Best Teaching Tip – The Back Pocket Plan

Le_Chat_30April12_025_copyAfter teaching for years, I know to be prepared for the unexpected, so I always carry a spiral notebook in my back pocket. On it, I have a list activities for those times when the lesson does not go as planned due to faulty technology, essay eating hobgoblins and the never fail, « I can’t present today my group member is sick. »

Kids today are so clever. They must toss a virtual coin on Facebook the night before a group oral presentations are due to decide which member of the team should be absent the next day.

Teachers become adept at thinking off the top of their head, seat of their pants and back of their eyeballs. Since my students weren’t ready, I resorted to the pack pocket plan. I led a discussion about how the weather echoes human emotions in the text we were studying. Then I opened the blinds and told them to stare out the window and write for 10 minutes about this typical dreary fall day. Write about whatever comes to mind regarding weather, how you feel when looking out the window today, how the rainy autumn affects your mood, how you dream of escaping this dreary classroom.

Educational studies show that students learn best when they see the teacher looking at a book during reading time or writing along with them during a writing assignment. I pulled out my pocket notebook and began scribbling.

At the end of 10 minutes, a few brave souls timidly read their pieces of work. Then I think as a ploy to save unwilling classmates, they insisted I read mine. So I began…

« This weather stinks. Rainy. Cloudy. Cold. Old man winter is coming round cloaking us in a death vice. I am sick of the foggy gloom that is November. I am tired of seeing the faded, grey view from my dark tinted glasses. I am weary from too much work and too little time. I want to crawl under my soft, lumpy duvet and hibernate until spring, but I can’t. My students are waiting with eager, smiling faces, fidgety and restless, full of life. So I put on a happy face and greet my class with a grin. They bring me enough light and laughter to endure the autumn blues. »

Bless their generous little hearts, when I finished reading, the class burst into applause. Right on time one ginger-headed boy, deadpanned, « You must have been writing about your other class. »

We burst out laughing just as the dismissal bell rang ending the school day.Le_Chat_30April12_022_copy

And that is why I love teaching.

What is your best back pocket plan?

Best Teaching Tip – The Back Pocket Plan

Le_Chat_30April12_025_copyAfter teaching for years, I know to be prepared for the unexpected, so I always carry a spiral notebook in my back pocket. On it, I have a list activities for those times when the lesson does not go as planned due to faulty technology, essay eating hobgoblins and the never fail, « I can’t present today my group member is sick. »

Kids today are so clever. They must toss a virtual coin on Facebook the night before a group oral presentations are due to decide which member of the team should be absent the next day.

Teachers become adept at thinking off the top of their head, seat of their pants and back of their eyeballs. Since my students weren’t ready, I resorted to the pack pocket plan. I led a discussion about how the weather echoes human emotions in the text we were studying. Then I opened the blinds and told them to stare out the window and write for 10 minutes about this typical dreary fall day. Write about whatever comes to mind regarding weather, how you feel when looking out the window today, how the rainy autumn affects your mood, how you dream of escaping this dreary classroom.

Educational studies show that students learn best when they see the teacher looking at a book during reading time or writing along with them during a writing assignment. I pulled out my pocket notebook and began scribbling.

At the end of 10 minutes, a few brave souls timidly read their pieces of work. Then I think as a ploy to save unwilling classmates, they insisted I read mine. So I began…

« This weather stinks. Rainy. Cloudy. Cold. Old man winter is coming round cloaking us in a death vice. I am sick of the foggy gloom that is November. I am tired of seeing the faded, grey view from my dark tinted glasses. I am weary from too much work and too little time. I want to crawl under my soft, lumpy duvet and hibernate until spring, but I can’t. My students are waiting with eager, smiling faces, fidgety and restless, full of life. So I put on a happy face and greet my class with a grin. They bring me enough light and laughter to endure the autumn blues. »

Bless their generous little hearts, when I finished reading, the class burst into applause. Right on time one ginger-headed boy, deadpanned, « You must have been writing about your other class. »

We burst out laughing just as the dismissal bell rang ending the school day.Le_Chat_30April12_022_copy

And that is why I love teaching.

What is your best back pocket plan?

Amplatz Children’s Hospital Nurses Encourage Bravery in Kids Fighting Cancer

Nat's white coat ceremony  11-17-07 009At the end of a work day, like many teachers, I am emotionally exhausted. Students come to my door in tears filled with worry about family members battling cancer, failed chemistry tests, and the big bully in the lunchroom. Weary from my own my health battles, I often wonder how I will find the energy to keep giving. Then I receive a surprise call from my daughter in Minneapolis, a pediatrician, who recounts her work week at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

What could be more discouraging than children battling an evil disease that destroys their dreams? Rich, poor, black, white, Muslim, Jew, cancer does not discriminate. No one grows up on easy street anymore.

When U of M Amplatz Children’s Hospital opened in 2011, it was designed to help kids heal as painlessly as possible by offering patient and family centered care. Staff wear colorful – orange, magenta, turquoise – scrubs and the bright, customized private rooms are spacious enough to allow families to stay to help the healing process.

The positive energy of the place can be seen in nurses of  Unit 5, who took time before and after hours to shoot a video with nearly 70 staff members dancing to « Brave » by Sara Bareilles, as a way of encouraging their patients.

“We know these kids, know their stories and what they’ve been through,” the nurses say, “but for other people to see how amazing they are and to be affected in the same way just means so much to them, and we hope it continues to inspire other kids.”

Their little video went viral with over 300,000 viewers. Our daughter abhors the limelight, so she ducked during the filming, but she jumped right on the band wagon promoting it.

When Nathalie’s aunt asked for ideas for birthday and Christmas gifts, Nat suggested that in lieu of gifts, we could make donations to Toys-for-Tots , or to Make a Wish, which grants wishes for kids with cancer and other life threatening illnesses.

“A lot of the kids I take care of have had wishes granted by Make-a-Wish, which is a big deal for them and their families,” Nat says.

To the doctors, nurses, families, and children at Amplatz and elsewhere fighting in the face of a despairing disease, as we say in France, « Bon Courage ! »

To my dear daughter, Happy Birthday! May you find the strength to do what you do best : easing children’s pain, calming distraught parents, and encouraging co workers.              .

To the rest of us who think we are weary from our job raising children, think again. We share a privileged role. Whether we are helping kids string together words one syllable at time or battle disease cell by cell, like the Amplatz’s staff implore each of us – teachers, coaches, counselors, parents and grandparents – take time to hug a kid today.

« Be courageous, be brave, be strong

Stay fighting, stay positive, stay courageous

Support the fighters, admire the survivors, honor the taken

Never ever give up hope»

Children are priceless. Each day is a gift. Kindness costs nothing. Positivity perpetuates. Hope prevails.

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Kizzie « Tales » – Story of an Adopted Dog

KizzieThe first year I moved to France, I dreamed my dog, Skippy, died. I knew she passed away before my folks even told me. Ever since I have pined for a puppy. So nobody was happier when my sister, Karen’s family, adopted Kizzie, a 9-month-old black lab.

Kizzie showed her true puppy colors from the get go. The Carlsons stopped counting the times they caught her chewing on forbidden objects: pillows, hats, glue bottles, photo albums, TV remotes. When Kizzie discovered the basement, Marie’s old baby gate came down from the attic to limit the curious pup’s explorations.

“Everyday we learn something new about each other!” Karen said. “Kizzie goes to school for dog obedience training, but I’m afraid she will never pass kindergarten.”

But our Kizzie is one smart pup. She locked Marie out of the house. Another time the “Houdini” dog slipped out of her locked kennel and met Marie at the door wagging her tail with pride.

In the evening, she not only dragged Dick’s boots to the door when she wanted to walk, but she also retrieved his orange reflector jacket for night strolls.

On her first trip to the lake, she found hidden mouse poison and made a precautionary trip to the vet for intervention. But she won over the entire family especially the grandparents who go ga ga whenever Kizzie is in the room. No wonder pet therapy is so beneficial in retirement homes. Don’t let her charm fool you. As soon as your back is turned, she will snatch up your favorite pillow, hat or slipper and chew, chew, chew.

But keep this in mind when that darn pup gnaws up another favorite shoe, dogs may be good for your health.  http://www.fmnetnews.com/latest-news/pet-therapy-reduces-fibromyalgia-pain When I was sick, my arm dangled off the bed to pet our adopted puppy, soothing my sore throat.

With a dog in the house, you never know what will happen next.

“One night, Kizzie whined all night, stopped eating and cringed when we got near her tail. She had eaten a dead fish at the lake, so we thought she had some intestinal infection,” Karen said. “Turns out that retriever dogs are especially susceptible to “swimmer’s tail” an injury to the base of the tail from using the tail as a rudder.”

Apparently, Kizzie suffered from a sprained tail known as  “Limber Tail Syndrome”. http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/8_1/features/15685-1.html

“It was sad to see our happy-go-lucky pup look so downcast with her tail tucked between her legs.”

But not for long, her tail wagged double time during her first summer camp at the McKinzie’s cabin, a Club Med for dogs. Kizzie sat under the swing in yard, rode in the kayak, chased chipmunks, swam after ducks, and ate hotdogs over an open fire. Kizzie was always underfoot, especially at mealtimes when she would stick her nose in the frig or under your arm when you lifted your fork.

Yet despite her antics, when the Carlson’s drove home, we were sad to see her go. While we waved goodbye, the mischievous princess sprawled across three seats in the back of the van and preened like a celebrity. Apparently Kizzie’s kennel days are long gone. The dog, her dad swore would sleep in the garage now has her own bed on the porch, plate at the table, and special puppy toys.

Kizzie is an extraordinary dog – but don’t tell her that – she thinks she just another one of the Carlson girls!

Coach McKinzie, A College Ball Field, Teammates ‘til the End of Time

Coach Mac - 1950

Coach Mac – 1950

Anyone affiliated with sport knows that team connections can last lifetimes; lessons learned on the field have an everlasting impact. I witnessed this with the teams I played for and coached. However few teams can compare to the extraordinary bond created by the 1950-51 back-to-back Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship baseball team that my grandfather coached at Northern Illinois University.

At that time no one could imagine that seven decades later those same ball players would stay in contact, reuniting annually to play golf, swap stories over a meal and commemorate their time as Huskies playing baseball for Coach Mac. “The tradition has gone on for 40 some years,” Grant Cummings, an outfielder, said, “We have been getting together for so long no one can remember when we held our first of the first reunions.”

“We revered your grandpa,” Bill Eiserman, First Team All Interstate Athletic Conference catcher and captain, told me. “We won a lot of games, but he taught us that being a good person is more important than winning. He built character.”

“He taught a lot of lessons,” Bill continued. “But that was the greatest. I tried to impart that in all the teams that I coached. Everybody loves to win – not every team has the talent to win – but everyone can still take that valuable lesson away from the game.”

McKinzie, a seven time Hall of Fame Coach served as head basketball coach where he also won 3 state conferences in 8 years, before becoming head baseball coach. He also served as tennis, track and field coach, as well as an assistant football coach and athletic trainer at NIU from 1940-63. Though he officially retired from NIU in 1963, he continued coaching football into his nineties at his own alma mater, Eureka College.

Every year until my grandpa’s death at the age of 96, my dad, a dedicated son also part of that team, made sure Coach Mac made it to the annual baseball reunion.

NIU-baseball-team-1950-51

NIU-baseball-team-1950-51

Once a year the guys rally past personal setbacks, the loss of loved ones, and limitations due to declining health, to gather in celebration of not so much their ol’ double plays and home runs, but to honor the memory of the coach who shaped their lives and the camaraderie that developed under his leadership.

“Every spring we drove down to New Orleans for a tournament, stopping to play games along the way,” Cummings told me, a trip that I found remarkable for that time period.

“I wasn’t a drinker,” my dad said, “so I ordered a coke on our night out on the town. The guys still razz me; my coke cost more than those fancy cocktails everybody else was drinking.”

Typically, college stadiums are named for big-time alumni donors. My grandpa, son of a tenet farmer, lived modestly even donating his coaching salary back to Eureka College in his later years. He never made a fortune coaching, but he sure made friends.

In the late 80s, fueled by Bill Eiserman, Jack Brumm, Bud Nangle, former SID at NIU, and including the support of my grandpa’s Eureka College football player, President Ronald Reagan, the 1950-51 NIU team instigated naming the NIU baseball diamond, Ralph McKinzie Field. Mike Korcek, who can still recount the win-loss record of every team during his tenure as NIU’s sports information director, and Cary Groth, one of the first female large college athletic directors were also instrumental in the process.

On May 8, 1993, at the dedication ceremonies, my dad threw the game-opening pitch. “Poor Bill scooped my pitch out of the dirt,” my dad said and chuckled. “Bill kept me from looking bad, my pitch never made it cross the plate. I was an outfielder, not a pitcher.”

NIU Hall of Fame induction 10.10.2007 Front-Kranz, Moreno, Brumm, Neukirch, Giudici, Meath, Leon, Eiserman Back-Davis, McKinzie, Wasco, Cummings, Stap, Bedrosian

NIU Hall of Fame induction 10.10.2007
Front-Kranz, Moreno, Brumm, Neukirch, Giudici, Meath, Leon, Eiserman
Back-Davis, McKinzie, Wasco, Cummings, Stap, Bedrosian

My grandpa won countless honors; the NIU baseball field and Eureka College football field bear his name. But accolades aside, what made my Coach Mac proudest, was seeing what kind of men his players became.

Each member of the 1950-51 NIU team became successful in his own field, as high school and college teachers, coaches and athletic directors and exemplary civic leaders in business and education.

My grandpa also played a key role in my life. I miss him to this day, so I find comfort knowing his name lives on in the hearts of his former athletes.

These ol’ ball players have done him proud in turn by serving their family, community and country. The field may bear Ralph McKinzie’s name, but it carries the spirit of the 1950-51 ball team.

Athletes that step up to the plate at NIU today have no idea who Coach Mac was, still I hope that my grandpa’s moral standards seep into their souls through the diamond dust on that field of dreams.

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Where are all our heroes?

Jackie Robinson, a true heroe from yesteryears

Jackie Robinson, a true hero from yesteryear

When I asked my freshman English class students who they admired most, they said themselves. This should come as no surprise from the Millennial Generation but still, folks my age wonder. When pressed isn’t there anyone they look up to? My students confessed, “No we don’t have heroes.”

Is it no wonder? Sports icons fall short. The most reputable coach in football, the late Papa Joe Patterno fell off his pedestal when he covered up pedophilia at Penn State, tarnishing his record.

Lance Armstrong was stripped of 7 Tour de France medals for performance enhancing drug usage. Apparently, he did not defy odds as a human miracle beating cancer then rising to top of his game again.

Tiger Woods, following in the footsteps of political icons like Bill Clinton, French DSK, Italian Berlusconi, cheated on his wife, and then lied about it under oath. Classy.

American athletes are not the only ones disappointing the public. Around the globe, similar headlines make the front page. In a traditionally clean sport, French handball stars were charged with game fixing. Every time a European soccer idol breaks a record, another one makes the headlines for spouse abuse, drugs, or gambling. South African hero, Paralympics’ poster child, Oscar Pistorius was accused of murdering his girlfriend model, Reeva Steenkamp.

Politicians? Un huh, the very nature of the job makes their integrity questionable.

Surprisingly, you don’t hear about women cheating in relationships, business deals, or sports. You still just don’t hear much about women. Period. Especially athletic women. Title IX did not stipulate equal media coverage, which is still lacking, only 8% of media coverage is about women. Are athletic women yet to capture media eye? Or maybe women are less likely to make the same poor decisions?

Unfortunately, the media does find female athletes newsworthy when scandal arrives. Former WNBA star, Chamique Holdsclaw, one of the best female basketball players of all time, was arrested in a domestic dispute. In a rags to riches tale, this ghetto girl made it big at Tennessee winning 3 consecutive titles. She was the first female athlete recruited to go professional while still in college because the opportunity was available. Now her life accomplishments will be tarnished by scandal after she assaulted her ex girlfriend Jennifer Lacy, Tulsa Shock player.

Bad press for the WNBA, which gets only limited print. The articles never mentioned Chamique’s underlying psychological issues – depression and attempted suicide in 2006 – revealed in her autobiography. For all her accolades on the hardwood, as a gay, black, inner-city female basketball player the cards were stacked against her. What I am wondering is why only scandal makes the headlines?

Like Suzi Favor Hamilton, the world class run runner from Wisconsin, a wife and mom, who doubled as a high flying call girl. She made “breaking news” which by the way, ran in Swiss newspapers with full-page photo layout, no less.

So who can we admire?

Famous people are under suspicion, as if fame itself corrupts or perhaps the money behind it. Maybe our children should ignore the big names, and instead emulate everyday role models.

A favorite educator, a respected coach, a kind neighbor. Little people tackle the mundane jobs of keeping kids on track without 6 digit salaries, 5 car garages, million dollar shoe endorsements, thousand dollar speaking appearances and Oprah interviews.

Hear! Hear! For the teachers, coaches, moms, dads, grandmas.

How about featuring one of those stars the headlines? What do you think?

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