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.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Save the Children Tie #1

I wore this tie on Wednesday, January 12. I wore to get myself back into the teacher mode. I was invited into a fifth grade classroom to teach the students how to get started with a classroom blog. I have taught since 1998 and was still nervous. That was short lived however, as the teacher and the students were a great audience and very welcoming.

As I mentioned the subject was blogging. To me, that is the perfect thing for a fifth grader to start doing. Fifth graders really start getting into some meaty writing. One of the problems that students have with writing in school is that they just don't see a purpose. What happens with the end result? Traditional assignments pit the student against the teacher. They are writing for an audience of one. Blogging? They could potentially be writing for thousands. The particular blog site that I set up for them is a closed site and (for now) they will be writing for each other and a few of the adults that have contact with them during the day. That will give them a little sense of being accountable for what they say. They can share their ideas and opinions with each other -which is really the purpose of writing. I can't wait until they get going.

I wish more of my friends and acquaintances would start blogging. I read some blogs and some great ones, but I'd like to encourage more people to start doing it. If anyone reading this would like some assistance, Please let me know. I can help you get up and writing in very little time. Or you can simply go to and sign up. It's a great feeling when you start realizing people are reading and commenting on what you create.

Happy Blogging!

Mr. Potato Head

Who doesn't love Mr. Potato Head? I want to know if there is anyone out there that reads this blog (all three of you) that never had a Mr. Potato Head. Too bad. You really missed out. I wonder how your life would have been different to have a Mr. Potato to turn to when the world was getting you down. I had a Mr. Potato Head and both the kids have had at least one version of "Head" toy. Alea got one of those kits with a Corn Head, a Carrot Head, and uh... something else.

I have resisted buying a "Darth Tater" and an "Indiana Jones in the Taters of the Lost Ark." Rather, my wife won't let me buy one. I do have a Mr. Potato Head bank (see pic). My mother gave it to me. She got it as a freebie somewhere and thought of me - I think because of how much fun she knew I'd have with it and not just because of our similarities in physical girth. [Note to self: add to Halloween Costume Ideas]

This tie is just simply fun. Real potatoes with Mr. Potato Heads scattered about. That's good times for the eyes! I'd like to shake the hand of the designer who came up with that crazy concept.

Here's a fun fact: The first Mr. Potato Head toys came out as just accessories to be use with a real potato. They were added as a prize to cereal boxes. For more of the fun history of Mr. Potato Head visit this site:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Looney Tunes Hockey

Anyone for some hockey? 'Tis the weather. It is frightful outside right now, but no snow yet. I'm betting the pond at school is froze over (or is it frozen over?). I think it would be fun if we could have an impromptu hockey game. There are plastic sticks in the PE storage, but no skates. At our rural school, we all have a pair of cowboy boots hiding in the back of a closet. Pull 'em on and join us at the OWLS site! Oh wait there is the liability issue. That fantasy was fun while it lasted. Wouldn't it be fun to have teams of kids face off against each other? Better yet, wouldn't it be cool to have a staff member match? I'm betting I'd make a good goalie. I could at least take up more space at the net than other staff. However, there might be some colleagues of mine that would be a little too willing to check me into the wall. Maybe this isn't such a great idea...

That's a sport we never get to play in KS or OK schools. My first actual exposure to hockey was watching with my suite mates in Denver my freshman year in college. It was an exhibition match between the Canada and USA Olympic teams. Our suite mate Nate got us the tickets. Nate was a great friend to have. He played soccer in college and was a local Denver-ite. He was our connection to tickets to so many things. I owe a lot of the cool experiences in college to him. We got tickets late and cheap. That meant sitting in McNichols Sports Arena (no longer there) next to the roof and behind a column. Bad seats and not much to see. I remember that one of the USA players hit one of the Canadians and left with a high-sticking penalty. Later, when I moved back to NWOSU for college I got the chance to see the Wichita Thunder play. It was a better venue and I'd like to go back. Maybe I will look for some tickets and take the kids.

Oklahoma Sooners Fiesta Bowl winners!

I wore this OU tie on Tuesday, January 4 to celebrate the Sooners win of the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. I have to admit that I thought they were ranked way too high early in the season. When they lost to Missouri, I figured this would be another one of those years. Don't get me wrong, having gone to big bowl games the last few years with winning seasons is nothing to sneeze about. I was pleasantly surprised by such a good season. I like watching football and I love watching the Sooners play. I used to not make a very big deal about it in school. I didn't put up posters, or have a Sooners cup, or flaunt my OU shirt. Then I started wearing the tie and found out that the kids loved to talk about their favorite teams. Having taught in Kansas for my entire career, I get a lot of flak about being an OU fan. But, that's okay. Anything that gets the kids talking to me and helps me relate to them is a good thing. Conversations help build rapport, which is so important when dealing with students in any venue. I don't really hate any team, but I like to tease the kids that think Texas is a good team, or that Nebraska was the best team in the Big 12. I don't care who roots for who, and I have friends who are fans of both. I personally do cheer for both the Oklahoma teams and both the Kansas teams. I have learned that I can have conversations with kids that I don't have anything else in common with, just by the simple fact that they see my tie in passing. In fact, that really is why I like wearing all these different ties.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Leftovers

Here's the Ties I didn't wear this Christmas. The one on the far right has another music maker. A fellow staff member stopped in my office to see what I was wearing on the last day and expected me to have something fantastic for the last day of the break. I didn't really plan the last one out, so just had the Santa fishing tie. Bummer, I should have a really cool one, maybe with flashing lights, music and a confetti canon. Now I have to think about what I should have worn. In the past I have worn the Cut-out Christmas tree tie. Kids love it. I don't. It feels goofy when I wear it, but it is kind of funny. I have worn it nearly every Christmas I have been teaching, except this year. Jeez, so much for tradition. I know someone gave it to me, anyone remember who?

Last Tie of the Year

This is the last tie I wore in 2010. Another Christmas tie and one that I acquired in the bundle I got from ebay. Our HS principal has a Santa fishing tie, too. I like his better. This is a good tie, but doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? Why is Santa fishing for presents? And, why is he asleep? I hope my Barbie dream horse stable, doesn't get mold and snails on it - actually, ha ha, I meant my daughter's stable.
She did get the Barbie Jet from Santa -not a stable. It is pretty impressive. Barbie lives the lavish lifestyle. In fact, it was so impressive that "the boy" left his work with me (putting together Legos) to play Barbies. I don't think it bothered him a bit either.
When I was a kid, I played Barbies when my sister forced and only then. I didn't want it getting out that I played with dolls. My G.I. Joes might laugh at me. I'm not sure that matters much anymore. I think if a doll has something as cool as her own jet, camper, pool and animal rescue shelter, anyone can play with it and not be ashamed. Pink is in vogue right? Plus, I bet with a little duct tape we can mount some missles on the wings, turn the water in the pool to acid and paint S.W.A.T. on the camper. That'll "boy it up."