Tag Archives: school

Throwback: Letters

Notebook with pen

As the new school year looms around the corner, I thought I would have a little fun by writing a small series on some of the differences between our times growing up. Aspects I feel my kids are missing in their lives that kind of defined my time in the 80’s. These posts will be published on Thursdays for the next couple of weeks. To start, I am going to discuss writing letters, with a slight lean to those awesome high school love letters…

Remember passing notes in class?

I always thought I was sneaky by scratching my neck and dropping the note down my back onto the desk behind me.

Or I would fold up the note and push it through the little vents of the locker of my best friend or girlfriend at that time.

Or the simple process of handing it to someone as we passed in the hall.

Today my kids just text, and most of that communication is emoji based, and that is the deeper aspect they are missing. Being able to express their emotions through writing. Now, I’m not declaring that my high school letters would make Ralph Emerson jealous, or that my best friend and I wrote about theories on how we could graph life on an X, Y, and Z axis… wait we actually did that… anyway… Writing letters was part of my everyday routine.

Social connections are an important part of the teen years. Writing letters helped build those connections before texting. It improved our connections (and writing) because the blank page called to us to fill it with meaningful things. A one line note was not worth writing or reading.  If the letter was for a girlfriend, it had to be romantic, if not kind of cheesy… (looking back now. At the time I thought I was suave).

Today, though, my kids just text a face with a heart or something. What does that even mean? Because of technology there is no separation between people, meaning they never spend time wondering if their girlfriends are thinking about them right at that moment. They will never be pleasantly surprised when they open their locker to see a note.  As an English teacher, they are not challenged to write, to consider word choice, to bridge their emotions to the written word.

Do I text my family and friends? Yes, but at times I still write a card or note. There is something magical about receiving (and writing) a letter. I miss those days…

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Your Story. My Story. Our Story.

Your Story.

On Saturday, I attended the wedding of a former student, Jason. The wedding was centered on the couple’s Love Story. The program shared important dates for them; first road trip, first date, the day he proposed. The ceremony, also, intertwined their Love Story. It was a beautiful moment… in their Life Story.

The wedding party had seven former students; the officiant, the groom, an usher, and four of the groomsmen. Not to mention all the other former students I visited with during the reception. It had been over 10 years since I had seen many of them. Many of the conversations centered on how life had changed for all of us. Trying to tell our Life Stories in 10 minutes. In one way it saddened me. To know, that at one time, our stories were being written together. Now… the stories are separate. In fact, even though Jason and I have kept in touch (mostly through Facebook), the wedding was the first time I met his bride.

Isn’t that Life.

You have your story. I have my story.

But, even in small moments, it is our story. And that is the greatest aspect of life I know. Each of us plays the role of protagonist in our lives. We forget that we are characters in other people’s stories. I was the English teacher, the coach, and for some of my students, something more. Jason and I spent hours playing basketball and talking about life. For each of my former students there was a unique aspect to our relationship. For example, I gave one student a quote every month for a year. I will admit to feeling a sense of pride knowing that those memories were part of their stories. To remember the good times and the rough times because we wrote that part together, just in different perspectives.

Even though our stories are now being written separately, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t play an important part in the past. Because isn’t that what makes a great story? Moments that are worth remembering. Stories that are retold. Being remembered by someone. Yes, you have your story. I have my story. But really this life is our story.

(A little trip back to eighth grade…)

 

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Why Love

Tilte with boy running with balloons

A simple question keeps running through my head lately; ‘Why Love?”

Why anchor my life on Love?

Why not money? Why not success or pride? Why not fame? Why not Hate? These things seem to work… watch TV or YouTube to see how many times these characteristics get likes or shares. The guy tailgating me has a nicer truck than me (and I’m even in the right lane going the speed limit). I still tip even when my family is treated like nobodies at a restaurant.

Really, why not instill a selfish attitude in my children? It would be easier to send an email to the school complaining about something instead of listening to my children, asking them how they can make it better or how to work through it. I can teach them to not care about teammates or friends. The feelings and aspirations of others are not their concern. If they are going to make it in this world they have to go for theirs and pity anyone that gets in their way. There is no such thing as loyalty or dedication…

But I don’t. I do my best to choose Love.

Why Love?

Over the next couple of weeks I am going to try to answer that question through a series of posts exploring how Love works in building an incredible life.

Why Love? Join me to find out why.

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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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Thoughts on School Culture

deskThis post will not have any answers, in fact I hope it raises questions and ideas for you.  The idea for this post comes from reading the article “What psychology tells us about student achievement — and how it is ignored” from The Washington Post. I will come back to this article later. When discussing a complex idea like school culture, there are no quick fixes, no magic spell to change the hallway behavior over night, no t-shirt slogan that will bring a faculty together. But a school culture can be changed, for the better or the worse.

First, my definition of school culture: The decisions of each individual in the everyday functioning of a school to achieve the school’s vision.

A school’s vision is an important part of culture.  It is the WHY of the school. Some may say that the vision of the school is the mission statement.  But I see too many school cultures that are disconnected from that mission statement.  In fact, most teachers and students don’t even know their school’s mission statement.  And sadly, they don’t why their school exists except to get through the day and get seniors graduated.  I have another post in the works on developing the WHY for a school (I also have a workshop centered around this idea).  Until then a great book to read on the topic is Simon Sinek’s, Start With Why.

Let’s get back to how a school’s vision connects to culture. The school’s vision is the compass that everyone involved can use to direct their choices.  From the students’ behavior on a bus to the administration deciding on new classes to add to the schedule. When a school has a strong vision it makes decisions easier, there is a direction, or focus, in place to help make decisions that reflect the school’s culture. Sounds simple, but I know it is not so easy. Especially when we deal with the everyday life of a school, and the best way to see what a school’s culture is like everyday is to look at the students.

“Children reproduce the character of their schools and the society around them.”  This line comes from the article mentioned above. This is what spurred my idea for this post. This also highlights the reality of the challenge for a school to create and maintain a culture that connects to the school’s vision. A school does not stand alone in the development of a student, or even the teachers and administrators. But a school’s advantage is that the everyday routine is directed by a deeper meaning, or should be. The hallways, the buses, the locker rooms, and the student section at a game will reveal the true culture of a school. When we can develop a clear vision for students to connect to we will see a culture that reflects a school’s vision and produce a deep and enriching everyday experience for all involved in the school.
Not easy, I understand, but worth it.  It affects us all.

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What happens when a connected teacher loses the connection?

A normal hurdle in our connected lives is home Internet service.  For the last three days our Internet has been down.  And life has been different.

First, we have been spending more time together in the living room.  The older kids still had their mobile devices, but mostly to listen to music or to read.  My oldest daughter has been spending time working on her first graphic novel, the boys have been taking turns holding their new sister, and the two other girls have been running sprints to the front door.

Mom and dad have been intertwined into the activities.  I am the official starter for the sprints. The girls line up next to me and I say, “Go, Go, Go!”  Mom will make sure the boys hold their sister’s head right.  And we all check the newest panel in our daughter’s project.

The disconnect has allowed us a chance to reconnect during this busy time.

But being disconnected has its drawbacks.

First semester is the time I teach the Eng. 101 class.  The students use Moodle to turn in everything.  In the best circumstances, I am always just a little behind in grading.  The students write almost everyday.  I am now days behind in just that class.  I have work to do to just get caught up.

My other classes use Schoology, and I have kept up through the app on my phone.

Photo by former student Angelica.

Photo by former student Angelica.

But when the rest of our world stays connected, we have a digital mountain to climb when we reconnect with them.  We have emails to read and respond to, tweets and status updates to respond to, and for teachers, piles of digital papers to grade.

We might have come to the point that we cannot function well without being connected.  And that idea is for another blog.

A technician is headed to our house this morning to fix the problem.  And I will be back to grading papers late into the night. And tweeting during my breaks, of course.

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