Archive for teachers

Measuring Down?

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2011 by erikball123

The last time I made cookies, I had to throw the batter away half way through the cooking process. I tested the first batch, of course, and nearly choked. I obviously measured something wrong. I didn’t pay that much attention, as I’ve made cookies before…and thought, what the heck. (I’ve been watching Food Network. It’s souring my thinking.) It was a true lesson that it is not a shame to pick up a measuring cup. (Maybe I should just leave the cookie making to my wife!)

I guess some things CAN be measured. Let me restate that. Some things SHOULD be measured.

I have been thinking a lot about my students this week. It’s been a busy week. (And I forgot to tell you last week about my middle school student who, during group work, tapped me on my shoulder. I turned round. He was wearing a paper mustache and goatee. Cooly, he stated in a dark Guatemalan accent, “I don’t drink often. But when I do…I prefer Dos Equis.” I almost wet myself. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in months.) Anyway…I digress.

My students are literally the highlight of my day, and the most concerning part of my approach TO my day. Let me explain. Faith Lutheran High School (the best school in the country) is a caring, nurturing supportive, and safe exception to any student’s Middle School / High School career. I love it there. I find myself spending hours nit-picking little tiny things to complain about daily…simply because it is such an amazing place to be. Isn’t that funny? I kick myself daily, saying “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” At the ends of my days (good days and bad)…I walk to my Nissan Cube, and I find myself worried about my students. Why should I worry about these kids, who are in our care, behind decorative gates and stone walls, sharing the good word of Jesus Christ? I’m proud of my students. I have faith in my students. I’m scared for my students.

I think sometimes…we don’t allow our students to fail.

There is an onset expectation when you purchase something, and that is, you’re going to GET what you paid for. If you grab a Sierra Mist, you know you’re getting ice cold, citrusy goodness. If you purchase a new car, it darn well better fill you nostrils with new car smell. If you purchase a Happy Meal, gosh darn it, there had better be a toy in there! You GET what you pay for. I think there should be NO EXCEPTION with that mind-set when you enroll a student in a private school for a quality education. It’s part of my philosophy as I approach my classroom everyday. I’m fulfilling my end of that expectation. Is this a reasonable expectation when we’re dealing with impressionable young people? People with personal goals, dreams, fears….and unique dynamics? I wonder.

Every time I post a cast list, and one of my students allows the ensemble role that they thought would be a principle role alter their self-control…and they begin bad-mouthing a fellow student…I break down inside a little.  Every time I witness the rules bend ever so slightly for a student so that they may be allowed to play a sport, or participate in an event….because that parent called the administration, and maybe, just maybe, this is the “least disruptive solution”….I question my approach to these kids, a little. Every time I see a student cut in the lunch line…get caught…and then don’t react with remorse…I feel a little lost.

“Wow, Erik. There are teachers in some schools walking the same halls where drug deals are being made, and your dissecting a situation regarding cutting in the lunch line?? Dang, you wussy.” Well…in my defense, this is all I know. I feel very badly for third world countries where people go to sleep starving every day. I will pray for them. But, I cannot fully understand that world, or affectively “deal” with it either…because this is the only world I know. So, in the sterile lunch lines of Faith Lutheran…yeah, these things affect me.

What are we doing to our students? Teaching them. Right. But what? Reading, Writing and Arithmetic? What about winning AND losing? Right AND wrong? Good AND bad? They surely know WHAT these things are….but do they know HOW these things are?

We do not affectively prepare our students for the real world, if we don’t ALLOW THEM to fail sometimes.

There is this saying, that I love, that goes, “Try your best. Even if you fall on your face…you’re still moving forward.”

Students are going to mess up…get a C- on their AP English homework…forget to turn an assignment in….get a detention for necking in the hallway…smoke a cigarette. All students mess up…they are all TEMPTED to compromise the free will and self-control that is gifted to them by God. It’s not the messing up that is important….it’s WHAT THEY DO AFTERWARDS that will surely define their characters, and generate exceptional, private school students…and even better, lay the ground-work for brilliant young Christian leaders after high school.

I sat four young men down after a middle school class this week. They were talking out of turn, disrupting the presentations of their classmates, snapping rubber bands and playing on their cell phones. All within 10 minutes. (I told you we had multi-tasking, talented kids at Faith.) I pulled them aside and said “look…I don’t want to give you a detention. YOU don’t want me to give you a detention. I need you to be respectful in class. If not, the school’s rules state that you must receive a punishment, which in turn makes me the bad guy…which in turn makes you unhappy with me, which makes me sad. So…here’s the deal. I’ll give you your phone back. The rubber bands I’m keeping…because, frankly, I’m out of rubber bands….but we’ll start fresh next class, with a clearer understanding of my expectations. If then, we continue to have problems…. detention. Understood?” Three of the four kids apologized. I accepted it….and waited. The fourth got a detention today. He continued down the same path. I asked him to stay after class…and then I asked him to fill out the detention form. He did it sharply and quickly…and accepted it. I think that was VERY good.

I’ll tell you something. The process of MAKING good cookies is always the same. Mix the proper ingrediants…bake them for a certain time…allow them to cool. We can measure what NEEDS to go into each cookie, very carefully. But, what happens if we make an error? I don’t blame the process of making cookies…and I certainly don’t stop making cookies altogether. Instead, I learn from my mistakes, restart and try again. I learn. Hopefully, I’ll wind up with better cookies.

If we (teachers and parents) take time with our students…nurture their needs as individuals (as we all know that God made each of these little ones by hand…there were no cookie cutters up in heaven)….and then be a part of the clean up process when they fail (continuing to nurture)…then maybe we’ll wind up with a batch of really well-prepared cookies.

And who doesn’t appreciate a well-prepared cookie?

“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.

I’m right…and you’re wrong!

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2009 by erikball123

Fazoli’s has pretty decent food for an Italian Fast Food joint. I’ve always thought that the 10 minute wait in the drive-thru kinda contradicted the idea of “fast”…but all in all, I continue to offer my patronage to the place. It’s the site of today’s topic.

fazolis1

I pulled up to the window and received my food…and was curious as to why one soft drink was smaller than the other. “I thought I ordered two extra-large drinks,” I commented. What followed could be described simply as a one-way, minute-long, detailed commentary of exactly what I ordered, and why in the world I would even question such a thing, because obviously the drive-thru clerk is doing their job correctly and I’m not doing my job of paying attention.

I didn’t really answer back. I was flabbergasted. (Besides, I think they wanted me to answer back, and I wasn’t going there.) I received my food and drinks and drove away, too afraid to ask for the bread sticks they forgot.

What’s up with people lately? Cities, schools, small business and the like are being frosted with a condescending glaze of “right-fighters.” (An endearing term I respectfully steal from Dr. Phil.) Everyone is right…and don’t you dare confront them, lest you feel the lash of their scornful gaze and acidic rebuttals.

It’s not just adults in the workplace at 4pm on Friday at Fazoli’s…..named Jeff. More so, I fear we’re raising a society of right-fighters who are encouraged to stand firm. It borrows from the old adage of “if someone punches you on the playground…you punch back. That’s my boy!” These concepts, while strong-willed and I suppose in that regard, positive…are fueling an “age of entitlement” that will make everyone RIGHT…and everyone else WRONG, spinning us around in a never-ending rabbit season/duck season argument.

wabbit-season

Conversation…and dare I say, confrontation is like a dance. It takes two to tango, whether your partner wants to dance or not! You cannot engage in an exchange if you’re too busy being right!

As a drama teacher, I’d say this is one of my biggest challenges when working with my students. Entitlement issues are always present. (On the onset of auditions…as they mature from freshmen to seniors and climb the ladder of ensemble member to leading role…even in the most arrogant student and quirkiest wallflower I teach.) They are challenged with the demands of the stage and what it takes out-audition others in heated competition for the opportunity to do what they love onstage.

They are also challenged with living in a fish bowl onstage…and off. In school they walk the halls as the Cat in the Hat, Blanche or Stella, Sweeney Todd and Sandy Dumbrowski. You need tough skin to change into P.E. clothes every other day elbow to elbow with your peers, being referred to as the Magical Mr. Mistofolees. It’s a burden. To counteract that…they wind up protecting themselves with confidence, that sometimes overflows into brazen arrogance and conceit. These wind up being entitlement issues and they present themselves the very first time a prop is taking from the drama classroom knowing that “Mr. Ball won’t mind.” They’re not being malicious…they are just overly confident. This is dangerous ground. That same student will display that same confidence when ensuring a customer at their first job, that they ordered it wrong…and what they’re receiving is 100% correct.

So, what’s the solution? That’s a tough one. As I look at my graying parents and remember my childhood punishments of yesteryear…I recall a strict environment where school work came first and being polite or not was NOT my decision to make. I recall soap in my mouth…canceled vacations…and my father literally “pulling the car over.” I would be remiss to suggest giving someone “the belt” but I don’t think that’s the solution.

We now have a generation of adults, my age, who are raising children that are the product of a “wanna be a better parent” rebound. Parents don’t realize that they can certainly be their son or daughter’s friend…but they have to be their parent first.

I had a student absent from class this week…they were on their fifth cruise this year with their parents. Fifth. Another, a junior, has been home all week, alone. His parents away on business. I was in Marshall’s the other day in the sock aisle and could not believe how a 12 year old was talking to her mother. I actually heard the b-word. I felt embarrassed for the mom, angered at the child…and in totally disbelief that the mostly one-way conversation lasted as long as it did. Suddenly formal, black dress socks weren’t that important to me anymore.

My parents never spanked me as a child. My dad did, however, tell me of this paddle he made out of particle board that he hung in the basement closet. He indicated how large it was, and he said he painted it green. Pretty much a horror story for a 6 year old.

He said that he hoped he would never have to use it. Thankfully, he never had to. Around the age of 17 years old, in a non-related, high-spirited conversation, I asked my father if I could see this paddle. He told me it never existed. I couldn’t believe it. It never crossed my mind that it was made up. While this may be the reason for my sometimes obsessive/compulsive behavior and midnight paranoia about locking the door downstairs… I’m sure of it……it was whole fully effect in hindsight.

My parents had a level of expectation for every avenue of my growing up, and not meeting that expectation was not an option. Did I fall short? All the time. I was a kid…they do that. But, that standard, that house-wide understanding that we were to be at the dinner table at 6pm for dinner (for instance)….that starchness that forced it’s way into my personal teen routine…that’s what is needed today.

Parents today are not evil. They’re not stupid. They’re not careless. They are just…in their minds….right. Who’s job is it to evaluate the individual family’s parenting skills? Where’s that rubric? As a teacher, you can give As and Bs…you can re-do a seating chart…issue a detention. You can even sit down and “have a talk” with a student. But, in the end, they go home to a set of parents who are less concerned about “dealing with the issue with their children,” and more concerned about “skirting the blame.”

Another incident occurred when a student in my school was caught drawing graffiti on the bathroom walls with a Sharpie and given a Saturday detention. The parents called a meeting with the administration to explain how it was the teacher’s fault for letting the kid out of class.

It comes down to ownership. If you’re working in a drive-thru….why are you there? Ultimately to offer service to the paying patron, right? You dishing out pasta for $7.00 an hour. You’re not selling Cadillacs! Is the argument, or rather, forced “right-fighting” worth it? What do you gain? Entitlement?

If you’re a student auditioning for a play, and you don’t get cast…do you issue formal complaints regarding the cast list and the director’s choice? (Trying hard to find loopholes in the process.) Or, do you figure it’s part of a bigger plan and then go back to evaluate your audition offering and see where you need improvement. One is a little bit more pride-swallowing and labor intensive. (Isn’t that part of the actor’s job description?)

As a parent, would you rather support your student’s efforts in working hard to succeed…and if they fail, be part of the up-hill climb as their biggest support in the hopes that they will turn things around and make it o the top? Or, would you rather send a scathing email…leave an insinuative voice mail….or assume the teacher is out to get your child? I assure you that one path is easier to do than another…and I assure you…if teachers didn’t want your child to succeed, then they would have gone into real estate.

The bottom line is, right-fighting doesn’t work. You’re not dealing with the root of any issue. Instead your glazing it over with a sugar-coating that nullifies any positive effort on anyone’s part.

I call it sweeping it under the rug. Some people refer to that as “dodging.” Today I called it, “get out quick before the angry Fazoli’s man eats your face.”

Take the high road next time. Talk it out and work toward a positive solution. Be a part of a solution to find a resolve.  Succumb to the fact that you just might be wrong.

Who needs an extra large soda and carb-filled bread sticks anyways?

%d bloggers like this: