Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Will Ask You About You

Post by Katie Hansen: Katie is in her 14thyear of teaching biology, the last 10 years at Bettendorf High School. She advises student council and coaches boy’s golf. You can follow Katie on twitter @katiejoyk

This past fall my family and hometown community suddenly lost a true friend, Mortonite, and fellow teacher. Joal was a 3rd grade teacher and the varsity boys tennis coach in Morton, IL. As news of his tragic death spread, I read all the social media posts, watched the TV broadcasts online, followed the community news, and attended his visitation and funeral. The ripple effect of his influence was astounding.  Story upon story was posted of his impact not only on his 3rd grade students, but overflowing to their families, his tennis players, and the community as a whole.

I thought as I read the comments pouring in…Not a single student, tennis player, parent, or fellow colleague commented on how Joal taught multiplication, how he demonstrated his jump serve, or how he presented standardized test data to the staff. The stories were about Joal’s impact on his students and players. How he went out of his way to make them feel important, how he always looked for ways to include everyone, and how he showed his fun-loving personality by making his classroom his own.

With each story that was posted, I reflected on what students really love in a teacher. I don’t think it’s any different in the 3rd grade than in the 12th grade. The qualities that teachers want in their students are the same qualities that students want in their teachers: being personable, being respectful, showing a sense of humor, smiling, and most importantly, giving love.

Kids desire to know and be known. We probably focus too much on the former. The ever growing to-do list of grading papers, making copies, setting up for a lab, rewriting a test, attending meetings, and updating websites seem to consume our focus. Reading Joal’s stories reminded me to redirect my focus.

When I get fired up in class, and I see my students are missing the big picture of school, I have a speech that just seems to pour out. I don’t remember how it developed for the first time, but it was so natural that I’ve shared it many times since. Here is what I tell them:

 “Hey, if I see you in Hy-Vee ten years from now, I won’t quiz you about the function of the mitochondria or the phases of mitosis. I didn't become a high school biology teacher because I love biology. Sure, I find it interesting, but biology is my vehicle for teaching you how to better yourself. In my class, I hope you learn something about YOU. I hope you learn how to be responsible, how to study, how to problem solve, or how to work with a group of people who aren't your best friends. I hope something piques your interest enough to Google it on your iPad just because you are curious. I want to see you open up and become more confident. I want you to wonder why. I want you to think! So, if I have bugged you about a missing assignment, or I want you to stay after class to chat I am only doing this to help YOU. I want to watch you graduate from BHS and move on to succeed elsewhere. That’s what I hope you really learn in my biology class. So, if I see you at Hy-Vee in ten years, I will not ask you about mitochondria or mitosis, but I will ask you about YOU.”

(By the way, the mitochondria provide energy for the cell and the phases of mitosis are prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase.)

This speech seems to make an appearance each semester and when it does my voice usually quivers partway through it. That quiver reinforces my desire to be in a classroom full of students. It reminds me to focus away from the to-do list and back to them. I pray I always have that quiver.

It’s not about the perfect lesson plan, the creative bulletin board, or the updated grade book. 

Thanks for reminding me of that, Joal.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The M Word...A Viable Option

Post by Robbie Furne: Robbie is in his 11th year of teaching social studies at Bettendorf High School. He began his career as a special education teacher & has also served as a football coach for 16 years. You can follow Robbie on Twitter @bettftballcoach

When asked to write in this blog, I thought about my educational experience at BHS.  I struggled in class, primarily due to my immaturity, but also because I knew that I wasn't going to college right after school.  The last thing I wanted to do was go sit in more classes, I wanted to get out of Bettendorf and go check out the world.  The United States Marine Corps allowed me to see the world, but it also did something even more important, it made me grow up.   As I stand in the hallway during passing or run into former students who have ‘left Iowa’ and are taking classes at Scott, I wonder how many of these kids would have benefited from the military as a viable option before they spent a lot of their parents money and time.  Let me preface this by saying the military isn't for most people but I also think schools can do a better job of informing/promoting students about their benefits.

            I have come up with a few reasons/benefits that may make you stop and think a bit or if you share with your students, they may think about it.  I will also offer insight to how these were reasons I chose also.

   says the COA, Cost of Attendance, as directed by Congress, is the average cost to attend for one academic year.  It includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses. Grinnell College is $59,317 and the University of Iowa is $20,861. 
I came from a lower middle class family.  There was not money for me to attend college. I had to pay for it myself so before I was going to spend that much money, I wanted to make sure it was going to be a wise investment.  At 18 years old, it would have been a horrible investment.

            In 2008, the Veterans Affairs Department introduced the Post 911 GI Bill.  With this new program, instate tuition (housing stipend, books, 1 time relocation) is covered for 36 months.  Also, while in active duty, the costs of taking online or traditional classes are covered.  Most colleges and universities will also give a veteran credit for their service in selected areas.
            I was able to start my college classes while I was living in Uruguay working for the embassy.  I took 12 hours of elective classes that Scott Community accepted.  I also did not have to take in physical education classes at St Ambrose College.

            The National Center for Educational Statistics stated that the 2012 graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution in fall 2006 was 59 percent. 
            Obviously there are a number of different reasons that can go into this percentage.  I believe maturity has a big part to do with it though.  A lot of the time, eighteen year-old's are not ready for the responsibilities that come with being away from home for the first time and struggle.  I was one of those who would have struggled and needed to ‘grow up’.  Being away, having to take care of my own personal and financial responsibilities really helped me in the future.   

Life Experiences
            For me, the greatest attraction to join the Marines was to not only get out of Iowa but also to get out of the country.  I went on two deployments to Africa and the Middle East.  I was stationed at the American Embassies in Brazzaville, Congo and Montevideo, Uruguay.  I was fortunate enough to meet President Clinton, Hilary Clinton, Madeline Albright, and Jane Goodall to name a few.  I witnessed civil war, participated in humanitarian operations in Kenya, and spent a New Year’s Eve in United Arab Emeritus.  In total, I have been to 35 countries!  I will cherish those experiences for a life time.

            I won’t put up any facts or figures in this paragraph.  What I am going to say is that I think the youth of today has lost their sense of patriotism and that disappoints me.  With all of the distractions kids have today, something as little as paying attention during the National Anthem can be seen as a nuisance for a teenager who cannot remove their thumbs from their phone.  There is no easy way to solve this problem but parents, teachers, communities, and schools can and should all do their part in teaching everyone about this great country.  This renewed commitment could lead to additional youths who would proudly serve our country. 

            As mentioned before, the military is not the answer for everyone, probably not for a large number of students at BHS.  But, as I say that, I truly believe it can be a great benefit.  The military builds leaders and this is an area that America is lacking.  As you talk with your students about post high school options, I ask you to please consider putting in a plug for The United States Military as an option.  

Freedom isn't free.

Boot Camp 1992                          Kuwait 1996                                                                                                                                                                     Congo 1997                           

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Can Fish Really Climb Trees?

Post by Kailynn Buchmann: Kailynn is a graduate of Bettendorf High School and is currently in her second year of teaching Special Education. 

As I sit down to write this blog, it is really challenging me to think about who I am, what I have been through and who I want to be. This is my second year of teaching as special education teacher and I know that I can say, without a doubt, I learn something new every day.

Even though this is my first year teaching at Bettendorf, I have been a part of the bulldog family for quite some time now. When I was in 5th grade, my family moved to the Bettendorf Community School District for one main reason, so I could get the best education and I believe that I did.

While attending Bettendorf High School, I enjoyed many great opportunities such as competing in the color guard, participating in college courses and working in the community. Did anyone ever order meals from a small business called What’s for Dinner Tonite? (If so, I probably made them). I have always felt a sense a pride telling people that I went to Bettendorf schools and I feel the same sense of pride telling people that I am able to work for this district.

Following graduation, I went on to Scott Community College and then transferred to the University of Northern Iowa.  While going to school at UNI, I had an amazing opportunity to work in a few special needs group homes. This gave me the opportunity to work with the best people I will ever meet.

Even though these people have various ranges of abilities and have a lot to deal with in their lives, they are so happy to be living and always strive to do their best. For them, even doing the simplest task such as tying their shoe was a challenge, but I can guarantee you that they strive to break through that challenge every single day. Working with these special individuals has given me a lot of knowledge and compassion in the field of special education.  I strive to work and overcome challenges just as hard as these people do every day.

Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This quote means SO much to me in the work that I have done in the past and the work I do today. It is my challenge to myself to unlock my students’ potentials and find a way that they can feel good about learning as well as themselves. It definitely isn't always an easy road, especially, for students who don’t like to come to school and are challenged in learning.

A few keys to success that I try to do when working with my students are:
•             Develop a trusting relationship with them
•             Keep a positive attitude
•             Start each day fresh
•             Celebrate the small stuff

Being a special education teacher at Bettendorf High School has definitely presented challenges to me. I work with my students every day to find ways that they can be successful in their classes and community.  Sometimes it is an easy fix, but sometimes we, together, have to work really hard.  The biggest step is being able to move past the label and find what works for each individual student. I feel lucky to work with such an amazing staff that is always willing to go the extra mile and find what works for these students to be successful. Who knows…maybe if we just give the fish the tools to succeed, they really can climb trees?