The wise man is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things both new and old.

Category: School

Sometimes bad application is the best application.

This week feels like it has been the set-up to a bad post-apocalyptic movie. As an English teacher, my profession spends a good amount of time reading literature about dystopia, never expecting to end up in one. I should have paid attention.

I have a morning routine when I arrive to my classroom: “Bible before email.” When it comes to study of the Bible, there are nuanced rules towards accomplishing good exegesis of a passage. Some days, though, the takeaway from the passage when ignoring the rules is the one you should get.

Thursday morning, I read Colossians 2. I am reading it out of the NIV. For the first half of the week, there had been a general sense that something was building and people were beginning to act irrational. In the midst of all of it, I read the following:

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (2:19).

I bolded the phrase from the verse for emphasis because that is what jumped out at me and got my brain thinking. While the “head” referred to in the passage is not talking about “common sense” or “control of emotions,” that phrase stuck me in just that sense. As I went through the rest of the day and school week, I kept reminding myself “Don’t be a they” in order to keep my perspective.

It helped.

So, to you, I say: Don’t be a they. Keep your head.

Finished. Well.

In the last two weeks, two chapters in my life came to an end. First, after seven years serving in the role as co-president for my school’s teacher’s union, I resigned my office at the conclusion of its term. The second, after being a teacher at my school for ten years (nine of them teaching, one year inactive due to a reduction in force), I resigned from the school, having accepted a teaching position at a different school district for the next year.

About two months ago, I saw the good chance of the latter thing occurring, which meant that the former would have to happen, too. Seeing the writing on the wall, my focus shifted from not just ending the school year well, but ending this part of my career well also. In considering this, I realized that in order to end well, I needed to accomplish three things. These three things are what I leave you with:

  1. Finish in such a way that whomever follows in your steps does not have any messes to clean up because of you.
  2. Finish in such a way that whomever follows in your steps is thankful to be coming in after you.
  3. Finish in such a way that when your last day arrives, you feel proud of what you’re leaving behind.

Ending well.

There are twenty-one school days left in the school year. The year is eight-nineths over. This is my last year in the building I am; the school district is consolidating and I the middle school I have been in will now be a part of a junior-senior high school configuration in a different building.

So now I feel like I have double-pressure to end well.

End well because it is the end of the year. Also end well because I am done in this building.

What is your process to end well?

Why I did 300 push-ups yesterday.

Yesterday, my eighth graders had work which would take them an entire 70-minute class period. And they still wouldn’t be done with the task.

Fourteen-year-old kids have trouble valuing a long-term goal because they cannot effectively process the notion of delayed gratification.

I had a student yesterday who I challenged to do 10 push-ups every five minutes with me.

We had fun doing it.

And when other learners saw we were having fun and knew the goal that my student and I were shooting for, they joined in.

Suddenly they had a goal that they could realistically see accomplishing.

And they moved their focus towards waiting for the five-minute timer to go off.

And in the meantime they did the assigned work because it gave them something to do while waiting.

And at the end of the period, even my students who usually do nothing got a significant amount of work accomplished. And they also did 150 push-ups.

And then my afternoon class found out what they morning class did and wanted to do the same thing. So I joined them.

They also accomplished a lot and did 150 push-ups.

That is how I ended up doing 300 push-ups in one school day.

You want your kid to be successful in the year 2020?

I have worked with young adults as a public school teacher, youth group leader, and mentor for well over a decade now. While each youth has different strengths and weaknesses, we adults could come to some sort of consensus to the idea that there are certain characteristics that each person (will) need(s) in order to be successful at life. If I were to pose the question, what are kids in the year 2020 most going to need in order to be successful, what would you answer?

The ability to problem solve? Communicate clearly? Perform tasks consistently? Work well with others?

While those are all important, I don’t think any of those will be the most important thing an individual must have be able to do in order to succeed in the next decade. The Harvard Business Review  reports regularly on the leaps and bounds that artificial technology is making. It can compute tasks given a set of criteria, its robotic aspects can complete tasks repeatedly with precision, and it can state exactly what it is computing.

The one thing a robot cannot do is show empathy.

While a robot can manufacture emotion based on a given set of factors, the true ability to understand what others are feeling and then respond is a truly human trait. And from my observations (as backed up by such publications as Psychology Today), I can say that there is one thing that is lacking from more and more of today’s youth, it is empathy. From customer service, to problem solving, to collaboration, empathy is the driver for success. In the next decade, the individuals who set themselves apart from everyone else are going to need to be able to relate to and be empathetic towards others.

You want your kids (or the ones around you) to be able to succeed? Teach them what it means to put others first, to try to relate to others, and not think selfishly. While that is not the guaranteed fix for how to make a person empathetic, it certainly is a good place to start.

If not by worry, how about by wishing?

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”(Luke 12:25 NIV) -Jesus


Today marked the beginning of the third trimester for the school year at Lakeland. I teach (predominantly) seniors in their final year of secondary schooling. At the end of each class period with twelfth graders, I made a comment about how fast this final trimester would be over.

And then I blinked.

And then the entire school day was over.

And just like that I wanted the start of my day back.


Now don’t misunderstand me; today’s start was not golden by anyone’s definition. I was able to clock a collected two hours of sleep last night, had to start my day by proctoring (the final year of???) ISTEP+, followed by a whole school day of classes- prep at the end.

A side note: Last trimester my biggest class was 15 students and I had prep during second period. This trimester, my classes go 11, 15, 24, and 16 in size and prep is now last period. I do not mention this to complain about the manageable class sizes I have; I realize I am quite blessed. I mention this to point out that when starting the day with so little sleep to begin and then not having any down time, unless one counts lunch, until the last period of the day, makes for a long and exhausting time.

But still, I would have loved the start to my day back. I want it back because I have too much to get done still and not enough time in the day to get there. As I was sitting at my desk and grading papers, the words of Jesus came to mind which I quoted at the beginning of this post.But the thing is, I wasn’t worrying. I was just wishing. Wishing for more time. Or at least more drive and focus.

I didn’t get either so now I have to make alternate plans.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

I may have broken a law today.

I am going to out myself publicly today; I, a state-licensed educator, spoke about my faith today. Now to clarify, I did not proselytize. I did not evangelize. The words salvation, eternal life, and Jesus never crossed my lips. I was discussing the Syrian refugee settlement issue and our Governor’s decision to suspend settling Syrians in Indiana. Students, after discussing the pros and cons of the decision, asked my opinion.

Here was my response:

“My faith teaches my to love those who hate me and bless those who persecute me. Welcoming the stranger, clothing him or her, and providing a cup of cold water, is the way to bring a piece of divinity into the middle of broken humanity. My faith even tells a story of a many beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. The political and religious leaders who are supposed to be the examples of morality look the other way and leave the dying man to do exactly that on the side of the road- die. The person who comes to the aid of the dying man is an individual who has every right to ignore him, and in actuality conflicts with him culturally in every way. But the man ignores everything he is entitled to do and does what is good and right, looking after the poor and downtrodden. How do think they should handle the situation and why?”

Admittedly, I never said concretely what decision I felt the government officials should make. I shared of my culture and upbringing. And isn’t that what education is really all about? Learning about ourselves and each other.

#DoOver My First Year of Teaching Part 7; or, Turning Students Into Zombies Is NOT a Bad Thing

You’ve seen it.

Dawn of the Dead. Zombieland. The Walking Dead.

Or some other horror media involving the zombie- a creature created by being bitten by another zombie (or dying because you are already infected, TWD). And in education, students often are described as zombies, BECAUSE OF EDUCATION. As if teachers are nothing more than burned out, jaded, cynical virus carriers intent on bringing down as many others with them as they can.

I am here to propose another application of the term “zombie” to students.

In George Romero’s Land of the Dead, we are faced with a fascinating twist on the typical zombie film in that the zombies have the capacity to learn and problem solve. As the zombie hordes work together, though their movements are rocky and sporadic, they slowly but surely figure out how to learn and work together as they try to find their own place in the world.

Just like students.

Sure, students cluster together. Yes, they oftentimes are not working at the level we would hope they would work at. But by pushing them, allowing them to feed on a (teacher) brain from time to time as needed, they start to figure things out and solve their own problems.

Looking back on my first year of teaching, I cringed at the idea of terms like “zombie” being applied to my students because I couldn’t look past the surface level of the metaphor. I know differently now.

Pyropedagogy; or, an alternate reading of an image making the educational rounds.

Perhaps you have seen this image on the social media account of someone you know who is somehow involved in education:

This use of this image supposed to imply that in the traditional, public school model, that students all come out forced into one specific, unified shape, that traditional education removes a student’s ability to think, and that it makes no room for one’s identity. The user of this image also tends to tout endorse another method of pedagogy besides the traditional model.

I contend that this is also a viable image to use:


Before I go any further, allow me to share a couple things about myself:

  1. I am a New Tech Network Certified Teacher.
  2. I am an academic coach for a school and work with teachers on the principles of project-based learning.

With that said, by changing the label on the black box, this graphic is still accurate- either with a positive or negative connotation.

Depending on the facilitator (teacher), the rubric, and the project, it is just as possible in the PBL setting to take a bunch of rebels and try to pack them into Storm Trooper molds where they lose their individuality, excitement, and their ability to learn deeply.

But of course, depending on those same three aspects (facilitator, rubric, project), students can also learn how to shake their individual identities to become a member of a unified, collaborative group. These same learners can also learn how to think critically and apply approaches that work in a way that they become almost automatons and the practice is second nature.

The PBL antagonist could contend that the same interpretations I applied to the “Project-Based Learning” image could be applied to the “Traditional Education” model. And I would agree. Perhaps.

But what I see in the PBL school where I teach is students given the chance to approach projects from different angles and place their stamp of individuality on them. I see students actively involved in the messy work of learning how to play nice together in a learning community. I see mess, chaos, and I see learning where what underlies all the correct answers is the unifying idea or theme, not necessarily what words the students say and in which method. And when they figure these things out for themselves…

The Force is strong with those ones…

My apologies to Star Wars in the Classroom for the blatant knock-off of one of their works of art.

#DoOver My First Year of Teaching Part 6; or, Relationships with parents are vital.

Earlier today the phone in my classroom rang. The caller ID panel indicated that the call originated from the Main Office. I picked it up and said:

“Robertson and Geurs Travel Agency. What’s your destination? This is Agent Geurs speaking.”

“Hello, Mr. Geurs. This is ######; I am #######’s dad calling to ask about this unexcused absence my ###### in your class.”

In that moment, I realized that if this had been a parent I did not know, and/or he was angry instead of curious, the conversation could have been awkward. But instead, I apologized quickly and explained that I had thought it had been the Office secretaries on the other end of the line, expressed I was happy to talk to him briefly, but then passed the phone to my co-teacher because the student in question was actually in a class that I wasn’t teaching.

Parents are supposed to be the number one ally of a teacher, but often times, it can seem like the opposite. If I had realized this truth in my first year of teaching, maybe things would have been a little easier for me in the early years.

Just a thought…