Cards Are On The Table

Put Up Or Shut Up

I long ago bought into “teaching different”. And letting my kids get a glimpse of “the real me”. I know in my bones it’s the best way to do this job.

But how do I measure that? Letter grades? ISTEP scores? I’m not sure I meet standard if that is the benchmark.

But every now and then I get a little reminder that I’m on the right track. Last time in this space I wrote a little bit about building culture. That kids will be willing to do some pretty incredible things once the proper supports are in place, supports from me and from their classmates.

Today that got put to the test. I could tell yesterday morning that my vocal cords were getting a little frayed.

Okay, maybe a lot frayed. Woke up this morning to a full-on situation:

Culture of collaboration, huh? Let’s see what you got. I missed three days last week for my oldest son’s Army graduation, and we’ve got four school days until Thanksgiving break. I’m planning on a review Monday and quiz Tuesday, so I really don’t have a day to give away. And I love all our district subs, but I pondered the risk/reward last night at bedtime. And 65% of me is better than 100% of anyone else who walks into my class for one day.

If that sounds arrogant, so be it.

So I packed in some DayQuil, a couple of oranges, my water bottle, and an 80-pack of Halls, loaded the neighborhood kids into my son’s car and battled an early-season snowstorm to get to school in the morning.

I greeted my kids with this slide:

Spongebob Meme

Their reaction was priceless.

“We got you today.” My kids, you guys. <insert heart emoji>

So that’s one day. But it told me everything I needed to know about this group of kids and where we are together so far in the school year.

I’ve got a little playlist I run during passing time in late December, to fit the mood of the season. Today seemed like a good day to break it out. Some of my classes even harmonized along with Mariah.

I don’t have much of a poker face. The WSOP is not for me. But to paraphrase what an #eVillageNWI bud tweeted at me recently, “do we have the best job in the world or what?”

Yeah. Yeah we do.


The Torch Is Passed

Graduation Day. Photo cred: My freshman and his mad selfie skills

I spent the week in the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks for my oldest son’s OSUT graduation at Ft. Leonard Wood. He completed 19 weeks of basic training and AIT for the 701st Military Police Battalion.

As you might expect, 4 1/2 months of army training brings about changes, both physical and mental. His training cadre returned him to us (for a couple of days anyway) as a new man.

My AARP card came in the mail for my birthday last year, so I’m under no delusions that I’m still a young man. And I’ve been feeling my age as of late. But this week I definitely knew that the torch had been passed. It’s not that long ago that the only contact between parent and recruit would be the US Mail. In modern day times the highlights of training were beamed directly to my phone via his unit’s Facebook page, with weekly live streams of maneuvers and ceremonies. So we had a decent idea of some of the physical challenges our son met. But getting a chance to spend two days with him was striking. I noticed his eyes first. Sure, he looked sharp in his dress blues, it was obvious he is more confident after successfully completing his training. And addressing wait staff and store employees as “ma’am” or “sir” took a little getting used to.

But his eyes… they are the eyes of a grownup. To be honest, I felt small standing next to him. Small, and kind of weak. Like an old man. Which is fine. Circle of Life, and all. But still. It’s a little jarring when things sneak up on you that you weren’t quite ready for.

Image via the Military Police Regimental Association

Before we left the installation after graduation we walked the Military Police Memorial Grove. He read over the numerous plaques, several featuring a snippet of the St. Crispin’s Day speech (“For he today that sheds his blood with me/Shall be my brother”) from Henry V. His demeanor at that moment told me everything I needed to know: He knows what he signed up for.

Dan has his sights set on becoming a Ranger. He told us over dinner the night of graduation that he is hoping for a deployment within the next couple of years. That sounds like the bravado of a freshly-scrubbed private, but what he meant was, he has trained to do a job, to defend and protect this country and the Constitution, and when the time comes to do the job he has trained for, he’ll be ready.


High school is not the US Army. Not even close. One of the reasons I think my son (a very average HS student) had the experience he did at FLW is:

You get what you earn. And he earned it. You want to qualify as a Marksman? Hit the target this many times. Pass your PT test? Run two miles in under this time. And so forth. Your buddies can cheer you on, but in the end, you are accountable for your own performance, and you are assessed on that. Not everybody makes it. Probably 15% of the recruits who started with him did not complete training, either due to injury or to “Failure To Adapt”.

He found the thing he is good at, and he did it.

He definitely bought into the culture-building aspects of training. He had a gleam in his eye as he told me how the guys in his bay brought out the floor buffer to clean the latrine. Like, sparkling. They were on a mission to have the cleanest toilet fixtures in the state of Missouri.

Who does that? A bunch of guys who are used to pushing themselves and working as a team, that’s who.

Even so, they’re kids and they slip. The night of Family Day, as they were waiting on their accountability formation, one member of the unit was on his phone when a drill sergeant walked out the door. They’re supposed to assume parade rest when that happens, and he didn’t.

Rut roh. So at 12:42 am the morning of graduation his unit was out in the dark and cold doing pushups.


School culture is a different thing but just as important. Soldiers volunteer for the army while our students don’t have a choice but to be there. So there’s no way we are doing pushups on the classroom floor but when we build a culture of collaboration some pretty incredible things happen. Students are willing to push themselves to do math they’ve never seen before and aren’t real happy about seeing now. Just this week I’ve seen tears in my classroom and I’ve seen students bend over backwards to help a classmate. We’ve got a ways to go but that tells me we are headed in the right direction.

Eventually they are going to move on to a senior math class, and then to college. I hope they’ll hold on to at least a little of what they’ve learned in my class. When I send them on to the next teacher, I want it to at least look like we did something productive with our 180 days together. The next math is not easy you guys, at least according to what I’ve heard from some of my past students I keep in touch with.

But eventually I want them to be able to do the things they want to do, on their own, without me hovering over their shoulder. That’s another way I’ll know the torch has been passed.

From Falling Hands We Pass The Torch
Posted in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room at the Forum: “to you from failing hands we throw the torch be yours to hold it high,” John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

Playing My Role

On Halloween night in Minnesota, it wasn’t quite a ghost returning from the dead, but the next closest thing. From a hoops standpoint anyway.

Former Bull Derrick Rose is the Chicago kid who went from Englewood to MVP, but now he’s a grizzled veteran whose best days are behind him. Injuries robbed him of his prime years. Then:

That’s not the kid that all my female students swooned over back in the early 2010s. He’s got a different role to play now. He knows it too:

“A lot of young guys on this team, my job is to be the veteran, to lead by example.”

Probably not the words he expected to say during a tearful post-game interview at this point in his career, but there it is.

It’s pre-service teacher season in my building. I’m hosting a Valparaiso University student, who comes from an education family and actually graduated from my high school alma mater. So we had quite a lot to talk about when we first met. He’s pretty well versed in the current issues around education, both from a “teaching and learning” standpoint, and also from those regarding how the business of school is regulated.

But on the handful of days that he’s in my classroom, we’re there to get him some observation time and some reps teaching actual classes to actual students. We kicked things off with Mr. L leading the end of class “check for understanding” after the work time on our practice set in a flipped classroom.

That went well, so we moved on to running a full class bell-to-bell. It so happened that the lesson was built around a Desmos activity. We’d already talked philosophy and teaching styles, and he’s seen my twitter, so Mr. L was pretty familiar with the tools I use in class. Now it was his turn to take AB out for a spin.

I sent him the link to the activity I had planned for the day so he could look it over and see what my students would see. He gave them a quick tutorial on graphing and transforming radical functions and then let it fly.

It went well:

Really well, actually:

I have no idea if he’ll jump on the Desmos bandwagon as a student teacher and beyond. I hope so. I do know that he got a chance to see first-hand how a well put-together Desmos activity makes student thinking & learning visible, and how it lets students engage with math in ways that were impossible when I started teaching. But he’s got to decide that for himself.

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My one student teacher from back 6 or 7 years ago is my colleague at my current school now. She’s her own teacher, which is right.  I had to smile at a planning meeting early this year when the department was talking a shift towards standards-based grading for Algebra 1, and she was able to jump right into the conversation because we had done SBG together during her student teaching year. Our department chair was suitably impressed. The best part though was that Mrs. S was able to take what she learned as a student teacher, and all her experience as a licensed teacher in a variety of school settings, and make herself into the outstanding math teacher she is right now.


I’ve shared out what I’ve learned so far at a couple of local conferences (part of the IDOE’s Summer of e-Learning series) the last two years, but I’m under no delusions of grandeur. I’m never gonna write a teacher book. I’ll never be “internet famous”. I won’t ever be the teacher that my principal sends other teachers to watch. Which, at this point in my career, and in my life, is fine. I’ve got a role to play. Pretty much my job is to teach kids, and when given the opportunity, to help a new teacher along the way.

I’m fine with being a nameless, faceless cog in the wheel. Doing my part for teachers and students down the line who will never know my name, or care even if they did. “Flying under the radar” so to speak.

And who knows. Maybe I still have a 50-point game in me still.