripted” and decorated with life lessons, like that one episode where Theo was getting ready for college and he had to buy back is bedroom furniture…or the brilliant episode where the husbands of the Huxtable woman challenged each other to try and purchase the most romantic gift ever. It’s a half an hour of feel good moments that I cherish.

When I think about time, and how my time is spent…and this day and ages’ “normal day”…for some reason, I capture the image of Heathcliff Huxtable, the hard working obstetrician, trying with every fiber of his being to catch just a few winks on the family room sofa before having to go in for another shift at the hospital. This last round of unexpected call ins has kept him busy for hours…and at the height of the scene, Heathcliff rolls over and exclaims to little Rudy, who has interrupted his sleep, “Rudy, I just delivered over 100 babies…I need some sleep.”

I guess we all get to a point to where we feel like there is just no catching up on rest…and others’ perception of our plight is just simply not understood. (No matter how noble the cause.)

Now, I don’t deliver babies….ha! Yeah, God bless doctors…I can’t even stand the waiting rooms….I’m a simple High School Drama teacher…but I do feel sometimes that times are changing and expectations are extremely high with regards to how much time we are expected to spend in the efforts to be the greatest school on earth. Now, I promise this won’t turn into a sob-fest…but rather I’d like to take note that times they be a-changin’. Today, the parents of the students I teach are people my age, which means that I need to appreciate what these people are going through as they manage the trials of their children’s school careers. Yet, I don’t. I find myself frustrated…and pointing fingers.

You ever find yourself mad at someone, just because they’re going home at 3pm…and you have to stay for rehearsal…or an after-school activity. That’s all. They didn’t DO anything to you…there isn’t any REAL reason to be angry….but ooooo! They get to go home…and rest, and stuff. And I’ve gotta stay…and do stuff. Dang it! Shoot!

I have only to blame myself for being committed to many things…I like to stay active and involved…I love attention…I love working with the kids outside of class…and I bring it on myself. But, I get increasing annoyed with the 24/7, on-call status that I feel I sometimes am expected to maintain as a teacher. The emails I have to answer up to midnight from students and parents…phone calls I have to return…make-up test/assignment arrangements I have to make and attend…make-up auditions and “meetings” before an after class to “discuss” stuff. We’re on-call counselors, curriculum directors, tutors and mentors. On top of that…I work at the most wonderful high school in the country. A private school where I don’t have to worry about getting shot in the hallways…face drug deals in the bathrooms….and worry about gangs. And I sit here…annoyed and tired. Shame on me, right?

I guess I think about these sort of things because of the ways of the world that I recall when I was growing up. I recall my parents making me going to school no matter how sick I was. I would have to be puking or running a fever before I was allowed to stay home. Today…kids “don’t wanna” go to school…and they spend the day at home. (And I won’t get into the numerous unplanned vacations that are taken throughout the school year. That’s a subject for another blog.) I don’t understand the mind set of some parents. Perhaps they justify things because it’s a private school…and when you pay enrollment, there is a certain expectation. “I pay for this school…if I wanna pull my kid to take them to Hawaii…well, darn it, I’m gonna.”

I guess I’m not arguing about a lack of rest…or a desire to have a nightly vacation from school to recharge. I guess my concerns come from a lack of responsibility that we don’t enforce in today’s students. These are teenagers after all. The same ones that come up to me in class during group work and say, “Mr. Ball, where is some white paper.” “Um…right there.” “Oh, yeah.” Open your eyes…look around…and find the paper. If you cannot find it…after HUNTING for it….then ask. I’m afraid everything nowadays is being served up on a silver platter…and all our teenagers know how to do is ring the little bell and request another “thing.”

I guess what I’d like to see more of (because I always tell my students to stop complaining unless they have a solution!) is parents making their students more responsible for things. The text book stuff…it’s very important…but dude, even the smartest of smart people have to admit that some of the most important stuff you can take away from high school is the collaboration…the ensemble efforts…the trial and error of the everyday interactions. How can students learn how to identify a true success, if they don’t fail every now and then.

Hotlines are important. I think they are an integral part of society and should exist for many worthy causes. But have you ever noticed that hotlines exist primarily for urgent needs? I mean, rarely do you find a go-to source for mundane, everyday things? I feel like the age of technology and the turn of the decades (and this age of parents) expects teachers to drop everything for their students. I guarantee you….we do. (And for the most part, we WANT to.) But, when it’s after hours…or if it involves a hired worker to go above and beyond their expected punch out time…I beg of you to remain cognizant of the fact that this is not normal. If you get your hands on a teacher willing to spend time with your kid…this is a major good thing.

I can’t get mad at those people walking to their cars at 3:15pm. I can’t. God bless them. I don’t necessarily consider myself Heathcliff Huxtable either…trying to catch a few zzzs on the sofa before the next round. After all, I step into the classroom and take on these extra commitments myself, knowing full well what is expected of me. I just want the students and parents to know what is expected of them too. Perhaps that’s unreasonable. But, then again, I would settle for a half an hour of old-school life lessons from the Huxtable household. I guarantee you, unless little Rudy was puking or running a fever….girl would stay home.

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.

Don’t Tip your “Serving” Tray

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by erikball123

I was watching a TIVO’d American Idol yesterday with my wife. A young hopeful was brutally rebuffed and sulked away, rejected, hurt and emotional. He turned to the camera (of course) and, tearing the clouds apart, cried “My spirit is broken!” (Somewhere in the distance a wolf howled.)

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Sheesh…somethings just don’t change. You have to admire those editing masters that never get any credit for the behind-the-scenes vignette work that is poured over every 2-hour “road to Hollywood” Idol episode. Those vignettes are always emotional, abrasive…and very cheesy. They know their stuff. What does America like: drama, in-your-face realism and cheese.

I bring up the topic of ones SPIRIT today because I had a similar situation happen to me yesterday. While I did not appear on American Idol, I did at one point feel like my spirit was broken. (Even candidly that statement sounds over-the-top.) Let’s just say that my heart sank for what I loved. That’s what your spirit is after all…right? What you’re passionate about, what you love and your predominate feeling or mood about it…it all boils down to your essential essence or spirit.

I read a letter to the editor in the newspaper today, written by a public high school teacher in Clark County about how concerned he was about the state of public education system in Nevada. If you don’t know, our school board passed out 6% pay cuts at Christmas parties, inflated classrooms in the upwards of 28 students per class (an all-time, national high) and offered limited reams of copy paper and office supplies in order to encourage use of technology. (Think about that, Faith Lutheran teachers, next time you complain about your new MacBooks!)

But seriously, there is a gray cloud over anyone who loves to teach in Nevada. There are revolving doors on all of our schools and then there are the teachers that DO stick around. Most of the time, they aren’t the ones you WANT to have around. (Just like students, really! Aren’t the ones that bug you the most…the ones that find your classroom quite cozy?) Our giant school district (which should be divided into three districts, in my opinion) is a not a very happy place. They’ve had a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” attitude about test scores and offered very little as far as incentives are concerned for prospective newbie teachers. There is no silver-lining to this Silver State dilemma.

I was sitting in a restaurant yesterday with a group of colleagues having a lunch meeting. For the sake of my colleagues, and the students they teach and the parents that may read this…I’ll keep the agenda and particulars confidential out of respect. But I left that meeting quite deflated. I teach six classes (two sections of high school drama, high school advanced drama, middle school drama, middle school clowning & puppetry, and I team-teach a middle school dance class and during one of my prep periods I also facilitate over an Independent Study Costume Design class) and I have a very full plate. Drama is amazingly prop heavy and while we’re known as the nomads of all performance classes (meaning most flexible, after all we don’t carry tubas or music stands full of choral music) we still have a fair share of preparatory work before every project. I love my job and look forward to it. I work in one of the top private schools in the country and the expectations are very high. But, above any hidden complaint, or off-handed comment, I work with amazing students, an amazing administration and wonderful colleagues. The buildings are big…the carpets are steamed cleaned 4 times a year, the landscaping is beautiful, and everyone has a hand in building up the ginormous (real word) pillars that hold Faith Lutheran up so high. Everyone wants their particular subject area to succeed. Talk about a high caliber, feverish, energetic and positive environment, right? Well…we fall short.

Everyone wants to be proud of a something big that happens. It’s human nature. Just as the Holy Spirit works through us, we want our emotional spirits and passions to be worked over everyday as well. We want to flex our creative muscles. (And those that don’t are the ones that are “stuck.” See above.) We want to anticipate something. We want to revolutionize something. We want to bring something new to the table. We want to win. We want to be in charge. We want control.

I had this game as a kid called “Don’t Tip the Waiter.” Silly game. There was a two-foot tall cut-out of a snobby waiter that teetered on to spokes that protruded from each hip. Above his head he hoisted up a flat cardboard serving tray. You’d spin a wheel and depending upon your luck you’d be challenged to position a cardboard steak, or broccoli, or pizza slice, on top of the serving tray. If you weren’t careful, if you didn’t use good judgment, and if you weren’t careless, the waiter would become unbalanced and tip over,  dumping the food on the ground. Good times. (I also liked the dude on Sesame Street that would come out with eight cream pies, announce the number of the day, and proceed to trip down the stairs and splat the pies all over!)

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I’m extremely fortunate to not fall into like categories as public school teachers do, so I won’t be dealing with the 6% pay cut or reams of paper. But, the high level of expectation, mixed with the superior caliber of faculty members with strong personalities working there (that’s meant to be a compliment) with a dash of pride that so easily consumes us…you find yourself with a volatile cocktail sometimes. Let’s just forget that this week is exam week!

I exchanged blows with my colleagues across dirtied plates of devoured spaghetti, and found myself pouting, fighting and defending the simplest and most minute things in order to prove my point. Again, it’s hard for me to explain without going into details about the particulars…but think about a time when you’ve been SO SURE that you were 100% right, that when it was brought into question (let’s say, even without conflict) you lost it! It’s not a fun situation. You wind up taking everything personally, all the while drudging up past mistakes (and, in your attempts to defend, not just your own mistakes) to prove your points and…why? Ultimately, you want to get your way. Right?

As teachers, (be it science, P.E., History, English or stinkin’ Underwater Basket Weaving!), it is our responsibility to be loyal to not only our individual disciplines…not only the care and success and spiritual well-being  of our students…but it is our responsibility to make certain that pride doesn’t overcome passion.

We all want to win. We hoist philosophies, quirks, resources, lessons, and emotions on a plate so high above our heads sometimes, that we forget what’s up there. We teeter-todder around our everyday on a whirlwind of rituals and “must-dos” that when we reach up to snatch something off of the plate, we don’t even see how that removed “food” is unbalancing the rest of our plate.

I’m guilty as charged. On top of all that, I’m a bit absent-minded. (Put a blind-fold on my waiter!) So, my journey is no different.

I don’t think anyone walked away from our meeting yesterday feeling good. My lasagna wasn’t even that good. So, why did I sit in my car for 15 minutes staring out of the windshield questioning my calling as a drama teacher? Why did I find my love for performing arts and my love for my students and more so, my love for growing in Christ, and watching those I teach grow in Christ everyday…why did I find those things being “messed with.” That’s the stinkin’ tray! That’s my serving tray. Why would I question that? How can I?

You know, I’m a big guy (6’4″) and I can take a lot of heat and punishment. But when my heart takes a beating…when my pride takes a beating…when I’m forced to spill all of the contents of my serving tray onto the floor and regroup before picking them back up…it’s stinks.

Randy, Paula, Simon and that new girl (Carly??) all have a huge advantage. They can break someones spirit and know that it will be well edited.  The show always goes to commercial break. But, when students, parents, administrators, or colleagues break your spirit…you have to look them in the eye the next day in faculty meetings.

I went numb after our lunch-time conflict. I do that sometimes. I don’t deal well with conflict. I want everyone and everything to be sunshine and lollipops. I never said I wasn’t a bit ignorant. But, as a teacher…not only do you have a responsibility to the school, students, parents and community as a whole…but you have a HUGE responsibility to yourself to make sure that your “waiter” isn’t tipped.

One thing the public school teacher wrote about in his letter to the editor was that he didn’t care what happened to the “system” because he cared too much about his students to allow anything to affect his passion for teaching.  I thought that was pretty cool. I suppose God wouldn’t give you the size “serving tray” you have, if He didn’t think you could handle it.

My waiter was tipped yesterday, and my spirit was broken. But despite my human nature, the drama, the in-your-face realism….and yes, the cheese….spilled all over the floor….I’m ready for another game.

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

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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

My Wife…EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR!

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , on December 1, 2008 by erikball123

My wife Emily, won the EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD at the Pacific Southwest District Lutheran Educator’s Conference and CAPSO convention last week.

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This is a HUGE award and has only been bestowed on a handfulof Faith Lutheran teachers in the past. (Mr. Dunning, Ms. Krafft and Mrs. Youmans I think are the only other winners.)

I cannot reiterate enough how amazing of a teacher she is. She is my inspiration…the reason I can approach with confidence every good day I have at Faith and the reason I can get my tushy out of bed after every bad day. She’s a hard-working, caring, devoted, kind-hearted, fun teacher and her students LOVE HER.

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If I were a fifth the teacher she was…I would be content for the rest of my life. But because I’m not…it was nothing less than an honor to sit next to her as she won the award. She deserves it…she’s amazingly humble about it…and I think she is just the greatest blessing at Faith Lutheran….in every student’s life she touches….and in my life as her husband.

With Faith Lutheran's Executive Director Kevin Dunning.

Emily with Faith Lutheran's Executive Director Kevin Dunning moments after receiving the award.

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Emily and a gaggle of her colleagues and friends after the event.

“…Every Outing is a Bravura Performance…”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2008 by erikball123

It’s getting to be that time again. I’m looking down the long tunnel at the final week of “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” performances and I’m getting that sad…kinda bitter sweet feeling in my tum tum again when a show comes to a close. Let’s take a look at the facts:

  • At the end of the run, I will have performed Gaston 36 times.
  • I’m breaking apart from a cast that has been my second family for nearly a year.
  • We’re saying goodbye to a beautifully constructed turn-table set and over $15,000 of custom costumes, which will all be sold or rented out.
  • We’ll be saying goodbye to characters that we’ve rehearsed, created and made our own. Rehearsal time lasted from Monday thru Friday from 7pm to 11pm in the upwards of 24 weeks during this time.
  • I will no longer be able to sport Sonic the Hedgehog-like eyebrows.
Gaston

The tops of the boots are held together with Gaff tape...the shirt has holes in the armpits....and the wig has almost evolved into a living creature....but truth be told, I'll really miss playing GASTON when "Beauty and the Beast" closes.

It’s sad. As a teacher, I’ve only been able to offer my students the chance to be in a play or musical that lasted one weekend. (A total of 3 shows a run!) We’ve shared the gymnasium and were only able to give up that space for one week in the past. Now we have this big, beautiful theater space at Faith Lutheran and for the first time we’ll be offering two-weekends of shows, eight total. I’m very excited. Before, it always felt like we JUST got our groove and then we’d have to strike the set.

We are working on monologues in class, and I got after a few students who were dinking around in the corner when they should have been rehearsing, and one of them looked at me and said, “I’m done.” I asked them to perform it for me. They said the monologue wasn’t memorized yet. I said…”then you’re not done.” They replied that after reviewing it over and over, they were getting bored with it. This was what I was looking for….(Ha! You fell into my trap, you little stinker!)….and it sparked a nice dialogue about how to manage a sense of “FIRST-TIME-NESS” when performing and how to make something your are creating onstage fresh and exciting each time.

Thirty-six shows in the same big ‘ol boots…carrying the same prop rifle…pining for the same princess….how can I NOT get bored with that, one might wonder. Well, first and foremost…I don’t! I’m blessed to be working with an ensemble and directors who keep me on my toes each night, hold me accountable and constantly challenge my limitations and expectation. That’s not going to happen all the time, however. You can’t count on a magical cast every time. You have to create the magic yourself.

Granted, high school students are not actors. They’re hams. They’re manipulators. They’re comedic and dramatic. But, half of the class is there so they can get out of their art or choir elective…let’s be honest here. So, I can’t expect THAT level of dedication. But I can expect a firm understanding and appreciation of what it takes to make things work “for the first time.”

Let’s segue…for a minute.

My mother-in-law and a family friend came into town from Michigan to see the show this weekend. I was very happy to see them and very grateful to have them in the audience. (The frosting on any cake for a performer is having a loved one in the audience.) They even treated my wife and I to tickets to “JERSEY BOYS” which was fantastic. I highly recommend you see this show. I haven’t been THIS impressed with a show since “WICKED.” Tony award winner? Well, I can see why. It’s brilliant on so many levels.

Lynn

Lynn, Emily and Mama Sue stand in the Bellagio gardens before "JERSEY BOYS." They had a talking tree there. I was happy.

The entire day was fun…but at some point I had a bit of a grey cloud over my head. At first I couldn’t understand why. Then I thought hard about it. I came up with many reasons…

  • I had grades to enter and my weekend time was nearly gone.
  • I am broke right now. Lately we’ve been struggling to keep funds available for anything extra-curricular. The simplest transactions (like buying a Starbucks or buying a pair of socks at Ross) is suddenly a major surgery…and I’m cutting into our life savings.
  • I’m sad for the show to end.
  • I’m feeling old.
  • I’m feeling burdened by many, little technical responsibilities that were dropped in my lap at school.
  • I’m frustrated because everyone is telling me to chill out, because I’m stressed.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to depress my mother-in-law on her visit. I didn’t wan’t to seem mopey. But, I didn’t want to air my frustrations either. I was trapped!

Yet another segue.

My wife was looking at jewelry today at a store during our excursion. She was admiring a beautiful emerald ring. (Her favorite stone.) She would have loved to have bought it. I would have loved to be in a position TO buy it. We moved on…it wasn’t a big deal.

You see, I’m not a fan of jewelry. I wear my wedding ring…that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll wear a watch, until it gets annoying, then I take it off and promptly lose it. But, jewelry has NEVER been a big deal to me, and I struggle with understanding people who have a massive amount of jewelry. Everybody from your textbook trophy wife with thousands of dollars of diamonds and not enough social events in which to brandish them all….to that cocky, super-tan dude with 10 Rolexes at home and one of those pine-scented boxes to keep them all in. I don’t get it. Why is something SO expensive…and yet, so insignificant…so important? Is it a status symbol? Is it symbolic of something? Is it like one of those Green Lantern rings that shoots out beams!? I cannot justify purchasing jewelry.

“But, Erik….my fifty pound diamond tiara means something to me.” Okay…it means something to you. It’s still insignificant. Disagree with me if you like, but anything that isn’t something you need to have in order to live (meaning heart-beating…breathing in and out) is a LUXURY. I’m not saying luxuries are bad. I have many luxuries. I’m just saying….jewelry is DEFINITELY a luxury.

Honey

"Honey, does this necklace make my face look fat?"

Don’t get me wrong…I have bought jewelry for my wife…and I will continue to attempt to fulfill any “shiney” desire she has…but for me, no thanks?

I have the same theory about my truck. I like it. It’s cool. Gets me where I’m going….but it’s a truck. Who cares. If someone said to me…”get rid of it…here’s a different one.” I wouldn’t care. I continue to have a hard time justifying making time to wash the thing when it’s just going to get dirty again. Oil change…okay. Flat tire…fix it. But…it’s a resource to get me to and from places, that’s all.

Doubling back, I suppose you can add “not able to get my wife shiny things when she would like to have them” to my list of things that might have made me blue today.

I finally told my wife that I think I pin-pointed my all-encompassing “blue-ness.” I felt a sudden wave of “Am I being used to my potential?” (You know…the potential that God has planned for me.) I’ve been given certain gifts. I also LIKE to do certain things. Squash those two together…and I should be able to lead a happy, fulfilling life, right? I feel sometimes like shows come to an end so quickly….funds dissolve way too fast….and “wants” overcome what you’re actually able to provide.

How do I keep things fresh? How do I keep my LIFE in the same mode of “first time-ness?”

One piece of advice that I offer my students regarding their monologue is to take a look at the scene through the eyes of the other characters….the director….the lighting designer….the audience members (older ones, younger ones, etc.) and then re approach. Find new and exciting twists and games to play AS that character with the scene before breaking the scene down again….tossing away all of the “yuck” and keep all of the “awesome.” That’s how Stephen King writes, you know. Ever wonder how he publishes all of those books? Ghost writers? Sure, sometimes…but for the MOST part, he pulls up a chair and begins with a general idea, and BANG! He writes and writes and writes and writes…..without even stopping to THINK about what he’s writing. He’ll pump out 200 pages in one afternoon and then go BACK and take a look at what works, what doesn’t. He takes a look at the “moments” in the rough draft from other perspectives and then goes back to rewrite.

Stephen King writes in his book Stephen King on Writing: “Practice isn’t painful when you love what you do…Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic.”

I love that.

The

The dude just freaks me out a little.

I took a couple of steps back. (We were at the Belligio fountains at the time.) I thought about today from my mother-in-law’s perspective. My our friend Lynn’s perspective…from my wife’s. We had a great night tonight. I look at tomorrow (Monday) and I think….errrr. But, you know, from the student who is delivering their monologue in my class, they have a completely different outlook. From the audience member who is seeing “Beauty and the Beast” for the FIRST time tomorrow night…there’s a completely different outlook.

Fountain

I never tire of the Bellagio fountains.

You know…keepin’ it “fresh”….keepin’ it in the “first-time”….it’s not easy to do. It requires me to step outside of my own self-absorbed little world to garnish a new perspective. But my approach…no matter what the reason or rhyme….should be wrapped tightly in the fact that I love performing. I love theater. I get to do what I love every day.

Next time I get sad about not playing Gaston anymore, I’ll reflect on the fact that Gaston and I are not terrible unalike in the sense that we have a hard time looking at things through other people’s eyes. Maybe that will help me move on past closing night. Gaston will carry-on within me.

“It’s about time (I) paid attention to more important things.” (Gaston says this in the show.) Perhaps those more important things are what lives and breathes inside each of the people I am in contact with every day. From that point of view…how dare I rain on their parade.

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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