Monday, December 22, 2014

Lessons from the Grand Jury Protests

Post by Todd Hornaday: Todd has been a social studies teacher for 19 years, the last 18 at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Todd on Twitter @lthornaday

First, Happy Holidays to all!  Or, maybe I better say “Merry Christmas to all!”, so as to not upset Conservative pundits who would accuse me of declaring a so-called ‘War on Christmas’.  How about “Happy Festivus for the rest of us!”, or would Jerry Seinfeld sue me?

Hopefully having framed a discussion on being 'politically correct' with my intro paragraph, this social studies teacher begs the question, “What lessons can Iowa students learn from the Ferguson and New York grand jury protests?”   I argue that now is not the time to only be politically correct, but that it is imperative for teachers to guide students into some potentially uncomfortable, but integral, discussions and reflections on race in America using stone cold data.  (Being a role model, I will cite a source whenever numbers are used.)

First, let me provide an example on using data to analyze politics in Iowa.  The case can easily be made that our state is a politically active state-- in the midterm 2014 elections, 50% of eligible voters in the state participated, compared to a national rate of 36% (source: Since 1972, the state has held caucuses that have been the first major electoral event of the nominating process for the President. We are also an educated people-- the percentage of 25-34 year-olds in our state with at least a bachelor’s degree was 45% in 2010, compared to the national rate of 39%. (source:  U.S. Census Bureau)

With Iowa’s better-than-average political participation in mind, allow me to illustrate some potential discussion questions, followed by data, that should catch the attention of our students:

If the majority of people disagrees with your viewpoint, does it do you any good to voice that opinion? Also, what if you are 100% certain that the majority viewpoint is wrong?
The Pew Research Center held a nationwide, scientific poll that found that 57% of Americans did not support the Staten Island grand jury's decision to not indict the white cop who put African-American Eric Garner in a choke hold.  However, the same group found that only 37% did not support the Ferguson grand jury's decision to not indict the white cop who shot African-American Michael Brown. Feelings of discord and inequity led to thousands employing their First Amendment rights by protesting for improved minority rights.

Should police officers be held to a higher standard of care?
State grand juries very, very rarely indict police officers.  These public servants-- New York City employs 34,450 of them (source: are given every benefit of the doubt in court as they are presumed to be putting their lives on the line for our citizens every second that they are on duty.  In the last 10 years, only one cop has been indicted for an on-duty shooting in both Dallas and Chicago. (source: Houston Chronicle)

What should people be protesting?  What can be done to improve the lives of many African-Americans?  
Based on 2013 Census Bureau data, America’s 45 million African-Americans make up about 14% of our country’s population.  
  • As of November 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate is 4.9% for whites in America and 11.1% for African-Americans.
  • The Department of Justice (2010) cites 4.3% of all African-American men currently being imprisoned, compared to less than 1% of all white American men-- roughly 39% of the total prison population is African-American and 39% is white American.
  • According to the Center for Disease Control, the ‘out of wedlock’ birth rate is 72% for African-Americans and 30% for white Americans.
  • The city of Chicago has 28,000 violent crimes per year. African-Americans constitute 33% of Chicago’s population, yet they commit over 90% of its violent crimes (source:  The Guardian). At Fenger Academy High School in Chicago, only 4% of 11th graders were proficient on the state math standards test in 2013.  Across the city, Englewood Technical Prep had only 3% proficiency and both Harper and Robeson high schools achieved 2% proficiency.  (source:  Neighborhood Scout)

Of course, data can be spun to support any argument.  What is important in our high school social studies classes is that opinions on current events are critically formed and discussed, and that logic and data are used as support.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Finding the Joy in Every Day

Post by Junetta Mitchell: Junetta was hired as a baker at Bettendorf High School in 1991.  She currently serves as kitchen manager & spends her time spreading joy to others.

I try to find the joy in every day.  I know that could sound funny to some, knowing that my day starts out around 4:30 in the morning.  Life has not always been a bed of roses, as some of you know I have had fifteen surgeries on my leg in the past three years.  Like most people I have had some hard knocks in life; but I made it and am still making it through. The key is never stay down.  Never stop and never just give up.  No matter what find the joy.   And keep a BIG smile on your face.
I have had a passion to work in food service all my life.  I was taught at an early age how to cook and bake. The joy that you receive by making others smile and enjoy the rich flavor of food is the best part of it all.

The Blackhawk Hotel was where I started this passion doing the Sunday brunch and the Festival of Trees dinners;  making the food and then being able to serve it to people and watch them enjoy and come back for just a little more.  But it took all the team work in the kitchen to pull it off. I also enjoyed baking and decorating wedding cakes.  I guess you can say I enjoy art and sculpting.  Mr. Collins my elementary art teacher would be proud. I worked at the hotel fifteen years and then decided I wanted to be home with my daughter on the weekend so I pursued a job with the school system.

 I came to the Bettendorf school system as the baker in 1991. I was able to make the students smile and talk about all the home made baked goods. The smell of cinnamon rolls, fresh bread, cookies, pies, and just food in general.  Watching the students eating breakfast and lunch was such a good feeling; to know that you used your hands to put a smile on a student’s face to start the day. It is such a joy to enjoy your job and to be able to go home and smile about making someone’s day.

My hat goes off to the staff that I work with now.  We all are different and that is what makes a well-rounded kitchen.  Everyone plays an important role in making the day go well.  If we have a cook and no dish washer we have no lunch or if we have lettuce and no one to put it all together then sorry but no tossed salad for lunch today.  It takes all of the team to make it work, from the Grab-N-Go to the lunch line, the truck drivers, and the servers.  It takes our director to count the calories on the menu and the supervisors to help and support the staff daily as well as the teachers and assistance from our administrators at the schools to the custodians, bus drivers and police liaison. The principals come down to say hello and to see how our day is going.  Now that is joy and it puts a smile on our faces knowing we did all we could to make someone happy.

The joy that children give to you when they have a warm meal to start the day helps all of us in the long run. I am enjoying raising my five year old granddaughter who is lactose intolerant I am gaining knowledge of working with special diets and even pureed foods. We try to make everyone feel good about eating and enjoying a school lunch, breakfast or snack. It takes the para educators that assist in feeding some of the students. The joy of watching some of the students dance or jump when they come through the lunch line just puts a big smile on our faces. We have some of the best students in our school.  When we serve them they say please and thank you and even say hello when just walking in the hallways.

I am not doing the baking or cooking for the district now, but trust me I am out on the floor watching and helping daily. On the phone I am helping parents, students and any staff member when they call. I pick up the phone with a smile and try to spread some joy to them.

Just remember no matter what you do find the joy in it and it won’t seem like such a hard job.  In a few years  I  plan on taking another step in life;  working in Cedar Rapids with young people to help boost them and to keep paying the joy forward.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Post by Chris Saito: Chris is in his 8th year as Band Director at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Chris @TrumpetSaito

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”

It should come as no surprise that, as a music teacher, I find myself needing to listen critically during rehearsal.  Actively listening for issues - such as improper balance, intonation, rhythm, or pitches - leads to the instruction that comes from the podium during rehearsals.  While I can pride myself on my own listening skills developed over my lifetime as a musician, one of the more difficult aspects of being a high school band director comes from trying to get all of my young students to actively listen, as well.

Emphasizing the importance of listening to the tuba player during every minute, every second, and every beat of music may not immediately show its importance in getting a job ten years in the future, but I strongly believe that students with well-tempered listening skills will place ahead of the pack years and decades down the road.  Why?  Read on.

The development of listening skills comes at a critical point in these students’ lives, as well as an incredible point in the evolution of social media and information technology.  With more and more students being connected to the internet, less time is spent listening in conversation.  Phone conversations that we had as students became text messages with more recent generations.  Facebook is not only a tool for sharing stories, but also for removing one’s self from needing a more personal interaction.

Think about how easy birthday greetings on Facebook have become.

Facebook reminds you of upcoming birthdays a week out.  You can click on a reminder, type “happy birthday,” regardless of whether you’ve spoken to the person in a day or a decade, and hit the “send” button.  How social is that interaction?  Is it social at all?  Yet that’s becoming the accepted norm among teens and young adults.

This is only one example of the de-socialization caused by the information age.  A bigger problem with internet anonymity and social media is the “fire-and-forget” problem that many of us find ourselves susceptible to.  We get riled up by something we read, and rather than having a conversation in person, or at least over the phone, we type up a text, email, Facebook post, or tweet, and put it out there, with the hopes that someone else will listen to what we have to say.  In reality, the fire-and-forget post only perpetuates a cycle of entrenching ourselves within what we had to say first.  The opposite of listening.

What do I need my young band members to become?  I need them to become well-rounded musicians, who have command of their own ears as well as their instruments.  I need them to become active listeners – people who will try to see all sides of a conversation, not just their own.  I need them to become fully engaged in a conversation, rather than being distracted by an electronic device.  Their developing listening skills will allow them to contribute to society as better leaders AND followers.  Better writers and readers.  Better husbands and wives.

By listening.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Building Leaders...Building Memories

Post by Sarah Roeder: Sarah has been teaching Business classes for fifteen years, the last eight years at Bettendorf High School. Sarah also serves as adviser to FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahroeder68

When I first joined the BHS team, I knew nothing about Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).  Of course being the newbie, I jumped in with both feet guided by Kristy Cleppe (@kriscleppe) and Jen Like (@JenniferrLike) not sure what to expect.  With only about 15 members our first few years, little did I know what an impact FBLA was making on our students.  Throughout the years, our chapter has grown to at times over 57 members, and the structure has changed for organizational purposes, but the basic premise of leadership, involvement and making memories has remained the same.

When kids (or adults) ask, “What is FBLA and what do you do?” it is hard to describe all that FBLA encompasses.  If you ask the members, the describe it as “one big family”, “work and fun”, “we compete and eat donuts.”  But for me, FBLA is a place where all students can excel and learn not only about business and leadership, but also find a purpose and a place to belong.

The early 5:30 a.m. mornings to pop breakfast casseroles in the oven before the kids get here for their meeting, standing in line at Schnuck’s to get three dozen donuts for the Thursday morning meetings, sleepless nights while chaperoning one of our many trips, it’s easy to get run down and at times feel unappreciated.  That’s usually when I hear the kids say “wow did you make this” or “thanks Nana Roeder”, reminding me why I do it.  When former students stay in touch after years of moving on, and talk about how much FBLA did to bring them out of their shell, build their network, and let them be part of something big, it reaffirms why I (and all of us) do it; for the kids and to create great high school memories.

We as advisers spend countless extra hours helping prep for state, holding events and chaperoning, but it really isn't about us.  It’s about the look on our member’s face when their name is called to the stage for the competitions, the excitement in their eyes when they finally experience the opening or closing sessions-- with all the lights, music, and over 7000 other students that share the same passion and goals as they do.   To see these young men and women dressed in professional dress: suits with ties, blazers and pants.  They look and feel like a million dollars, and exude confidence, ready to take on the business world.

We have been blessed to have former members come back and share with our current members, volunteer at the state competitions and visit classrooms, sharing their experiences and all that FBLA has taught them or the doors it has opened through a passion to learn, lead and explore.  FBLA is about leadership, but more importantly, building lasting memories.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Worst Teacher Ever

Post by Rodger Wilming: This is Rodger's 3rd post on TSLG1440. Rodger is in his 15th year of teaching Language Arts at Bettendorf High School. 

The worst teacher I ever had left me with the longest lasting lesson of my academic career, both as a student and as a teacher. The year was 1977; I was a junior at Davenport West High School. I loathed school (except for certain language arts teachers, all young and pretty as I recall). I would do anything to avoid the daily, bell-to-bell grind. Fortunately, I was able to take an afternoon, off-campus electronics repair course and spend less than half a day at Old Davenport West running from bell to bell with nearly 2,000 other beat-down students. All we did the first two weeks was pass around boxes filled with dusty vacuum tubes from obsolete TVs and radios and take lecture notes. I was more bored doing that than running from bell to bell.

Finally, about a month into the course, we were assigned a topic to research and report on in a formal paper. Now we were talkin’ my language. I was an Ace at formal essays. My young/pretty language arts teachers had told me so on numerous occasions.

My topic was Guglielmo Marconi, The Godfather of the Wireless Radio. I spent the weekend crafting and editing my masterpiece. I proudly placed it on Mr. M.’s desk Monday afternoon and waited with bated breath for its triumphal return. When I arrived to class a couple of days later, my paper was resting at my place in the electronics lab along with everyone else’s. I eagerly snatched up my magnum opus only to discover a serious mistake had been made. My teacher had scribbled a bright red “C-” on the top of the first of four, well-crafted pages. When I asked about his obvious oversight of my paper’s genius, he grumbled, “That’s the score and that’s that.” Then he walked away.

I reacted the way any rational, red-blooded, sixteen-year-old boy would: I ripped the paper horizontally, creating a new, eight-page paper. Then I tore it vertically, magically turning eight pages into sixteen. Then I crumpled it up like a ball and tossed it into the nearest circular file I could see from my seat. In it went, swish. No rim.

Just as I leaned back to bask in the glory of my accomplishment, I felt myself being lifted from my chair. Someone had a hold of my arm from behind and was pulling hard… wrath of God hard. Of course it was Mr. M. Now, I had developed a reputation of being a bit of a BA back in the day; obviously Mr. M. hadn’t gotten the memo. Fortunately, my best friend at the time saw the whole thing and quickly said, “You better let go of him, Mr. M.” Mr. M. liked my buddy and decided he might be right about letting go of my arm.

Everything worked out.  The principal of the school (who happened to attend my church at the time) talked to me. Then he talked to my teacher. My paper was returned the next day (magically taped into four pieces with a much higher grade at the top). My semester grade was awful, but I knew there would be paybacks.

Fast forward twenty years. I had an old truck. It had a broken radio… a tube-type radio. Yep, I needed the last person I should have ever considered to repair an obsolete radio for me. I called Mr. M. (he was in the book), told him my name and set up a time to drop off my radio. When I showed up at his house he answered the door with a framed photo in his left hand. It was then that I remembered how he’d told us that he had taken a photo of every class he’d ever taught. I realized, right then and there, that it was clearly time for me to eat some major crow. Before I could say a word, he held up the picture and said, “We had some trouble when you were my student didntt we?”

I had to think quickly. In just a second or two, I heard myself say, “Yes, sir. Yes we did.

“What was that about? Do you remember?” he asked.

And then it hit me. I said, “Yes, yes I do. You asked me to write a paper on Marconi’s wireless radio and I wrote a paper on Guglielmo Marconi, The Godfather of the Wireless Radio.” I had nothing more to say. Neither did Mr. M.

Finally, he stuck out his right hand, shook mine and said, “I thought it was something like that.” He set the picture down, took the truck radio from under my arm, smiled and said, “Come on in. Let’s take a good look at this old girl.”

I saw Mr. M. just twice more after that day: once to pick up my perfectly repaired tube radio and once when my parents and wife had taken me out to dinner. They were perturbed at me, I recall, because I couldn’t tear myself away from a serendipitous conversation with Mr. M. and his wife who just happened to be dining in the same restaurant we’d chosen that night.  I stumbled across Mr. M.’s obituary in the newspaper a while back. It reminded me that most ugly situations can be resolved, if not completely avoided, with just a small measure of understanding.

Monday, November 17, 2014

There Is More Than Meets the Eye

Post by Joe Newcomb: Joe is in his 3rd year of teaching special education (Level II BD) at BHS. You can follow Joe on Twitter @jnewcomb32 

From the time I began my college education, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and coach. What I did not know is where I would end up or where I would have my first opportunity to help make a difference in students’ lives.  After graduating from Cornell College with an endorsement in Physical Education, I quickly found out how difficult it is to find a job in the education field.  I moved to the Quad Cities to be closer to my then, fiancĂ©, and began substituting in a couple of school districts. 

After subbing throughout the 1st semester, I felt like I was creating relationships and connections with people at several different schools.  I was hopeful that I would be given an opportunity the following year in some sort of teaching role.  However, one early December day my phone rang asking if I was interested in interviewing for a Special Education long-term substitute position.  I told the person on the other end that I was and that I would be there to interview next week. At the interview, I learned more about the position and learned that it would be in the area of working with students with behavioral needs.  Knowing very little about the field of special education, in particular BD students, I was nervous, but excited to begin my teaching career. 

When I was asked to substitute in this role, I knew this job would be different.  I had no idea what to expect when I walked through the doors on day one after the holiday break, but I quickly learned how similar this job was to any other teaching job.  As I walked into the self-contained classroom, I was greeted with questions and looks of confusion from the students in the classroom.  They wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there.  As they slowly warmed up to me and we were able to break the ice by talking and getting to know one another, I learned how they were similar to all of the other students in the school.  The students I worked with wanted to be cared about, connected with, and given a reason to buy into school.  Many of them had not been given a reason to like school or want to be in school for several years.  Although most of these students want to succeed in school, it is very difficult to help them succeed because these students require more time to create relationships with others, particularly with adults.  I learned this the hard way as a couple of the students refused to talk to me or give me a chance to get to know them for several weeks.  These few students continued to observe my efforts to help them in the classroom and with controlling their emotions.  After several days, they opened up to me and gave me a chance.

After being in this role for almost three years, including my long-term substitute time, I have learned an incredible amount from the students I encounter every day.  I have learned that every student wants to have success on a daily basis.  While some students may never vocalize that they want to be successful, it is the times that they are successful that you see that these students want to perform well.  When a student struggles to complete academic school work, pass classes, attend school on a daily basis, or show respect to the adults in the building, one moment of success in one of those areas of struggle can portray the student’s pride or happiness as they learn that they can succeed similar to their peers.  While these successes may be days or weeks apart for some students, I still have comfort in knowing that they can and will achieve success which keeps me upbeat and excited to come to work on a daily basis.  I have also learned that growth for each student can be different on so many levels.  While we all want our students to be successful by passing all of their classes, attending school each day, and staying out of trouble, I have been lucky enough to see and understand that success for one of my students is different from the success of other students.  For my students, success can be determined by the amount a student goes to class, how often a student arrives on time, or passing at least one class each quarter.  Although success for each of my students appears to be different, I have learned that growth on a consistent basis is the most important aspect of helping my students increase their successes.  With that said, growth from the students I work with may not be easily seen from those who do not work with them on a daily basis.  At times, I am even guilty for not recognizing the improvements my students have made.  However, unlike others, I have the benefit of reflecting back on past experiences with my students and can then identify how each of them has grown.

As I look ahead, I have no idea what my future may hold as an educator, person, husband, or friend.  Nevertheless, I do know that I have been blessed and feel honored to have been given an opportunity to work with the students that I do on a daily basis.  I learn so much each day and feel that this teaching experience is making me a better person and educator as I learn how to work with students who face daily obstacles that I have never had to encounter.  While the job may be different each day or class period and filled with challenges, what job is not?  I am thankful for my students for teaching me skills that I now know I lacked and was unaware that I needed, and I am hopeful that I can teach my students the importance of being understanding, working hard each day, and creating relationships built on trust.  I continue to look forward to the opportunities and challenges that I will face throughout the school year, and I have no doubt that we (our classroom and program) will continue to grow and show success as we head deeper into the 2014-15 academic school year.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

See the Stars...Not the Mud

Post by Vera Betts: Vera has worked for the BCSD for 21 years. She currently serves as a secretary in the attendance office with her long time partner Joni B.

"Two inmates stare through prison bars. One sees mud, the other...stars."
             - Robert Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz)   

Occasionally my husband will share this quote with me and our family. Sometimes we need to remind him, too. 

When Mr. Casas asked me to write something for his blog, I just wasn't sure what I could add that hasn't already been stated. Those who know me well, understand how difficult it is for me to express myself. Sometimes my tongue gets in front of my eye teeth and I can't see what I'm saying. But I told Mr. C that I'd give it a shot. So, here it goes...

I'm a proud, full-blooded Italian, wife, mother and grandmother. I carefully nurtured a son and three daughters, through the Bettendorf school system...and with much love I can proudly say they are all healthy, wise and productive citizens.

I started my career with the Bettendorf School System in 1993 as a Food Service Attendant. So I guess you can say I started out washing dishes. The next 10 years were dedicated to Project Ready (now The Edison Academy). I was patiently mentored by a group exceptionally talented teachers from three school districts and emotionally bonded with several of the students.  I've now been 12 years in the Attendance Office at Bettendorf High School. 

Perhaps, many of you can recall the physical and functional changes that have occurred since 2003. Back then the Attendance Office was pretty much a support office for the rest of the school. Visitors and students went to the main office first and were, then, referred to attendance for various reasons.

With the newly constructed offices, came a physical and mental metamorphosis, involving abrupt changes and urgent adaptations. Joni, my co-worker, and I have now become the "Gate Keepers" for our hallowed institution. Buzzing folks through our doors, answering busy phones, retrieving voice messages, assisting visitors and granting passes seems a daunting task at times. At the same time, these new duties and challenges are exhilarating. On the up-side, we get to meet and greet (briefly sometimes) just about everyone who enters the building. Fortunately, working with administrators who understand, provide a nurturing environment and motivationally empower us to do our best during the transition.

I know that, unfortunately, some folks show up and pass through our gates seeing mud instead of stars. We "Gate Keepers" have a mission to help those few see a star now and then. That's why I keep a bowl of mints on my counter. I choose to think that mints can do more than relieve a students oral halitosis. Perhaps, in a small way, it can relieve that pesky mental halitosis, too. Who knows for sure...and why not? To keep up with demand, I've had to resort to the JUMBO BAG.

Well, welcome to the Attendance Office.  Stop by and say hi to Joni and me. Grab a mint, too!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Learning to Love the Mess

Post by Laura Hesse: Laura is in her 4th year of teaching social studies, the last three at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Laura on Twitter @LauraJHesse

When I was a freshman in high school, I had Mr. Lapish for 9th grade Honors English. He was skinny, dorky, and kind of weird, and he was my inspiration to be a teacher. In his class, I learned how to work hard. Every assignment required a great deal of thought and effort. At the same time, I learned how to be goofy and explore learning from new angles. We played baseball with a cardboard poster tube and tennis ball. We acted out short stories and Shakespeare. We made videos on various chapters of Lord of the Flies using Barbie dolls and construction paper backgrounds.

After high school, I left my hometown north of Chicago for a small town in northern Iowa. When I arrived at Luther College, I was ready to take on the world. At the beginning, I was a proud English and History major with a minor in secondary education. Then, in January of my sophomore year, I spent some time in a classroom, and I began to question my life. Classrooms were so messy. Students are dealing with emotions while you are dealing with facts. How do you reach out and engage students who do not even want to be in the building, let alone your classroom? How do I teach students the history of the world when all they can focus on is the drama within their own lives?

I quit.

I switched my major to Anthropology and set my sites on a distinguished career in archaeology and museum work. I convinced myself that I was making a much better choice by switching to a career that made more money and dealt with no emotions. But I felt empty.

That summer, I emailed a former education professor and poured my heart out. Instead of replying, he called me into his office. He sat me down and told me, “Laura, teaching is not for everyone. It takes passion and commitment. It takes the understanding that you will fail and you will fall, and it takes the dedication to stand back up and try again. Is it easy? No. Is it messy? Yes. But if you let it, it will make your life beautiful. Are you strong enough to let it?”

I started over in education. This time, I embraced the mess. After graduation, I ended up in the Quad Cities teaching Social Studies. In my time teaching, I have learnt that mess is the best part of teaching. Really, mess is the reason I fell in love with teaching in the first place.

Now, I try to bring mess to my daily teaching. My classes experiment with new programs and activities. We embrace new technology. We act as guinea pigs for new ideas. We hold mock town meetings to discuss peaceful protest. We take on the roles of UN peace negotiators. We explore the slang of the 1920’s. I am constantly changing lessons that fail and even lessons that succeed. It is not perfect. I am not perfect. In fact, I am far from perfect. What I am is a teacher, and I love the mess that goes with it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Title In Progress

Post by Daniel Van Winkle: Daniel is in his first year of teaching Social Studies at Bettendorf High School.  You can follow Daniel on Twitter @MrVDubz

I have been thinking over and over again about what to write in this blog, there are so many topics.  Not to mention, so many ways to try and write (funny, serious, sad, inspirational). However, I think I am just going to write in the style of how I try to live my life, which is saying what I feel and going with my gut instinct. Even though I’m only part of the way through my first full year of teaching, I have already encountered many moments that could not be taught during a college course, professional development session, or a handbook. When these moments arise, I have to rely on my own critical thinking, feelings, and gut instinct.  All ways in which I also plan to write this blog post.

            When I think back to one year ago, I would have been sitting at this same desk, counting down the days until I was finished student teaching. I was so ready to graduate, get out into the world, and start making the big bucks (did I not know what career field I was going into?) I was scared- I was graduating in December and as far as I could see I had no job prospects. Although, I was not too worried because I was having a blast student teaching- I had great classes, a phenomenal cooperating teacher, and a fantastic department who made me feel like part of the team from day one. I think the thing that I was most scared of was leaving. The next few weeks went by, I had some difficult goodbyes, and I graduated. Time for the real world.

            From December-February I was jobless, I moved to the Des Moines area to find work and could not find any. I was running low on hope when I received a call for a job opportunity where I student taught. I came back and was hired on for a new position working with students struggling academically, and being a guest teacher. What an eye opening experience. I was able to work with so many parts of the school- the administration, paraeducators, student services, special education, etc. I was given the opportunity to see everything that makes the school work, and it is beyond impressive. I was jumping department to department every day, subbing in a new spot, visiting a new classroom, and seeing different students. The only thing that was the same every day was the work ethic and passion I saw from my coworkers. Every day I witnessed how dedicated and professional everyone who I worked with was.  They would do anything and everything they possibly could so that students were given the opportunity to succeed and learn. None of them are ever satisfied with what they have accomplished, and it is truly amazing to see such a premier academic facility strive to make themselves and their students better every day.

            Now let’s fast forward to today, where I am currently teaching history and psychology at the same school where I was just student teaching the year before. It has been a dream opportunity and scenario I plan to take advantage of.  The title of this blog is Title In Progress not only because I went with my gut on what to write on, but because ‘In Progress’ is how I would label myself, my students, and my team. I am in progress every day, trying to improve my teaching skills, my relationships with my students, and ultimately trying to improve myself as a whole.  My students are in progress because they are always learning more, striving to discover their identity and how they are going to make their mark in their lifetime. My team is also in progress because I know every one of them out there is trying to make our school and community a better place.

            In closing, I will end with a couple points of advice- Do your best to be ‘in progress’ at all times, never settle, and the people around you will not settle either. Make someone part of your family; we all need a sense of belonging, especially our students so bring them into your classroom family.  Finally, make sure you become part of a family. When I hear people come to me in my life and complain about their jobs, and how pointless they seem, I cannot help but feel blessed that I have found a career at a place in a community that has allowed me to become a part of a family.  A family with my team and students, at Bettendorf High School. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Take That First Step

Post by Brad Bannerman: Brad is in his first year as an Academic Interventionist at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Brad on twitter @bradbannerman

In the Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, Bilbo Baggins recites the following poem:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

I love this poem, the journey to success is a road, and like a road you can get on it at any point in time. But in order to get to success you must take a step on that road. The first step is the most difficult, but once the walking has begun you can negotiate the bumps with ease.

Being housed in the depths of the school, I don’t get out as much as I’d like, so if I haven’t said hello, or you haven’t heard from or met me about one of our mutual students, then let me introduce myself; I’m Brad Bannerman, Academic Interventionist (thunderous applause).

I've taken a long road to the position I now hold. I graduated high school (yep, the rumors are true--I was a Spartan) in 1999. Due to extended indecision I didn't get my Associates degree from Scott Community College until 2006 (so yes, o’ students it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do after high school). I received my Bachelors in History in 2008 from the University of Iowa. I fruitlessly searched for a job (any job) for almost two years. During this time, I gained my substitute authorization, and began subbing in the Pleasant Valley school district. While in a long-term position, and after the birth of my first daughter, I realized that I have a passion for education and teaching, and that I want to make a difference. This led me back to school for a Masters of Teaching and Learning from the University of Iowa in December of 2012. I was hired to my current position in August 2014.

In brief, that’s how I got to my current place in life. But I don’t just want to let you know my biography. I want to talk about the feelings of negativity, frustration, and hopelessness I experienced; more importantly, I want to discuss perseverance.

In my extended time between high school and college graduations, I experienced a long period of feeling lost or uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life. As I worked in a job from which I derived no joy, I finally came to realize that I needed to return to school to find a job I would enjoy.

With a sense of hope I attended and graduated from both Scott Community College and the University of Iowa. After graduation, I was certain that I would find a job I loved and could work at forever.

With a growing feeling of frustration, I found  no jobs available for which I was qualified. This was not a unique situation, as the year 2008 was an absolutely abysmal year for the entire world. The stock market crashed, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. As a stopgap measure I received my substitute authorization and began subbing.

Now, to that point in my life I had always considered becoming a teacher, but had ruled it out because I wasn't certain I could handle working with so many students at once. Then I had my first daughter, I long term subbed and realized that I loved teaching and working with students. These two events completely shifted my paradigm and completely rerouted my life.

I subbed as I attended grad school at Iowa, graduating in December of 2012, once again full of hope and high expectations. The job market still was recovering however, and there were few teaching positions to be had. I can’t truly describe the frustrations and pains I went through while searching for a place to launch my career. Looking back, it’s easy to see that everything worked out the way it did for a reason: to lead me to the position I have here at Bettendorf today. I love what I do. I love working with the students I do. I find I’m once again full of hope and optimism.

My message here is for all of the students out there who feel frustration, hopelessness, even rage. I want you to know that we've all been through those feelings. Your teachers aren't immune to those feelings, even now. We are human, we all make mistakes, we all deal with problems, everyone feels their problems are insurmountable. But I want you to know that you can succeed. If you persevere, success is attainable. Will it be easy? Maybe, but probably not. Here’s the trick: don’t feel stupid for failing--no one begins anything as an expert. All of your teachers have failed--often miserably at one time or another. Failing is nothing more than a curve on the road to success. So I implore you, wherever you think your road will lead, take that first step, the ones after will come more easily, I promise.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How Being a Game Master Helped me Prepare for Student Teaching

Post by William Payne: William is a senior at Augustana College and is currently doing his student teaching in math at Bettendorf High School under the guidance of Joe Buck @josfbuck 

Wait, what?

Hello everyone! If I haven’t met you yet, I’m William Payne and I’m student teaching in the math department under the skillful watch of Team Lead Mr. Joe Buck. I’m a senior mathematics and mathematics education major at Augustana College. Feel free to stop by, pop your head in, and stay for some math!

When I was approached by Mr. Casas about doing a blog post from the perspective of a student teacher, I was excited but also completely unsure of what to say. I could talk about how awesome everyone has been- faculty, staff, and students alike. I could say something about how impressed I have been with the quality of the Mathematics program here at Bettendorf. And although every word of that is true, I figure it has been said before. Old hat, if you will.

So, instead, I've decided to share a revelation I had while reflecting on my student teaching experience at Bettendorf. That being a teacher is remarkably similar to being a Game Master.

For those of you not among the Dungeons and Dragons, tabletop role-playing game, nerd-folk, I want to do a quick explanation.  Dungeons and Dragons is a magical time (pun intended), where a bunch of people get together to become someone else for a night. Pick a type of character you might want to play. You might choose to play a melee fighter, for example. Or some kind of cunning rogue. Maybe a wizard. Or something in between one of those. Then, using a variety of specialized dice, you roll stats to determine how strong you are. Finally, you decide how you want your character to act- hero, villain, or somewhere in between. It’s all up you. Then, you play that character out. However, as Billy Shakes once said, “all the world’s a stage,” and your awesome character has no stage on which to act. That’s where the game master comes in.

The game master creates the world the players inhabit. They create other characters, places, languages, and religions with which the players will interact and, well, live, really. I learned to play Dungeons and Dragons my freshman year of college. But it wasn't until my junior year that I began to learn how to be a game master.

And these past few weeks of student teaching, I've been really grateful that I learned this skill. Teaching and being a game master require many of the same skills.

First off, they require that person doing them can act. Teachers, at their core, are also actors, I feel. They need to stand up for an audience and perform. They need to put themselves in a variety of different hats and positions to fully be successful.

Second, they both require a great deal of creativity. If a teacher gets bogged down, reciting their lessons from the book all the time, the students will get bored, and rightfully so.  If a Game Master doesn’t find ways of making the game fresh, then the players will enjoy the game that much less.
Both classes and specific game campaigns tend to develop personalities of their own. You develop jokes and ways of thinking that other people wouldn’t always understand. When you can see a gaming friend coming towards you and you can make that friend hit the floor laughing just by yelling “A IS FOR AXE!!,” you know something wonderful has happened. This paradigm exists, too, in the world of the classroom.

Also, both teaching and being a Game Master requires a good amount of flexibility and ability to improvise. In both cases, the teacher or the Game Master has no idea how their audience will react. As any good teacher will tell you, sometimes a lesson goes pretty flawlessly. But most of the time, the lesson goes off somewhere, and the teacher has to do something he or she wasn't expected. Players, too, also have a good amount of unreliability. Sometimes, you have a great story all planned out. But one cannot control player behavior, and sometimes the party might just kill the most integral part of the story. A good Game Master adapts.

So, students, if you are looking for a really fun time, but also want to experience some of the responsibilities of a teacher, I recommend getting together with some good friends and learning to play one of the various editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Or Pathfinder. Or any other tabletop role playing game, for that matter. And teachers, if you want to practice your teaching skills, while getting away from the classroom, I have the same recommendation.

After all, what could be better than laughter, gaming, and friendship?

Game on, Bettendorf High School.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Best This...Most Likely That

Post by Joe Buck: Joe is in his 31st year of teaching Mathematics at Bettendorf High School.  He still owns his now yellowing copies of the Core Standards for Mathematics Content and Core Standards for Mathematical Practices that were developed by a large group of college and high school teachers, textbook and standardized test writers, and members of the mathematics, business and scientific communities. You can follow him on twitter @josfbuck 

Back in the Spring of 1985, our students voted on a slate of superlatives.  Best this - Most likely that.  They included some teacher superlatives, too, one of which was “Most likely to be teaching at Bettendorf High School in the year 2050”.  I was doubly amused by the two teachers who ended up tied for the “award”.  One was a fixture, who at an age approaching seventy was not going to be there by the Fall of 1985, let alone 2050.  The other was me.  As a first year teacher, there was at least a chance that I would live until 2050, but I was quite certain that I would soon be teaching at the college level and be a distant memory around this place. 

Now I will most certainly not be at BHS in 2050.  But what happened to that college goal?  Turns out I loved teaching high school mathematics.  And, by the way, I still do!  I love the beauty of introducing kids to something as simple as Euler’s Formula (shown above) which can be understood best after mastering Taylor Series at the end of Calculus.  Or the infinite complexity and self-similarity of the Mandelbrot Set (seen below).  I love when something complicated looking can be understood as simple.  “Oh, you mean you just ?”  I also love when something that looked simple turns out to be so much more interesting. 

Just like my “favorite tie” is the one I am wearing today, so my favorite time to be teaching is right now.  People often assume that my field has been set for thousands of years and is fixed and unchanging.  Yet the first crude pictures of that Mandelbrot Set were only developed a few years before the first year of my career.  When I was in high school, I was taught about logarithms and my teacher showed us how we could use them to understand how to work with a slide rule to “easily” make arithmetic calculations.  Of course, calculators were already pretty widely available, so he didn’t actually make us learn how to use those slide rules.  That would have been the traditional course at the time, but it would have also been silly.  Technology advances continue to make a difference in what is most important for everyone to know from those centuries of mathematics. There is so much math happening fresh every day.  Much of it is completely understandable by teenagers.  And even when the math is Algebra and Geometry, where most of the specific things we decide are important (or Core, if I can use that word without it being a political statement) have been around for centuries, we learn more and more each year about how the brain works and how learning happens, making right now the best time to be teaching.  (And next year it will be then, we will have learned so much more about what is most effective.)

I have a student teacher this year.  He is enthusiastic, energetic, and excited about helping kids learn mathematics.  I hope for him that thirty years from now, the rush of helping kids see something today that they did not know yesterday, then understand it tomorrow, and master it by next week will still be just as exciting as it is right now, and as it was thirty years ago.