Category Archives: Education

2010 National Honor Society Speech

Person at Podium I discovered a draft of my speech for Centura’s National Honor Society Induction Ceremony in 2010. I, also, had this photo from that night. As I read over the speech I could imagine me writing this same speech today, of course I would be older. I would have more failures and more successes to share…  Anyway, I thought the message was worth sharing. Enjoy a small trip back in time to when I was 38…

Centura National Honor Society Speech

Good evening… I am honored to speak at such an important event in your lives.  I stand before you at the halfway point in my life, I am 38 years old.  In those 38 years, I have failed many times.  I lost my last high school football game in 3 overtimes, and then would quit playing football after my freshman year in college.  I let my first true love leave me and never got her back.  I technically do not have a mom or a dad to help me through life.  In high school, I dated a girl my best friend liked.  We did not speak to each other for 6 months.  I have yelled at my children only because I was having a bad day. I have had personal dreams die. To be honest, after 38 years my heart sometimes feels taped together.

Now, I know what you are thinking, “Uhmm Mr. Boelhower this is suppose to be a happy occasion…”  Hold on, give me a moment.

I stand before you at the halfway point of my life, I am 38 years old. In those 38 years, I have succeeded many times.  I was selected to play in the Wyoming Shrine Bowl, one of the few players to be selected from a losing team.  I would compete in track and field at Hastings College and continue as an assistant coach.  I am married to a wonderful woman and have five beautiful children. And yes, it was true love at first sight, at least for me.  My best friend was my best man at my wedding, and I was his best man.  Just last night at the dinner table, we laughed as we made-up the shortest “Once upon a time” stories.  I have succeeded at dreams I never knew I had. To be honest, after 38 years my heart sometimes feels so much love it could exploded.

Now, why do I share this with you, because you will someday stand at the halfway mark and find that life has been nothing like you thought, and that is the beauty of it, both the pain and the joy.  But to get to that point, to be able to embrace the complexity of life you need a strong foundation, which brings us to this moment.  Why we are here.  Tonight is a moment that symbolizes the foundations you build your life on, Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character.

Each of these foundations is important to life.  Let us take a minute to redefine these foundations with real world definitions.

Scholarship:  It is not just about the grades.  Scholarship is discovering and sharing the truth.  The truth of what works in this world and what works in your own life. It is learning from your mistakes and your victories.

Service: Is not just volunteering.  Service is Love in action.  Love of family and friends, of your fellow humans, of a better tomorrow.  Service is the opening of your heart to see others succeed.  The cool part is when you do this; you start to see your true self.

Leadership: is not just being the head person in charge.  Leadership is the courage to serve and to learn.  We are all leaders at some point in our lives, as a mom or dad.  A coach, a friend.  Many people “talk” about what should be done, few do it.  It takes courage to get things done; it takes courage to do what is right.  It takes courage to open your heart, to love those around you.

Character: is not just principles of morality and ethics.  It is your everyday life, lived.  It is the choices you make, mixed with the things you say, combined with the attitude you express.  It is you, everyday.

These foundations are strong; these foundations allow you, us, to handle the darkest hours.  They give us something to land on when we are knocked down.  And they provide the support to pick yourself up, to not shy away from the pain, but build and learn from those moments.

These foundations are good.  They allow us to bask in the sunshine, to truly experience love, joy, and life.  They lift us up.  They connect us to others, friends, family, and community.  These foundations give depth to our lives and fuel us to pursue the dreams we choose.

Life is complex, and that is the beauty of it.  Be confident in your foundations.  Stand tall, even when you feel down.  Love when your heart is broken.  Live everyday by what you know is true.  And live a life of greatness, everyday…

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What I Learned from My Students

It has been an interesting year for a number of reasons. But this post is about what I’ve learned from my students over the past year. Some background information, last year was my first year teaching a regular lecture college course for Central Community College (CCC). This semester I am teaching an online course for CCC. In the past I have taught the early entry courses for seniors taking dual credit courses through CCC. Even though I taught a college course, my everyday teacher life was centered in the high school routine. There is a difference between high school students and college students at CCC. This is what I’ve learned.

Education Matters

Even though I lost students over the year to a wide range of issues (I’ll talk about that in a few lines), students understood that gaining an education was important for them to reach their professional goals. I had one student who used her lunch break to attend my class. She would arrive a few minutes late, in her nursing outfit from work, and was raising a family. Another student had worked construction for almost two decades and loved it. But an accident kept him from returning to that job. He was studying business in hopes that he could return to the company in a new position.

My students understood that getting an education was going to help them reach their goals. But it is not easy.

Life Can Be a Hurdle

In high school, life is school. Football games, dances, school, they are all part of the everyday experience. For many of my students at CCC class was just a section of their life. I had students in class that ranged from 18 to 63 years old. I have a student right now who is traveling the world and taking my course online to get some general education credits handled before he comes back to the States. I had a young man at the age of 21 who had already gone through rehab twice.

I am proud to be a part, however small, of their lives. But life did cause some hurdles that challenged my approach to teaching. One aspect was the workload I expected from them. It made me think about what was really important for them in my course. This was hard for me because I love sharing extra material, to try to foster learning beyond the curriculum. I had to consider what I asked of them regarding assignments and homework. Not that I took it easier on them, but it forced me to align my course work according to importance and expected time spent on it. A simple example is that I used class time to handle small assignments and tried to give feedback on those right away because many of the assignments connect to their essays (which are the major assignments for the course). This allowed my students to work on the essay at home with more confidence in their ability to accomplish the writing.

Education versus Learning

This area is still challenging me, and maybe it always will. But not in the way you might think. I know many of my students only take my course because it is a general education course that all programs require. I actually lean on that idea to emphasize the importance of taking the course. I repeat, over and over, and over, that the number one goal is to help them become better writers for this course, for upcoming courses, and even for life. I present them with a WHY. Many of my students just want the credit, I know this. But their learning is their education which is their life, their goals. My battle is in creating a course, an assignment, or developing content that aligns to that WHY. And yes, I believe it matters.

The student who used her lunch hour to attend my class has two children and she revealed why it matters. During one session on writing with tone/voice, I was discussing how this characteristic of writing was the reason we like certain books, songs, and other media. I continued to expand on how important word choice  was in creating that tone or finding their own voice. Unbeknownst to me at the time I connected the WHY to her life when I lead a discussion on how hard it can be to write a personal letter to someone expressing our feelings (word choice/tone). I shared a personal example of writing a card for my son, and even how hard it was for me to get that card right. I happened to then share that that type of writing was just as important as an essay for my class, which I believe. At the end of that semester, which ended in December, that student sent me an email to tell me that she was excited to write a Christmas letter to her children and husband sharing how much she loved them. She wanted to make these letters a new tradition for her family.

What my students taught me was that education matters, for their goals, for their life.

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We Need Libraries

Last week I read, “School Libraries Are Under Attack,” by Debra Kachel and was saddened by the stats provided in the article, “In 1991, there were 176 certified librarians in Philadelphia Public Schools. Today there are 10.” Debra Kachel provides even more devastating statistics that reveal too many schools are losing their libraries. I couldn’t help but to remember how important libraries were to my intellectual and personal growth.

In college I spent at least one night a week in the library. I miss looking through the microfilm and microfiche files. I used to read the New York Times from the 1800s. I got hooked reading it when I was writing an essay for my History of Psychology class. Even when I wasn’t doing research, the library was the place to study. Trying to study in my dorm room was nearly impossible. But at the library I could take up a whole table with my books, pens, and notebooks. It wasn’t all academic though, maybe it was the environment, or the question, “What are you studying?” when my friends saw me, but some of the deepest conversations with friends happened at the library. I was never kicked out, but I remember a number of times my friends and I would be asked to keep it down. Sometimes the conversation was based on class material, but so many times our talks developed into life questions we were struggling with. It was safe to explore our doubts and fears below the halogen lights and surrounded by shelves of ideas as the outside world became dark..

heartofschoolAs a freshman I was introduced to my favorite book of all time, Catcher in the Rye. I remember walking into the library and asking our librarian ,Bill Fagan, if I could check out the book. He stood behind the counter, looking down on me, and then said, “I think you can handle it.” The librarian is the identity of a library. The article, “School Cuts Have Decimated Librarians”  reinforces this idea,  “She (Bernadette Kearney, a librarian) knows who likes to read graphic novels and who’s a fan of biographies. She tailors her collection to teachers’ projects, and she is forever coming up with reasons – Harry Potter quizzo at lunchtime, anyone? – to make the library not just a place to study, but the heart of the school.” For the next four years I would discuss the next book I should read with Mr. Fagan.  Sometimes he would have a book waiting on the counter for me.  He would do this for everyone that used the library.

Besides helping me achieve my academic goals, to introducing me to a life changing book, a library saved my life.

During my junior high years my friends and I would play Dungeons and Dragons in a conference room at the Converse County Library on Saturdays. We unpacked our dice, decided on the adventure book, updated our character sheets and spent the afternoon being heroes. I don’t think my friends knew that the library was my second home.  That when we were done conquering a dragon and they went home, I would sit and read until the library closed, like I did almost every night.

My house was actually just across the street from the library. I ate breakfast, took out the trash, and would wait for my favorite song to play on the radio so I could record it onto a tape in that house for a year, but I lived at the library. My mother and her boyfriend lived at the house. This post is not about what happened, but to be honest the library was my safe haven.  I don’t remember the ladies who worked there (I am sorry for that), but I was safe there.  They suggested books for me to read, would let me ramble through the aisle, randomly picking a book to read in my favorite chair, which somehow was always open for me. I see my local library fulfilling the same role for others.

On most Saturdays you can find my family at the Hastings Public Library. There are a variety of people on any given Saturday. Kids playing Minecraft on the computers, someone filling out tax forms, another person getting copies, and a group of men, paper in hands, talking about the weather. The library is the heartbeat of a town, of a school, of a society. I don’t like to think about what that future might look like. Neither does Debra Kachel, teacher for the School Library and Information Technologies Program at Mansfield University (qtd. in “School Cuts Have Decimated Librarians”), “We are soon going to have an entire generation of school students who have gone kindergarten through high school and who have not known what a school library is, and have not had access to those resources to learn,” Kachel said. “I find that unconscionable.”

We need libraries, now more than ever.

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A Little Faith

This idea has been fostering in my head and heart for a while. And I am not sure if I have a clear path to develop it for you, but I will try. Like so many times before, different situations have presented themselves over the last couple of months and I will try to connect those dots to expand on the idea of FAITH.

 

I am not going to talk about a religious based faith, but the faith we have in people. Some readers might use the word TRUST but I will go to a deeper level.

 

In our relationships trust is the noun, faith is the verb.

 

On that note, let me share the life events briefly, and then I will connect them all together:

A workshop on equality in the classroom

Dr. Phil

Being a dad

Job Transition

An interesting mix, I know. There have been other smaller moments, but these four have presented serious examples for me considering the idea of Faith.

Workshop

A big moment in the workshop was the section for evaluation of our assumptions. We were presented with an arrangement of situations / questions like, “I assume a good student has a good reason to miss class, while a bad student does not.” Another example, “I treat all Christians the same.” The base goal of the workshop was to challenge our assumptions so that we create a classroom that allows all our students to feel welcomed in. This generated some hard discussions on how we handled situations. And not just for the classroom. People let us down. Students let us down. But do they let us down because we already expect them to? I’ll come back to this…

Dr. Phil and Fatherhood

Just so you know, yes, I watch Dr. Phil. Part of the reason is because he comes up with some direct statements / questions that hit straight to the issue. I will not go in depth about the episode but concentrate on a single question Dr. Phil asked. The episode was about parents who did not like the man their daughter married. Dr. Phil asked the parents, “So, you don’t have faith in how you raised your daughter?”

I have discussed this idea before in an earlier post (Trust Your Foundation), but the emphasis on the idea of faith in Dr. Phil’s question resonated this time. In my own parenting life I am at that junction that I have to have faith in my kids. Both of my boys are now teenagers. They are spending more time with friends, becoming involved in activities, and simply becoming men. Do I have faith in my parenting?

Job Transition

This last example has two components. Yes, at the time of posting this I will not have a job in education for the next school year, but that is a different issue. During one of my interviews I was asked what I expect behavior wise from my students, this was before the workshop (but I love how life will highlight a theme for us). I simply answered that I expect them to be people. I expanded on the idea that we are all works in progress but that I do my best to respect them as individuals and trust they will do their best. I acknowledge that sometimes students let us down, but you keep working toward being the best you can possibly be. Simple put, I try to have faith in my students. I’ll come back to this…

The second component of this example is the feelings I’ve been experiencing through this time of my life. It is normal to wonder what you did wrong or what you said that could change an interview in your favor. You start to think about past jobs and interviews just to compare and contrast the situations. Which brings me to the point of sharing this, I know how empowering it is when someone has faith in you. The late Mr. Monter had faith in me and he expressed that from the interview on. I contacted Mr. Monter on the last day that the English position at Centura was open. He could have said that the position was filled or that they had already finished inteviews, but he didn’t. He asked if I could have my application to him that day. I said yes and got an interview the next week. I thought the interview went well but was not holding my breath because I understood the situation. As I drove home I told myself that Mr. Monter had already decided on a candidate. I was right, but Mr. Monter called me on my way home to offer me the job. He was going to offer the position to someone else he told me. But he said something told him that I was the right person. Through the years working with Mr. Monter he expressed that same level of faith in me and my colleagues. That made us want to be the best teachers we could.

The Connection

In our relationships trust is the noun, but faith is the verb. When someone expresses their faith in us we rise to the occasion. Yes, I have let people down. Yes, people, students, have let me down. And it hurts when that happens, so we stop doing it. But when we stop having faith in people we start to assume, we start to build relationships on easy to fill boxes. We are all works in progress, but that progress is dependent on someone having a little faith in us. Thank you to everyone who has had faith in me.

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Have no Fear

Confidence.

What is it? And why is it important in our everyday life?

I was listening to Lupe Fiasco’s song, “Super Star,” this morning as I walked. I was thinking about life. The track team is a week away from districts, the track meet that determines which athletes make it to state. I am again at a crossroads in my career. My family is growing up, third daughter graduates from preschool tomorrow. I am experiencing different kinds of fear in my everyday life. But Lupe’s words just kept hitting me:

lupe

And then I remembered the line from Remember the Titans, “ You want to act like a star, you better give me a star effort.”

Fear, doubt, uncertainty causes us to freeze. Let’s be honest, we have all succumb to fear. But I think it is because we have forgotten who we are. Forgot what our skills are. Forgot the strength of our hearts and our foundations. Standing strong on your skills generates that feeling of confidence, and confidence generates action. And action is the fuel that enriches our life. We need to stay connect with who we are, to feel confidence in any situation because it will give us the direction we need to move toward. I’m not saying it isn’t scary, but that fear cannot withstand a confident heart.

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Open Letter to Mr. Holt

Dear Mr. Holt,

I wish you were here to see me finally live up to the potential you saw in me way back in middle school (1984). I have self published my first novel. I image handing you a copy and you smiling, your eyes would get lost behind your glasses and full beard, as you hold it in both hands. You would sit at your desk, messy as always, and thumb through some pages, stopping to read a section. You would then say, “I knew you could do this.”

But you passed away in 2001.

I am sorry that it took me this long to believe. Maybe not believe, but to embrace the talent you saw in me as an awkward seventh grader who wrote poetry in his notebooks instead of notes. You let us break-dancers actually have a class to work on our moves during our eighth grade year. You always read my poetry and stories with a caring but honest insight. I still have the book of poetry you gave me from your library because I borrowed it so much. I also have the copy of Dune you let me keep from class. And yes, I still have the “book” you put together of my poetry for my senior year. Giving me my first taste of being published, even if it was put together by hand and was only 25 copies.

IMG_5662As I look at my classroom I can’t help but laugh. My bulletin boards look just like yours did. Even when I didn’t have your class you would allow me to put stuff up on your walls. I remember Scott and I visiting you at your home. You always had time for us. You always had time for me, and I wish I had told you this when you were alive.

I was the kid who was too loud at times. Even Scott’s mom mentioned that to him in junior high. I had to move away a number of times, but you were a stable factor in my life for those six school years. You made me feel that I mattered. You expanded my horizons by suggesting books; yes, Catcher in the Rye is still my favorite book of all time. You let me sit by the window and understood that I heard you even while I wrote poetry instead of grammar notes.

It is teacher appreciation week. The best way I know how to say thank you is to share my talent with you and the world. A talent you helped develop. Writing. I miss you, Mr. Holt. Thank you for being my English teacher.

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Two Year (but actually more) Anniversary Post

It is all Connected. Everything Matters.

This is not just the name of my blog; it is foundation to the way I live. I get slack, even from my own family, about how deep everything is to me. One student this year blurted out, “Sometimes a song is just a song!”

Even in the early entry college course the students complain about how their heads hurt after lessons because of the depth I try to take them. And I understand why, but Ralph Emerson said it best in his speech “The American Scholar.”

To the young mind, every thing is individual, stands by itself. By and by, it finds how to join two things, and see in them one nature; then three, then three thousand; and so, tyrannized over by its own unifying instinct, it goes on tying things together, diminishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground, whereby contrary and remote things cohere, and flower out from one stem.

I like the line, “…how to join two things, and see in them one nature, then three, then three thousand…” It is all connected. Everything we do matters in some way. I try to live and teach with this idea, on a deeper level. Why, you might ask. What is the alternative? That things and moments in our life have no meaning, no value? I don’t believe that. Our lives are built everyday, in every small moment.

It is all connected, and I am glad to have connected with you, reader, through this blog. Have a great day!

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