A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Scenes from Boston

Okay, the hotel boasts wifi...this is somewhat misleading in that the wifi options appear but never connect. A opportunity for patience I suppose.
I thought I would post some images though.
I will wax on about both Triennium and USS Constitution at a layer date. In the land of wifi.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Argon, Happy Yogurt and Jim Carrey's director

Ok, watch this...your throat is going to close off, your heart rate will rise and its will be difficult not to well up. You don't know this soldier or his family and you will get all vaclempt. We were designed to feel compassion.
That is the Vagus Nerve ... you're welcome. Now go blow your nose and wipe your eyes.

Last evening we viewed the I Am movie with out small groups. Below are my thoughts from this viewing.
  • We are because we belong
  • Vagus Nerve
  • Darwin refers to love 95 times but 'survival of the fittest' only three
  • We are great at showing love in church for hour and half then not turned on again until Saturday or Sunday.
  • A lot of his suggestions sound like a secular version of  In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
  • Heart Math---magnetic field = tv station and tv set at same time
  • Interstitial beats of heart--good or bad tellers--we can't think clearly--anger makes us stupid
  • Rumi--poet
  • Random number generator---stops being random with high emotion events ---9-11 as an example---mass minds become highly focused and the numbers generated stop being random
  • Consciousness linked to quantum physics
  • Relationship is essential
  • Air unites us---Argon--inert gas---same argon as ____________(insert famous or infamous person here)
  • Grief is also a firm of joy
  • Science is catching up to religion
  • How do we change things---a change in consciousness results in physical change
  • Everyday acts build up over time to consciousness
  • Wetico--canibalism without the eating--taking what someone else needs
  • Flawed bags of bones--we have to see this in our oppressors as much as in ourselves
  • God says I don't have anybody else except you-Desond Tutu
  • Chesterton on what is wrong in the world ... he says, "I am"
  • Shayac suggest the answer to What is right is the world can be the same answer as Chesterton.
The discussion with my young charges. Some of the movie is down right odd...electrodes put in yogurt measure you emotions...the same argon might have been breathed by both Jesus and Hitler...blended new age philosojumbo...one of the people interviewed talked about religion in a positive way but dismissed Christian 'religion' as European.

The main point of the session was about how connected we are are humanity--which is central in the teachings of Christ and of the Church. We have jacked things on a regular basis but that is our bad, not God's. Once we got going, the discussion was great. These are impressive young people.

This morning, I could tell they were still wrestling with some of the stuff in the movie based on references to argon, wetico and Chesterton's comment. We'll continue to unpack those thoughts the rest of the week.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Travels at PYT13 with Mr. Madison

First, the police on the Purdue campus are not comfortable posing with a candy dispenser.

Second, most of the participants at PYT are.

Third, there is no political nor theological significance of Mr. Madison. Its a candy dispenser.

Ghosts of the past...

Normally the first posts at an event are chronological.

I've been at Purdue for two days now and have Small Group Leader training behind me as well as 'load in' day for the participants...imagine 5000+ youth and hundreds of adults converging in one place at roughly the same time. The first worship service last night was excellent and this morning saw the first small group session, the reason I am here.

This post is about ghosts and its appropriate that its first.

It about our lives before Triennium. In small group, I gave everyone the opportunity to fill our a card releasing themselves from fretting about something back home, or from the trip here or ... well, anything. It is not part of the manual, but I have found that what we bring into a session often keeps us from being fully present--and its hard to respond to God's voice when you aren't present. I told them that it would be my honor to pray for them and these concerns while I am here.

I am and I will.

I told them I wanted to share them with my friends of faith. Friends here at Triennium, but you as well. I am floored by their trust in God. And in me as their leader. These aren't small concerns and I'd like to enlist anyone who wishes to to pray for these young women and men. What you see below is what they wrote-with a couple adjustments for confidentiality.

Thanks in advance, my intercessors.

BTW-the title is literally one of the cards, so we will start with it.

  • ghosts of the past
  • stressed about college
  • first dog died
  • missing the first 2 weeks of school
  • my friends are stressed about school and family
  • stress of dance and school
  • people at dance
  • college
  • thanksgiving for Triennium
  • I'm worried about my best friend XXX
  • my dog might die
  • busyness at work
  • unknown future of loved one's job opportunities
  • one of my best friend's grandmother is sick with cancer
  • I have a friend who is going through a lot of family problems. He just told me he is gay and he is suffering from depression. He's been cutting himself to get through it and I'm scared for him.
  • my parents were having trouble, but are slowly patching it up
  • family issues
  • upcoming grad from HS
  • missing my pregnant wife and my two year old daughter
  • parents going through divorce; friends parents going through divorce; same friend lost their baby
  • big family drama and big drama at my HS
  • less alcohol and violence
  • praying that everyone has a good time
  • A group that is here with us that has experienced great loss as they traveled here to PYT
  • This may seem petty compared to all the other problems people are experiencing around the world but my relationship with my boyfriend is not entirely happy. He has much stronger feelings for me than I do for him. I don't know how to go about addressing this. I have this idea and am constantly being told by people what I should to and how I should be feeling. This is draining. Please just pray that God will know its me. I feel this could be enormously. This is something I haven't thought to do. Thank you.
  • Please pray for my cousins and their family who are going through their parent's divorce. I pray that they take comfort in me and others who care.
  • I have been trying to cope with how I will eventually go blind. Its all just saddening even though I wear a smile. Please pray for my mother diagnosed with MS and hope she makes at least to my graduation. It just kills me inside to know I'll lose the one person I've always had.
  • Prayers for my pastor and her family

I will leave you with a thought by musician and poet Leonard Cohen. "Prayer is translation. A man translates himself into a child, asking for all there is in a language he has barely mastered." I love the honestly of this thought. I also am encouraged that God is a master of the original and so adept at hearing past our missed conjugations and jacked up syntax.


Friday, July 12, 2013

A shift in blog content ...

As a blogger I have written about what I know and what I want to know more about ... primarily history and teaching. Its where I blather on about my time in the classroom as both a teacher and a student of teaching and history.

To quote Monty Python ... now for something completely different.

Anyone who knows me know that my family and vocation are a huge part of who I am and half of that has been fodder for my blog. I will continue to leave my family life out of here for the most part. Its hard enough being married to me and being my progeny without their stories being flashed on the 'interwebby thing'. There is another aspect of me that most who know me knows is significant. I am a Christian-a person of faith. I even have a degree in religion and philosphy and spent nearly ten years working in churches as a youth minister and director of Christian education...they paid me and everything.

This blog started as a way to process information about a teacher program I was attending and morphed into a classroom tool and then a clearinghouse of my ideas as a teacher. I teach at an independent (non-religous and private) school and like the model of its being independent of both relgious and governmental influence. We get no money from the state or a church and that gives us a voice that is different and a freedom that allows for a diveristy of ideas to exist at the same time in a way most dependent schools can't. I love that I have Hindu and Muslim and agnostic and Christian  and atheist kids and we can talk freely and ask questions that wouldn't be touched in some schools and 'administratively' overseen in others. I love that my school trusts me and my students.

The kids know I have a degree in religion and was a pastor for years and so they naturally ask questions...and I naturally answer them as is best appropriate in a classroom setting.  You can't talk about American and European history without talking at some point about religion and the civic conviction to make things better is often bourne out of the religious conviction of any number of faiths.

This blog started as a way to process teacher ideas and for my class. The class connection is, for the most part gone--I have a classroom blog for that. As a result, I want to add to the list of things I'm passionate about: history, teaching, and faith. If I lose you as a reader as a result, I respect that. The only thing I ask is that you give me a fair hearing.

Now, the timing for the change is the result of a conference I'll be attending next week. Presbyterian Youth Triennium is an event sponsored by three Presbyterian denomations and will bring 4,000 to 5,000 youth to Purdue University. I have been asked to be a small group leader and so will be working with about 30 youth and adult over the course of the five day event. The theme this year is "I AM" and the teaching packet is really well done. The movie up at the top of the blog is one we will view at the event. The one above this paragrph is from the last Triennium in 2010. This will be my fourth Triennium and I leave each year with

I'll keep you posted...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I don't teach in a Disney sitcom--parents and teachers collaborating (Why I teach)

This post is a touchy subject for most teachers.


Teachers seem to have a love-hate relationship with a lot of the parents. And the same can be said to be true for parents about teachers. I need to admit that 95 percent of the parents I have come in contact with get it. The goals they have for me as a teacher are realistic. I may not completely agree with them but they are within the realms of reason. They respect the job I do and see the partnership between teacher, parents and student a valuable one.

The remaining five percent fall into three categories:
  • The 'burnt' parent--this is a parent whose had a 'bad experience' in the system and it has fouled them (hopefully its temporarily) on all teachers. My strategy with a burnt parent is to help them see the reasons behind a grade, decision, consequence...they may still be protective, but they tend to see the logic. While I don't always like getting bulldogged by a parent, they get to ask questions and be frustrated with what, from the outside, can look foreign and rigged in the teacher's favor.
  • The 'good intenitions' parent--this parent wants to do what is best and thinks what they are doing is best for their child. Unfortunately, they just don't grasp that what they are doing is harmful. This parent is a challenge for a teacher because they make take comments as an indictment of their parenting skills. One of the things I wish schools could do for parents of adolescents is offer a crash course on what to expect for first time parents. The changes kids exhibit during this time are confounding to the best of parents--we ought to talk about it and strategies which might help. Teachers are invaluable resources for this; I wish we used them more.
  • 'That' parent--If teachers are honest, this is an extremely rare parent. They want what they want. They know and don't really care. They are going to do whatever they need to do to get their way. Teachers are distractions. In all honesty I can count these parents on one hand over in my 25+ years working with kids. They were mercilessly cruel to teachers and not interested in a partnership because it really wasn't about the student--it was about them. What I learned to do was to just survive. Be polite and cordial. Be honest and professional. Develop a thick skin (easier said than done) and focus on the student as best you can. One of the students of a 'that' parent was so mortified at their parent that they did everything they could to avoid an issue raising to a parental level. They become one of my best students after a mediocre start. That was all their doing--in spite of the parent.
If you've noticed, I made the preceding section smaller than the rest of the text. The method in my madness is that we spend so much time as teachers complaining about a small percentage of parents and I want to do what I can to make it less-even if it is only visual.

As a parent, I want a thriving relationship with my kid's teachers. As a teacher, I get their child for one hour--they get them for 12 to 18 hours. Honestly, part of my focus should be on helping them be 'parent-educators'. Answer questions. Suggest books and websites. Serve as a resource in a world with conflicting messages on how to raise a child. This may sound like Pollyanna and I certainly have had days when I wanted to be anything but a resource to a parent. Disclaimer--I am a work in progress on these...aspire but don't imitate exactly.

Below are five thoughts I have on dealing with parents--there could be more and I would covet your comments below. BTW-this is not the place for Parent-Teacher Horror Show...yes, there are sucky parents and yes, there are teachers who stink up the place. They are the minority. Lets focus on the educator who wants do what is best for their young charges and parents who want the same.

  • Talk about parenting in a positive manner in front of your class--Parenting is hard enough without a teacher taking pot shots at it. I refuse to let students talk ill of their parents in front of me. Period. I don't teach for a Disney sitcom where parents are inattentive, bordering on abandonment, and teachers either obtuse to the 'shenanigans around them or mean-spirited jerks. No parent, good, bad or 'that', deserves me deriding them.
  • Breathe and smile boys, breathe and smile--Some of the best advice my wife has given me is to breathe and count to ten. I am a by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy--I lead with the emotions. Sometimes (read that as often) emotions can get the best of me. A look, a way something is said, a misspoken fact sends me down the rabbit trail with a parent. I would add to that gossip as well. Teachers are often their own worst enemies in this regard.
  • Listen first, formulate responses after--I don't know about you, but I tend to hear and compose my response at the same time. I also get things wrong as often as right when I do that. My boss has a great talent for listening and then responding. I see the wheels turning and she takes a moment and then responds. I really appreciate that. If her response is not what I wanted to hear or something I disagree with, at least I know I was heard. My experience is that most people know they aren't going to get everything they want, but they want at least to be heard and not dismissed out of hand.
  • Focus on the student, not the parent--I was in a meeting that was getting heated and a colleague said, "you know, I think we have lost focus on 'Johnny'." They were right. That should be our focus and that is, all I gonna say about that.
  • Honesty means having to say you're sorry--I hate the apology that is couched in a way which its actually a non-admission: "I'm sorry you... blah blah blah." Sometimes we get it wrong, we don't have all the facts, we just miss the mark. We should be honest enough to admit it. I have actually had  a teacher tell me not to admit a mistake because the parent would 'hold it against me' or it would undermine me to all the parents. That is 'cray cray' talk. If a parent uses the fact that I made a mistake against me, then so be it. Most parents understand that, like them, you are gonna make mistakes. The teachable moment is showing them and their child what to do when that happens.
As I've written this, I am thinking I want to amend my bad parent list. There is really only one: 'that parent'. The other two are parents who are reacting out of experience and ignorance for the most part. They are 'bad' per se, they just aren't as 'good' as they can be. The 'that' parent-they don't care.

This post is part of a set about why I teach...I can honestly say that there are parents for whom it is a joy to teach their kids. We laugh in team sometimes about asking some of our parents to have more kids--just so we can teach them. I can also honestly say that there have been times when a parent drove me to rethink a career as a teacher--luckily for me there was an encouraging word from a colleague, student or some other parent who reminded me the Eleanor Roosevelt quote about no one can make you feel inferior without your consent--another reason I teach.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Why I teach--Collaboration

For the next couple of weeks I'm going to attempt to answer why I do what I do. The post will not be in any particular order or with regard to any particular significance.

The first reason is collaboration. To say I'm am a people person is an understatement of the first degree. To be honest, I love time away from people. Part of the joy I have as a teacher when I travel is that I get both. There are times when I will spend two or three days with no connection to the people I know and love beyond social media and cell phone--and I love that time. However, I couldn't work alone successfully...I need people.

I've said before that teaching is a solitary process and that is correct in the sense that you are the only adult in the room, usually. But you aren't alone and the collaborative process starts with me the kids.

This video is from a Cultural Anthropology class at K-State and I think can show that students want to be engaged and will be if we give them the chance.

Collaboration with Students

One of my first memories as a teacher is a lesson on monopolies. I had worked hard on the lesson and was completely prepared for the class. I was excited, interested and wanted to share this information. And as I presented the lesson, all of us wanted to find the fire alarm and pull it. The students were dutifully taking notes and I was dutifully putting information on the board. And yet... So I stopped the lecture and asked them how they were doing--a couple were honest and admitted that they felt the same way as me. At that point, I asked (more to myself than anyone else), "Okay, how can we teach this better" And they answered. We scrapped the whole lesson and we became partners in figuring it out. That sense of collaboration has been a benchmark in how I evaluate my teaching. Sometimes, lectures are the best way to get information out there, but I'm a better teacher when its a team approach.

Here is an interesting article on student -teacher collaboration

This spring saw one of my favorite moments as a teacher. We were studying Tinker v. Des Moines and we had done all the groundwork as a class. We had already wrested with a couple other cases to understand how the Supreme Court works and how a Justice works through the two sides. They had taken time to look at both sides of the case (armbands are protected expression under the First Amendment versus armbands are a distraction to learning and order in a school and so are not protected) and gather their thoughts. A thirty minute discussion (sometimes heated) ensued which was student driven but facilitated by me. My job was to make sure everyone had a voice and the discussion stayed on track. They were required to use the facts of the case only in voicing their opinions. It got loud and it got heated. But it was always on topic and I played both the arbiter and devils advocate.

This is a nice introduction to cross-curriculuar studies from Edutopia. What is interesting is that there aren't very many videos out there hightlighting teachers working together. A lot of what you get are clips from the movie "Bad Teacher." Hmmm....

Collaborating with Colleagues

I work with some of the finest teachers I know and I would be a fool to not want to collaborate. Sometimes its projects--the science, Spanish teacher and I are working together on exploring the Age of Exploration using celestial and land navigation, geography and foreign language cross-curriculum. We are experts in our fields but real life rarely differentiates between academic specialties--so we shouldn't either. Some of the best discussions I have had on the craft of teaching came in team time, between classes and casual discussions. Some of the best of the best of those discussion came when we were at odds with how to best serve a student or solve a problem. I love that my colleagues aren't afraid to disagree and expect the same of me. I have worked with a colleague who was not my cup of tea. They had an agenda and it often felt that their focus was on the agenda over the kids. They had a tendency to bully as a first resort and spent a lot of time targeting colleagues which the singular desire to make them feel small. That being said, I always appreciated that they would state their mind and had put enough thought in their position to be able to defend it. They would fearlessly swim upstream on an issue they felt strongly about. Its taken me a few years, but I have become more confident in that regard.

I travel a lot with teachers during the summer and would say that some of my best work as a teacher has come from discussions and partnerships with other history colleagues from across the country. These are not vacations. They take hours of preparation and the days are grueling. But to sit and have meal and a beer (and sometimes a cigar) and talk trade has been invaluable. They have been an invaluable resource during the school year as well. I need a video of the Four Freedoms speech. I sent out an all call and had the link I needed in minutes. They also offer a level of encouragement that's much needed. Some times you need to growl and gripe, bitch and complain outside of your territory and not within earshot of your community. That is a gift we offer each other.

There is also collaboration with parents and with outside organizations but those will have to wait for another post.

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Those who can..." An update and thoughts

This is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite shows.
A couple weeks ago I posed a question about the best response to people in our lives who demean the craft of teaching.
Those who can do...those who can't teach.

There were some encouraging responses and suggestions. Thanks.
Like a friend prophesied, the comment never occurred in the meeting. To be honest, the meeting went far better than I had hoped. Maybe that person became more enlightened. Maybe my confidence was disarming. Don't know and don't really care.
What I've found over the past couple of weeks is I've been thinking about why I teach. The old dinner party question of what would you do if suddenly money and success weren't issues keeps coming to mind.
My answer, I'd teach.
If Maggie and I won the lottery and could both stop working, I would still want to teach.
If have had a few careers. I've written for newspapers. I've done community relations for a cause I believe in. I've served churches professionally and continue to volunteer in roughly the same capacities. I really liked what I did and am proud of the what I was able to accomplish. I think I could still go back to any of these occupations and continue to be successful. I honestly believe I could be a successful 'professional historian' as well.
Frankly, I want to teach.
I leave for a couple summer programs in a couple weeks and have decided to play with this idea for a couple weeks. I think of this blog an a place for me to put my thoughts, but also a safe place to respond. A lot of my friends are teacher-types so I want to hear from you...WHY DO YOU TEACH