Friday, August 15, 2014

Sooooooooooo,  I suppose it's been some time since I last typed anything here on this blog. It was fun to do and I enjoyed the comments and conversations I had regarding the blog and the ties. Please feel free to comment as it makes the blog worth doing and more fun for me. Of course, I will have the intention right now at the busiest time of my year with school starting and planting season quickly approaching. I will preview a few of the topics I intend to get back to and give you a couple teaser videos showing some of the ties I wore through the 2013-2014 school year. This year, I intend to do something a little different than I have ever done with my ties. News on that later, I think it will be fun.

Possible Future topics:
Why wear ties?
Why not other kinds of ties, isn't just neckties boring.
A primer on building an outhouse.
Dad and daughter days (expect a cuteness overload)
Son and Dad day (expect a lot of arm punching and fart noises)
A list of my heroes
Random stories, lots of random stories.
Real life people from my world that inspire me.
My Kiwanis club and why I am part of it.
What's right with our schools.
Old tech that I love.
A bunch of farming stuff...
A bunch of creative teaching stuff...
A bunch of stuff where the truth may suffer for the sake of the humor...
Lots of these elipsessesss ...

I will also do suggestions, but I warn you I might be a bit unreliable.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook School Tragedy

Sandy Hook School Tragedy

I found out first from a colleague. My first thoughts were not the worst. I felt bad that it happened again, but the magnitude hadn't set in. We were standing in a room of children working Math problems and, of course they had no idea. So, I continued the lesson, gave the assignment and sat at my computer to check the updates. I was interrupted continuously by typical classroom happenings and questions, but got enough of the story to be horrified. 

As a teacher, I played through horrible scenes in a matter of seconds. Except the setting was here. In MY school. I second guessed many of my daily "routine" habits and realized I had become lax on some things that could prevent trouble. Very quickly I realized that it would be very difficult to prevent someone really determined from getting in here. At any school. Except, I do think our staff is very alert and could react in a hurry. We have taken precautions. We have a plan in place and it will be revisited again and again. 

As a parent, I started thinking about my own kids. Were their teachers attentive to potential situations? Would they know where my kids are at every moment and be able to protect them from any harm? Again, this is an amazing staff. Some of the best professionals in the business are in this building and I know they would do their best to protect any child. However, there is just no way to know when and in what way a scenario will play out. 

Back in the classroom, I wanted to shut the door and keep the kids as close to me as possible. I wanted to keep them in from recess and put adult guards at the door. I wanted to tell them that they were safe and that they could trust me and everyone else in the building to keep this from happening here. I wanted that for their benefit -and for mine. I resisted this, because I knew we were safe. I read a primary teacher's post on Facebook exclaiming that she gave each one of her students a tight hug as they left for the day. I wanted to do this too. And I'm not a hugger. My students are a bit older, so I high-fived each as they walked out the door and told them to have a nice and safe weekend.

The truth is (and every reader will already know this) that we can simply not control every aspect of our lives. We can take many, many  actions to make our lives safer, but ultimately we just don't know how our end will come about. That is the scary part. That's what I fear about death. I guess a tragedy like this is supposed to get us thinking and re-planning and questioning. Perhaps that is what I can take from this. 

I feel great sadness and empathy for the people going through this horrific tragedy. It's impossible for me to wrap my head around any possible motivation for something of this nature. How screwed up does your wiring have to be to decide that this was the reaction needed for any situation? As the story is told in the next few days, I am sure there will be anger, fear and more sadness. I've stopped looking at the pictures on the internet for today- I can't stand the anguish and hurt I see in the parents' faces. I can pray for them.

Monday, April 16, 2012

One Year, One Month, and One Day Later

It's been a while and I feel bad about it. I really like to write this blog, but I really have a hard time "finding" time to write. I also have a hard time "finding" the motivation.  And then its difficult to "find" a topic interesting enough to write about. So, tonight due to a little bit of obscure and out-of-the-blue inspiration, I am going to steal the time and force the motivation. Taking the time from when I should be sleeping probably isn't wise, but I do it so often that its easy this time. The topic, I suppose, is to catch up all my readers (thanks mom!) on the changes in my life. I know that I am not a fan of long posts so I will break this one into three parts and attempt to keep it brief, but WARNING: I am a rambler.

There have been some major changes in my life and more are coming. I am trying to glean as much as possible from these experiences and as usual try to find my purpose and role in each. Looking for the silver lining has become a habit as much as a survival mechanism. In other words, I don't have as much control as I'd like, but I try to spin it to make me feel better.

The first major change has really been gradual. It happens to us all, and I am sure it has happened to many of you. This is the first time it has happened to me. At least like this. Everyone gets older and we all aspire to keep doing so. It is such a wonderful thing to watch your children grow up and mature. Its a great thing, with a few horrible times (middle school) thrown in, to grow up yourself.  It is such a bittersweet thing to watch your older family members grow old.

I am very close to my grandparents.  They have had a pretty big hand in who I am.  Grandpa taught me the farming and so many other things (I'll save those for another blog post). Grandma helped me appreciate food to the fullest.  What an amazing cook she was.  She still dabbles in the kitchen, but it has gotten very hard on her.  She is 84 and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She has been living with it for many years now and has been very admirable in the fight against it. She is losing. It is claiming her slowly.

Grandma was born in 1927 and grew up in the time where women in the country grew up as strong as the men.  She worked on her parents' farm in Eastern Oklahoma and has some very interesting stories of those times. When she graduated high school they asked her back to teach for a short time. She then went to work at Woolworth's in Enid, OK and met my grandfather while he was working as a soda jerk (How's that for a stereo-typical, movie picture worth story?).

She and Grandpa and Mom moved from Oklahoma to Kansas to Illinois, then back to Kansas and finally settled on grandpa's family farm in Oklahoma. She was a preacher's wife, and most often also worked herself.  She has worked for companies such as Vulcan, Farm Bureau, and John Deere. She was a full time mother, preparing amazing spreads at each meal and doing all the household duties such as ironing, sewing, canning, washing, etc. She even raised two other kids (cousins) from her extended family for several years.

I point these things out to illustrate what type of woman she was. She was active and strong. She was bright and proper. She was proud and extremely loving.

She was such a positive part of my life that it hurts to write the rest. As stated before she is losing her fight against this dreadful disease. It is not sudden and it is not kind. I hate this particular disease because of what it is doing to her. It is taking away my grandma who is an amazing person and quite frankly one of the nicest, most caring people I have ever known. It has turned her into a weak, confused, overly dependent patient. Fortunately, she hasn't demonstrated the meanness, but we know it is coming. It is not necessary to continue with this train of thought as it is painful both for me and the reader and serves only to bring us down and focus on the negative.

Despite all the negative effects, I believe that she has really fought it to the fullest. Grandma has done crosswords all her life well (I bet she can whip your grandma at Wheel of Fortune).  She was a book keeper working with figures and troubleshooting issues within the corporate world for years.  She stayed active in the churches, community and at home. She ate well and has watched her health well.  I think this has helped her retain much of her brain power.

This has prompted a change in the way we do things on the farm. She still works the garden as much as she can, but does so mostly at the direction of grandpa (on second thought that may not have changed much).  She can make the meals, but has to be looked after through most of the process.  She still demands to do the dishes and almost gets angry when you suggest she stay in her seat and let you do it. My mom is the best at this and grandma usually lets her. Grandma follows grandpa out to the wood shop and helps him with his "tinkering." She wants to be near him. She checks on him constantly and feels that she has to watch after him.

I go to the farm at least every-other weekend and help with the farming/gardening/whatever-the-heck-else.  Usually, my little buddy, Joshua is with me. He loves his grandmother and looks after her when he needs to.  On occasion, grandpa needs me to take him to town to buy parts, supplies, etc. This is something much more difficult to do with grandma in tow. Joshua can stay with her. She really can take care of herself, but what Joshua does is answer her questions that come shortly after we leave and very often.  He is very patient and I am extremely proud of how respectful he is. She might read his T-shirt a dozen times a day and ask him the same questions over and over. He answers every time.

Through this horrible metamorphosis, grandma greets us every time with a big smile and a "I'm so glad you came to see us." She stays positive and really feels she is doing fine. When I ask her how she is doing on the phone her reply is always, "Pretty good for an old lady." I love that she is so cheery and full of heart. I love my grandma.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Einstein's Education Quotes

The following are quotes by Albert Einstein illustrating his view of education. I hope that he would see us today as having progressed quite a bit towards his ideals. In my humble opinion, I believe that especially the last one has changed and that the word "most" no longer applies. The first three are pretty much my philosophy of education.

Einstein's Education Quotes:

Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.

Never regard your study as duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberation influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.

The aim (of education) must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, can see in the service to the community their highest life achievement

Humiliation and mental oppression by ignorant and selfish teachers wreak havoc in the youthful mind that can never be undone and often exert a baleful influence in later life.

In the teaching of geography and history a sympathetic understanding (should) be fostered for the characteristics of the different peoples of the world, especially for those who we are in the habit of describing as "primitive."

Most teachers waste their time by asking questions which are intended to discover that what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning has for its purpose to discover what the pupil knows or is capable of knowing.

Einstein's Birthday & Pi day!

Happy Birthday Einstein!

I think it is a great coincidence that Einstein has his birthday on Pi Day. Of course they are completely unrealated, but I like the thought. I will have to get a Pi tie. I have an Einstein tie. I bought this one at a Reading conference in Denver, CO. I had a great time with a few good fellow Reading teachers.

I really have grown to love the idea of Einstein. It is not the fact that he was the "smartest man in the world" or even the father of the atomic age. Einstein was no doubt a gifted man beyond comparison. Yet, to me it was his humble attitude and willingness to support humankind that makes him worth looking up to. He took his position of fame and intellectual role model seriously. Did you know that Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel? He turned it down.

He was a great man and made many great observations. Some of his greatest education quotes are posted in the above entry.

Monday, January 24, 2011


This might be one of the goofiest ties I own. I didn't think I would wear it, but circumstances dictated I should. One of our amazing secretarial staff has a giraffe print purse. I expected to take a picture of it to share with the blog, but she has moved out of that purse and into another. (Why do women do that? I buy a computer bag and use it until it drops to the ground in shreds from wear and tear. I wear my shoes until they separate into more than three pieces. I currently have a pair on their third set of laces and second bottle of super glue.) I kept telling her I would wear this tie to match her purse. It is, as you can see a "Save the Children" tie. I think TIM-AGE 11 did a great job on the design. Except there are a lot of people that ask what it is. I imagine that is a first glance thing -clearly it is a giraffe. It seems to be missing it's nose.

When I first came to teach in Pratt County, I worked with a small group of middle school teachers that had a collaborative time set up in their schedule to meet as a team and plan activities, strategies and lessons for the students. The theme was based on Advisor Based teams where the students were in "homeroom" groups led by the teachers. We did some great things as part of that time and I felt it was beneficial to the district. One of the neatest activities took place just before my time, however. Each group picked a person that they admired who had "stuck their neck out" in some manner. They had taken a chance at failure and gone ahead and risked doing what they thought was right. The main example that comes to mind was David Pelzer of "A Child Called It." The groups wrote letters thanking these individuals for sticking their neck out. The giraffe was used to symbolized that award.

Recently, I received an award from the Ark Valley KNEA Uniserv District called the "Stick Your Neck Out Award." This one was represented by a crazy-eyed, crazy-haired ostrich. I loved it -and now I need a an ostrich tie. It was a nice surprise as I had not expected anything of that manner. Another close colleague of mine received one as well and I thought they were much more deserving. I may even have to award some sort of "Stick Your Neck Out Award" on this blog...

A Tie of Mourning ...

I wore this tie to the funeral of a former student, because "Taz" reminded me of him. The following was written the night I learned of his death.

Please forgive us teachers. We are not cynical or depressed by nature. It might be easy to understand how we sometimes can appear that way. We give of our time and wit. We struggle to point all kids in the direction we feel is best for them. We work hard to do our jobs the best way we know how. Yet sometimes we are meant with a disappointment that we just can’t avoid.

Oh don’t feel sorry for us, though. To paraphrase a wise educator and former superintendent, “We volunteered for this duty.” Something in our drive and internal motivation has led us down this path. I believe that has to be an extremely high level of caring. Faith, Hope and Love: each a large aspect of the caring we have for all of our students.

Every teacher has difficult students. Every difficult student has their own story. Those stories are important in their own right, but to the teacher, it can’t matter. We have to care for all. We have faith that they will turn out right, hope that we can help them find their path, and love for who that student can be.

One such student is strong in my mind as I write this. He was difficult, but he was worth it. He was one of those learners that forced a teacher to “modify” their approach. Thank God for those students. He was not usually a discipline issue, but needed to learn in his own way.

He walked into the room with a great smile and always said Hello to me. Often he had some witty comment or silly thought that played off my joking personality. He’d actually look at me, too. You know when you have a person that is talking to you and they really look at you while you are having a conversation? This kid did that. It confused me a little, because I always thought he lacked focus –and I think he often did. Later I reasoned that it was a learned behavior of his that he had unconsciously developed to help him focus on the person he was interacting with. On top of that, he could move his pupils back and forth rapidly and really freak you out. I was impressed that anyone could do that.

This student was the subject of many conversations and strategy meetings amongst my fellow teachers and myself. We questioned if we were doing him any good. He didn’t fit the traditional setting. He managed, but fought with low grades and missing papers. Sometimes he acted like he didn’t care, and other times he showed that he really did want to do well. He forced me to spend more time on projects and story-telling rather than notes and tests in our Middle School Social Studies classes. For that alone, I owe him.

I remember one “heart to heart” talk I had with him. He was aware of his problems and truly wanted to do better. Those that know me, know that to really be serious is somewhat off the norm for me, but in a true sit down “heart to heart” I can get pretty somber. This particular time I was even coarse. I said, “Dang it, [kid] is this really what you want people to see in you? Why aren’t you trying to do better?” His reply was that he wanted to but it was hard. I continued, “What are you doing to help yourself? Are you trying to get more organized? Working on assignments outside of class? Asking for help?” It bothers me that I don’t remember what he said in return. There was more conversation, and even some tears. Yet it was what he said at the end that stuck with me the most.

After all that rough talk and grilling, he really looked at me and said, “Mr. Nelson, I like you.” Usually I am flattered by that, but this was out of context. Not out of character, because he was a pleasant kid most of the time.

“How could you, right now?” I asked.

His response as he walked out of the room: “I know you care.”

To hear that is every teacher’s hallelujah moment –but that was unexpected. When it is said from a student like him, you look back and wonder if you did what you could for him. There were times he did try hard, he did show up with all his materials, he scribbled away at his homework between classes, and times he tried to get my attention. What did I do meet him halfway?

Literally, it takes the air out of you.

I felt like that again Sunday. I heard of his death through Facebook postings. I asked a colleague that spent countless more hours than I working with him, if she knew the details and she filled me in.

It took the air out of me.

There were so many people that helped him on his way through school and into “real life.” So many people that in return were rewarded by his smile.

His class has a special place in my heart. They were my first sixth graders at Skyline and I had the pleasure of following them in either Math or Social Studies for all three years of Middle School. They were a close-knit group and full of great times as well as challenges. We became close from the shear fact that we had so much history together. They have since graduated and moved on, but I can’t help feeling that a part of the group is missing.

He has left behind his legacy. His two children will no doubt share the same smile, and I know his mother and sisters will be able to share with them how hard he worked to be a better person. That’s something they should be proud of. For me I’m proud of him, but disappointed that his life ended so abruptly. It was just too soon. I will be glad to honor him in prayer, and am thankful to have had him as part of my life.