I don’t know about you, but my summer/COVID experience has been filled with anxiety, stress eating, and somehow extra time. I have found myself with more time on my hands and the guilty feeling that I’m not getting enough done. School is a big unknown which isn’t fun for teachers who like to plan and start the school year strong. We have an idea of how things are going to go but things will change. Ideally, for students and teachers, school needs to happen in person. We’re social creatures. We miss the interactions that make school fun.

I’ve found that I need to be doing something with my time or I feel directionless and even worthless. I know some people relate to this feeling. It’s no fun to feel responsibility and not be able to produce anything.

It feels dishonest. It feels empty.

Creation and Direction

I’ve been working on this blog, some YouTube videos, and now I’ve started a podcast to keep my summers a little busier. But I’ve also been trying to create something of value to help people. I love reading and believe that it can help advance peoples’ abilities to problem solve, and advance their careers. That branch of my creative experience didn’t work. It’s difficult to make reading interesting and helpful in a YouTube video.

I felt directionless. I didn’t know how to produce things that would help people. It turns out that this experience of confusion and frustration is a part of my journey. As I’ve tried different things and talked with many different people, I’ve discovered what I really love and what I’m really good at. I help people solve problems. I can help direct people’s energy and focus. I knew that I could do that in the classroom, I just couldn’t see how to make that happen “in the real world”. After a lot of questioning, pondering, listening to others’ podcasts, and stories, I found my thing.

Introducing the Own Your Good podcast

I want to help people own their good. I believe that whatever you’re good at is to some extent why you’re here. It’s part of your life’s purpose. For some people, that is solving car problems. For others, that might be creating art and fostering a love of art in their students. You might really enjoy statistical analysis in professional sports. Whatever it is that drives you, whatever gives you that buzz, whatever it is that puts you “in the zone” is your good, and everyone has one.

Creation is something that drives us. What does it feel like to struggle through learning? Ceramics, for example, is not for everyone. It requires a talented touch and a keen eye. How does it feel when the first thing you produce is uneven? What about the process of getting to mastery? You know you’re growing. You know you’re learning. But you might not see it along the way. If it’s something you truly love, you feel the energy. It doesn’t matter how many times you mess up. It’s a process, and you’re okay with temporary failure because it’s fun, or interesting, or maybe it’s inexplicably valuable.

My goal is to interview different people with a wide variety of experiences about how they discovered and grew their “good”. I hope people will listen for themselves.
Life shouldn’t be about working in a miserable position for most of your life. You shouldn’t be working for the weekend or the next vacation. Sometimes those things help us get through difficult times, but the world is big enough for everyone to chase what they love. The hard part is figuring out what that looks like.

So many people think that to be successful they need to stay with one company for as long as possible. That might provide stability, but it doesn’t necessarily provide happiness. And success looks different to everyone. If you are content working a particular job because it leaves you with time to do what you love in the evenings, that’s great!

Your success should be determined by what you enjoy and what you want out of life. If you’re trying to cope with your terrible job by spending all of your time after work at home watching tv or relaxing, will you ever be happy?

Energy From a Bottomless Well

Creation is an energy fountain. Remember that feeling when you built something or finished a project? That happiness, that feeling of accomplishment comes from a bottomless well. The more you do it, the more energy you feel. Self-doubt and distractions will still occur, but not as frequently, and not as severely. What is it that you can produce? What hobby or skill could you focus on to increase your energy? You want to increase your energy, don’t you?

This is what I’m all about now. I’m looking for people to interview, trying to figure out what they did to own their good. I’m looking for ways to help individuals in person, and online own their good. Teens are struggling with where they fit in this crazy world. Adults are unsure of what to do, particularly if employment has become a problem. But there’s time. We have time to evaluate, think, plan, and execute. We have time to experiment and document what we’re doing. These steps help us, but they can also help others if we put what we have created out there for others.

Check out the podcast!

The Own Your Good Podcast on Spotify
Let me know what you think!

I hope you can figure out how to Own Your Good!

-Dave

 

 

My oldest child is in grade 9, and is generally a pretty good reader. He has read several things by the age of 16 that I never did. He was struggling with an assignment recently, which I thought was kind of simple for what he is capable of reading. It is a humbling reminder that we can’t always see students’ skills.

There are several ideas and skills to juggle when reading. One that is often practiced in school is character development. This process is easier than may initially appear, because it is a powerful part of what we enjoy most in the movies and stories we love.

The Beginning

In the beginning of any story we learn about the main character or characters. Quickly, we learn about their likes, dislikes, personality quirks, and problems. We know what they’re lacking, and we have a general, and sometimes specific idea of what they hope to accomplish or acquire by the end of the story. We have a pretty good idea of how the story is going to go, and are surprised when things don’t end up exactly how we imagined. In the movie Wall-E, the main character is alone, but ever persistent in his task. Does he want anything? Does he need anything? What does he discover he needs? If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s pretty good. I won’t spoil it for you. See if you can predict what he wants, and whether he’ll get it, or not.

The Middle

The main character has decisions to make throughout the story. Sometimes they’re insignificant and simply move the story along. Other decisions require some hope or faith, and a bit of luck to turn out the way the character wants. These conflicts help us to understand the main character on a deeper level. We understand a little bit more about the weakness, and desire that they are experiencing. We feel sympathy, and sometimes empathy for the dilemmas they find themselves in. Sometimes we even wonder what we would do if we were in their shoes.

The Conclusion

There are many possible outcomes to the conflict/resolution in a story. The main character could get what they want, or it could be a terrible ending. There are often twists and turns, and the story goes in an unpredicted direction. However the story ends, the main character has changed, and hopefully satisfactorily grown into someone bigger and better than they were before. Maybe they have found the love that they were after. Maybe they found out who they are, or where they are from. Maybe they became the hero everyone else knew they were. There are so many ways for a character to grow. The difficult part of the process is being able to identify what actually happened in the story.

One trick, (if you own the book) is to annotate in the book. Note where things happened that seem to be significant. Mark where you predict something will happen. Skilled readers do this mentally. Somehow they figure out how to bookmark specific events in the story. This means that it is a skill that can be learned and improved.
If you don’t own the copy of the book, you can keep a notebook, or a piece of paper that acts as a bookmark. Make little notes about what happened and where you found it on the page. Jot down the page number too. It seems like a simple, and maybe even unnecessary skill, but it helps to understand other elements of literature. The themes of the story will become more evident, the authors intent will be a little more clear.

For me, best of all, I love to make comparisons between characters and myself. I can relate to characters who desire change, or have an internal conflict that they aren’t sure how to overcome. Character development in books and stories helps me to see that I’m not a static never changing person, but hopefully one who is growing and learning from my mistakes.

Hope this helps! Let me know what you think!

Read on!

-Dave

I have never taken an online class for college. I need personal interaction with peers and a mentor or teacher. I can see the appeal for many students. It can be embarrassing, having to participate in class and not knowing the answers. I feel bad for students who are naturally introverts. Additionally, I know that there are students who are ashamed of their ability, or rather, inability to perform an academic task at grade level. Teenagers can be so rude sometimes.

I have always thought of teaching as an in person event. Students need feedback. Instruction and conversation are fluid and nuanced. Feedback for students’ work might need to change based on how the student is feeling that day. I might need to be more sensitive with redirection or clarification. Interpersonal communication is challenging.

The question is, can reading be taught online? I’ve always learned best in person. I’ve always taught in person. Is there a way to give specific instruction online? Is there a way to give timely feedback?

That’s one of the biggest challenges I have faced as a public school teacher. I have taught, on average 230 students every year for four years. I know that some understood my lessons and should have been in an Honors or AP class. I know that I have tried to teach students without knowing how to get through to them. Is there a better way to individually teach students? Is there a better way to foster curiosity, learning, and growth at the individual level?

Online might be the answer.

I have seen many people learn amazing things through online resources. Videos, podcasts, news sites, and technology yet to be understood have all been a step in the education process. I think that there is potential online.

So I’m branching out. I’m trying the video route through YouTube for now. I would love for you to swing by and watch a video or two. If it’s something that you think has potential, I’d love some feedback. If you know someone that could use the information, please share!

And, as always, read on!
-Dave

In October 2018, I wrote about my decision not to teach the whole class novel. I had read a book over Summer 2018 about giving students time to read what they want to read, and expecting them to do it, and how great their reading would improve, and for a bonus, they would actually enjoy reading. As an English teacher it sounds amazing. They have time to read in class and every student is reading something he or she wants, and they’re hooked, right? There would be no whining about having to read this boring book with everyone. Kids wouldn’t be done and waiting for others to catch up. It sounded amazing, but I had doubts.

The Problems With Independent Reading In 10th Grade

Fairly quickly I could see who struggled to read. All of my students are literate, but I know that I have a few who are significantly below grade level. Those students never really gave reading a chance. They knew that they weren’t very good, and no matter what they read, they were reminded that they couldn’t read very well. They had a big obstacle to overcome and it wasn’t worth it.

Students could still fake their reading checks. It takes great imagination to make up characters, plot, and setting, but it can be done. However, the students who were overly vague knew that they had been caught.

It took several students months of sitting there with a book and hating, it before they found a book that they connected with. Once they found that book though, they looked forward to that reading time and often begged for more.

For some reason, students think that they have reflexes fast enough to switch from their texting app to the book that they are “reading”. It’s annoying knowing that they think they’re getting away with something.

The students who love to read don’t put their books down.

The Benefits of Independent Reading In 10th Grade

The students who like to read, read more and enjoy reading more. The students who are already reading a wide variety of books continue to read a wide variety, and even recommend books to me.

Students have reported seeing vocabulary words we have worked on in school, in their personal reading.

In the end not all students love to read. Even some of the well-organized, intellectual students didn’t enjoy the time that they had to read. I would like to think that their writing has improved, though. I’ll watch that next year.

Conclusion

I’m sold. I would much rather recommend certain students read the books we would have read in class together, and let other students discover which books they connect with. They might not know what they like to read, but with time, they can discover it. Students need a break from their every day stress and other classes. Reading can be a form of relaxation, entertainment, or connection to someone or somewhere else. They recognize those connections, too. They recognize when they relate to the main character. They recognize when they connect with a person in non-fiction. They make connections to what is happening in the world around them. Most of all, they realize that they’re not the only one struggling. They understand that everyone has problems, and that we should be a little more sensitive and understanding when someone is having a bad day.

Hopefully they see that in their day-to-day lives, not just when they’re reading.

I still taught Macbeth whole class, but we watched it more than we read it, and now we’re writing about it. That’s different, right?

What I don’t understand, is how some call Macbeth boring.

If you teach ELA to any age group, I’d like to know what you think about whole class novel instruction. Do you enjoy it? Do you wish you could do something else?

Let me know.

Read on!

-Dave

Do you think that the books read in school are boring? Are parents really worried about what their kids are reading in school? I can imagine that some parents don’t want their kids reading certain books because of language, or inappropriate scenes. How often does that happen? How often do teachers push their own agenda in the classroom? I don’t think it happens in elementary school or middle school. It might happen in high school, and more than likely happens at university. However, by the time our kids get to be adults attending college, shouldn’t they be capable of analyzing what others say, and deciding for themselves?

My Experience

I’ve worked in two different school districts, both of which are populated by fairly conservative families. When teachers talk about what they’re teaching, they’re limited to a list of books approved for a specific grade, or lexile level. The books that are available to use in class aren’t always physically available in the school. So, as they say, beggars can’t be choosers. In most cases, teachers teach from books that are approved, and that have been purchased by a teacher and administration consensus.

When I write, “books that are approved”, I mean books that have been submitted for review by a teacher who would like to use it. A committee of teachers, librarians, and community members read the book and decide if it has literary value, anything that might be seen as inappropriate, and if it fits the grade level of the students being taught.

In my experience, most books are classics. They’re older and have some historic and cultural value. Books that will probably be around forever like To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn, and nearly everything by William Shakespeare.

My Philosophy

Obviously young kids shouldn’t be exposed to books that have foul language, or excessive violence. Sometimes adult books will have kids versions that are significantly modified. I think that’s fine, but there are so many things to read that it isn’t necessary. I don’t know how it happens exactly, but kids get to middle school, and they start to hate school. They might like to read, but then they’re told what to read and when to finish and it becomes a chore. I would much rather have kids read something they like on their own time, or even during class time so they don’t lose that interest.

When I taught 8th grade we read Ender’s Game in class. Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books. It’s interesting, it’s unusual, it’s violent, has some foul language, and is on the approved list. When reading out loud, I usually replace the words to something silly, which helps kids keep reading along. They giggle when I change something which causes the bored kids to wonder what’s up. We can talk about cause and effect. We can talk about what they would do if they were there. We can identify what is appropriate according to our cultural norms, and what is inappropriate. It is a great community learning experience.

What about Shakespeare. When was the last time you read Shakespeare? High school? College? Did you really read it, or did your teacher simplify things for you? Go back to the famous “love story” Romeo and Juliet. It’s not really about love. It’s a story of infatuation between two teens over a three day period. The opening scene between Gregory and Sampson is typical of Shakespeare’s punning; talking about maidenhead and salted fish. Seriously, parents complain about things, but not Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Shakespeare. I think he was the most clever writer of drama in the English language. Do parents remember reading Shakespeare? Do they really care what their students are reading, or does Shakespeare get a pass just because his writing is old and everyone reads it?

Why Read Together In Class?

When everyone in class has experienced the same story at the same time, it’s easy to have a conversation. It’s easy to address social or environmental concerns. Kids can ask questions and hear what multiple people have to say about it. As a teacher, I can guide the conversation. I can act like I don’t understand what students are talking about, forcing them to think about what they really think and explain more specifically. I can put kids into pairs or groups to help those who are shy or timid communicate in a less stressful environment. I can then provide other whole class experiences that force the kids to band together.

Standing Up For Who We Are

When we read about Anne Frank and World War Two, students had a hard time understanding why it was so difficult for Jews to stand up for themselves. They didn’t understand the community pressure to report traitors to the German government. I tried to give students a feeling of this during class. I started class in a very stern, almost angry way. I told students that we had a lot of things to do during class, and that we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. I divided students into groups to read picture books about The Holocaust, but I didn’t give them enough time to do it. I had them switch to the next book before they could finish. Students started to complain that they weren’t finished, so I sent them to the hall. The first few students to complain were really scared. Usually they were the on task students who never got into trouble. They couldn’t understand why I was in such a bad mood. Eventually six or seven kids were sent out into the hall, and kids still in class were totally silent, totally on task.

Time To Process

After 10 minutes or so, I called the students in the hall back to class. Everyone was silent. I asked them what they experienced as they tried to read the assigned picture books. I had them take out a piece of paper to write down their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and anything else they thought about the activity. Their eyes got bigger, and some smiled as they started to understand the connection. They wrote about their fear and frustration. Eventually, we could talk about why it was so difficult to stand up against Hitler’s government. They were much more sympathetic to the situation and realized how easy it can be to give someone else power.

Reading can be a powerful experience whether individually, or in a class of 30 other people. Sometimes we read to escape, and sometimes we read to understand others. Teachers try to choose books that they are confident will help students. Teachers try to help students become thoughtful, sympathetic, empathetic, caring, and patient.

I don’t know how, but I missed reading a lot of books that others read in middle and high school. I’ve read many of them as an adult, and for the most part loved the experience each book offered. Some are still not great, but that’s a matter of personal opinion and I’m OK with that.

What did you read in middle school or high school? How did those stories change your perspective on life?

 

Read on!

-Dave