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Sunday, July 28, 2013

This American Life celebrates episode #500

In honor of This American Life recently celebrating episode #500 I thought I would post my favorites. This is by no means in order or comprehensive as I have not listened to every episode. From roughly 2006-9 I listened to every episode. I try to listen to the program each week, but alas I haven't kept up as well as I would have liked.

"On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families."

One of the most interesting stories you will ever listen to. Nature vs. Nurture at its finest. Very compelling story in so many ways.

"A special program about the housing crisis produced in a special collaboration with NPR News. We explain it all to you. What does the housing crisis have to do with the turmoil on Wall Street? Why did banks make half-million dollar loans to people without jobs or income? And why is everyone talking so much about the 1930s?"

Easily the best explanation of the financial crisis. I felt like I could talk intelligently about it after listening and help others with myth vs. fact.

"We devote this entire episode to one story: Over the course of six months, reporter and TAL contributor Jack Hitt followed a group of inmates at a high-security prison as they rehearsed and staged a production of the last act—Act V—of Hamlet."

One of the most moving pieces by my favorite contributor. Very moving and emotional in ways you don't see coming.

"n 1912 a four year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar went missing in a swamp in Louisiana. Eight months later, he was found in the hands of a wandering handyman in Mississippi (the picture at left was taken just days later). Reporter Tal McThenia co-authored a book about the Bobby Dunbar story called A Case For Solomon."

Another gripping tale, showing what This American Life is best at, telling a moving story from many points of view.

Stories of kids using perfectly logical arguments, and arriving at perfectly wrong conclusions.

A few of very favorite stories are on this episode including my all time favorite story. We'll see if you can figure out which one it is.

"In 1980's New York City, rent is rising: it seems out of control, and residents struggle to keep up. So Jack Hitt helps organize tenants, and threatens a rent strike. This does not go over so well with his building super, who, as it turns out, is a very dangerous man."

Another Jack Hitt special with one of the greatest stories every told. It's funny, surprising, and dramatic all in one. Plus a few other really good tales.

"The right of habeas corpus has been a part of our country's legal tradition longer than we've actually been a country. It means that our government has to explain why it's holding a person in custody. But now, the War on Terror has nixed many of the rules we used to think of as fundamental. At Guantanamo Bay, our government initially claimed that prisoners should not be covered by habeas—or even by the Geneva Conventions—because they're the most fearsome enemies we have. But is that true? Is it a camp full of terrorists, or a camp full of our mistakes?"

This won a 2006 peabody award. Again Jack Hitt at his best. You will be angered and upset and utterly amazed at the unfair situations in this episode.

"Writer David Sedaris recalls the days when his mother and sister played armchair detective — until a very odd crime wave hit within their own home. Plus, host Ira Glass goes out on surveillance with a real-life private eye."

Hilarious story from David Sedaris.

"When their seven-year-old caught the disease on an overseas trip, this decision became a whole community's problem. The outbreak infected 11 children and endangered many others. Also: Comedian Mike Birbiglia singlehandedly ruins a big charity event, and the disquieting truth about Amtrak's Quiet Car."

Great prologue, interesting story about vaccinations, and Mike Birbiglia is funny as always

"All the stories in this week's show center on personal recordings that one person made for just one other person."

Contains the infamous little mermaid recording. Shows the effects that going viral would mean in the future.

"This week we bring you backstage with comedy writers at The Onion. They start with over 600 potential headlines for their fake-news newspaper each week, and over the course of two days, in the very tough room that is their editorial conference room, they select 16 to go in the paper. Plus other people speaking their minds in very tough rooms."

Some great stuff on this one. Personal tie to the missionaries in New York. The Gladwell story is one of the best out there.

List wouldn't be complete without a nod to middle school
Middle School
This week, at the suggestion of a 14-year-old listener, we bring you stories from the awkward, confusing, hormonally charged world of middle school. Including a teacher who transforms peer pressure into a force for good, and reports from the frontlines of the middle school dance.

So there ya go. Some fun, moving, inspirational stories from the best program out there: This American Life
If you haven't listened, now is the time to start.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Failing class should be painful and hard, not the easiest thing to do.

"If you are going to fail, do it quietly."

I have not only heard this statement many times, but I have been guilty of thinking it myself. There are many things at play here and a possibility of endless discussions, but I want to focus on one point. Why do we not make it harder on struggling students than those that perform well?
I have been plagued with this thought the past few weeks as I prepare anew. Each year I take on a new challenge, this year I have decided that this will be my focus. I am still not totally sure what I am going to do, as will be shown in this piece, but I am prepared to make some changes and set up procedures for those that are not doing as well in class.
First off I need to point out that I worked at risk for many years and that this subject is important to me. I believe that each and every student has it in them to succeed and do well. That being said, many students have difficulties in some part of their life; whether it be home, social, a disability, etc... As a teacher we wield some influence but there are so many things going on in these kid's lives it is hard to have much more influence than the time they are in our rooms. For some that is enough, for others they need more. Much more. Yet it is this very group that fits the quote about failing quietly. Look I get it, we put our efforts where they are best utilized, we want to be effective, we want to help those that appreciate it, we realize that we are not going to be able to help every student, and some of these students are really hard to work with and just don't seem to care.
The problem in my class is there is no protocol for students who perform poorly. It is more of the better luck next time, you need to try harder, you need to study next time attitude. You see there is nothing that students would want to avoid or sacrifice like an extra assignment, early morning or after school study sessions, lunch time reviews, etc...My new thought is that I want to make it painful to fail my class, not easy. Just like earning an A is a badge of honor, I want it to be hard to fail. Failing should be the hardest thing to do in my class, not the easiest.
So here is where the protocols and procedures need to be put into place. This is where I am struggling and seeking advice. My first inclination is that if a student does poorly on an assignment, they will have to redo the assignment in order to receive some sort of increase in credit for it. I am not sure if I want to make it full credit or just an increase of some sort percentage wise. If a student does poorly on a quiz or test they will have to come in before school and fix the ones they missed. They won't get full credit, but they will receive an increase in percentage of their score. I am considering doing lunch time and after school reviews as well, just not sure how to implement these.
Note: these measures are mandatory. Again the point is to reward those that work hard and make it painful for those that don't. There is a lot to consider here and I think have lunch time and before and after school reviews will be the type of sacrifices that students will want to avoid. If you do a good job and study you are rewarded with a good grade and also exempt yourself from sacrificing before/after/lunch times to come in and do work.
Another thought is to have them reteach a section to the class they did poorly on. So if you prove mastery through assignments, quizzes, tests, portfolio, project you don't have to get up in front of the class and teach it. I think teaching it shows mastery and gets rid of the tediousness of redoing a past assignment/quiz/test. So if you don't do well you will have to really know it to teach it to everyone. I could use the lunch/before/after school times to prepare them. This is me thinking out loud. I am open for suggestions. Join the conversation. Let's make it painful for kids to fail, not easy.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Do you still have the idealism you had when you started? 4 ways to regain and keep your enthusiasm

At a recent outing I was discussing teaching with some new acquaintances when one of them threw out the following question "I wonder how many teachers still have the idealism they had when they first became a teacher?" I have pondered this for the past week as I think it is an insightful and reflective question to ponder. I would like to think that I still have that enthusiasm and zeal. Certainly there is an innocence that all idealism springs from and along the way the innocence is altered and in some cases hardened. I have tried to be true to the beginner exuberance and add my years of experience to hone, intensify, and keep it fresh. In Zen Buddhism the phrase 'Shoshin' means 'beginner's mind'. It basically means to have the enthusiasm and open mindedness of a beginner. I not only try to instill this in myself, but in my students as well. Everyone is excited, or should be, the first few weeks of school, that excitement can be tempered and dampened by January. I believe it's important to remind myself and students of Shoshin. I have a few ideas that I will present that work for me.

1. Be invested. For me this means I know each and every student. I work hard to build a relationship of trust so that when the disappointments of December arrive I have solid footing with which to work with each student. I don't play favorites, rather try to make each student feel as if they are my favorite(a tough task with tougher students no doubt). I am not always as successful as I would like to be and certainly there are students that face stiff challenges and lack good social skills and awareness, but aren't those ones part of the reason we became educators? My goal is to be able to have frank conversations with students and have them want to change instead of resenting me. Within the first week each student should feel that I know who they are, value them as a person, and that they feel that they can be successful in my class.

2. Keep it fresh. Teaching the same thing again and again loses it's luster quickly. If you are new teacher you are just trying to stay above water, but if you have taught for sometime it's nice to have lessons and units from past years to use. While there is much merit in this it can also lead to burnout. I believe that the best educators are ones that take what they have and build on it every year. This past year I added a much more global element to my class. We skyped, we communicated, we shared, we collaborated, we did projects together, we had neat opportunities to meet and share with the world. Some of this put me behind where I normally was and I had to make decisions on what was most important. I felt I needed to branch out globally as much if not more than my students. I found the entire process invigorating in a way that I had never had in any way. We made presentations for schools all over the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, and even Asia and Africa. Students not only got to meet others from these parts of the world, but they worked on assignments together. It was a thrilling process that required a lot of patience, at times I wasn't sure things would all work out, but in the end it became my favorite year. There were definitely some stressful moments, but the rewarding ones far exceeded even my most ideal expectations. I could have just retaught the same old lessons, and in some cases I did, but I needed to freshen things up for me which in turn made things better for all. A special thanks to Ms. Lynda Hall, Trevor Connolly, and the Kacherede Primary School in Uganda for taking a chance on my ideas and making them a reality.

3. Don't think you know it all. The years have given me experience and wisdom. I have become polished and confident. These can be good qualities. They can also lead to a feeling that you don't need to improve and that you are better than you are. The enemy of greatness is goodness. If you think you are good enough tnen you will never find out if you can be great. That doesn't mean you should wallow in doubt, it's important to be confident. It does mean you should actively learn and grow and try to better yourself. I have found that my experiences in conferences such as UCET and ISTE have not only been enlightening and inspiring and refreshing, but I found a community of like minded educators that I didn't know before. I realized through these experiences that I may not have all the answers, but I knew a whole community of inspiring educators who would help me along the way. If I thought I knew it all I wouldn't have gone and then this would be a much different entry.

4. Be positive. Is there anything that is more of a downer than hanging out with negative people? Sure life is tough and teaching can be difficult in it's best moments. However, cynicism brings out the worst in everyone. It is the polar opposite of creativity, innovation, and enthusiasm. My rule for having a bad day is simple: I won't have two in a row. I will change whatever needs to be changed, whether is it my attitude, the lesson, the material, the assignment, the activity, or the students. I will reflect and determine what needs to be done and then I do it. I can say that since I came up with this mantra over ten years ago that I have never had two bad days in a row. People are drawn to those that inspire them. Choose to be inspirational, remember your Shoshin, and you will make it through the tough times that will inevitably arise. I think it's also important to remember that bad times will pass, you will make it through, might as well do it with a smile. I have included one of my favorite quotes/videos. This is from Conan O'Brien's last show. He was disappointed about being let go, but still remained positive. The message is for us all.

Whatever your profession is I hope you enjoy it. Try to live Carpe Diem instead of just talking about it. Know your students. Care about your students. Care about your subject. Change it up and teach something new. Be humble and ask for ways to improve. Be positive. Remember you get decide what you teach everyday and how you deliver it. Autonomy is awesome. Be kind. If you have lost the enthusiasm you once had, find it, regain it, do whatever it takes to get it back. And on those dreary winter days remember your Shoshin; not only will you be glad you did, but your students will too.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Even an MD can learn a thing or two from their patients

On my twitter feed this morning: "Some nurses enter your room to look at the monitor & collect data. Others ask how you are. What kind of teacher are you?" Got me thinking I should post the talk from Dr. Amy Cowan at my grandmothers funeral a few weeks ago. One of the finest talks in any setting I have had the pleasure of hearing in person.

"I first met Jeanne last year in clinic. It was the beginning of my fellowship in geriatrics and the prior three years of residency had left me tired, worn out and slightly suspicious. I was used to sleep deprivation, long days on my feet in the hospital and keeping an objective distance from my patients. This distance I believed would protect me from disfiguring heartache. It would legitimize me as a physician and keep my life perfectly organized. Work over there. Personal life over here. I failed to realize the human connection I had with my patients was part of what gave my work its meaning. My failures were overlooked by Jeanne. She saw it instead for what it was...a learning opportunity. Over the course of a year Jeanne would start out as my patient, become my teacher and later a member of my chosen family.

Before I ever met her I could hear her laughing. A distinct chuckle coming out of Exam room 3. I walked in to find a trim, once tall woman, shock of curly white hair, blue eyes, long denim skirt, navaho belt and turquoise jewelry. There was something in me that recognized something in her. Any flicker of recognition vanished as she told me in a dismissive voice, I wasn’t exactly what she was expecting.
“You aren’t a short, fat man, honey!” And just like that we both burst into irreverent laughter. And just like that there was a crack in my medical armor.

Like any patient she had concerns and requests or so she claimed. She used to tell me that we met for a reason. That she came to the VA to find me. I didn’t really understand this until she died. It wasn’t meant as a compliment. In addition to completing her tasks with friends and the church, waiting to say good bye to her grandson Zach and embracing her beloved daughter with all she had, Jeanne also left a legacy with me. Jeanne let me fail as her physician. When I could have been listening, I was typing, my attention focused on a computer monitor not on the patient. When I could have asked her how she wanted the end of her life to be, I ordered tests and wrote prescriptions. About the only thing that she considered useful was a sheet with a few hand written suggestions about symptom management I had once given her.

With time and more practice I began to ask the questions I hadn’t asked. I became a better a listener. I slowed down. I turned away from the computer. I turned my iPhone to silent mode. I made eye contact. Clinics became less frenetic. There was less of me driving a snow plow pushing my agenda and more asking my patients what was important to them. There was also more laughter, story telling and once even an impromptu poetry reading in Geri fellow clinic B. With the increased connection there was more depth, more joy and meaning. Jeanne once told me to know rich joy, you have to taste sorrow. She was right. If my eyes welled up with tears, well so be it.

In the listening I became someone better. It wasn’t just ordering the correct diagnostic test or consult, but I started to ask myself how did I make my patients feel? Did my patients leave feeling small? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? or were they empowered, did they feel worthy? Over the year, Jeanne was content to let me progress at my own pace, but she wasn’t about to give up her independence or integrity for cancer, or because some young VA doctor thought it best. Jeanne egged me on to listen and then go teach other doctors how to do the same. Up until her death she continued to make discoveries about herself. Perhaps we both did in parallel. I learned how to be more present for my patients from Jeanne.

I wrote the following after one of my last home visits with Jeanne.

I kick off my shoes and pull an extra pillow to tuck under my neck as I make myself comfortable next to her on the bed. Each time I see her there is less of her. Her physical body continues to dwindle becoming almost transparent, as if held up to the light one might see how the mechanics of a heart or lungs work. The pink bedspread separates us from each other, but not the immodesty of death. And hers is looming. The sides of our heads touch. Her shock of white hair stands on end. My long brown hair a reminder of the room’s vitality absorbs what’s coming. As she talks her left hand seems so large compared to her frail body. She moves it about like a conductor leading an orchestra, while her wedding ring slides around her fourth finger. Her voice is quieter, conserving but not constricted. She’s not slowing down in what she tells me. There are discoveries to share, scripture passages to quote, jokes to retell and gratitude to make testimony of. We lay next to each other imagining that we are camping and the Milky Way is stretched above us. Her boney legs crossed, our hands, mine full and fleshy holds her nearly transparent one.

It’s in this simple moment that I see the progress that’s been made for both of us. She quietly reminds me to teach other doctors how to listen. Perhaps I had to go through the sleep deprivation and the isolation of medical training to be able to be exactly where I am today. Residency was instrumental in my preparation, but hardly adequate and Jeanne recognized this. I had to learn who I truly was before I could be present for the people in my life now.

Here I am on an island of a bed holding hands with an elderly woman slowly leaking urine, a pelvis full of tumor, laughing about her expression about not giving a big bird what anyone thinks. “Bury me with a fork honey,” she says. “Why?” I ask. “Because everyone knows that life is like a buffet! You need to bring a fork, because the best is yet to come.”

No matter your educational level or age you will still learn. Sometimes the best lessons are the ones the students teach.

Great writing, but an even better story that everyone can learn from. Thank you Dr. Cowan and especially thanks to my grandmother Jeanne Lawler.