180 Days: Day 114–Half Day Heaven

Another day of being well-prepared walking in on the morning made my busy half day run smoothly. The second half of my day was an event though. The good kind. The family kind. I took my kid brother to see his rock n roll hero in concert for his birthday present. So today felt good because I did right by my kids at school, my colleagues, and my family.

My day starting in collaboration time…

Then I spent time sitting in meetings advocating for a colleague…

Then I spent time with some of my sophomores and tested the day’s lesson before the sub arrived.

Then I sat in another meeting advocating for another colleague…

Then I spent time with my seniors finishing up their gothic novels.

Then my sub arrived.

I may have only been at school for a half-day, but I fit a whole day’s worth of work into those few hours. And luckily my sub for tomorrow was my sub this afternoon, so we were able to go over all the plans before I left.

Then I was off like a lightning bolt to pick up my brother and drive to the concert venue to see Noel Gallagher. We arrived right as he did. Watching my kid brother geek out at seeing his rock hero up close made all the extra work worth it. I also paid close attention to the themes of Gallagher’s set through the evening. I went to hear great music and left with a lesson idea about cohesion and theme. The typical teacher in me is always looking for a new way to approach teaching a lesson. And Mr. Gallagher did not disappoint.

“AKA…What a Life!” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds



180 Days: Day 117–Happy Haka Day

My school’s annual Multi-Cultural Assembly was today. It’s typically the biggest day of the year for our students.  Over 26 languages are spoken at my school, so today is a celebration that highlights so many of the cultures represented at my school. Students dress in their cultural garments and perform traditional dances and music. Whether it’s a Chinese fan dance or a Tahitian hula, my school’s kids have got it going on in this annual celebration of our school’s diversity. They entertain as well as touch the soul.

Two of the most anticipated performances include the Haka and the Filipino stick dance  (as seen on the school paper’s Instagram page).

The best thing about this day isn’t the fun dances and songs though. It’s the sense of school pride. It’s the affirmation of who these kids are at their core. It’s the camaraderie developed by students from differing cultures joining in other groups’ performances.

I have one student who is new to the school this year. He is hard to impress, but even he admitted that he’d never been to a school that actually celebrated their differences and diversity so openly. His prior school was also richly multicultural, but he said that they did not have a similar commemoration. I like to think that this assembly, which ends a weeklong series of events every March, is one of a kind, though I somehow doubt it. But that makes it no less special in what it accomplishes–a week of fun, togetherness, and fellowship.

“Haka War Chant” composed by Kai Hartwig


180 Days: Day 98–Blind Man that Sees

Today we focused on dissecting Act I, scene ii of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. And my kids had an “a-ha” moment when Cassius uttered: “…The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings…” Julius Caesar (I.ii.140-141) So we examined the meaning of John Green’s source material for the title of his most famous book, The Fault in Our Stars, after reading Cassius’s famous monologue where he attempts to convince Marcus Brutus to join his conspiracy in  Julius Caesar. When they asked the obvious question: Did John Green read Julius Caesar? I responded: What do you think? What does the evidence tell you? My students suddenly had a connection with how modern writers reference Shakespeare’s work and how most writers employ archetypal characters/plot constructs/symbols of some sort in their writings.

fault in stars

So as we entered a conversation about archetypes, I shared a chapter of Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor with my students–the chapter titled “He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know.” This chapter became the basis of our conversation about the Soothsayer’s warning to Caesar to beware the Ides of March early in the scene.

While the text does not explicitly say that the Soothsayer is blind, the version of the film that we are using in class–the 1953 Marlon Brando/James Mason version–portrays him as blind (the Heston/Robards 1970 version does not). So we spent time talking about why the director may have chosen this portrayal. Using Foster’s chapter as a guide, my students saw that the story could be interpreted in different ways prompting a richer dialogue and scene dissection. All it takes is a little connection to the students’ background and world coupled with a basic formula for understanding the basics of storytelling (aka archetypes), and reading Shakespeare doesn’t seem so foreign after all.

1953 Version: “Beware the Ides of March”

1970 Version: “Beware the Ides of March”

“Ides of March” by Iron Maiden


180 Days: Day 94–It’s Sorta Like Groundhog Day aka Today Looks Like Yesterday

Today was a day to tighten up loose ends as we move into a new text next week. We finished taking notes on Elizabethan England so that when we start Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar on Tuesday (yes, we have a three day weekend–yippee!).

So the brevity of this post reflects the continuation of a two-day introduction to Shakespeare–and my students continued love affair with all things Tudor.

So for some fun, here’s some Fakespeare (no, he really didn’t say these things despite them being contributed to him in a viral online world) to take you into the weekend:

 “Love me or hate me, both are in my favor…If you love me, I’ll always be in your heart…If you hate me, I’ll always be in your mind.”

“What a Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the french I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be
Don’t know much about geography,
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra,
Don’t know what a slide rule is for
But I do know that one and one is two,
And if this one could be with you,
What a wonderful world this would be
Now, I don’t claim to be an “A” student,
But I’m tryin’ to be
For maybe by being an “A” student, baby,
I can win your love for me
Don’t know much about history,
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the french I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be
Science book
French I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be

180 Days: Day 89–Logical Fallacy Fun

My students had a great time today examining logical fallacies in advertising. I always start with the one logical fallacy they tend to all remember and understand: The Bandwagon Fallacy.

We started the day skimming the list of fallacies. Then I showed them this old XBox 360 advertisement featuring a flash mob and the tagline “Jump In.” It was pure Bandwagon (with a touch of Glittering Generality) and the students recognized it right off. And of course, each class had to mimic and laugh for a few minutes afterward. So having tapped their prior knowledge and motivation, I could now move on to other fallacies they were less familiar with.

Overall, my students took a second look at advertising and began to peel the ads apart looking for their fallacies. After examining some ads with my guidance and direction, each table group drew a fallacy from a basket. Once the groups had their fallacy, they were tasked with finding examples so they could teach their fallacies to each other. Since bandwagon was my sample fallacy, no group had the bandwagon fallacy. I also kept snobbery out of the mix as I followed up with the old 1980s Grey Poupon commercial as a second example. But they learned terms like non-sequitur and red herring quickly.

XBox 360 Ad (the ad was banned in some countries for supposedly promoting violence–which prompts a whole other sidebar conversation with students about censorship)

Grey Poupon Ad from 1981

“Fake Tales of San Francisco” by Arctic Monkeys


180 Days: Day 75–Army Strong!

Today was the longest day of my work year. And I loved every minute of it. Besides teaching a regular day, I hosted three groups of Army JROTC cadets throughout the evening to work with them on public affairs.

My own son was a JROTC cadet when he was in high school, and I thoroughly support JROTC programs in whatever way I possibly can. So I spent the evening going over what public relations is and how to use it to boost our battalion among our student body.

We looked at more efficient ways to use their social media–which sites for which audiences, how to post once and hit multiple sites, etc. Then we looked at developing a strong brand/message to share. We examined Coca-Cola advertisements. We looked at how to use “product placement” around campus and engage in guerrilla marketing campaigns around campus.

Overall, I had a fun, fun evening with students I normally don’t see on a daily basis. These students are always well-behaved and attentive and engaged in the activities. They remind me why I appreciated my son’s battalion so much–as this group is like a family. My son’s battalion gave him a place to feel at home and like he belonged at school. And so many of these kids find that same connection through our school’s program. I’m all for any program that gives kids a safe haven and leadership training, to boot!

I know that many folks question the military having access to our students. But I know from experience that most of these kids will never join the U.S. Military of any branch. Instead, each will have a reverence and understanding of when to lead, when to follow, and how to appreciate the commitment, hard work, and sacrifice of others.

So Saxon Regiment, stay Army Strong!

“Army Strong” Television Commercial from 2009

“American Soldier” by Toby Keith


180 Days: Day 74–It’s Tolerable, I Suppose

My seniors are asking some fantastic questions–can you marry your cousin? why would you want to marry your cousin? why would a 16-year-old girl marry a 40-year-old guy? And a host of other great questions. Hence we began our conversation about primogeniture and entailment–and consolidation of wealth among the few. We found the way that Austen’s world still connects to our world, just in a slightly different way. And we discussed the importance of not using 21st Century cultural mores to pass judgment on the cultural mores of a society from 200 years ago.

While the rules of society in the early 1800s focused on preserving wealth among the old money families, my students today are facing a very modern version of preserving wealth among the few. We might not marry our cousins to keep money and titles and prestige in the family, but we do have billionaires marrying from/into other billionaire families (example: Trump+Kushner, Prince+DeVos). Marrying for money and influence is nothing new, and certainly still exists.

Darcy’s unwillingness to even dance with a member outside his own party and his open condemnation of Elizabeth as “tolerable”, but not worth his time because other men were not dancing with her, highlights just how ingrained sticking within the small spheres of influence is with the uber rich. Forget how insulting it is to be called tolerable. Darcy’s seemingly arrogant behavior makes sense to a degree–he is unwilling to even have a fun evening with those he considers beneath his sphere of influence. He spares them and himself the problem of having to let those beneath him down (as they surely would see his dancing with them as encouragement) when he returns to his sphere.

Attempting to understand a character’s motives is essential in breaking down the character and finding a deeper understanding of a text. So my students and I continue to work at empathizing with Darcy’s horrible, yet tolerable behavior.

“She Is Tolerable” from 1995’s A&E Production of Pride and Prejudice

“Dawn” from the Original Motion Picture Score of 2005’s Pride and Prejudice by Dario Marianelli


180 Days: Day 63–No Beauty in the Beast

Lord of the Flies is getting good–at least according to my sophomores. We are up to chapter 6 today, the chapter titled “Beast from Air.” This is the turning point where the students quit thinking of “the beast” as a boogeyman and start to understand that man IS the beast–a dead man that becomes nothing more than a caricature of the marionette he was in life being pulled by the strings of his parachute to mimic live movement rather than the orders of his wartorn government.

And this is the point in the novel in which the kids ask me to read to them every day. They like my read alouds–which I call think alouds because I pause often to question, comment, predict, or otherwise engage with the text. I point out literary devices they do not recognize. I ask them to consider why an author would include certain plot points before getting the “a-ha” of “foreshadowing” flowing forth. I don’t mind modeling for them. But now I’ve gotta figure out how to get that guided practice in. I have a few ideas that I will be working on with the kids to practice close reading strategies that we’ve gone over time and time again when we return from winter break.

Meanwhile, my seniors continued their notetaking for satire. We looked at some examples from music, film, and TV, as well as online sources like The Onion and The Spoof. I also brought in a couple of old MAD Magazines for the kids to peruse. I was heartbroken that none of the students had ever heard of MAD Magazine as Alfred E. Neumann was a staple in my childhood. So much so, that I took advantage of the $9.99 holiday subscription rate this year. I miss that over-the-top view of the world. Plus, I need some new magazines to add to the stack that students can understand. The newest MAD in my arsenal is four years old. So I’m due for some DJT era MADness.

Alfred Trump MAD-Magazine

“The Mob Song” from Disney’s Beauty and Beast featuring Luke Evans and Josh Gad


180 Days: Day 55–A Shirt and a Pass

Tomorrow will be a crazy day where large groups of students are out of class for 10-15 minutes at a time as the local photographer who takes all studio photos for our yearbook is on campus to take group photos of all of our 50+ clubs on campus. So the chaos began in earnest today in the lead up to what has become an exciting annual tradition to see which clubs have the coolest shirts and who has the most shirts and made it into the most photos. Students wear these club shirts like a badge of honor.

So lunchtime today my room was abuzz with students streaming in and out collecting t-shirts and passes for the two clubs that I advise: National Honor Society and Photo Club. It’s amazing how much students, teachers, administrators, custodial staff, etc. have to coordinate for groups of students to take a few pictures to be immortalized in the pages of a yearbook that will collect dust on a crowded bookshelf or be lost to the ages in a box of mementos. But it is important to our students and their sense of community. So we do it. And I skip lunch to make sure it works smoothly for the nearly 100 students in my two clubs.

Let the club games begin…we are ready!

“Mickey Mouse Club” by The Mouseketeers (and yes, our school has a Disney Club for student who love all things Disney…)

But the club I always wanted to join, but was never offered:

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles


30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 2–My Parental Units

I’m thankful that I’ve been lucky enough to have both parents as an active part of my upbringing. And while my parents divorced when I was 17, both still have a deep impact in my life today–as does my step-mother.

My mom passed away four and half years ago. Despite her loss, I think of her daily and I employ the lessons of her life as I live each day. My mother was a kind, generous woman who struggled with having self-worth throughout her life. While I may have many regrets about how often I showed or verbalized my love to her, I know that she knows how instrumental she has been to my life. My son and I still cut the same jokes we did with her. She lived with us the last eleven years of her life while she grappled with under/unemployment. Through her efforts to remain employed, I learned a lot about dreaming big even when faced with ageism and sexism. When she became ill in mid-2013, her downward spiral happened all too fast. Emphysema is a nasty disease. And I would never wish it on even the worst of enemies. I feel her loss daily, but I know that she is with me in my heart and in my mind and in my memories.

Mom. In her 30s, her 40s, and her early 60s–not long before she passed.

Thankfully, my dad is still with us. And he and my step-mom are laid back, but energetic. But unfortunately, they live 1,500 miles away. We do talk often, but not often enough. The two-hour time difference often leaves only the weekends for us to catch up unless they want me to call late at night. I try to travel back at least once a year. My son and I used to take annual summer road trips to visit them. But now that my son is in college, I’ve been flying back for weekend visits. I’m looking for my next set of open days so I can fly back and spend some time with them. My dad and step-mom have been married for 29 years now, so step-mom has played a long-term sustaining role in my life, even though I was 19 going on 20 when she and dad married. She takes good care of Dad, and I’ve seen Dad grow and do things with her that he never did with my mom. He found the right woman with whom to spend his life. Dad and step-mom have long taught me about the strength and importance of family. I carry that lesson with me every day.

Dad and step-mom. Always together. Always smiling and laughing. 

My brother used to sing the distinctive opening word to Danzig’s “Mother” every time my mom entered the room.

“Mother” by Danzig

“Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard

My dad listens to country music, and particularly to the old school singers like Hank Sr., Roger Miller, etc. So here’s one of the legends.