Monday, March 23, 2015

Planning Life

            Planning life is like preparing for a transatlantic voyage in a rowboat. You need to strike out in a certain direction. But, you also need to realize that waves and storms will arise that will alter your course. So, what direction am I striking away from shore?
            I’m looking into furthering my education. The first stop may be a small island called Real Estate school. Right now I need greater finances coming in for other options I’m considering.
            I love screenwriting. Whether that will ever become a career or just a hobby is hard to say. But, I am a writer and a writer writes. I am compelled to do it. I am considering taking a screenwriting externship with the Film Connection. It’s basically an 8-month program where I would be working side-by-side with a screenwriter in the field. At least from some initial information I’ve received, this program would work around a work schedule. Sure, I could do an MFA program in creative writing. I may end up doing that. But, my biggest concern about academia is it’s detached from the real world. I want to be working with people in the field.
            I’m working on some parables for an upcoming training seminar on overcoming writer’s block and unleashing creativity. I’m not sure when that will happen. It’s going to be done in conjunction with my writer’s group.
            My dad is getting stronger. He does need a boost psychologically. He’s been through a lot and it has taken its toll. Still, we have a good prognosis for continued recovery. My brother is starting a new job today. I think he’ll do great! Way to go, Lance! So, that’s where I’m at right now.

Monday, March 16, 2015

My Weekly Blog

            Don’t you love that catchy title? Today is somewhat nerve wracking. Dad receives results from his MRI later this afternoon. Hopefully everything comes back stable. If not, my life as well as everyone in the family could be thrown for a tailspin.
            I’ve started a new screenplay. It’s about a college where every term each instructor gets to kill one student. It’s the secret of Cordell’s success. It causes heightened fear and all the students are extremely scholarly and hard working. It’s a dark comedy. I’ve only written one scene. I’m not sure right now if I’ll love it or not. I may explore the idea and then find it’s not worth exploring. That’s how creativity works.
            I’ve been able to do a little practice on my little red trombone. I’m eking out notes over two and a third octaves. I hope to get to about two and a half soon and then start using video flashcards I’ve designed to learn the slide positions. My chops don’t have much strength. Once I begin to build strength, I hope to hit about three octaves and learn the slide positions without having to think about them. Once I get to that point, I have something to work with musically. Until that point, well, I’ll continue to sound like a wounded duck.
            I continue the job search. I’m investigating real estate sales. It would mean going back to school—not for long, but I would need to obtain a real estate license. I’ll have to see how things go—if I get an interview and then after gaining some information if it’s a job I’d enjoy. I suspect I’d do well. I’m learning to work with people better. I have an outgoing personality, but at times I can be a little high speed and hyper. Teaching college is teaching me how to slow down and relax. I’ve learning more and more to go with the flow.
            Well, I guess there isn’t anything else exciting going on in my life. Maybe in a couple weeks I’ll wash and wax my car. But, I’ll have to wait until I think the snow is finally done.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Life Hit Me

            So, I didn’t get in my Monday blog and am instead doing it on Thursday. For my fans out there (all 2 of you, since mom isn’t internet savvy), let me just share what is going on. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting. If not, I’ll keep things short.
            I’ve been tired lately. I’m trying to get some rest while my work schedule allows it. The past year and a half has been hectic. I almost lost my dad to cancer. He is getting stronger. Hopefully we won’t get any bad news with the latest MRI he had yesterday. Results come Monday.
            This academic term I’m teaching Preparatory Math. For all those math teachers out there that complain, let me lay the truth on you. Teaching math is far easier than teaching writing. I’ve taught both. At least with math, I have a set procedure to follow and a right and wrong answer. With writing there’s a thousand different paths to a destination and a thousand right (and wrong) destinations.
            I’m enjoying the momentary return of sunlight to Ohio. It’s fifty degrees outside. I’m starting to regain lungpower. With the on-and-off bitter cold, I’ve had nasty chest congestion. Just when it was about to leave, another cold snap hit with temperatures below zero. With some renewed lungpower, I’m again able to start fiddling around and learning alto trombone. Right now I’m good enough to do some wonderful sound effects—wounded duck, dying moose and battered car horn.
            Presently, I’m in a creative lull. I just finished up a screenplay about a week ago. I still need to do some editing and then copyright it. I really don’t worry about lulls in creativity. It’s all part of the process. Creativity tends to come in like waves. It’s a tide that ebbs and flows. Sure, you can churn up waves and help the process along, but lulls still happen.
            Spiritually, things are a little up and down. I’ve been reevaluating what church and Christianity is all about. I haven’t lost faith. Actually, the reevaluation may have increased my faith. I’m seeing more and more my need for fellow Christians. It’s somewhat hard, since I have a wacky schedule. Between teaching, where my schedule fluctuates every term, and helping my parents, I haven’t been able to find a stable schedule. I’m not a person that lives on routine, but a little routine may be nice to provide some stability.
            So, there you have it. That’s where I’m at and what’s going on. Tune in next week when the Robinson family encounters giant, Cyclops aliens!

Monday, March 2, 2015

No Complaints

            Okay, maybe the title is a lie. I have plenty of things to complain about, but I’m choosing not to gripe. Instead, let’s look at the positive things going on in my life. I’ve found my passion and it’s writing. It might sound like a little thing, but I think some people go a lifetime without ever finding something that really fires them up.
            I really love writing screenplays. I’m currently working on one called, Has Beens. It’s about a teenager, Wendell, who lives in the town of Hazbenz. Hazbenz is where all the animated stars go after the credits roll. Wendell desperately wants to seek his future and get out.
            An ogre, Shirk, kidnaps his girlfriend, Melanie. Because of the inept police force, Wendell decides he’s going to rescue her on his own. You might have guessed from that ogre’s name that this is a spoof. You might think of it as the Spaceballs of the animated genre.

            So, where am I going to go with these animated screenplays I’ve written? At the moment, I don’t know. All I know is I love to write them and I want to be involved in their production. I hope someday I can do voice work as well. I’ve started out on an adventure and I don’t know where it’s headed. But, I have faith things will work out.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Trip to NYC

            Last week I was able to travel to New York City for a free screenwriting class. The class was entitled, How to Pitch Like a Pro. It was an energetic class with a great group of people. It did give me several ideas of where to start with my animated screenplay, Nugget. I’m not sure where promoting that will head, but I’m going to start applying the lessons learned in that class and see where it heads.
            Unlike the trip to Grandmother’s house in the old children’s song, the trip to New York doesn’t go over the river. I went under the river—through the Holland Tunnel on the way there and through the Lincoln Tunnel on the way back. It’s not scary, but it is a tight squeeze of traffic. What is scary is a New York City cab driver. The guy that drove me had sixteen consonants in his name and drove like a maniac. I think he may have learned how to drive in New Jersey. New Jersey traffic, particularly near New York, is madness. It requires quick braking, high speeds, and a lack of reticence using the horn or exercising the finger.
            I had some New York pizza, which was yummy, but the best food I ate was at Lenny’s. Their sandwiches are the bomb. Just be ready to sacrifice an artery at the altar of flavor.
            I was able to see quite a few sights including: Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, the library, Bryant Park, NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall. Since I was there for less than a day, I wasn’t able to see any of these in detail. I took a picture and moved on. By the end of the day my feet were barking.
            When I’m able to go again, I would love to see Central Park. The midtown area is frenetic. It is a constant wash of voices, engines and horns. All that background noise could become tiresome quickly. I think Central Park may be the quiet oasis to soothe the nerves, but I’m just guessing.
            I was able to take a ride in the subway. Before getting on the train, a gentleman with a British accent was asking me for directions. I wasn’t able to help him, seeing I had only been in the city for an hour and a half. I’m not sure if I simply had a friendly face or if I looked like a New Yorker. Maybe this poor soul was tending sheep a day before on some hillside and was completely lost in the big city. I think someone else helped him. Good thing, because I had only tentatively figured out my next stop. This may be a metaphor for my life—a sojourner who only has a tentative idea of his next stop.

Monday, February 9, 2015

People are Sheep

            In the Bible God’s children are often described as sheep. I’ve heard people describe sheep as stupid, defenseless creatures who will wander off and get themselves in trouble. What does this observation say about how God views us and what does it say about shepherds?
            What if God finds our sheep-like qualities noble? Sheep are gentle, communal creatures who like to explore. Certainly any of those traits can be troublesome if taken to an extreme, but maybe within balance God finds those traits compelling.
            God is often described in shepherding terms. So, what is the role of a shepherd? Does a shepherd transform sheep into different creatures? Or, does a shepherd tend to sheep allowing them to fully express their sheepness?
            Let’s consider for a moment the leadership structure in the Protestant model of church. In this model there is supposed to be shepherds. The Bible definitely describes people gifted to do this pastoral task, but are those in the clergy doing the task in a Biblical way? Let’s consider how things are done in the Protestant church. In this model, these shepherds do most of the teaching and cast the vision for the local congregation. They often serve to bring a group of people into conformity to a given set of doctrine. The worship services and programs they lead are all designed to a certain degree to guide behavior. It seems they aren’t functioning primarily as a shepherd, allowing each person to express their sheepness. They seem to be functioning more like a rancher driving a herd of cattle.
            Perhaps shepherds aren’t meant to be over (as in an over-under hierarchy of leadership), but are meant to be servants to the sheep. Consider the Good Shepherd, who took up the basin to wash the feet of his sheep. What if the primary role of shepherds is to allow sheep to fully express their sheepness—being gentle, communal and explorative creatures? Perhaps sheepness is a trait that God finds compelling and a trait that could transform the world. Seems this sheepness is the polar opposite of what the world teaches. It also seems the polar opposite of how the church operates. Maybe we need to embrace sheepness, but that isn’t so easy. It first means transforming the church with all its rituals and power structures. It means transforming the role of the shepherds and also the congregants. Perhaps the power of the church is not found in its leaders, programs, buildings, budgets or services. Perhaps the power of the church comes when believers express their sheepness.

Monday, February 2, 2015

My Head Hurts

            I’ve just been reading student papers and my head hurts. It often hurts while reading student papers. The amount of mental energy it takes to figure out meaning obscured by awkward sentences, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, improperly used words and whatever else is exhausting.
            I think about how hard it may be for my students to succeed in the workforce. Their future bosses aren’t paid to decipher. They simply won’t put up with it. My students may not be hired or promoted simply because they can’t write. If only they truly understood that. If they knew they were flirting with disaster by going through the motions in my class, things would be different. But, why should I expect them to think that far ahead? Many of them started the paper due today last night. Some haven’t yet begun on the paper that was due three weeks ago.
            The amount of work it takes to decipher poor writing is simply representative of the amount of work it takes to create good writing. If my students did the work of deciphering their thoughts into comprehensible English, my job would be far easier.

            I think instructors go through phases. There is the phase where you have greater skills than your students (at least in the subject you are teaching) and pulling your students up is not only benefitting them, but it’s also developing your skills. Then, you enter the phase where you’re pulling students up, but you’re not being developed. The final phase is where your students are starting to pull you down. When you’re in that phase, it’s time to start considering other career options. I’m at that phase.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Winter, Ugh!

            This morning I just wanted to curl into the fetal position and go back to bed. Yes, it’s winter in Ohio. It’s that time of year when the sky is grey for days on end. It’s that time of year when mounds of snow cover cars. It’s that time of year when people who normally drive crazy continue on their paths of destruction, only now they drive on snow, ice and jam-packed highways.

            What is winter in Ohio good for? It’s good for the pharmaceutical industry. I can hear the ching-ching of the cash registers as another prescription of antidepressant is sold. It’s good for children—who, free from the responsibility of functioning, can enjoy building a snow man, sledding or may have a day off from school. For the rest of us it’s a time of bitter cold, coughing, clearing cars, shoveling walks and grumbling. Today, I’m in the mood to grumble, ugh!

Monday, January 19, 2015

I'm Tired

            I’m not much in the mood to blog and I don’t have much to say. Can I say that? Last Thursday my dad was taken to the hospital. We had quite a scare, but now he’s home. Between that, work and trying to figure out new directions, my brain is mush.
            There’s no doubt I’m done teaching. Today I looked out into the sea of disinterested faces. It’s not their fault. They are no more interested in grammar than I am. But, even if I wasn’t teaching grammar, I’d be teaching people whose minds are past the class—focused on that sheet of paper at the end of the journey. I want to be a part of a growing, creative environment. I don’t want to be surrounded by people going through the motions.
            I’m considering film school—probably Colorado Film School. They are highly rated. They are located in Denver. Long story short, I had a dream where God seemed to be leading me to Denver. I suspect God has kept me in the Akron area to help dad through his recent bout with cancer. The word from all the doctors is that this period is coming to an end.
            Right now my brain is too foggy to have a clear direction. However, I do know I love creativity and want to be in a completely creative field. I do know I love screenwriting. I also love acting. I’m considering taking a degree in writing and directing. Will I like directing? I can’t say for sure. I’ve never done it, but I suspect I’ll love it.
            Right now I just don’t have all the answers or all the information to make decisions based entirely on logic. I’m not sure in life there ever comes a point where that is true. I’m basing decisions as much on intuition as logic. In some ways, I think that has me making better decisions.

            Anyhow, I know this blog is all over the place. But, it simply represents where its author is at.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Where am I Today?

            Where am I today? It seems like an easy enough question. I’m in Akron, Ohio—the land of grey skies and cold temperatures. But, when I consider where I’m at emotionally and spiritually, I’m not sure. There’s a level of confusion that exists.
            This morning I was pondering the usefulness of teaching public speaking. It seems we have such grandiose ideas of what public speaking can accomplish, but in truth all those fall apart. We have the pastors in their pulpits. What a sham! Week after week they cast chewed up cornhusks of theology at their congregation. The truth—the real truth—is their congregants would be much stronger if they stopped preaching. You don’t learn from idling listening to another. And, isn’t teaching a huge component of the Great Commission? Most Christians need disconnected from being spoon-fed and need to dig into the Bible on their own. Yes, I know most pastors would agree with that statement, but they think people can have the sermon and studying on their own. They don’t understand teaching, learning or how a monologue-based education paradigm weakens people. They don’t understand a Biblical model of preaching. A true understanding would force abandonment of the current model. The true model is Jesus, who embraced a discipleship approach—one focused on hands-on learning and dialogue. The Bible also demands every believer preach—not these man-made lectures we call sermons, but that each believer proclaims the truth.
            Let’s consider what may be considered the greatest American speech of the twentieth century—Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. Did it accomplish anything? It may have stirred up the crowd and given us a few quotes, but it was the task of organizing the march that really had the impact. The speech was the sizzle, but the movement was the steak. Most in the crowd were congregants and King served as the minister. Imagine if the Protestant-church paradigm so evident in that event were flipped, where everyone became the minister and the congregants were living rather than listening to the message. The true Church isn’t supposed to be a few heads and millions of congregants. The true Church is meant to be a living, breathing organism, where every member fluidly moves between being head and follower. It’s easy to kill a movement with a few heads, because those heads become ready targets. It’s impossible to kill a movement when every member expresses headship.
            As I consider public speaking, I think it’s only effective as an entertainment paradigm. Certainly, on occasion, some may learn from a lecture, but that learning is so minimal when other methods are considered.
            These thoughts have me somewhat melancholy. That somber spirit is intensified by seeing my dad struggling. The radiation he went through left him weak and he’s not getting any stronger.
            With all these somber thoughts, I am also happy. I am finding what I love to do—in particular write and especially write screenplays and scripts. There is a passion that brings joy and a realization that I’m gifted at it that intensifies joy.
            Right now I feel somewhat alone. My main support structure has been the church. I’m going to have to figure out how to stay connected with fellow believers without getting entwined in organized religion. It’s hard, because so much of the social structure revolves around the liturgical structure. I honestly can’t go to a service and listen to a sermon. I find it painfully discomforting. That pain is intensified, because others grasp the shards of truth found inside. I certainly see the shards, but I understand they are shards.  Most don’t share this understanding, because they can’t see beyond the system. They can’t see there exists learning on another plane—a deeper unfolding of Scripture that can only happen when all are teachers. The man in the robes must fall away so the man with the nailed scarred hands can be lifted up. While I need other believers, at times being around Christians is like being around junkies—junkies unaware of the drug coursing through their veins.
            The church, our education system and the corporate model are all designed to bring about conformity. What I long for is creativity. I’ve embraced it in myself, but that’s not enough. I long to be embedded in a creative community—a community where everyone shares equally, everyone has input and all work together to create (such an important word) a better world. I don’t find that in the church, which is where this paradigm should be most fully realized; because, God is a creative being and we are created in his image. I don’t find this in our education system. The system isn’t designed to nuture Beethovens and the Beethoven in each of us. The system is designed to churn out Brittney Spear singles—vapid, soulless sound bites. I don’t find this in the workplace, where the workers have become nothing but clockwork minions feeding the bloodlust of hobgoblins.

            I think when I ask the question of where I’m at, I’m honestly not sure. But, I do know where I don’t belong.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Twenty Students and a Teacher

            Think about the average classroom for a moment. In that average classroom are twenty students and a teacher. Certainly this is an oversimplified analysis that doesn’t apply to all situations, but underlying that model are certain assumptions—assumptions that under scrutiny aren’t true.
            The model assumes that the teacher has a package (for lack of any better term) of knowledge that each student needs. The model also assumes that package of knowledge can be delivered in some sort of standardized way to meet the needs of the students. It simply doesn’t allow the teacher to customize instruction for each student. In this model, the teacher is a warehouse of knowledge—knowledge that is neatly packaged into containers that can systematically be delivered to the students.
            The model makes one of two assumptions from the student. Either the student operates like an assembly line worker, carefully following the standardized instruction of the teacher to obtain the knowledge. Or, that the student is able to absorb information with some assembly required.
            Standardized instruction is boring and conditions the student to want the teacher to supply the answers and the process to learning. Standardized instruction neuters students’ abilities to direct their own destinies. It trains them that someone else does the thinking for them and they just follow directions. Although standardized education is a fundamental paradigm underlying much of our education system, in truth the more standardized education becomes the more inhumane it becomes.
            The some-assembly-required approach is much stronger, but it’s also more difficult. Such instruction brings about a backlash from students. After being conditioned to operate on the assembly line, they’re fearful when they have to figure out a process creatively. Here’s a truth that many teachers won’t tell you. There are many creative ideas teachers would love to try, but they don’t, because they just can’t put up with more complaining from their students. Here’s another truth that many teachers won’t tell you, but every teacher has thought. If we want true education—the type of education that transforms the individual, we need to get rid of the bottom 10-20% of the students in our class. That bottom rung often isn’t based on intelligence. That bottom rung is often the ones that complain. It’s the negative few that make education a torment.
            Our system assumes only someone trained through years of schooling can teach. That seems fairly incongruent with the assembly line approach, doesn’t it? In truth, a teacher doesn’t have a package of knowledge to transfer to the student in a standardized way. Each teachers, student and situation is different. The wisest teacher only has a small fraction of the knowledge a student needs. At times, the wisest teacher doesn’t even know or have what a student needs.
            Doesn’t the system assume that the student is the one learning? This is the biggest lie in the system. Students often learn little from studenting; but, teachers learn much from teaching. Now, take a few minutes to let your brain absorb what I’m telling you. And, just to be sure you get it, let me express it another way. The role of student doesn’t require and often doesn’t produce much learning. The role of teaching requires and produces much learning. Which means, twenty students and a teacher doesn’t work. What works is twenty teachers and a student. I know it seems almost Orwellian to do this, but we must completely redefine terms. The term “student” must be redefined so they take on the role that is currently done by the teacher. And, the term “teacher” must be redefined so they take on the role currently done by the student. The system is backwards.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Classroom of Equality

            What do I really want in the college classroom? As an instructor, it really boils down to equality. The system constrains me to be the source of knowledge, the light of motivation and the shepherd for the sheep. While smart and educated, I’m not that knowledgeable. While motivated, I don’t have that much inner light. While caring, I just don’t have that much love to give.
            I long for students to enter the classroom and give their education direction without being prompted and prodded. There’s a certain pack mentality in the classroom. The teacher must be the Alpha Dog. This social structure may work for dogs, but it is entirely insufficient for learning—particularly if that learning is creative.
            Imagine for a moment the ideal creative team. Such a team would function far differently from a classroom. Roles wouldn’t be hierarchal. They would be fluid and vary from situation to situation. Each person would be talented, have input and be driven to fulfill the team’s mission. Each person would have the self-knowledge and self-control to know when to become the leader and when to become a follower. Each individual would be intrinsically motivated and extrinsically focused on the team.
            Our education system is the exact opposite of this ideal team. Students are extrinsically motivated and internally focused on themselves. The prime motivator is the points one earns. From a student’s perspective, it’s a psychological version of capitalism without any customers. From my perspective, it feels like a one-man hunger for democracy. Certainly, students may want democratic procedures in the classroom, but what few want is the selfless desire for collective good that is a requirement for a fully functioning democracy.
            This desire for democratic equality extends to how I fit in the system as a whole. My voice has little to no say in the real decisions concerning education. My voice is underpaid and underappreciated. Quite simply, those above me do not want democracy. They want the status quo, because it protects their profits, prestige and power. They want all the benefits of capitalism, but want their personal accountability to the system’s successfulness shielded behind hegemonic buttresses. This doesn’t just apply to for-profit education. The corporate selfishness of get-mine-even-if-others-suffer permeates.
            My students view me through a subordinate-to-superior relationship. Such relationships always weaken the subordinate, because the driving force is seldom internal—the true wellspring of creativity and fulfillment. Such relationships have two possible effects on the superior. If the superior cares, it leads to burnout, because the intrinsic motivation of one is insufficient to meet the extrinsic motivation of many. If the superior doesn’t care, it sets up a situation where abuse occurs.
            Those above me view me through a superior-to-subordinate relationship. If someone thinks they are superior to another, it leads to callousness, ignorance or often both.
            These thoughts bring a sadness to my heart. I see within my students an entire universe of talent, drive and creativity that the system has blinded them to see. They are more (much more) than they think they can be. It also brings sadness, because I realize I am more (much more) than the system allows me to be. People are ground to the point of being over-burdened or under-utilized, because the system puts us into over and under relationships. What we need is more equality.

Monday, December 22, 2014

We Kill Creativity

In a recent in-service training at work it was brought up that 98% of five-year olds in a longitudinal study tested as creative geniuses. This study found as these geniuses aged fewer scored as creative geniuses. By the age of 25, few tested as creative geniuses. For me there were two immediate conclusions (or, perhaps confirmations of things I already knew): 1) Our education system kills creativity, and 2) People are innately creative.

Teaching writing classes, one of the hardest things to teach is creativity. It’s a battle to reinstall something the system beat out of my students. The system has trained them that answers come from the teacher. The system has also trained them that giving the teacher exactly what he wants earns the highest grades.

Here’s the rub when it comes to writing. The best papers are never what I expected. The best papers always either express unique ideas or express familiar ideas in unique ways. Producing uniqueness comes from the inside, but our system has taught students to look to the outside (the teacher) for the answer.

Here ensues the battle for the grade. The student wants an exact answer (do X, Y and Z) to gain a particular outcome (usually an A on their paper). It’s what they’ve been conditioned to expect. In a history class, total conformity to exact identifications of names and dates is required. In a math class, absolute conformity also rules—as there is one right answer and a strict set of procedures to come to that answer. For the most part the system rewards conformity. The writing teacher (not just me, because I’ve talked to others) wants something completely different. We often reward thinking that is divergent from our own. A cookie-cutter, follow-the-formula paper is boring.

Following the formula in a math class earns an A. Following a formula in a writing class earns a C, because formulaic writing lacks inspiration. What I’ve seen is often the harder students try in a writing class, the more boring their writing becomes. It becomes boring, because the effort is misdirected. They are trying to figure out exactly what the teacher wants. To be honest, I don’t know until I see it. I can produce it myself. But, to teach others to produce it, I can’t give them the outcomes. I can only give them the process. But, the process isn’t the answer they’re looking for. That pierces the heart of why our system doesn’t produce creative thinkers. We reward outcomes—a finalized paper, test or quiz. True creativity comes from a process. It’s messy, indefinite and involves making mistakes. It’s wishy-washy. But, the system punishes wishy-washy answers. We fail those who make mistakes. We don’t want messy and indefinite. In the end, we must give a grade. And, because we bear that power, students conform to our desires. Perhaps we have education backwards. Maybe it doesn’t start with the teacher’s desires. Maybe the best education starts with a student’s desires.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sometimes Bad Teaching is the Students' Fault

Sometimes bad teaching is the students’ fault. That’s right. I said it. I’m telling you something that teachers everywhere have thought, but few have the courage to come out and say. When things don’t go right in the classroom, it’s easy to blame the teacher. It’s easy for teachers to blame administrators. But, what is the most important component (by far, I might add) of learning? A student’s desire to learn! When that component is absent, everything falls apart.

There is nothing as demoralizing to a teacher as looking out into a room of blank stares. There’s the blank stare of confusion. That one isn’t so bad. That simply means to back up a little, use some examples and talk to your students about what isn’t working or what they don’t understand. The demoralizing blank stare is the one that screams, “It’s all on you to make this class interesting. I really don’t want to be here. And, I just don’t have enough humanity in my soul to try to care.” Now, perhaps when there is a lack of caring from children, I can understand it. You may not know a child’s situation. Maybe they’ve been abuse, abandoned, are hungry or no one seems to care. Children have the right to be needy and as adults we need to meet those needs. But, what about college students? Or, high school juniors or seniors? Sorry, but those people no longer have the right to display a lack of humanity.

I teach college students and I can tell you at times they lack humanity. They treat a teacher as if they have a right to be bored—as if they don’t have to care about the topic, support the person who is trying to teach them or bear a shed of responsibility in their own education. Until a person has dealt with such students—daydreaming, playing on their cell phones or shooting looks (and sometimes words) of contempt at their instructor, one can’t truly appreciate how it drains the soul. Occasionally I’ll come across students that I just want to punch in the mouth, shove their cell phone down their throat or just grab them and throw them out of my classroom. Such students are truly deserving of such treatment, but the system doesn’t allow it. No, a teacher is just supposed to silently bear the indignation. Or, try futile classroom management techniques. Such students suck the life out of the teacher and once that ember has burnt out the class looses its zeal. While a student’s hunger to learn is paramount, teachers are needed to direct that hunger.

Bad students create an environment that leads to bad teaching. Bad students lead to teacher burnout. Bad students create an environment adversarial to learning. While it might not be popular to say, I’m going to say it. Sometimes bad teaching is the students’ fault!

Monday, December 8, 2014


Over the past couple weeks we’ve seen many protests in this country. There have been protests over the events in Ferguson, protests during Black Friday and protests over the Eric Garner case. None of these protests have happened in a vacuum. Each of these protests has been brought on by a spark—a police shooting, a chokehold or an insufficient paycheck. However, that spark was insufficient unless it was sparking something.

The United States is no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. Perhaps we never were, but there was a time when we were freer and braver than today. We have become a land oppressed by the rule of giant corporations, greedy lawmakers, bloodthirsty financiers and big bankers. On a daily basis many Americans face a job that doesn’t give them any respect or a livable wage. Some go hungry, cold or lack necessary medical treatment.

On street corners I see former members of our military begging for money or food. Many of these brave warriors were sent on multiple tours of duty. Some come back without an arm or leg. Some have traumatic head injuries. Some face severe psychological problems—problems that are heightened when they realize their government doesn’t care. They were treated like a pawn, being used for missions and then thrown to the side.

While many citizens are poor, there is a small percentage that is rich. Certainly some worked hard to earn their wealth. But, many became wealthy because the system was designed to make them wealthy. I’ve personally seen abuse of workers and customers simply to make larger profits. I believe that is the primary cause of much of the backlash—when our system rewards people who do harm to our society.

As I consider the protests, I see a need for leadership like we had in the past. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a great example. He preached nonviolent protests. It was a strategy that worked. As police turned tear gas, batons and attack dogs on peaceful protesters, those police and the ones calling the shots were seen as the issue. In many of our recent protests, protesters have looted stores, burned buildings and blocked traffic. While there are legitimate reasons behind many of these protests, the use of improper means has muddied the waters. What have been planted in some cases are the seeds of chaos as opposed to the seeds of legitimate discourse and change.

As I consider the plight of the average worker, I do think there is a need for unions. I know as soon as unions are brought up people point to union thugs and immoral tactics. I realize these are legitimate concerns. But, the average worker is powerless and uniting in mass may be the only tool available. The corporatism of America, with its business practices founded on evolutionary principles (survival of the fittest) demands a pack mentality. The need to unionize is not the disease. It’s a symptom of the disease—of a system designed to reward greed, graft and bloodthirsty practices.

You may have noticed I mentioned corporatism is built on evolutionary principles. Somewhere along the line people have fed us the lie that our economic model is based on Biblical principles. It’s not. And, it’s also not neutral. It’s a system at its heart that is based on principles in direct opposition to the Bible. It’s a system based on greed and profit at all costs—even it that cost means the lives of others.

I’m not sure how we’re going to change this system. Our politicians won’t do it. Quit believing when things are bad that if you vote in the other party it’s going to work. I do think Christian love can help bring about change, but I see the church in America as impotent. Often preachers support the current system. Until the church becomes a voice that brings about real change, most people won’t be interested in its message. I wonder if that is true for each of us? Until we become a voice for true change, will people really listen to what we have to say? What is the answer? The answer starts with each of us!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Start of a New Term

Dazed looks. That’s what the Monday after having a week off for Thanksgiving looks like from the front of the classroom. I could tell their minds were still on turkey and mashed taters. To be honest, I’d rather be home in front of the tube eating turkey and mashed taters.

Where I teach, we have a week off for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. We just started a new term. So, it’s three weeks and then Christmas break. The start of a new term is a foggy experience by itself. Add in those nostalgic for the family times of the previous week and those dreaming of sugar drop fairies, snowmen and Santa Claus and the holiday blur begins.

I honestly don’t blame my students for not being entirely there. I’m not entirely there. It doesn’t help that I spent several hours at the emergency room last night. My dad fell and hit his head. He’s going to be fine. Of course, there was the frantic phone call, the unexpected knock on the door and the drive to the ER. I wasn’t looking for all that excitement. Truth be told, I was enjoying a Sunday nap. It wasn’t just a regular nap. I was under deep. When all the excitement woke me up, I was groggy for a good fifteen minutes.

So, the holiday season begins. I wish it could be slowed down—a real vacation from work, no family emergencies, no crazy drivers (boy, the holiday spirit was evident on route 8 this morning), no need for presents or any of the holiday trimmings. It would be nice for one year to just relax and get away from it all. It wouldn’t matter if I was on a beach or in front of the tube. It would just be nice to have no responsibilities—none at work, none with the family, nothing that needed to get done—simply a time to veg with family and friends. Is that too much to ask for?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reasons to be Thankful

This past year has been rough. Last year at this time my dad was recovering from surgery from 4th stage cancer. He’s had a rough battle. He suffered, but he is getting stronger. January 2nd of this year my Uncle Ted passed away—a victim of cancer. I have a good friend from college whose dad passed away earlier this year. When I was in college we’d spend the weekend over at his house and his parents treated me like I was their own son. I also have memories of my Grandpa. Years ago he was diagnosed with terminal cancer the day after Thanksgiving and passed away on January 2nd.

As I consider all this, I have many things to be thankful for. My dad is still alive. I see him fighting back. His struggle has given me a new vigor for life. I’m less intimidated by things. On occasion I perform standup comedy. I’m less worried about failure. A bad night on stage doesn’t seem so bad. I sent in a tryout video for America’s Got Talent. Will they call? It doesn’t really matter. If they do, I’ll take the stage. I’ve been writing more and pursuing the dream of one day being self-employed—writing, speaking and being creative.

I have had some sad moments thinking of my Uncle Ted. However, I realized one important thing. I don’t have a single bad memory of Uncle Ted—not one! He was a gentle man that showed love to all and brought joy to those around him. I was blessed to know him. My life is better because of his life.

As I think of my friend’s father, I have similar thoughts. He showed me love—true, Christian love. He was kind and intelligent. Perhaps with those I’ve lost, I can take the best parts of them and carry those things forward.

With my Grandpa, I have some great stories. He liked to drink and I can look back and laugh at his antic. The last few months of his life I had a special relationship with him. He called me, “My pastor”. I was comfort to a dying man. I also saw Grandpa put down the bottle as his best friend and grab hold of Jesus. I saw there was a kindness and compassion that alcohol had hidden. Those last few months there was an intimate bond that few share with another person.

I can look at those around me and see blessings. My mom has been a great strength to dad. I admire her character and steadfastness. I’ll have a chance to spend time with mom and dad over Thanksgiving. The antics of their two cats are also a blessing. Gizmo and Bootsy are true characters. I also have my brother. He’s one of the most hardworking and compassionate people I know. He’s also wired differently than anyone else I know, so he has an offbeat, ornery sense of humor that I love. Truly I have much to be thankful for this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The End of the Term

I just finished teaching another term. I don’t know how many times I heard the phrase, “I’m so glad this term is over.” To me this is shocking. It’s not shocking because I lack understanding. I feel the same way. What shocks me is that learning is a normal, natural process. So, why has the college system turned it into such a burden? Why have we created a system that leads to burnout?

As I step back and think about that question, my answer is the system is not primarily concerned about teaching or personal growth. The main point of the system is to teach someone to be an employee. But, if the system that’s training them to be an employee leads to caustic burnout, I have to wonder if the jobs we’re preparing people for are going to be jobs they love.

Another thing I have to question is the whole promise of education being a gateway to good jobs. Colleges provide few good jobs for their employees. If they don’t even supply their employees good jobs, can we expect them to help students find good jobs?

The sad part is that all this introspection will soon fade. Next week I will be eating turkey and won’t give my job a second thought. Soon the next term will roll around and the grind will continue. Some students and instructors will come and go, but the system will continue on—masticating people in its wake. It’s a broken system and I’ve lost hope it will change.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Term's End

I’m in week nine of a ten-week academic term. It’s this part of the term that really begins to drag. Students are tired. Faculty are tired. We’re there, but we’re not really there.

It’s now when pleas from failing students can arise. I’ve seen it happen. Someone doesn’t work the whole semester and all of a sudden they want to make up everything at the end. I’m now a seasoned teacher, so I no longer fall for the gambit. I enforce the late policies I established the first day.

While it may seem the worst students would be the most difficult, at this time of the term it’s often the best students. I’ve seen students with high A’s who are so tense and worried about their grade. They scratch and claw as if they are losing grip, when in reality they have nothing to worry about.

I think one of the things that has brought me success as a teacher is that I feel students. It’s like I have a sixth sense. Whatever mood they’re in—happy, sad, frustrated, exhausted or whatever—I feel it. At times the mood hangs in the air. There’s a palpable exhaustion and infuriation that wanders the halls. Unfortunately, it penetrates me. But, I’m the teacher and I have to be the one to supply energy and positivity. I know if I didn’t care, I’d be far less effective; yet, I also firmly believe if I didn’t care, the job would be far less stressful.

Lately teaching has become both more stressful and easier at the same time. It’s hard to explain, but I know I’m burnt out and I question how much good general education classes (which is what I primarily teach) do for students. Most students just do what is necessary to make it through. Without vibrant emotional engagement, little learning occurs. I also ponder how different academia is from the real world and also how incongruent it is with how we learn. In academia we package information, but that information can only be packaged after it has been slaughtered, dissected and sterilized. If the whole system is a flop, does the efforts of one instructor really make that much difference? And, if I don’t make that much difference, why put in the effort? This makes it more stressful, because it’s harder to keep my motivation up; but, it also makes it less stressful, because I’m not giving the same effort. In truth, I’ve grown burnt out.

It’s about this time in the semester that I’m really figuring out how to teach my students. Each student has a unique set of needs, wants, personality traits and learning styles. Each classroom is a unique mixture of individuals and develops it’s own personality and needs. It takes a while to figure out how to adapt what I know to their needs. But, these ten-week terms are too short. I’m just figuring them out when we’re entering the downward spiral of the final weeks. I somewhat envy those that teach elementary students. At least they have time to really develop the needed relationship with students. They actually have the chance to know their students. Of course, I also think this could be a real stressor. There are certain students I only want for ten weeks.

So, this is where I find myself this Monday morning. It’s probably the same place many teachers find themselves—questioning not just themselves, but also the system they exist within.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Needy and Needed

            Over the past year the neediness of humanity has confronted me: both the neediness of others and my own neediness. As individuals, we are weak. But, together we can be strong.
            My parents have been needy. Almost a year ago my dad was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and had a large tumor removed from his left sinus cavity. My parents have needed me in myriad ways: as a chauffeur up to Cleveland, mowing their lawn, shoveling snow, as a listening ear, as a source of strength, fixing a broken toilet, encouraging dad through rehab, visiting him in the hospital and nursing home and countless other ways. My dad is now regaining his strength. It’s like he’s coming back from the dead.
            I have seen my parents in a new light. Certainly they have needed me, but yet I see how strong they are. My mom is a woman of highest integrity, a steady rock by my father’s side. Without her support, dad wouldn’t have made it. She’s been exactly what one would expect from a woman of highest integrity. She’s stood by her mate and I’ve gained a new appreciation for her.
            My dad is stronger than I ever imagined. He’s battled back from surgery, radiation and a rehabilitation stint in the nursing home. At one point he couldn’t even walk. Yet, he continues on.
            I’ve gained a new strength and vigor for life seeing my parents face this hardship. I needed them. I needed to see their strength. I’ve needed a new lease on life and their endurance has given me that.
            I am now taking steps to become a professional author. I have made some money, but not enough to turn it into a living. Up to this point, I’ve focused primarily on writing. How could I market before I even had product? Until I had gained a certain mastery of the art form, who would want to read my writing?
            Now, I’m connecting with others who are helping me push out to new boundaries. I’ve joined a writer’s group. They have been a wealth of knowledge and a huge encouragement. I need to be surrounded by positive people who are masters at the craft I’m endeavoring to learn. I’m been surprised by their helpfulness, positivity and how well they write. They keep raising the bar.

            I’m working on Internet promotion and have joined a marketing group. After one meeting, I can already see how helpful they will be. I never knew how generous people are. People genuinely want me to succeed. Maybe it’s the rugged individualism we’re taught in our culture—that we’re supposed to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That becomes hard when our arms are weary and our boots have sprung leaks. As a writer, I certainly embrace individuality. However, I also realize that the power for success comes from community. I have learned just how needy I am and just how needed I am. The former produces humility and the latter produces hope.