Sunday, June 27, 2010

Not Most Folks

Vickie created a Tri-bond game to play with everyone in attendance. Participants had to guess what the three things have in common.

• A dining room table, a wooden rocking chair, and a green couch

--Furniture at Grandma’s

• Phase 10, Pass the Pigs, and Crow’s Feet Dominoes

--Games played on the dining room table

I was surprised I hadn’t cried yet. Yesterday at the viewing I was alone with my dad and I casually asked, “How you holdin’ up?” He almost instantly began to cry at the question and threw his arms around me in strong embrace. He was thinking of his own mom who passed several years ago. Dad probably was holding it in to be strong for mom; he is always doing everything for Mom.

• Crocheted afghans, kitchen hand towels, and clothes for every doll I ever loved

--Things Grandma sewed by hand

• Coming in the back door instead of the front, staying up until 2am watching I Love Lucy re-runs, and Arby’s after church

--(My guess was 1987) But Vickie’s answer was regular occurrences at Grandma’s

My parents flew out to St. Louis earlier in the month. Almost immediately upon their arrival they took grandma into the hospital again. She sensed the end and told my dad with extreme disappointment, “I really wanted to die at home.” She made it out of the hospital and was doing better. She didn’t live much longer, but she did get to die at home.

• A variety of candy, a huge selection of Hostess products, and a bucket of Doublemint gum

-- Grandma’s pantry

• Molasses cookies, gooey butter, and rum cake

--Things Grandma had made that were sitting on the kitchen counter (Double points if you added that they were also acceptable breakfast foods)

Knowing her time was near I went to the store to find a card for Grandma. She was just months from her 95th birthday. How do I pick out a card for someone this special that has lived this long? Grandma always welcomed everyone into the home. She made huge grocery store trips even though technically only two people lived at the house. All growing up she sent us a card for every holiday with a 2-dollar bill for each of us. She lived selflessly.

I always told Grandma and Grandpa, “Thanks for raising my mom well, so she could raise me well, so I could grow up with good values and such.”

I didn’t even know which section to get the card. Certainly I wasn’t going to choose “get well soon.” And “congratulations” was somehow appropriate and inappropriate at the same time. After a little looking I read a card from the “thank you” section;

“Most folks don’t go out of their way for others. Thank goodness you aren’t most folks.”

Perfect. All I added was, “Thanks for always going out of your way for us.”

I can’t sum it up better than that.

I walked over the mailbox around midnight that night so it would go out in the morning.

• A generous spirit, a huge heart, and an incredible memory

• A woman who loved God, loved her husband, and loved her family

Wednesday while wearing a suit and tie on the way to my students’ graduation ceremony I checked my voice mail. Grandma died. I drove the rest of the way to work in silence, but then changed gears to celebrate with my kids the rest of the morning.

• $2 bills, the envelopes, a lifetime of memories the size of Christmas ornaments

When Vickie said, “two-dollar bills” for the first time I cried. Seeing my aunt crying, hugging my dad, looking at Grandma in the casket the day before, and it was my sister mentioning two-dollar bills that made me cry.

Vickie finished speaking and I was up next. My cousin Bruce joked, “Kevin, pull it together.” I took the box of tissues up with me.

Five of the grandchildren, one great-grandchild, two children, and one daughter-in-law spoke at the funeral. They each said great things about Grandma. Then the pastor, who was a long-time family friend (and almost relative) shared too. He mentioned that if Grandma was here she would be telling us not to make such a fuss about her and would try to deflect the attention elsewhere. That is so true.

It was a beautiful service, a service that honored Grandma.

The card I bought for Grandma I mailed just days before her death. I didn’t know her state of mind at the end. I told myself it didn’t really matter if she had received it or not, for Grandma knew how I felt about her.

After I wiped away the tears I spoke of fond memories, good genes, my grandma’s great sense of humor, and a woman that in her last years, months and days knew exactly where she was in life, and could look back on her life and smile.

I even shared the card that I bought for grandma. As I read it I even thought to myself, “Wow, I’m going to make it through my own words without crying. Then I said, “I don’t even know if Grandma got my card.” And my aunt and uncle sitting in the front row said, “She did.”

Good thing the box of tissues was still up there.

Frannie later told me they read the card to Grandma, and she held it in her own hands, and understood what it said.

I guess it really did matter to me. I’m glad I didn’t wait another day to send it.

Thought of the Week

Advice is seldom welcome, and those who need it the most, like it the least.
--Lord Chesterfield

Bumper Sticker

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Yesterday, I flew to St. Louis with Derek. In the morning I gave him a call.

K: Do you want me to bring you a book?

D: I don't read.

K: I know. That's why I thought you wouldn't have your own book. Maybe I can find one with short stories or something.

D: And big print, and maybe pictures of farm animals.

K: I'll see what I can do.

Thought of the Week

Sometimes things just work out well.

Fail of the Week

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Each year I build a special connection with one of my classes. The class is well-behaved and their good behavior allows us to have more fun in the room. I am less strict, tell more jokes, tell more stories, and get to know the kids more. The result is that I build closer relationships with many of those kids. This year it was my 2nd period.

Last week I read them an entry from Freedom Writers. It was written by boy who was evicted from his apartment during the summer, but despite all his family problems gained some peace at the idea of returning to his English class from the year before. I usually cry when I read it. I told the kids that. As I was reading the kids were completely silent, not even a stir.

“While kids were having fun enjoying the summer, I was packing my clothes and belongings into boxes and wondering where we were going to end up. We had no family to lean on… School. Why bother going to school? What’s the use of going if I don’t have a place to live? When my friends ask how my summer was, what am I going to say?”

I was tearing up, but managed not to cry this time. The room was still silent as I finished the passage.

“The bus stops in front of the school. My stomach feels like it’s tightening into a tiny little ball. I feel like throwing up. I keep thinking that I’ll get laughed at the minute I step off the bus. Instead, I’m greeted by a couple of my friends who were in my English class last year. At that point, it hits me. Ms. Gruwell, my crazy English teacher from last year, is really the only person that made me think of hope for my future. Talking with my friends about our English class and the adventures we had the year before, I began to feel better.

I receive my class schedule and the first teacher on the list is Ms. Gruwell in Room 203. I walk in the room and I feel as though all the problems in my life are not important anymore. I am home.”

They remained silent for a moment. I think the class could feel my love for them as I read the story of this high school student. As I was formulating my thoughts I saw Tim’s hand go up in the back of the class volunteering to be the first one to break the silence.

“Yeah… Tim.”

“Can I go to bathroom?”

Thought of the Week

A wise man will live as much within his wit as within his income.
--Lord Chesterfield

History Text Book Fail

Thursday, June 10, 2010

By Linda Ellis

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Teaching AVID

I started teaching math six years ago. I’ve often said, “Sometimes the math part of the class gets in the way of what I am really trying to teach the kids.” At the end of last year my principal approached me and asked me if I wanted to teach AVID. I’ve always been a proponent of AVID, but did not know that it existed at the middle school level. I accepted.

I love it. It basically is a class where I focus on exactly what I think is important to teach the kids. I teach four sections of Algebra I, and one section of AVID, but a great portion of my time and energy goes into teaching this group.

Before teaching the class I signed up for a one-week training in downtown Sacramento. I expected to see some other people from my district, but had no idea I would be with thousands of people already part of the huge AVID cult. It was training for the entire west coast. I talked to people that flew in from places like Seattle, Hawaii, Denver, and Los Angeles. I was like, “Yeah, I walked over from my apartment on Capitol and 21.” One my colleagues told me he hadn’t yet “drank the AVID kool-aid.” However, it was a great week and a good fit, as I discovered the core AVID principles lined up with my own.

This year I’ve focused on fundamental skills like reading, writing, collaboration, inquiry and critical-thinking. By being a part of this class my students are more adept in all of their other classes. We started with some fundamentals like note-taking skills and being a good group member, and the kids continued to develop those throughout the year. Our first 5-paragraph essays are due this Wednesday; the kids wrote on the topic of perseverance. I also had a variety of special lessons. One day we even ran the mile during class so I could encourage the kids to be pushing themselves physically as well (half of my kids had their best time of the year that day). I did a series of lessons called “The Cold Hard Truth with Mr. B” and I broached a variety of topics that included things like drugs, racism, and role models. Basically, I had a whole class where the math didn’t get in the way (and we did a lot of math too).

To help augment their vocabulary we study vocab lists. However, the lists are created by the students. I taught the students to write down words they encounter in their lives (particularly those said by one of their teachers) and bring them to class. We discuss the words and the most commonly used ones are added to our next vocabulary list. Last week I told the kids to write a story using at least 8 of the new vocab words using the prompt “If I was the teacher...”

Leanna came to class on Friday and said she wasn’t done yet and asked if she could e-mail it to me. I told her she had till midnight to earn full credit. I received an e-mail from her at 10:04pm Friday night with a short note that said, “I turned it in before midnight. I even used past vocab words.”

A month ago these kids had never even heard of these words. So often their usage isn’t perfect. I found out Friday night Leanna wasn’t just listening this week when we went over the meanings of these words and how they are used. She’s been listening all year. Once again I am reminded why I do what I do.

Vocabulary Story
By Leanna Deaton

If I was a teacher I would try to be the best role model I could be. I would come to school very exuberant and full of energy. I would have it all planned out and organized so that I could get everything that needed to be covered taken care of. Hopefully being well organized would be evident in my teaching.
I don’t know what I would do if one of my students had a random act of rampant behavior. If they got too out of hand, I would contemplate their consequence. I don’t think punishing students would be fun but if that’s what has to be done, then I would do it. If insolent students made blatant and rude remarks, they would get punished accordingly. If students are good, on the other hand, they would get random, or erratic, gifts and rewards.

Every day I would reiterate morals and virtues to my students to help them learn everyday values and useful life skills. My rules would be to show integrity, perseverance, determination, and giving every assignment their all. I wouldn’t want them to slip because of slacking off, and lack of interest. Even if they don’t like the subject they should never turn in inadequate work and always push themselves to complete excellent assignments.

I would always ponder if my teaching would be beneficial for the young students. I would ask myself if I was being to stern or too sympathetic. I would wonder if my assignments were too arduous or too easy. Being a teacher would be very strenuous and stressful.

When giving directions or instructions, I would try not to be redundant and waste words that weren’t needed. Some work would be spontaneous and unplanned, and others would be tightly scheduled. We would read stories of perseverance and striving everyday people. I would hope that I could change the lives of each student throughout the year.

For more info click here.

Thought of the Week

The education of a child has to be a total development of the personality and this means that the human dimension of development is crucial. This is something which can only be done by teachers.
--Colin N. Powell

Good Idea

This is what I teach my AVID students.