Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Tribute To My School Family

Post by Leanne Wagner: Leanne is leaving Bettendorf High School after 23 years. She has accepted a position as Director of Instructional Technology for Catalyst Schools in Chicago. We wish Leanne all of the best! She will be missed by all! You can follow Leanne @BHS_TL

“In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, and a bridge to our future.” Alex Haley

It is that time of the year again, when our students set out to blaze new trails and start a new chapter in their life. Graduation, celebrations and the last summer before they head off for college or to begin their working lives.  I remember the feeling.  I was so proud and happy that I had graduated high school and was excited about starting college in the fall.  As a 17 year old, I didn’t really do a whole lot of reflecting on my high school career that last summer.  I was busy playing softball and well….. being a teenager.  As time for leaving grew near, the reality of what was about to happen started to hit me.  I remember not being able to sleep the night before I was to leave.  I had all of these doubts about whether or not I could handle the rigorous classes.  Would I fit in? What types of friends would I make? Would I be able to survive being away from the comfort and safety of my family and home?  I remember knocking on my parent’s bedroom door.  My Mom asked what was wrong and I told her I was nervous and I couldn’t sleep.  She said, in her best motherly voice, “You’ll be fine, get some rest.”  I chuckle now when I think of that exchange.  I know that if those words are uttered by someone who has been cheering you on and supporting you for your entire life, then they are enough to set your mind at ease and let you get some sleep.  That’s what families do—make you feel everything will be just fine.  I suspect the feelings I had so long ago are pretty normal for high school students who are getting ready for the next adventure in their lives.

What about teachers? The end of the school year represents something different for teachers.  The last day, of course, is really not the end.  Usually the countdown to the last school day is met with cheers and excitement as a long awaited rest and break is needed.  Most teachers enjoy time with friends and family, enjoy hobbies, travel and get things done that they wouldn’t be able to do during the school year.  When fall (or early August) rolls around, we ramp up and get ready for a whole new crop of students who are ready to start their high school careers.

I’ve been through this end of the year process 22 times and each year it is about the same.  We don’t say good bye as most of the time we see our colleagues at one point during the summer, whether it be at school doing curriculum writing or on some social occasions.  When we come back for the start of the new school year—we catch up with those we didn’t see during the break and talk about the great summers we had and the feeling that the start of the school year comes earlier every year.  I had every intention of going through those same activities and emotions at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.  After all I am a veteran teacher who has been in the same school her entire career.  Some things change, people come and go but Bettendorf High School has been a constant in my life.   My colleagues, some of which have been here as long as I have or in rare cases, a little longer have the routine down pat.  We use the first few days of in-service to catch up before we get back into the swing of things as the new school year begins. 

But, for me, this year is much different.  I have accepted a job as Director of Instructional Technology for Catalyst Schools, a network of public charter schools in Chicago.  The strange thing, I wasn’t really looking to leave Bettendorf High School.  I was happy here and loved my job, the people I work with and the work that we were doing.  Why would I leave?  To me, I had the perfect job. 

Something felt different about this opportunity.  I felt a strange yearning to take what I have learned here over the last 23 years and share it with a group of students and teachers I felt I could impact in a very meaningful way.  My pride in what Bettendorf High School does, and the culture of community that we have here made it very difficult to accept this offer. That may sound odd, after all if I have such strong feelings about what we are doing here in Bettendorf shouldn’t I want to stay and finish what we’ve started.  Instead, I found myself thinking of ways I could help Catalyst Schools on their road to transforming teaching and learning.  They would be looking to me for help in implementing a vision that I will help to create.  That’s what it is all about in education, right?  I mean education isn’t only about helping students grow, it’s also an avenue of growth for the very professionals that do the work on an everyday basis.  We work so hard to improve our craft so that we can challenge our students every day in our classrooms.  I feel, what I can only describe as an obligation, to take what I have learned and gained here in Bettendorf and cultivate it in other communities.  I am so very proud of what we have here in Bettendorf and I believe that if I can help another “school community” to establish the type of educational excellence we have here in Bettendorf then I have been successful.  This opportunity will allow me to both challenge myself and continue impacting students every day.  Sounds like a win-win! 


Of course, now it is nearing the end and I am realizing that again, I will be leaving home.  A home, in which, I have lived longer than any other place in my life.  A family that has gone through many changes but has been a consistent source of support and encouragement to me in both my personal and my professional life.  All of my adult life has been spent here and that makes leaving very difficult.  I feel like that 17 year old graduate the night before leaving.  I have some of those same doubts.  Am I making a mistake leaving? Will I be able to make a positive impact?  Will I be able to establish beneficial relationships with my colleagues?  Will I be able to help teachers integrate technology in a meaningful way?  Although these doubts will creep into my thoughts the next few days, this time, I’m not having trouble sleeping because age and experience have taught me that when you leave home your family will always provide the support, love and encouragement that you need.  Your family wants what is best for you as a person and a professional and will support you in any way they can.  Just as Mom, Dad and my siblings helped me to mature into a young person who could take on the challenge of attending college, my family here in Bettendorf has given me the confidence and courage to strike out on a new adventure.  That is what is so wonderful about Bettendorf.  I consider the people I work with my family and I know that they have been helping me to be the best person and teacher I can be and that is not going to change just because I am changing jobs.  Just like the people that I am related to by blood, my Bettendorf family has been there for me through everything you can imagine and I will forever be grateful to have them in my life.  There isn’t any way that I can thank my Bettendorf family enough for everything they have given me so I will make this promise, I will continue to strive to be the best Bulldog I can be and that will take me as far as I care to go.

I know family members, regardless of their relationship to you, will only be a phone call, text, tweet, email or face-time conversation away.  And that is the way it should be.

 “In life, a person will come and go from many homes.  We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us.  Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world.  They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.”    Ari Berk

Friday, May 23, 2014

Thanks Dad For Taking Me Fishing

Posy by Rachel Cuppy: Rachel has been teaching for 14 years. She has taught K-12 in both public & private sectors and the last 7 years in alternative education before coming to Bettendorf High this school year. You can follow Rachel @rcuppy1

As summer quickly approaches, I find myself daydreaming of going fishing on my dad’s lake.  He bought the “farm” when I was in kindergarten and I spent countless hours there each summer running free, learning to fish in our lake, and discovering who I am.  My best memories of growing up are in boat, listening to my dad’s stories, with a pole in my hand.  I look back now and realize that, by teaching me to fish, my dad ultimately taught me how to be a successful teacher.   
Before I even really began fishing, my dad was explaining to me the types of fish in our lake.  He showed me pictures and explained to me that some types of fish hang out at the edge of the lake and others usually stayed at the very bottom of the deepest parts, where the water was dark and cool.  He bought me my first fishing pole and made be practice casting in the front yard with a weight on the line instead of a hook. I would stand for hours in the front yard casting the weight he tied onto my fishing line.  I don’t think I ever hit the bucket target he set out for me, but I got pretty close after a few huge misses.

On the nights before we went fishing he would make sure we laid out our fishing clothes and had the cooler ready to be packed.  We always went to bed a little early on those nights so we could wake up early in the morning, rested and ready to go.  Getting up early was never easy for me, but I came to understand that it really made a difference to get up and get going before the sun was at its peak. Being a red-headed pale child, the sun was not my friend.  It only took a couple of times of getting burnt badly and I learned that during the late morning and early afternoon, I needed a break from its harsh rays.

After we arrived at the “farm,” my dad would sit with me on each fishing trip and look through my tackle box.  He taught me that you need to be prepared and have different hooks, baits, and lures, because you never know what the fish may be biting on that day.  I learned quickly that, although you needed several options, the big flashy lures, baits, and accessories quickly made my tackle box too heavy to carry.
Once out on the boat my dad would watch the water for a few minutes before he would row us to the perfect spot.  He made sure I baited my hooks, set my bobbers, and had the correct amount of weight on my pole.  He watched me cast and encouraged me to be patient when I did not get a bite on my line within the first few minutes.  He worked with me time after time as I excitedly jerked my bait out a fish mouths when I did get bites.  Eventually, I learned to be patient and set the hook so that I could reel in my catches.  I remember quite a few “monsters” that fought me hard and, when I finally got them into the boat, they were tiny little fish that seemed so weak.  Big or small, my dad cheered each time I proudly held up the fish I caught.

Occasionally, we would jug fish using chicken liver for bait.  Jug fishing was always exciting because we usually caught big catfish that were always interesting to me.  I remember the first time we caught something other than a fish on our jug – it was a snapping turtle.  I lifted the jug out of the water expecting a catfish and saw an angry snapping turtle.  I called for my dad and he came to the end of the boat and together we got the turtle to the shore where he could be dealt with in safe manner.

Not every trip we took to the lake was successful.  Some days, no matter what we used for bait or where we went on the water, the fish would not bite.  My dad would take those opportunities to admire the beauty all around us.  We would look at plants, clouds in the sky, bugs floating on the water, and logs that had been in the water for many years.  We never wasted time focusing on a bad day fishing because my dad always helped me focus on the beauty around us.

Year after year my dad took me fishing.  As I grow older, I know a lot of success I find within my classrooms is rooted in those trips. 

What I learned……

1. I learned to get to know my students: it is important to understand their likes, dislikes, how they feel they learn best and what their family is like. Students work best for teachers who take the time to understand and care about them.

2.  I learned to be prepared to offer students more than one option in demonstrating knowledge of materials.  It is important to be flexible, what works today with one student may not work tomorrow with another student. 

3.  I learned that practicing and being prepared will help me prevent wasting time and allow me to teach more effective lessons. Being prepared allows me to model responsibility and a good work ethic to my students.

4.  I learned that teaching requires me to use a variety of teaching methods.

5.  I have learned to focus on research based and student focused methods, instead of wasting my time trying to learn about many different approaches that are not practical for me to use.  After all, having a variety of teaching methods is a wonderful thing, but having too many methods will confuse and frustrate students and myself.

6.  I learned to observe my students and celebrate successes no matter how large or small they may seem to me.  Every single student has something to celebrate.  It is my job to help them feel successful and celebrate their accomplishments.

7.  I learned to ask for help in dealing with students, parents, and even co-workers when I was in over my head.   

8.  I have had to work with many challenging people throughout my career.  I aim to solve my daily trials by being honest and open with communication, if that fails I am not afraid to ask a colleague or administrator for help.

9.  I learned that, even on the tough days, there are plenty of blessings around me to focus on.  All I need to do is look around and change my focus to the students who are all around me in order to see those blessings.

Thanks dad for teaching me to find success in my classrooms. 


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Leading by Example

Post by Kristie Henson: Kristie is completing her 6th year as the Guidance Secretary at Bettendorf High School.  You can follow her on twitter @Bettmom0210 

I always knew I would be in a profession where I would help people.  I thought that I would be a nurse or a therapist, or maybe even a school counselor.  But a “secretary” not so much.  Now looking back, I think that I have one of the best jobs in one of the best places with the best people.  I am the Guidance Secretary at Bettendorf High School.  When you think of a secretary, you think of someone who answers phones and keeps “the higher ups” organized and on task.  I feel this position is nothing like that. My main focus of every day is to positively impact someone’s life… whether it is a student, a staff member, or maybe even someone from our community. 

In our Guidance office we have two student workers. They assist in answering the phones and greeting people who enter.  On the first day, they are acquainted with their responsibilities and we go over basic office rules.  However, the one thing that I stress that is a very important introduction to our office it that they must greet anyone who comes in and immediately assist them.  I truly value my interaction and mentoring of these students.

Despite the stereotype, being at Bettendorf High School does not exclude us from having students who are homeless, hungry, drug addicted, neglected, or in a foster home. I am finding that the most frustrating, hard to reach kids are those who have had very little support from home or from anyone for that matter.  They could even be the wealthiest of students and still we may wonder how they can be so miserable.  Kids act out in many different ways; some show no emotion at all when they are faced with tough times.  I want our student workers to learn that throughout their lives they will meet people with a variety circumstances and that with a simple action or response you can change what may be a negative situation into something positive.

I see so many situations that come in our office each day. The reason someone comes in our Guidance office is because they need help! Whether they want to change a class, need help understanding a class, are in conflict with someone significant to them, or they are having a bad day and need a place to go, they turn to us.  There is a definite increase in the number of students who really need our help and guidance in order for them to make it through the next 15 minutes, hour, or even the day.  We do not place judgment on them.  When they enter our office, it is essential that they are immediately greeted with a smile, and some type of positive response. “Good Morning, How can I help you? How is your day?”  Also when they leave, the response is, “have a great day”, or even a simple, “good bye.” This shows that you acknowledge them and they mean something.

With these greetings, I know that I am impacting an individual. Even if someone is having a bad day and is trying to keep it together, a simple “How can I help you” and eye contact can make that individual comfortable. I want them to know that it is okay to come to our office when they are happy, sad, crying, or even in an all-out rage.  They have to know that there are people here to help them whether it is an adult or even their peers.  This is why my job is not “just the secretary” and the student workers are not just students. We are on the front lines and need to assess what individuals need and how we can help them. 

I hope by setting an example to students it will provide them the tools to help others throughout their lives and not be so quick to stereotype and pass judgment.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Life Is Not A Race

Post by Matt Edwards: Matt is in his first year as School Social Worker at Bettendorf High School, after previously serving as a classroom paraprofessional. Matt also coaches the boys tennis team.

When my principal asked me to contribute to this blog, I felt intimidated because one, I was not even sure what a “blog” was.  I would not describe myself as tech savvy or a social media inficiato , I’m a School Social Worker, I’m a face-to-face “people person”. Second, I was so proud and honored to be asked to contribute a “social worker's” view.  Every day I get to work with the most amazing teachers, guidance team and paras.  From cafeteria staff to security staff, I get to work in a place that everyone in the building cares and is passionate about helping young people.   See, that is what my real passion in life is, my calling if you will, to help young people flourish and grow, to help them develop and reach their dreams and a better life.

I think my earliest memories of caring about life’s injustices and wanting to change the world came when I was just a young boy and I watched the classic movie “Roots” with my mother.  The principles I hold dear as a Social Worker such as treating all with dignity, respect, and with justice and fairness were ingrained in me as a very young child.  That’s just what my mother taught me, we cared about others, it was our duty, the right thing to do.  Those principles I learned as a young child and later more fully developed though MSW education from the “Harvard of the Midwest”, Washington University, in St. Louis, MO., fuels and guides my daily work as a high school Social Worker.  I recently spoke at our school’s annual  Student’s 1st Banquet which is the most amazing, inspiring, powerful and uplifting rendition of the human spirit overcoming challenge and strife.  Regular students, students who may never get any other recognition in their school career or life for that matter, get honored in front of teachers, administrators, their families, and their peers.  I shared my story that night with the purpose of letting the students in the room know that I to had felt down and out, unconnected, depressed, was once a high school dropout, a college dropout, and an overweight, unhealthy bachelor for most of my life.  I shared that I to had spent times in my life not wanting to be lonely anymore or even live.  Students in dark holes must see a flicker of light, they must be shown and told over and over, “you can survive, you can change, you can improve your sometimes bleak circumstances, and you can obtain a better future.”

Along with being a Social Worker for a long time, I have been a Tennis Coach almost as long.  As a coach, my best attributes are not the x’s and o’s of the game, but rather,  the development of players to believe in themselves more and to achieve and dream bigger than they ever thought possible, that’s what I’m fairly good at. My  social work job description lists a lot of technical and fancy roles and responsibilities, as do probably the teachers and administrators formal job descriptions in the building.  Yes, I do a lot of community resource development, student counseling, cognitive and behavioral interventions, and social skills, but my most important role and that of everyone in our school building is one of simply, “cheerleader”.  Every student deserves to have someone in their corner saying how great they are, how they make our lives as professional educators and change agents better because we get to work and interact with them every day and to remind them that despite how bad this moment in their lives might be, we know, we believe and we want better for them.  Students across the academic and socio-economic spectrum need someone to walk this journey with them.  I get to do this every day with the greatest kids and in the most caring, uplifting, positive work environment I have ever experienced, a high school.   Aside from my wife and two girls, the greatest joy of my life is to work in my school, for my school district, for my community and our children. I often share with the teens I work with, sometimes, the greatest things happen to us, when we first just  let go of the stresses, pressures, guilt’s, fears, assumptions, consuming us.  This in turn might make them more available for positive things to enter their lives.  Having my wife enter my life when and how she did, having our family, my School Social Worker job, I have become a big believer in destiny and the stars aligning just right.  However, it often takes hard work, some luck, and great positioning of oneself to sometimes fully see the stars align!! Destiny is NOT just standing around waiting for our life to be great; it takes great effort, want and opportunity.

My belief, my message,  my work with students is that change is possible. A better you, a better life is possible, regardless of the mistakes a student might have made in the past or how low or overwhelmed they feel today, how challenged they feel by school or home, family or friend, the sun will rise tomorrow. As long as they have breath, a dash of hope and a trickle of desire, everything and anything can be obtained and achieved.

A couple of months ago I attended the visitation for a friend and co-worker who lost their mother.  I was deeply saddened for my friend’s loss and I myself was very reflective on my own mother’s mortality. But in this sad moment of grief and loss. I found meaningful and inspirational words on a display by Bonnie Mohr, who writes in part “Life is Not a Race, but indeed a Journey. Be honest, work hard, be choosey, say thank you, I love you and great job to someone each day.  Love life and what you’ve been given, it is not an accident.  Search for your purpose and do it as best as you can. Dreaming does matter.  It allows you to become that which you aspire to be.”  That’s just what so many of the students I get to work with are trying to do, they are aspiring  and willing  themselves to be better personally or academically, despite challenge, hardship or some limitation in their lives.  A student’s spirit to change and improve can best be explained as the poet Albert  Camus writes, “In the midst of winter, an oh what a winter we Iowans have had, I found there was within me an INVINCIBLE summer, and that makes me happy.  For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger, something better, pushing right back.”
I deeply desire for all the students I have the pleasure to work with on a daily basis who may be facing life’s sometimes unjust and unfair moments, who may be challenged by poverty or personal challenges physically, mentally or emotionally, to search deep within and find their own “INVINCIBLE Summer”.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Desolation of the Cultural Barrier

Post by Keith Bonnstetter: Keith is in his 23rd year of teaching Spanish, the last thirteen at Bettendorf High School. Keith was named 2013 Iowa World Language Teacher of the Year this past fall. You can follow Keith @bonnflakes

I teach at Bettendorf High School where passion, pride and purpose rule. It is here where I am allowed to use my creativity to bring Spanish alive to my students. I believe that learning a world language is much like making a quilt, not just an ordinary quilt but a crazy quilt where all of the pieces are irregular shapes and sizes. Each shape is reminiscent of the different components of the language: speaking, writing, listening and reading. As a world language teacher it is my job to guide my students as they begin to cut out their individual pieces; to help them to trim the edges and begin to assemble their masterpiece. Each student’s quilt is unique to the skill-set they bring, but in the end they will all leave my classroom with a finished product.

The thread that stitches the blocks together is culture. If I were to merely teach about the countries, the beautiful museums, magnificent churches and natural wonders, our stitches would be uneven. It is my task to introduce my students to the people of these countries, to help them to discover that their single story about a culture is inaccurate. In The Danger of One Story, Chimamanda Adichie elaborates on this idea. When my students begin to see that we are more alike than different, the “they” begins to fade and “they” become part of “us."

Introducing my students to popular Hispanic music is one way that helps my students put a face to the language. Another way I have helped put a face to a culture is planning a trip to Spain, Mexico or Costa Rica. Every time I have traveled with a group, I have insisted that there be a home-stay. I have done this partly because I wanted the students to use their language skills, but more importantly, I wanted them to experience the people. Once they felt the love and genuine happiness that surrounded them, my students began to see real purpose for learning the language.

If my students cannot travel, I bring the Spanish culture to them. Every spring I begin searching for families who can host a student from Spain for four weeks in the summer. Many host families have then sent their children to Spain to spend time with their new “sibling”. Seeing purpose for language learning fans the flames of passion - this is essential. Once they find passion and purpose beyond a college requirement, they can look back at their quilt with pride, knowing that the endless hours of studying nouns, verbs, grammar and syntax has helped them to develop a friendship that will last a lifetime. Once the flames begin to burn brightly, students see language learning - their quilt - as something real, something meaningful.

Teaching a language is valuable, but teaching a language infused with culture is priceless.