Category Archives: education

Creativity

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I am a firm believer that everyone should have a creative outlet.  It may take some time to find what works for you, but it is so worth it in the end.  I discovered writing as my creative outlet at an early age, but then life got in the way, as it always does.  I hope this time I can make time for what matters.

As I have spent the last several weeks as a substitute teacher in a 4th grade classroom, I’ve enjoyed seeing just how passionate kids are about their hobbies.  I have budding writers, musicians, artists, and athletes in the classroom, not to mention scientists.  We had the best discussions about the US space shuttle program, astronauts, and basic animal genetics.  They are not afraid to ask great questions.  After a science lesson on the effects of long-term exposure to zero gravity on astronauts, one student asked me why we never returned to the moon after the 1969 moon landing.  A quick Google search later, we had our answers, which included the facts that politics largely got in the way and that NASA recently announced possible commercialization of space travel, including a possible return to the moon.  See article here.

I am left with just one question:  What do we do as educators between 4th grade and senior year of high school to suck the creativity out of students?  I like to believe things are changing for the better, but I still see way too much “busy,” mindless work being assigned, especially in middle school.  STEM programs are on the right track, but I do believe they need to include art, or STEAM, as well.  Still, that doesn’t cut it for everyone.  What about students who have no idea how to stick with something long enough to enjoy it?  How do we recognize and deal with the fact that many students are resistant to the idea that failure can help us learn and grow?  We inadvertently teach students that failure is to be avoided at all cost.  For better or worse, it is ingrained in our culture.  High stakes standardized testing anyone?  We need to teach students how to fail effectively:  how to move on and learn from our mistakes.  They need to know on a gut level that failure is inevitable.  We are meant to learn from it.

I am deeply grateful that I found a creative outlet that works for me.  I adored art classes as a child, but I have no ability to draw animals or people.  I am no painter either.  One of my greatest wishes is to have some musical ability.  Sadly, as much as I love music, I have none.  In searching for my creative outlet, I overlooked the obvious:  I am meant to be a writer.  Unfortunately, as a child, I always wanted to be more instead of embracing what I love and can reasonably do without embarrassing myself.  In fact, that is one of my greatest wishes for any of my students past, present, or future:  Find a creative outlet that makes you happy through good times and bad.

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Hello Again!

Writing, oh how I’ve missed you!

Taking a long-term sub position (4th grade) and working to get the canoe livery ready for the summer compelled me to slow down and consider what I want to do with my writing moving forward. I did walk away from this experience with a couple of observations:

1. I need to fit writing into my life, no matter what is going on.

Before starting my long-term sub position, I did get into the routine of writing every day. I do know that if I did it once, I can do it again. It is now a matter of fitting it into my routine no matter what that looks like.

2. I need to plan better.

I underestimated how much time I needed to grade and plan. Day-to-day subbing positions require neither. If I am honest with myself, this entire experience made me realize just what I need to do when I at long last have my own classroom. I know I can make this work; it will just take some time and adjustment. Knowing that the long-term subbing position will be largely over June 1st, I decided to start again. Today.

I do hope that this summer will bring many wonderful things into my life. It is long, long overdue.

More on my spring adventures coming soon!

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The Busyness of Business

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Grandma Reid and me – Michigan State University – 2000

Nothing compares to spring in Omer. In the middle of all the mud, daily extreme temperature swings, the rain and snow, not to mention the annual Sucker run, my family and I start gearing up for the busy summer ahead. The canoe livery will always be a part of my life, and as my parents prepare to retire, I can say I am finally starting to make it my own. Our Facebook pages, website, and our new online reservation system all represent years of hard work on my part. Slowly my brother and I are taking on more and more responsibility.

This year, for many personal reasons, I am looking forward to this summer. For the first time in a long time, I have a clearer vision of what I need to do. Writing will take its place alongside all my canoe livery responsibilities. In the meantime, I am working as a long-term substitute teacher until the end of the school year. Last week I transitioned from subbing in a different classroom every day to taking on the responsibility of finishing out the school year in a 4th grade classroom. Just as I eased into a routine with my writing, I need to readjust. In June, I will have to do it again. Please stay with me as I try to figure out a good schedule here.

On a personal level, it has taken me years to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be happy unless education (teaching), business (the canoe livery), and writing were a part of my life. I need all three. When I received my teacher certification testing results for the business, management, and technology subject area, I felt anger. It clearly showed I should have never doubted myself when it comes to my business education. Of the three tests I took for my teaching certificate, I scored highest on the business exam. All areas of the test.

Yet, I did doubt myself when my business career hit a brick wall in 2005. So many things happened at a result that I took a good long look at what I truly wanted to do with my life. Thanks to that reevaluation of my career, I eventually earned my teaching certificate and my general writing certificate. Now, after all these years, I work every day making it all fit together. I simply ask that you stay with me. I will figure this out.

More than anything, I am proud of the family business my grandparents and parents built over the years. This summer represents 60 years in business. I grew up working not only with my parents, but my grandparents as well – especially Grandma Reid (Dad’s mom, pictured above). She, and my parents, taught me so much about business, customer service, and hard work growing up. Several years ago now, I asked Grandma what Grandpa Russell (Dad’s father, who started the canoe livery and passed away decades ago) would think of the canoe livery today. She didn’t quite know what to say. Now I wonder what she would think of the changes we’ve made.

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Book Club

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Read It Forward – 13 Reasons Why Book Clubs Are Saving the World

What is it about a book club that makes it so irresistible? Personally, I believe it is the structured discussion of a set topic. It is nice, neat, orderly; we all know exactly what to expect. And yet, we don’t. Book club discussions often lead to interesting places. I’ve formally been a member of a book for the last five years. During that time, I’ve read books I never would have picked up otherwise and had discussions I never dreamed I would have all thanks to book club.

The Standish-Sterling Book Club, however, is not my first. I like to think that Grandma Buttrick and I had our own little book club of two for a few years. Every time I visited, usually weekly, she never failed to ask me what I was reading. I loved sitting with her in the den, cold drinks in hand, talking books. I clearly remember both of us reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books and discussing them at length. Even when poor eyesight and memory issues made reading difficult for her, she still loved to talk books. I wouldn’t leave until I told her about the latest book I read.

When Grandma passed away in 2014, I saw it as no coincidence that I soon discovered the Standish-Sterling Book Club. The fact that they were discussing The Fault in Our Stars at the time captured my imagination. I’d read it as well, and due to the loss of an old childhood friend, that book will stay with me for the rest of my life. I wrote about the connection here and even quoted part of the book. On some level, I like to think that Grandma knows all about book club and that our family still shares books.

Regardless, book club will always be a part of my life, even if one day I must start one myself. I get too much out of it – as a reader, a writer, and a human being. This article nails it when it comes to the importance of book clubs and their resurgence. I hope the trend continues. I don’t see myself giving up book club any time soon. I enjoy it far too much.

As a teacher, I wish I could impart my love of books on all students. I truly believe that everyone can learn to love reading. Those who supposedly hate reading just haven’t found the right books yet – or they equate reading with reading in school. In school, students often have little or no choice as to reading material – although that is changing for the better and one of many reasons why I love Donnalyn Miller’s work. You can find more information on her work here. She stresses how important it is for teachers to help students discover good books and learn how to make solid reading choices on their own. I hope one day book clubs – and more importantly, the love of reading – will become so pervasive that students will want to create their own. There is so much to be gained through reading and too many good books to allow a hatred of reading to grow.

The Fault in Our Stars

Columbine: Before and After

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Just over twenty years ago, school changed forever – April 20th, 1999 to be exact. Prior to that date, school shootings simply did not happen – or at least not with the frequency they do now. I am old enough to remember life before Columbine. In fact, the spring of 1999 marked the last semester of my senior year of high school. In that pre-Columbine world, we did not have active shooter or lockdown drills. School doors were not always locked. In fact, even during my early high school years at the rural Michigan high school I attended, boys and girls who loved to hunt and had their own vehicles could lock their rifles in their trucks during deer season. It is not an exaggeration to say that I grew up and attended school in a different world.

This became frighteningly clear to me when I began substitute teaching several years ago. In fact, one experience put it all in perspective. As a substitute teacher, I’ve experienced countless fire, tornado, and lockdown drills. One, however, left me speechless. Subbing for a middle school music teacher in a suburban school district, the lockdown drill itself proved uneventful. However, the conversation I overheard between two young female students as we resumed class left me gutted. The conversation itself appeared casual enough. They were recalling some funny incident that took place during a lockdown drill years ago in 1st grade and laughing about it all over again as only 6th grade girls can. That simple fact – that the students before me, now middle schoolers, never knew school life before lockdown drills – stays with me. They know nothing else.

When I was in 1st grade, my biggest worries were getting picked last in gym class and deciding what to play during recess. Books, learning to read well, drawing and writing, and play all made up my world in 1st grade. Lockdown drills and the thought that someone would want to harm me and my classmates at school never crossed my mind or the mind of anyone else for that matter. When did everything change so drastically? Personally, I believe things began to change April 20th, 1999.

Not all the changes are negative. I do think there is a heightened awareness of the effects bullying can have on anyone. I also believe students today have many more opportunities at all levels than they did twenty or thirty years ago – as it should be.

And then there is kindness. When I first started subbing at my alma mater, Standish-Sterling Central High School, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I continue to be pleasantly surprised. Daily I witness a genuine kindness among students that I found largely lacking during my school years. There appears to be a greater awareness of personal differences of all types. Does that mean bullying doesn’t exist? No. In fact, social media adds a whole new factor into the equation – and it isn’t pretty. Despite that fact, I find students today more accepting and more willing to entertain new ideas. That may not be the case everywhere, but I see it enough in a variety of school settings that I have hope for this generation.

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Writing Unleashed

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I’ve discovered so many great books and resources on writing lately.  I would share them with you here, but there are too many.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to share them here separately, such as my post yesterday on Scrivener.  That way, they can all be linked via tags. Also, I do plan to write a few pieces for other blogs covering similar topics, so stay tuned.  As soon as they are published, I will link them here.

So why am I so fascinated with discovering new books on writing and writing tools? Well, I am continually seeking to become a better writer.  That is why I write.  I do have something to say, and when I finally start working seriously on something for publication, I want to be the best that I can be.

So, here is what I have learned so far:

  1. Famous books on writing are famous for a reason.  They are worth your time.  I have yet to be disappointed.  If you are looking for a place to start, this list should do it.  I am slowly working my way through it.  There is always something to learn.
  2. The online writing tools out there today offer something for every type of writer.  Do your research and choose wisely.  So many great things to try out!  It might take you some time to figure out what works for you, and that’s OK.  If something isn’t working well, see if you can find something better.
  3. It is fun helping others who love to write.  Seriously, I love to help, and it is great motivation for me to keep going.  If someone discovers 750 words, Scrivener, or On Writing by Stephen King thanks to my recommendation, all the better.  There is room for everyone.  My ideas are not your ideas, etc.  That, for me, is the beauty of any art.
  4. Writing groups – and critique groups in particular – are invaluable.  Any feedback I get from Mid-Michigan Writers is great.  Even if I decide not to use it, it alerts me to other ways of viewing my work.  As writers, we are too close to our own work.  No matter how perfect a piece may seem, there is always room for improvement.  Just being around other writers and discussing all things writing is priceless.
  5. There is always something else to learn.  This goes along with the fact that all writing – and I do mean all – can be improved.  Start with your interests and see where it takes you. If you get stuck, start researching, whether subject or genre.  It doesn’t matter much.  See what else is out there.  You will discover something.

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The more I learn about writing, the more I wish ELA (English Language Arts) curriculum spent more time on creative writing.  Plenty of instruction on how to nail those high school and college essays, but little in the way of creative writing instruction.  It is true now, and it was true twenty or even fifty years ago.  If writing were a separate subject in the high school curriculum, that certainly would have been my focus.  Sadly, creative writing courses are only offered at the college level (usually) – and many college students can’t find a way to fit it in due to either lack of time and/or money.  Notice I did not say lack of interest.

I only had the opportunity to pursue a general writing certificate program at the community college level due to the fact that I learned about the program thanks to a writing workshop and the fact that I was already taking classes there for my teaching certificate.  I loved my experience, and in some ways, I wish I could go back and complete some assignments as a more seasoned writer – my portfolio for one class in particular.  I know I’ve grown as a writer; I also realize I have a long way to go.

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Place

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There is no escaping it.  This topic keeps rearing its ugly head.  Last night, we discussed it in book club.  Are people meant to be in a certain place?  You can find my take on the topic here. That question keeps haunting me.  What if somehow I missed my chance to be wherever it is I am supposed to be?

Am I supposed to live in Omer the rest of my life?  I wish there were a simple answer.  The reality is that there isn’t.  I love my family, I’ve always wanted to be a part of the canoe livery, and I enjoy spending my summers working there.  Yet, do I have what I need?  Frankly, the answer is no.  There are few people my age around, and those who are around are in a different stage of life.  With one notable exception, all are married and/or have families of their own.  It would be nice to at least have the possibility of dating in my future.

What are my alternatives?  None of them are good.  Either I deal with the issues before me and continue on this path, or I start over someplace new.  If I stay, a part of me will always be someplace else.  If I go, I would miss my family and the canoe livery.  At least in Omer I am needed and loved.

The truth is I am going nowhere.  The canoe livery and the Rifle River itself are too much a part of who I am.  I want to watch my niece and nephews grow up firsthand, and I want to be there for my parents as they get older.  None of that means that there aren’t sacrifices and complications that come with that decision.  None of it changes the love/hate relationship I have with Omer and Arenac County in general.

What saddens me is the reality of where I live.  Over the last two decades, so many people left not only Arenac County, but Michigan as well.  Many were left with no choice thanks to a one-state recession followed by the Great Recession.  I graduated in 1999, and due to the fact that so many classmates moved out of state, I doubt we will ever have a true class reunion.  Most Michigan State business students I graduated with in 2004 headed to Arizona or Texas, including me.  No one seems to care.  Few planned on helping their children create a life for themselves here during that time frame and the years that followed.

While we may be on the path to recovery, we are not there yet.  What bothers me is a general aura of denial that stubbornly resists any change.  Yes, I agree we need change, but we also need to keep what is working – and there are things that are working.  Unfortunately, we do not support those things.  So many people seem to want to change nothing or change everything at once.  Neither approach will work, but no one seems to address this.

What about businesses?  What are we doing to attract new ones?  Absolutely nothing I can see.  No, instead we keep piling on more unnecessary regulations that do nothing except add costs. Instead of making it easier for those just starting out to get started in a career, we make it next to impossible.  Today, we still tell high school seniors that a four year college degree should be the norm when we are setting them up for tens of thousands of dollars of debt before they even start their career.  It is wrong and needs to stop.  We need to attract more businesses and encourage trades. What about entrepreneurship?  Again, we do little to support those who wish to start their own business.  New businesses and new growth are exactly what we need, but they cannot survive if not supported.

I am angry.  I want to believe in my hometown and live here, but many times, it feels next to impossible.  If it weren’t for my family, I would have never looked back.  I am tired of feeling torn, and I am fed up with everything else about the area pushing me away.

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