Thursday, March 31, 2011

Worked on the base today.

Got a pass to drive on Ft. Hood yesterday afternoon and worked as a librarian at an elementary school on base today. Again, I had a great time, learning all kinds of new things and meeting new people. That's become the standard operating procedure with this substitute teaching gig.

Part of my duties included sitting in a nice big rocking chair and reading a book to a few classes of kindergartners who were sprawled out on a rug in front of me. I've done that before, back when I spent two and a half weeks as a kindergarten aide at another school.

The book I read was a cute little story called Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! It's about a guy who decides to build a vegetable garden so he can eat all the veggies, and then ends up with endless trouble from rabbits. They sneak into his garden every night, no matter what he does. He builds a low wire fence, but the bunnies just jump over it. He builds a taller wooden fence, but it doesn't do any good. He builds a friggin' MOAT around the wooden fence, but the bunnies swim it, climb the wooden fence and eat his carrots anyway. Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!

In the end, he builds a jail around his carrots, with razor wire and spot lights. The bunnies can't get in, so they trick the guy. They climb into his basket when he's not looking and he ends up taking them in himself. So, the story ends with the gardener giving up, sitting down with the bunnies and sharing the carrots. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, seems to be the moral of the story. Weeell, after my second reading, to the second group of kindergartners, I was just DYIN' to freestyle my own ending to the story. Somethin' about a pump action .22, or better yet...

"Hey kiddies, do you know why the gardener is having so much trouble with those pesky bunnies? Well, boys and girls, the reason he's having so much trouble, waistin' all that time and energy buildin' moats and runnin razor wire... It's because he's a CITY BOY! That's right boys and girls, country folks know how to deal with pesky little bunnies who try to steal food they haven't worked for."

"Do you know how the country folks deal with the pesky bunnies boys and girls? That's right, it's called a LEG TRAP! Set out a few of those spring-loaded little wonders boys and girls, and Snap! Snap! Snap! The bunnies would end up gutted and skinned, cooked up nice so the farmer has something else to go with his carrots."

"And what's the moral of the story," I'd continue. "That's right boys and girls, don't steal shit from country folks!

Anyway, I was just thinkin'. But it would'a been hilarious to hear them all squeal.

"Snap! Snap! Snap!" Aaaahahahahahaha!

Oh, and Mushy, no Ferdinand in the school library. The other librarian said she'd heard of it. Remembered reading it as a kid, but it's not in their catalog. I looked. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Another full day today.

2nd graders. The teacher had them do a writing assignment early on. "What's your most valuable possession?" I look over one kids shoulder and he's written "PS2, my family, my skateboard."

I wanted to sit them all down and tell 'em "Hey, pay attention. The toys and stuff you guys are all thinkin' of are nothing. The most valuable thing you own, the only real thing you own is YOURSELF!" But that would'a gone right over their heads. It's the kind of stuff I used to hit the high school kids with back in the day.

But to see the one kid include his family in with his PlayStation 2 and his skateboard, I though that was pretty cool for a 2nd grader.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Had fun today.

Took a subbing gig at an Elementary school. 4th graders. By the time I got there the teacher was part way through a math lesson. Geometry. I took over and finished that, and then it was time for the kiddies to go to lunch. After lunch, we finished the math lesson, and then it was time for the kiddies to go to PE. That gave me an hour off to plan my lecture.

That's right, I got to lecture today. The topic was Transportation Changes. I told the teacher Ii used to teach history, so she told me to forget about the text and wing it. The kids would love it. So that's what I did. Took 'em from Hunter-gatherers walkin' around, to the Industrial revolution and Steam Power. It was a blast.

I told them about Cottage Industry, and personalized it by pointing out that 200 years ago, kids their age, the boys anyway, might be contracted by their parents to be an Apprentice to a Master Craftsman. Told the girls they were out of luck. No apprenticeship for them. Just marriage and about fifteen kids, unless they take a job at a cotton mill.

You should have seen their eyes get wide. I told them about the Transportation Revolution in the 1800s; steam power used in paddle wheelers and trains, changing the way people work, how they travel, ship their goods, and where they live. people moved from rivers to towns that were lucky enough to have the railroad built through them. Other towns died out as people moved to where the action was.

Then I told them about cars. 2000 cars and 150 miles of paved road in America in 1900, 25 million cars and 650, 000 miles of paved road in 1930. Henry Ford did that. And people started moving away from the town centers, to the roads highways, and now the town centers are mostly dead and we all live along highways in suburban developments. People blame Wal Mart for towns dying. Nope. Henry Ford and Ike (the president who built the interstates).

By the time I got up to where their text book was gonna take over, it was time for the little wigglers to pack up and go. I left a note for the teacher, so she can pick up the pieces tomorrow. Good times.

On another note, I got an email from one of my former Florence students today. You might remember John Yaeger and his Nova? He graduated years ago, went to college and became a Marine officer. Now he's married, with a new car rebuild in the works. He says...

"I'm working with a civilian contractor out here who works in the processing center. He's a personal trainer in the states, so he's been keeping me plenty occupied as his workout buddy. I'm gonna start the build on my '55 chevy as soon as I got back - my father in law procured a 454 for me, so if you thought the Nova was something, this is really gonna be great."

The "out here" he's talking about is Afghanistan. I told him I was gonna send him a care package. Denise's idea, but I jumped on the bandwagon immediately. I did it once before. My buddy Russell and his wife were livin' in England eight or ten years ago. I found out when I visited them that while they could get great salsa, they couldn't get decent corn chips. So I blew about fourty bucks on postage sendin' them a few bags of the good stuff. What are friends for?

John's wife tells me he needs stuff to help him eat up the time. Books and movies. Also, lots of snack food. I figure maybe some good cigars too. If he doesn't smoke 'em, he can always trade 'em.

Anyway, anybody out there have any ideas about what I should send the man (can't call him a boy any more, even in jest)?

Monday, March 21, 2011

"We'll call you the Big Boss."

I substituted down in Florence again today. Elementary school PE.

Each class, Pre-K to 5th graders, had essentially the same routine. The weather was nice so the other teacher and I took the kids through exercises and a short run in the gym, and then it was out to the playground. The really little ones just played around. I ended up helpin' some of them out on the swing set. All I had to do was grab the first one, pull him up to about eye level and let him go and the next thing I knew they were linin' up to get a push, gigglin' their heads off and yellin' "I wanna go higher!" With the older ones, third grade and on, it was a game of Kick Ball.

I haven't played Kick Ball in like 40 years. It was hilarious. I took charge while the other teacher watched the other kids who wanted to play soccer or just run around. I tried to pick equal teams, but I guess I'm no good at that. One team would inevitably end up with a few ringers, and a 12 or 15 run lead. I was pitching, so it shouldn't have been so one sided, but it always was. So, after a few innings, I decided that once the score got so lopsided, I'd start playing for the losing team. Try to give 'em a boost.

Sheeeit. My first kick (after like 40 years, remember) was a massive, glorious pop fly. I must'a kicked that rubber ball 80 miles into the air, straight up and down, and into the arms of the other teams pitcher. So, I'm standing in line with these 3rd graders, waiting for my next turn and they're lookin' up at me like I'm 10 feet tall. One girl looks up at me with the others and says "We're gonna call you the Big Boss." I laughed and said "OK, I'll answer to that."

Oh, and I did get a base hit, later on with the 4th graders. Then a kid that must'a been 4 feet 7 inches and 80 pounds soppin' wet kicked an inside the park homer and I got to run the rest of the bases. It must have been a spectacle.

Anyway, Tether Ball was always my game. Not a bad way to spend a Monday at work. Cheers.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Denise and i took mom to Applebee's Friday night.

Mom had the Oriental Chicken salad, and she and I shared an order of Chicken Wonton Tacos as an appetizer. Mmmm, good.

Denise had the Quesadilla Burger, and I tried out a new dish. But my picture of the Cajun Shrimp Pasta didn't come out, so click here to get yer drool on.

After dinner, we made a short trip to Dairy Queen for treats, and then we went back to mom's place.

Mom's been wanting me to raid dad's liquor cabinet and get rid of all the stuff she doesn't need. I finally remembered to do it Friday night. It was amazing to see what dad had been storin' away.

Check out that big unopened bottle of Old Grand-Dad, and the big unopened bottle of Canadian Club. And dig the date on that unopened bottle of Crown. 1974. Thanks dad.

Today in a sad anniversary. It's been three years to the day that we lost the old dude. I still think about him all the time.

Here's to ya pops. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Applying for a few teaching jobs in Tennessee.

Had to come up with my "philosophy of education" and submit it. Apparently tellin' 'em "I want a job that pays REALLY well and where the friggin' administrators leave me the hell alone" won't cut it. So here's what I came up with. See what you think.

My teaching philosophy was born out of twenty years of practical experience, including intensive work as an adjunct and full-time instructor for a variety of institutions. Through that experience, teaching a variety of different courses, up to 30 to 40 a year in both conventional and online settings, one is bound to learn a thing or two.

The first thing you learn in time is whether or not you are cut out to be a teacher. Obviously, with twenty years behind me, I realized very early on that I’d found my passion. There’s nothing like seeing the light bulbs going off in a student’s eyes as the things you’ve been discussing begin to sink in.

I’ve also found that college was just the start of my own education. Loving history as much as I do, I’ve never stopped studying and thinking about the information that I’ve been expected to successfully convey to others. It’s easy to say that I’ve learned more in the last twenty years from teaching than I ever dreamed of learning in Graduate School.

When I accepted my first teaching job in the spring of 1990, I was fresh out of school. Central Texas College flew me to Naples, Italy to go aboard the USS Thorn, a Spruance class Destroyer, and teach an accelerated (4 ½ week) semester of US History (to 1877) and Introduction to Political Science to members of the crew.

It was a trial by fire. I quickly discovered that while school had taught me a lot of facts, as well as how to do research and write papers, I’d learned very little about how to effectively convey my knowledge to others in a classroom setting. Turns out, that’s very different than sitting around a table with a professor and a half-dozen other grad students.

With those first twenty some-odd students sitting in front of me, I searched my mind for anything that would help me do my job, and frankly, keep me from looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. In a very short time, I found myself thinking of a few great professors I’d taken classes from who had excited me and moved me to want to learn more. Flailing about in those early days, I did my best to emulate their techniques. In time, one class after another, one semester after another, I began to figure a few things out.

In the years since then I have primarily taught US History and Government survey courses. On occasion though, I’ve also had the opportunity to teach Western Civilization, Texas History, Naval History, African American History, and a few upper level Political Science courses. In each of those courses I have tried to encourage a greater understanding of how all these different histories and disciplines contribute to the understanding of one another.

If you are trying to foster a level of understanding, and not simply rote memorization, I feel it is critical to show how one era in history influences another, or how the issues we’ve dealt with as a nation have changed over time, while essentially staying the same. Through that narrative journey, my students hopefully develop the ability to understand things more deeply, think critically for themselves, and understand the complex history behind the issues of our own time.

Of course, after twenty years and thousands of students, my methodology has evolved. I primarily lecture, as I always have, but I also enjoy using whatever tools are available to me in the classroom. Today, that means using film clips or web sites, so long as they are relevant to the discussion going on in class and contribute to a greater understanding of the subject at hand, and so long as the classroom is equipped with the required technology.

For instance, I’ve found that when I’m teaching about Local Government institutions, it’s very helpful to use a computer and smart board to bring up the web site for the city my students are living in. After a discussion of the different kinds of city charters, I show them their own charter, their district or ward boundaries, and their representatives. Then I bring up another city charter and show the differences between the two. I can then assign the students the task of finding and bringing up sites for different cities with the different kinds of charters they’ve studied.

Along with the available technology, the methods I have used to assess student learning have evolved over the years. Starting out, I tended to give take-home essay tests, similar to the kinds of exams I took in school. In time, as I began teaching more courses, including online courses, I began to switch things up. I eventually developed exams with a combination of True/false, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-blank (no word bank), and essay questions.

At the outset of the course, students are given review points to concentrate their studies on (usually in the syllabus). But rather than simply giving them topics to look up, the review gives them a mix of topics, issues and questions to compare and contrast. They are told to study those points carefully, but are warned that exam questions can also come from other topics in the book and lecture. With three exams during the semester, I’ve found that most students adapt themselves to this system quite fast.

Through a variety of resources, including student grade ranges, faculty peer reviews, student surveys and positive comments made to me by former students, I believe my methods are sound, and help the students develop a better understanding of the subjects they studied. There’s one particular example of the latter that sticks out in my mind.

One student, a soldier on Ft. Hood who was approaching retirement and taking his first college class with me approached me after the first day as class and asked me to be gentle with him. He said he’d been put in remedial classes in high school and that it had been twenty years or so since then. It was obvious he had very little confidence in his abilities as a student.

I told him to relax. I’d seen this kind of fear many times before. Soldiers who were about to retire, who hadn’t been in school in twenty years and were scared to death. In the end, as is usually the case, this gentleman succeeded brilliantly. He struggled at first, getting used to the routine, but then he finished the class with an A.

He found, as I had expected, that he had matured in those twenty years. That last day, having seen his final exam grade, he walked over to me and knelt down so that others couldn’t hear. With tears welling in his eyes, he thanked me for helping him. I told him that he’d done all the work, and that he could take it as far as his heart desired.

Experiences like that are why I love doing what I do. Aside from the essential love I have for the subject matter, and the opportunity to learn and talk about it all for a living, teaching gives me the opportunity to have a profound impact on the lives of other people. Those kinds of experiences don’t happen every day, but they happen often enough to make up for all the little torments and issues that anyone might have with their life’s work. Those kinds of special experiences convinced me long ago that I was right to take up this profession.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Gave blood today out by the Wal Mart.

Carter Bloodmobile comes by regular and I always get a call. They like my blood (and the fact that I actually show up the get stuck when I say I will). It's apparently excellent for babies and AIDs patients. There's some blood virus or something that a lot of folks get, but I've never had it. Plus, I'm O+, so they want a LOT of my stuff. They call me as soon as it's time for me to give again, and I try to show up.

They performed a new operation on me this time. Technically, it's called Apheresis. The folks in the van called it "a double". This is where they pull whole blood out of a donor, run it through a machine that separates the Plasma from the red blood cells, and then they run the red blood cells back into you.

Apparently, it takes a long time for your body to regenerate those red blood cells, which is why you have to wait to give blood again. So shootin' 'em back into the donor saves lots of time, allows the blood to be used quicker, and allows that donor to donate more often. As you can see here, the red stuff is flowin'.

You can see the clear stuff here. The red tube goin' down the right side is just to allow them to get a few viles of whole blood, for testing purposes. They spliced it shut pretty quick, after drawing blood into several viles. But the other went on for about a half hour. The machine drew the band tight around my arm and pumped blood three times, and then returned the stuff they didn't need. Squeeze your hand when it's pumpin, and rest when it's returnin'. And don't move your arm, or all hell could break loose.

Here's the shot of the last return, when the red blood cells being pumped back into my arm.

In the end, I got a purdy blue bandage for my arm...

and another new t-shirt. As I got up to go, the dude told me to refrain from consuming tobacco for a half hour (shit, no cigar in the car on the way home), no booze for 24 hours (Hm, yea, we'll see), and leave the bandage on for a day or so. Thing is, he didn't say anything about BBQ!

I cooked two racks of pig ribs yesterday morning for the annual family reunion. They love them there, and I never have any left when it's time to come home. We got home after, empty handed, so the house still smelled like BBQ, but Denise and I had only had about three ribs between us. So as I sat in school this morning, putting up with obnoxious 3rd graders, I decided I'd toss another rack in the oven when I got home.

The shot above is what they looked like when I pulled them out after three hours or so and poured BBQ sauce on 'em.

I spread it around with a fork, and then put 'em back in for another hour or so.

Now, all I gotta do is toss the ribs back in, and the left-over fries to warm up, and wait for the little wowman to get home. Y'all try to find somethin' good to eat. Cheers.