Travel theme: Mountains


Ailsa has once again created an awe-inspiring challenge to inspire others with our views of Mountains.  So for these weeks theme from  “Where’s my backpack” I present to you Mt. Shasta in California as one of my favorite mountains world-wide.  Enjoy.. and visit if you can.

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Addictions – Behind the glass


Speaking of obsessions.. you didn’t realize we were?  Well, we were.  You have hoarders, travel junkies, wine and beer aficionados, smokers.. and on the list goes. I have always prided myself in not having any addictions.  I’m the most normal person I know.  Right? Do you sense where this is going?

Well, let me start by saying, I just created a post regarding some of my fav photes and spoke of a woman who for 10 years has been taking random pictures of random things just for fun.  I have another friend who for some reason loves to photograph herself with only her eyes showing.  Tons of photos of her face from her eyes up.  It’s cool, fantastic and a little strange. The newest craze in photo-taking seems to be of oneself in front of a mirror with the camera showing you taking a picture of yourself.  I’m just glad I don’t have a random photo taking frenzy that consumes my life.. or do I?

Upon a recent review of a multitude of photo albums that I have put together I have come across a disturbing trend, an obsession I did not know I had.. or even upon knowing did not think it was that much of an addiction.  Here are just a few of the behind the glass photos I have taken over the past year.  They say the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one.  Enjoy and do not mock me.

No Teacher Left Behind


As you might have read in one of my prior posts, I have had a varied and wide-spread career path over the past 20 years.  One of my prior jobs was being a teacher.  There is not a job I have taken on that I have not given 100% to and this includes my time teaching.  I taught for 2 years in Southern California before heading off to teach English in Korea for 3 more years.  There were many things that happened between my teaching in California and teaching in Korea but that is the subject of another post I am sure.

My point today is that I have recently spoken to some old friends of mine who are still teaching.  I have the highest respect for these people and 92.3% of teachers in general (note the amazing use of % to make a point) and still think of teaching as a noble profession.  What I am shocked with is how little has changed in respect to why I left teaching in the first place.  Our teachers are under-appreciated, under-paid, under-respected and hugely over-worked.

Before I left teaching in 2005 I was bitterly angry at how teachers were treated and I wrote the following letter and sent it to t.v. stations, radio stations and newspapers nation wide.  I’m not sure what I thought would happen as a result of this letter (and I really did send out over 100 copies of it to everyone from Oprah to Good Morning America.) I still feel the same today as I did when I wrote this letter back in 2005 and I think it’s time for a revisit to the the wrath of Sam.  I really don’t want to say enjoy with this post.. maybe I should say.. “Please think!”

To Whom it May Concern:

Considering all of the articles as of late that have been in the paper regarding teachers and teaching, I am writing this letter to introduce an idea that if taken seriously could really be quite an amazing opportunity.  Now I realize that reality shows are on the down side of being a good thing, however, my idea is something that has the potential to really take off in this day and age of No Child Left Behind.

The show itself would be called “No Teacher Left Behind.  Before I explain the premise of the show, I would like to tell you just a little about how I came to the idea.  Sorry this is so long, but please hold out and read to the end.

I’ve been teaching for two years in San Bernardino, California.  Here are some of the things I have seen in my short time teaching, most of the issues are directly related to No Child Left Behind and lack of basic funding.

Teachers do not have the basic school supplies necessary to begin the school year.  Many teachers are buying supplies for their classroom to support their students’ learning.  My daughters high school science teacher stated to the class that they had to be frugal with their Science supplies due to the fact that the teachers were required to buy their own supplies.  In many of her classes, students are expected to copy what is on their worksheets because the teachers do not have enough workbooks or copy privileges.

Due to lack of space and over crowding, teachers are teaching in classrooms without walls or doors.  I subbed in a first grade classroom where another first grade class had to walk through our room to get to theirs.  This would be distracting for adults, imagine how it is for 1st graders.  In my own classroom I am told I teach too loud.  This is usually the time when the kids are most engaged.  Sometimes teaching is loud.

An open ended journal prompt in my class, “What I have learned in school so far…produced the answer in 8 of my 20 first grade students..”how to take a test”.  Two new first grade teachers in our building had to teach for 4 weeks or more in borrowed classrooms and in the hallway where other students lined up to eat lunch because the district allegedly ran out of money to pay to finish their portables.

During my first year of teaching I had 17 new students out of 20 for the year due to the transient nature of people living in poverty.  One student was with me for only 1.5 months before she was gone.  Another teacher during one of the past 2 years had over 50 new students in one year.  How do you think that teacher’s test scores are going to look?

Most of my 2nd grade students last year were at least one grade level behind.  Most were not receiving services because there was and is no extra funding to support the kind of assistance they need.  Most of the students who were not at grade level had already been held back once in their school career, and therefore went on to third grade with out having 2nd grade abilities.  Some did not even have 1st grade abilities.

Being a year round district, we have every classroom filled year round.  What this means is that a teacher comes into the classroom on Friday at about 1:05 and has until about 4:30 to set up their class to start teaching on Monday morning.  This would include unpacking closets, arranging desks, putting up bulletin boards and getting their class list to make name labels for all of their students.  Knowing that when class starts on Monday, that list will probably be different.

Many of our students have behavior problems due to poverty, lack of appropriate nutrition, abuse, language barriers, and the list goes on.  There are not enough adults and counselors in any given school to help support an accountability and assistance program due to lack of funding.  Most schools operate on a positive reinforcement program that gives up rewards to badly behaving students for good behavior to reduce negative behavior, not taking into account that most of the students are socially mature enough to gain the reward and then immediately go back to their bad behavior.  This philosophy of positive reward for bad behavior treats students like they are stupid, therefore the behavior continues.  This brings the whole class down.

Teachers who are in schools that have not met their projected growth goals with NCLB are being required to attend approximately 80 -120 extra hours of unpaid training per year.  I have over 150 hours this year alone of unpaid training under my belt.  Many of the schools in my district have not met their goals.  Many of the schools across the nation are failing the NCLB goals. The extra training often involves reading research that supports whatever curriculum the district has bought.  Some of the training we are mandated to attend requires we “learn” how the alphabet goes up on the wall.  These hours are on top of the numerous unpaid hours spent lesson planning, correcting papers, conducting SST’s, completing accountability documentation for behavior problems, and conducting home visits to meet with guardians that we can not reach by phone.

Most teachers do not have the basic management and back up support in the classroom they need to effectively teach the high needs students that are in their rooms.  (My first year in 2nd grade I had kids throwing chairs and spitting on each other, 4 kids with extensive IEP’s, 8 more that needed to have them, 13 that should have been held back due to not being at grade level, and 17 new students from the beginning of the year to the end.)  By the way, none of my students could be held back due to IEP’s, being an English Language Learner, or they had already been held back, so they just went on to the next grade level without having skills for the grade they just left.

Finally to my NTLB reality show idea.  I have spent almost 2 years trying to think of ways to inspire teachers and myself to stay in the profession.  There are some awesome individuals out there who are trying to make a difference in at least 20  to 37 young minds on a daily basis and they do this year after year, because they love their jobs.  They do this without backup and without funding.  I’ve talked to teachers across the nation.  It’s unanimous, from first year to veterans of 20 years or more, teachers are getting tired.  The joy is being sucked out of teaching.  Most teachers I know did not come into teaching for the pay.  It barely supports a person.  I won’t even touch the merit pay for teachers idea.

The reality show would operate somewhat like all of the current reality shows out there.  Teachers would sign up and go through an elimination process based on a variety of challenges.  There would be the Fear Factor like challenge of eating unknown objects in a cafeteria style setting along with relays dealing with putting bulletin boards together based on non-disclosed themes and setting up classrooms to fit an unknown size & population.  There could be face to name recognition and instant teaching moment challenges.

No reality show is worth anything unless there is some sort of prize at the end.  The prizes for this show would range from a years supply of classroom materials.  A paid assistant in the classroom for a year to handle checking in homework, reading with kids, basic administrative tasks.  A weekly massage for the year, a family vacation, or an individual spa vacation.  We could make it viewer friendly by having viewers vote on what type of prize package the winner deserves.

The beauty of this reality show is we have a built in audience.  Every year, just one teacher has an automatic 20-37 student fan base.  Most kids adore their teachers.  Even myself with only 2 years of experience, have about 600 built in fans.  The entire student population at your school would support you.  That’s just the students.  Now if you include the students’ families, each teacher has a built in audience of over 1500 people minimum.  Now if you had even 1 teacher from each state apply to get on the show you would have an automatic audience base of over 75,000 viewers.  I guarantee there would be more.  I’ve interviewed a variety of my teacher friends as well as my non-teacher friends, and every single one of them thought it was an exceptional idea.  Most of the teachers would apply to be on the show just for the opportunity to win classroom supplies.

I realize this letter is a bit too long to print.  I’m just sick and tired of all of the negative reporting on the teaching field, test scores, and low performing students and teachers.  Overt 98% of the teachers I know are the cream of the crop and deserve that recognition.  I hope someone reads this and cares enough, if not to produce this type of reality t.v. show but at least to stop for a second and thank a teacher.

Samantha Jenkins

There were hundreds of videos and news stories on how BAD our educational system is and why it is in such disarray.  Ironically, just like in my last post the media wants a story and it’s easier to focus on the negative than the positive.  There are several bad examples in education for sure but why not steer towards the positive first by re-affirming what is good.  Supporting your educators by understanding what they have to do each day and the lasting impression the good ones leave on YOUR greatest achievement.. your child.

Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and no way of knowing how near the harbor was. “Light! Give me light!” was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.
Helen Keller

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.
Clay P. Bedford

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
Henry B Adams

All as one


“An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats.

When he asked them why they had run like that when one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said, ‘UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?’ (‘UBUNTU’ in the Xhosa culture means: ‘I am because we are.)” – Success Nation

I love this story. I especially love it because stories like this seem to have become harder and harder to find.  It seems that daily our world becomes more and more skeptical, hard and pessimistic.

I find it interesting that, “One bad apple ruins the bunch,” meaning that if one is bad all are bad.  Or, that we focus so intensely on “the cycle of violence or poverty,” meaning that if you observe or are exposed to something bad you will probably be bad as well.  It seems that so many just assume the most negative of every person or every situation.  There are help groups and preventative organizations to catch what we must expect and accept due to the negative elements in our world.

If you ask most people if the world would be a better or worse place 100 years from now, not surprisingly most will respond worse.  (Supposedly this is a scientific research project).  Why is this?  If you watch television news or read the daily papers, how much of what you read is bad news?  How much is bad news in locations that you have no connection to, that are too far away or too long-lasting and historical that you feel you cannot do anything about it?  Most of it, I would guess, is bad or has negative connotations.  Look at politics, campaigning, top business coverage. Even the stories that are listed as “strange” have ominous undertones. I tried to find short news compilations to represent my point and one of the shortest I could find was 2:38 min and only 2 of the 10 stories had an ever-so-slight positive tone.  The shortest I found was only flash imagery and all of it looked bad to me.  Well aside from one picture of the royal wedding.

   

Even the reporters seem angry but can you blame them?

On the flip side when I tried to find positive news reels, this is what I found:

Woah.. sorry guys, it said, “Good: Top Stories..” My bad.  There were a couple positive notes in this one so I guess it works.  So actually I did not find any good news compilations.

Is it possible that bad news is the only news that exists?  Is it possible that our world is as bad as the papers and the telly indicate?  I don’t think so. I do think bad news grabs our attention.  Maybe it makes us feel better because someone has it worse than we do.  Bad news is easier and more interesting than good news.  Right?  Honestly, I prefer CSI, Criminal Minds, Dateline or 48 hours to some sappy, everyone wins after-school program or life-time show.  Why? These things are interesting from a psychological perspective for sure and these are the things that do exist in our society. Still.

What I think is that we need to occasionally put down the papers, shut off the television and start trying to be the change in the world we wish to see.  Pessimism is contagious.  It’s good to be aware.  If you are not aware you can’t fix anything or work towards a better world.  However, it is important to find balance, be aware of the evils but surround yourself with the postive.

Don’t get me wrong, good news is out there.  Granted you have to actively seek it out, work hard to maintain it and sometimes even create those moments all by your wee little self.. but they are out there.  You probably aren’t going to find them in any compilation, unless you create one yourself.

If you feel compelled to find your positive while sitting in front of the t.v. or only in your local neighborhood.  That’s fine. I read a quote from Voltaire that stated we should all cultivate our own gardens.  I mis-read it or didn’t read it completely as I later found out but I plan on keeping my own interpretation.  We each need to create the optimism we want to liv in, hope for the best and plan for the worst.  Surround ourselves with positive influences and in turn pass on the positive to others, pay it forward.  Here are some of my favorite positive inspirations or movies or songs.  Some are inspirational and some just make me laugh.

    

My final point and then I will get off my soapbox here, I recently had a teacher friend contact me through email and ask for some of the materials I had used while teaching at University.  She said that her students were not interested in anything she had prepared and she was now looking to re-vamp her curriculum with some motivational materials.   Motivational to her as well as her students.

Per Wikipedia- TED was founded in 1984 as a one-off event.  The annual conference began in 1990, in Monterey, California.[4] TED’s early emphasis was technology and design, consistent with its origins in the Silicon Valley. The events are now held in Long Beach and Palm Springs in the U.S. and in Europe and Asia, offering live streaming of the talks. They address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling.[5] The speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. Past presenters include Bill ClintonJane GoodallMalcolm GladwellAl GoreGordon BrownRichard DawkinsBill Gates, educatorSalman KhanGoogle founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners.[6] TED’s current curator is the British former computer journalist and magazine publisher Chris Anderson.

During my teaching era, one of my favorite sites to visit was TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design).  This is a site that started up in which featured well-done represents the best things about the Internet … and sometimes the world, for that matter. With the click of a button you can be inspired, educated, encouraged, wowed, or entertained by speakers from all walks of life.

Whether you’re looking to inspire or entertain your students, the following TED talks have terrific lessons embedded in fascinating talks.While not every single talk may float your boat, there are likely a few that you should think about showing to students this year.

O.K. now go on.. give someone a hug or a high five.. and don’t forget to give yourself one as well.. go spend time with friends and family and have some fun and make someone smile.  Have a great day.

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America – California


“It’s [Los Angeles] mostly full of nonsense and delusion and egomania. They think they’ll be young and beautiful forever, even though most of them aren’t even young and beautiful now.”
― Christopher Hitchens

Californians oh California. When family or friends from California would come up to Washington for a visit my dad would say, “Hey, how’s the land of the fruits and nuts going?” It seemed to be a common sentiment.  To  some, California and it’s people can seem eccentric and  bizarre in comparison to the rest of the states.  The common misconception that surrounds California is: everyone has plastic surgery, fake tans and everyone is fake and a bit loony.  I would have to disagree.  I think Northerners were just jealous of Californians for years of good weather, open minded attitudes and having the ability to retire up North.

In the words of others:

“In Los Angeles, all the loose objects in the country were collected as if America had been tilted and everything that wasn’t tightly screwed down had slid into Southern California.” – Saul Bellow

“Everything is just better in California – the wine, the food, fruits and vegetables, the comforts of living. Even the instrumentalists are generous and curious. Everything is wonderful.” – Beth Anderson

“Growing up in northern California has had a big influence on my love and respect for the outdoors. When I lived in Oakland, we would think nothing of driving to Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz one day and then driving to the foothills of the Sierras the next day.” – Tom Hanks

From its majestic mountain and ocean vistas and amazing beaches to it’s constant striving to be just a little more than any other place in the world, California is the most eclectic state in the United States  and for this I love it because it makes it one of the most unique states to visit.

“Best way to live in California is to be from somewheres else.”
― Cormac McCarthyNo Country for Old Men

I had the great opportunity of teaching 1st and 2nd grade in an elementary school in San Bernardino back in 2003-2005.  My two years of living there taught me how much more it can be if given the chance.  I was able to really explore Southern Cal. I made a multitude of friends and had some really great times from Los Angeles to San Diego to San Francisco.  So here began the final stages of my cross country travels.  (June 4-15)

“It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time.”
― Jack KerouacOn the Road

I started in San Francisco.  I had been to San Francisco previously but only for very short trips and I felt that I had not had the chance to really explore this amazing city.   San Francisco is huge and there is just a ton to do and so I decided to spend a few days there just walking around with my friend from high school and a day with a well-researched private tour company called “Carried Away”.  These ladies were amazing and we were able to put together a special wine and dine tour which brought us to nearly all corners of the city in a private vehicle which allowed us to stop, go or change our plans as we saw fit.  They were fantastic.

I was able to explore alone and with a friend, by foot and tour company the Castro District, Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Towers, Haight-Ashbury, Sausalito, China Town, Mission District and Union Square just to name a few areas. (Links to all the areas I visited and more)

I spent the last couple days in Los Angeles hanging out with friends in Pasadena and North Hollywood.  Both very cool districts with tons of history as well as being up and coming areas.  Which is an excellent way to explain California as a whole.

Californians oh California.  From naked runners and bikers, street performers and graffiti to reunions with friends and dental appointments.   All in all it was a great way to end my travels and yes I did leave my heart in San Francisco as well as all of the other cities I visited on this month long trip.  Enjoy.

“It was a splendid population – for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths stayed at home – you never find that sort of people among pioneers – you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day – and when she projects a new surprise the grave world smiles as usual and says, “Well, that is California all over.”
― Mark TwainRoughing It

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