Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tag, I'm It!

So, I'm a bit new to this tagging thing, and sadly, everyone I know in the blogging world has already been tagged. So I'm breaking the rules and not tagging anyone else after I do this. But I figure it's my blog and I'm a big rule person--so sue me!

7 Random or Weird Things about Me:

1. I attended 3 different universities.
2. I was actually cast in the film The Single's Ward, but my crappy agency failed to tell me, so I didn't get to play the role after all.
3. I make rockin' mashed potatoes. That means whenever Thanksgiving comes around, I'm indisposable.
4. I play the piano and sing (usually at the same time).
5. I've recently lost 45 pounds.
6. When I graduated from Park Hill High School in 1996, it was the largest high school in the state of Missouri.
7. If I could live anywhere in the world, I would live in Monterey, California.

Combustible Committees

Ever notice how ideas or projects die and fall apart the minute they are sent to a "committee"? It's like, "Hey Boss, I've got a great idea!" "Okay, let's send it to a committee to review it." And that was the last the great idea was ever heard of.

One of my favorite stories about committees deals with the Utah State Legislature. The Legislature was worried a while back about the fact that Utah teachers are among the lowest paid teachers in the nation. So, they were wondering how to fix this horrible problem. DUH! Apparently the obvious answer (pay them more) didn't occur to them. Nope, they had to form a committee to review the problem of low-paid teachers, and they formed a task-force (another one of those dead-end places) to create a plan to get Utah teachers more money. So the committee and task-force got together, researched, and did some mondo planning, and here's the brilliant-beyond-brilliant idea that they came up with: If Utah teachers work more, they will earn more! So let's stretch the school year longer, so that Utah teachers can be paid more! Of course, they failed to realize that doing so would make Utah teachers work more than other teachers across the nation, and we still wouldn't actually be getting paid more for our work. We would still be some of the lowest paid (and now over-worked) teachers in the nation. So, as you can guess, nothing much has come from this brilliant-beyond-brilliant idea.

In my experience, this is just one example of what is typical whenever a committee gets together to "fix" anything. I mean, half of the time the committee is getting together to "fix" a problem that doesn't even really exist. Or if the problem does exist, it can be solved easily, but we Americans have to make everything harder than it is, so we form a committee!

Here's my idea: let's stop using the euphamism "committee", and just call them what they are--Giant-wastes-of-time-and-money-so-that-we-can-look-like-we're-doing-something-productive!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Birthday Bemusings

I meet a lot of people who hate their birthdays. They wish the day would pass quietly and unnoticed. One friend in particular hates the fact that I even know when her birthday is. If she had her way, people would never find out that she even has a birthday, let alone when it is.

Well, I just can't let that happen! Tonight is the celebration of a friend's birthday. Her actual birthday was a few days ago, but this is the first time we could get together to have the grand celebration. My friend wasn't going to do anything special for her birthday, but I--in all of my bubbly birthday be-rapturedness--planned a birthday get-together just the same.

Here's my thinking: you only get one a day a year when you are legitimately allowed to be the center of everybody's attention, so why waste that? Now I know that a lot of people have a problem with growing a year older, but I don't see a birthday as that at all! A birthday is a celebration of life--a celebration of your life.

Everyone is so happy and enthralled when a new baby is born. Why do we lose that enthusiasm for living as life goes on? A birthday is a chance for you and everyone you know to give thanks that you were born and to celebrate all of the wonderful times that you have had while on this earth and to anticipate all the extraordinary times yet to come in your life. Who cares about the number of candles on the cake? If anything, the higher the number, the better! Because the more numbers you have, the more life you've had, so the more you have to be thankful for and celebrate.

Birthdays rock! Celebrate them! Shout from the rooftops that it's your birthday and you're glad to be alive! Because life is a gift and none of us can ever have enough of it. And if you're a birthday-scrooge and you intend to stay a birthday-scrooge, then just make sure I never find out when your birthday is!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

2008 or 1958?

Okay, so in my English classes I'm showing my kids the movie Dead Poet's Society to inspire them with the idea of Carpe Diem--seize the day! We talk carpe diem with the 9th graders a lot to try to get them to realize that their lives are happening right now and everything they do matters--so don't waste a moment of it!

Well, we got to the point in the movie where Charlie (the notorious smart-alec) gets paddled by the headmaster of his school. A bunch of my students had the remark, "I would never let someone paddle me! I'd take that paddle and hit him instead!" So I explained to my students that NOW they wouldn't stand for being paddled, but back in the '50s in a very conservative community where obedience was the most important value taught, they wouldn't have stood up to being paddled.

And that's when it hit me--in the society presented in Dead Poet's Society, obedience was the value of the day. Back then, the idea was that you could have your own opinions when you grow up and graduate from college. Mr. Keating (Robin Williams' character) was a rogue teacher because he was trying to teach teenagers to think for themselves and learn to value their own ideas.

In contrast, we act like we are so liberated now. Now-a-days we act like freedom of thought is valued. But I wonder--is it? The majority of my students have ideas, but not true opinions. They can think about important world events or ideas, but generally they don't. Most of my students have a very hard time expressing their ideas, and if they do happen to vocalize an idea, they can't defend it or explain what they mean by it. I still see teenagers spewing the ideology of their parents. I still see teenagers afraid to break from the mold of conformity. I still see teenagers who think that they have nothing of value to say or offer to the world around them. And, most infuriating of all, I still see parents unconcerned with what their children think or want.

So instead of developing true opinions, instead of learning to develop a unique idea and stand by it, our teenagers these days have developed attitude. Oh they talk a lot of crap--but they don't actually say anything. The majority of teenagers today will have no problem spouting off like they know what they're talking about--and they get in your face when they do it--but, in the end that's all it is: spouting off. There's no substance to what they have to say, and if challenged, they back down rather quickly.

We act like, as adults in society, we are so superior to the parents and teachers of the '50s. But are we? Obedience was the value of the '50s--compliance is the value of today. Free thinking was suppressed in the '50s--free thinking is ignored today. Kids lived the lives their parents planned for them in the '50s--kids barely live lives of any meaning at all today. Parents tried to control their children and repress their children's dreams in the '50s--parents wish they could control their children and wish their children had dreams today. Teachers were so busy getting children to be quiet and be obedient that they didn't have time to develop relationships with their students in the '50s--teachers are so busy trying to teach a massively-overloaded core curriculum that they don't have time to develop relationships with their students today.

Last time I checked, it's 2008. Fifty years have passed since the time that Dead Poet's Society is set in. And yet, some things never seem to change. Hmmm. . .

Monday, October 6, 2008

Failed Training

Parents may not know this, but teachers make the absolute worst students! I think it has everything to do with the fact that once teachers start talking to other teachers, all of our training goes right out of the window!

Every Monday, my school has faculty meeting after-school until 4pm. No, an hour and 15 minutes shouldn't be a long time to have to focus. Yet, somehow we can't manage to do it. This is the picture at one of my faculty meetings: At one table are the techno-geeks who can't manage to stop working on their laptop computers for more than 2 minutes at a time. Consequently, they are constantly leaning over to their neighbors, whispering, "What did they say?" At another table, you have the texting junkies who would need a dramatic surgery to remove their cell phones from their hands. They usually have the same consequences as the techno-geeks. Far in the back are the "Chatty Kathy's" who would have an aortal rupture if they were forced to be quiet for longer than 30 seconds. Those are the people who not only don't know what was said, but make those around them unable to hear what was said. And, as per any classroom setting, there are always the sleepers, the doodlers, the eternal questioners, the arguers, and--my favorite--the people with the glazed-eyes who manage to nod their heads at the right time, but never hear a word that is uttered.

Myself, I'm one of the glazed-eye people. Whenever words cease making sense, I start replaying my favorite movie in my head. So the words that the person at the front of the room is saying might make it into my ears, but never quite land anywhere near my brain. People have actually asked me a question before, I nod, they wait politely for my response, and I have to look around and ask, "Did you say something?". Yeah, it's embarrassing. But I must admit that when a specifice one of my vice-principals starts talking, that's what happens in my brain every single time!

So why are teachers such bad students when we harp on teenagers to be good students? Like I said, it's because all of our teacher training flies out the window when we start talking to each other. Teachers are taught to give information in small chunks and give the students time and activities to help process the information. But when my VP starts talking, he gives ALL of the information to us ALL at the same time, and we are never given time nor activities to help us process the information. Teachers are taught to give their students study aides or graphic organizers to help them have a tangible source of their information and a way to process the info. But at faculty meetings, we rarely get study aides to help us understand what's going on. Teachers are taught to check for understanding to make sure that the kids are following what's going on. I can't recall my VP ever checking for our understanding during our teacher meetings. And teachers are taught to not lecture--the kids don't learn that way. But what do teachers do to each other? You got it--they lecture!

I don't actually learn much from my faculty meetings. Usually I feel that they are a waste of my time. The only beneficial thing that comes from these weekly snore-sessions is that I gain empathy for my students and recommit myself to following my teacher training! Would to heaven that administrators could hearken back to their teacher training and stop the madness!!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Standing for Something

So I admit that my first few blogs have been all riled-up and angry. And, yeah, there is a lot in this world that I see as needing change. But today's blog is going to be a little different.

I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are commonly called the Mormons. Every 6 months our church holds a world-wide General Conference. The Conference is broadcast from the Church headquarters in Salt Lake City to our some 13 million members around the world. The Conference is always the first weekend in October and the first weekend in April. Well, today was the first day of our October General Conference. I spent the day, glued to my television, taking notes over impressions that I had as I listened to the inspired words of men that I believe to be the servants of God. I had 4 amazing hours today of instruction about how to bring my life closer to my Savior, Jesus Christ.

After such a spiritually up-lifting experience, I feel the need to tell the world what I believe in and what I stand for. It is not necessarily important whether or not you share my beliefs. But I think that we all have a deep, inner need to stand for something in this world. I think it is a basic human desire to live for something--not just live. Despite my intense desire to right the wrongs and fight the injustices of the world, what I really live for and stand for is peace and love. But not just any peace and love--the peace and love that can only come from Jesus Christ. So here goes, here I make my first attempt to share with the world what I truly believe:

I know without any shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ lived and died for you and me. I know that He loves us so much that He--a God--came to this earth to suffer the pains of mortality so that we would not have to suffer if we would but follow Him. He is literally my personal Savior. I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Way, the Truth, the Light of the World. I know that He atoned for my sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and that I can repent of my mistakes because of that atonement. I know that because of Christ I can have hope for a better world, hope to live with my Father in Heaven again.

I know that in a small grove of trees, on a Spring morning, Jesus Christ and God the Father appeared to Joseph Smith. I was not there, but the Holy Spirit has testified to me that this is true. I know that Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon and that this book is truly the word of God. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the Prophet of the Lord on the earth today. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's true church on the earth. Jesus Christ is the leader of this Church and President Monson guides the Church under Christ's direction.

I know that the Priesthood, the Power of God, has been restored to the earth. And because of the Priesthood Power, I can be sealed to be with my family for all eternity. I know that the temple is the House of God and it is where we learn to be like God. I know that my Heavenly Father loves me and watches out for me and blesses me more than I can ever possibly deserve. I love Him and I love my Savior. I hope to live in the presence of my Heavenly Father and His Son again one day. And I know that the only way to have peace in this life and happiness in next is to follow Jesus Christ and live like Him.

My dear brothers and sisters--for that is what you are to me, brothers and sisters in Christ--may the peace of Christ be with you this day and always. Amen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Language Lessons

I'm dying to know when the English language went to pot! I'm not talking grammar here--although that is a SERIOUS problem (take it from an English teacher). But I'm talking about the way we use words and, particularly, the way we direct our words at each other.

Not a day goes by that I don't walk through the halls at school and hear one teenager call another teenager a "B*@#!"--and this is talking to their friends! It's like they walk up to each other, say, "Hey B----, what's up?" When did that become an okay thing to say? When did an insult become an acceptable way to refer to your friends? My friends are so important to me, and I want to use a type of language that shows them just how much I value them. And last time I checked, vulgarity doesn't show true affection.

But the problem of language goes beyond even this. I cannot even begin to express how disgusted I am with the terms "gay" and "retarded"! These days, anything that is bad in our society is called "gay" or "retarded". Now here's my problem with this: By calling something that you consider to be bad or unpleasant "gay" or "retarded", you are by extension calling a gay or handicapped person bad and unpleasant. I've actually even heard a few of my students use the phrase "That's so Jew!" Well, Heil Hitler to you, too! This is exactly the thing that Hitler did within the Third Reich. He associated negative things in society to the Jews by calling something a "Jew fill-in-the-blank". And then, suddenly, it became okay to do bad things to the Jews, because they were just a dirty word; they weren't humans with feelings anymore. So by calling something "Jew" or "gay" or "retarded", we are propagating the negative stereotyping of a group of people. We are, in essence, carrying on the work of Hitler and finding a group of people that it is okay to be cruel toward by changing them from living, breathing human beings into nothing more than a mere dirty word.

Now here's the really ironic thing: We all look at Hitler and what he did as possibly the greatest evil to ever spread across the world, and yet in little ways we show our Hitler-tendencies. No, we're not going out and committing genocide. But, the truth is that propagation of negative stereotypes gradually leads down the path of genocide. First, you're calling something "gay" or "retarded". Then, you're drawing exaggerated, nasty pictures of a specific people. Next thing you know, hate crimes against a specific people are being committed. And finally, all out genocide is occurring.

So here's the deal. If you think something is bad or something really sucks, then say that it is bad or it really sucks! There are thousands of words in the English language. Many of those words are adjectives (for the non-grammarians, that means "describing words"). If you are lacking the right word to express your distain for something, buy a thesaurus. But don't lower yourself to using Hitler-esque, stereotypical name-calling!

Whoever said that "Words can never hurt me" must have been high! Because, whether you believe it or not, your words mean something. And words can hurt. They can even kill.