Because life is a series of edits

Archive for August, 2007|Monthly archive page

The Mancrush Continues

In Musicians on August 31, 2007 at 4:20 pm

Apparently, U2’s new album is already written. Not sure on the release date, but it will be good to hear from the boys again. I just wish Bono would return my calls.

The mancrush continues…

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Expelled

In Internet, Movies on August 28, 2007 at 5:13 am

I am really excited about Ben Stein’s upcoming (February) movie, Expelled. I’m planning to show the trailer to all three of my Ethics classes today, as we were just talking yesterday about humanism being the religion du jour of higher academia (with Darwinian evolution its off-limits-to-inspection gospel) .

The website is clever and the movie looks informative and quirky. I’m hoping some good comes of it and that the intelligent design movement will benefit somehow as a result.

Some other links today:

The Sorority

In Family on August 28, 2007 at 2:00 am

Megan and Girls

Made it back to the Lou from the Ham. Had to share this pic (taken by Kristen) of five special women in my life. Though not in the picture, I'm the minority in the sorority.

Live from Alabama

In Places on August 25, 2007 at 6:53 am

“I’m having breakfast in Birmingham
She’s in Tennessee”

– “Breakfast in Birmingham” by David Lee Murphy

In Alabama this weekend to be in the wedding of our friends, Tom and Christine. I caught the last flight out of St. Louis and, despite the standard hour delay, still made it in time for the last half of the rehearsal dinner, but little more as I was whupped. Being a groomsmen at 36 is a whole lot different than being one at 26 (not that I was that much of a wild man then).

Today we do the picture thing at 11:30, the wedding’s at two-thirty, and the reception/dinner is to follow. Megan and the girls are coming in from Nashville, where they sort of drove to yesterday to stay the night with some friends. After the festivities, we’ll get back in the van and begin the drive back north, with an overnight stop in Huntsville to see more friends. It’s a regular Dunham family good will tour.

I wish I had more time to explore Birmingham – seems like a pretty cool city with a lot of interesting history. I’d particularly like to go to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum, Vulcan Park, and the Birmingham Museum of Art, but I don’t think time allows. I’ve spent so very little time in the south (and really, any place east of the Mississippi – my many travels have always been west or north), that if I don’t make it out of my tuxedo today, we may need to come back for a family visit in the future.

Saddest Word of the Week

In Humanity, Westminster on August 24, 2007 at 7:09 am

“Ex-step-father”

Used as part of a tearful student’s after-class explanation of her pain in writing a two-page “defining moments” essay about her 15-year-old life.

Sigh.

Trust No One, Mr. Duchovny…

In Movies on August 23, 2007 at 6:55 am

…except me to keep (kind of) the secret about the script to the second X-Files movie.

The truth is out there, and I’d sure like to get my hands on it somehow.

Chore by Four

In Family on August 21, 2007 at 9:46 am

The chore bug has infiltrated our home, and that’s a good thing. Megan has the girls on a fairly organized (but reasonable) routine of daily and weekly chores as dictated by their individualized “chore packs,” and it seems to be taking with all involved.

The other day, my five-year-old asked why Daddy doesn’t have a chore pack.

Smiling at her question, I replied simply: “I have four of them.”

Take a Ride on The Educator

In Westminster on August 17, 2007 at 5:30 pm

I realize most of my posts this August have had to do with my new teaching gig, but allow me just one more to serve as closure to what the last two weeks (and really the last four months) have been. I promise I’ll venture into different territories of new blog topics next week.

School officially started Wednesday morning and the last two days have been a fun but frantic experience, kind of like our last Six Flags trip in July when, while riding The Boss, I realized my glasses had slipped out of my shorts pocket and were bouncing around somewhere between me and my side of the coaster car. Let’s just say that, at seventy miles an hour on the roughest wooden rollercoaster I’ve ever ridden, there’s not much one can do but pray, hang on with one hand, and blindly grab for whatever feels like vision with the other.

How’s that for a simile to explain my first days of teaching?

Seriously, the first three days have been great. Exhausting, but great. I have around 110 students (mostly freshman and sophomores, as well as an occasional junior new to the school) and have worked really hard at learning their names this week. Thankfully, the kids have been forgiving: for instance, Spencer, who I called Billy for an entire class period, didn’t say a word until one of my other students raised his hand on Spencer’s behalf and graciously said, “Um, Mr. Dunham, his name’s Spencer.” All three of us have a special bond now.

I survived the world’s warmest chapel on Wednesday (900 people in a small gym with no air conditioning on yet another 100+ degree day), cheerfully shared my classroom with about two dozen other staff needing/wanting to use it (I teach in the school’s conference room and have officially stopped calling it “my room”), and made it through today’s first (timed) fire drill without losing one student to a fiery (if hypothetical) death.

So far, I’ve only had one student transfer out of my section to the other section of Ethics (and she swears it was because of a schedule conflict and not me). And, I’ve already had my first girl crying in the classroom (not because of anything I did – she walked in that way, and all I could do was offer her a tissue and tell her to let me know if I could help).

We’ve had some great discussions about ethics as the process of arriving at moral conclusions; establishing and maintaining a convicted civility in the midst of heated debates; the many different biases we have in approaching the Bible; and the importance of understanding the Old Testament Covenant(s) as the foundation of any study of the New Testament. Miracle of miracles, most of the kids actually seemed interested in all of the above.

I’ve been surprised at how fast prep and lunch periods go by, how long-winded I can be in making a simple point, and how much I’m already learning about becoming a better teacher by having the chance to teach the same material two (New Testament) and three (Ethics) times a day. It’s been good to keep what seems to work, as well as highly developmental to adapt what doesn’t – all without enough time to over-analyze it, but adjust on the fly instead.

All that to say, we’re off like a herd of turtles. I have to remind myself I don’t have to cram everything I want to teach about biblical life and living into one class period; instead, I have 177 days left in the school year to figure out how to help my students discover for themselves what God desires them to know. In many cases, I’ll be discovering with them and for me as well.

Thanks to all those who contributed counsel and advice in the previous post, as well as to those who prayed for these first days and endured my conversational redundancy (both on the blog or in person) about getting ready to teach. It feels good to get going, and I’ll post the occasional update or funny story here to keep you in the loop.

In the meantime, I’ll get back to living (and writing about) life in general here, with the hope and prayer that I might teach my students to do the same in theirs.

Char’s Top Ten Teaching Tricks

In Family, Pop Culture, Westminster on August 14, 2007 at 6:44 am

My mother, Charlotte, just retired in May after 30+ years teaching high school English. As this will be her first August without having to prep for school, I thought I’d better ask for her top ten teaching suggestions before she forgot them all. Here’s what she emailed me:

  1. Establish a seating chart at the beginning, but allow time for schedule changes. Some of my colleagues would allow students to sit where they wanted, and they all would end up at the back of the room. I always wanted them under my nose!
  2. Greet students cheerfully. You may be the only one to do this in their day.
  3. Have high expectations, but be realistic.
  4. Dress professionally, even though others don’t.
  5. Be alert to students whose eyes are focused on their laps – they’re probably texting!
  6. You gotta have a gimmick – a daily trivia question written on the board works well here. I always used the question cards from the Trivial Pursuit game. The first person to answer as the students come into the room gets a piece of peppermint candy, which enhances higher level thinking skills.
  7. Surprise the kids once in a while by diverting from the syllabus (Thoreau would love you for this).
  8. Be consistent in routine and discipline.
  9. Take care of discipline problems yourself, as much as you can.
  10. Be real and enjoy your students.

School starts tomorrow. Anybody else got any counsel you’d like to share?

Welcome Home, Moore Family

In Friends on August 13, 2007 at 7:06 am

Mitchell and Girls

This is my friend, Mitchell, who gets back into the States today after taking his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their three small children to Uganda for most of the summer to do mission work in Kampala.

As you can perhaps tell from the picture, Mitchell is a wild hair (yes, that’s magic marker all over his face, courtesy of an April babysitting session with my children gone incredibly wrong – or most likely in Mitchell’s opinion, incredibly right).

As I had the picture and have been looking forward to Mitchell and the family getting back into town, I thought I’d take this opportunity to say, “Welcome home, Moore family. Welcome home.” We missed you.

Show Me the Students

In Westminster on August 10, 2007 at 2:54 pm

The Classroom

Just finished up two more (half) days of Westminster orientation this week, with two more (full) days next week before school starts on Wednesday. I confess I’m about “oriented” out considering last week’s conference, this week’s training, and the thought of next week’s final prep – bring on the students and let’s start sinking or swimming together.

As I’ve been moving into my space, there have been students moving into theirs (lockers, that is). My classroom is at the end of the freshman hallway, and all numbers of giddy high school rookies (mostly girls) have been decorating their lockers. On Wednesday, as I was walking through the hallway, I heard one girl ask another what she was wearing on the first day (still a whole week away). The girl didn’t pause a second in answering – she already knew and described her outfit. I smirked and rolled my eyes, but then realized we teachers have been thinking about first day protocols for weeks now, so I’m not sure we’re any less silly.

The Desk

My classroom doubles as the school boardroom, which means that while I have to deal with more than the occasional unscheduled meeting during my prep periods, it’s really nice and big, complete with crisp air conditioning, wi-fi, mounted projector unit, computer, printer, storage closet, sink, and phone. Apart from setting up my desk, I’m not able to do any decorating, but that’s not that big a deal as I’m a “less-is-more” kind of guy anyway (besides, the wall is lined with class pictures of graduates from the eighties, so I feel right at home).

Class of 1989

I’ve got one more book to finish up this weekend, as well as some last tweaks on the first ten days of both the New Testament and Ethics curricula; other than that, I’m ready.

Show me the students…

The Miserables

In Thought on August 7, 2007 at 8:33 pm

We were planning to take the girls to see Les Miserables from The Muny‘s free seats tonight, but decided we didn’t want to play the title role (i.e. “the miserables”) in the 100-degree heat.

It’s unfortunate, as I’ve never seen Les Mis. I know the music; I’ve even performed a song from the production in a summer variety show back in the day. Tonight was to be the night to bask in the glory of great theater, but we would have basked in the humidity of oven-like heat instead.

Nuts.

I guess I should probably stop asking Megan to address me as “Jean Valjean”.

Double nuts.

When Lost Luggage Is the Least of Your Worries

In Vacation on August 5, 2007 at 4:59 pm

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We made it home last night from Chicago, but it wasn’t pretty. Let’s just say you never want to have to go home with luggage tags, but if that was the worst of it, we would have had a nice trip.

Megan has all the details here. I swear to you they’re true and that we’re all alive regardless.

Chicago Regrets (and a Few Takeaways)

In Vacation, Westminster on August 4, 2007 at 10:21 am

IMG_3604.JPG

I finally had a break last night from the conference (after two full 12-hour days) and spent the evening with Megan and the girls together for dinner and a couple hours at the Art Institute of Chicago (a few details here). It was a good time, and I was amazed how much more comfortable the ladies were getting around than when we first arrived; they were pros.

Despite my earlier expressed sentiments about the whole work/vacation hybrid, I would say this experience wasn’t quite what I hoped because of my constant unavailability due to the conference. Leaving before everyone was up in the morning and getting home with everyone in or going to bed and hearing little more than a story or two and taking an iPhoto picture tour set to “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens, I realize I missed more than I wanted and that’s unfortunate. I’m not sure I would/could have changed anything because of the expectations of the conference (and of Westminster, who sent me here), but it makes me a little sad nevertheless.

Still, the trip wasn’t a complete wash: the conference took a turn for the better yesterday, and this morning (though I’m blogging in the middle of it) seems on a good track with more perspective on the philosophy and nature of the independent school idea. Though there hasn’t been a lot of individual process time in the conference (a real weakness in the program from my old conference directing days), I grabbed some time alone at lunch yesterday and gathered up my takeaways from the week. Here’s what I came up with:

Big Picture

  • Think like an assessor and not an activity designer (use more pre-evaluation tools)
  • Work through domains of teaching (planning, environment, teaching/learning, professionalism)

Next Two Weeks

  • Get copy of master curriculum (order/coverage)
  • Create seating charts (with teacher version) and project on screen for each class
  • Look through any existing student files/pray through rosters
  • Determine procedures for classroom activities
  • Create Understanding by Design sheets/files for planning daily objectives

First Day On

  • Teach students how to learn (how to take notes, read books, work in groups)
  • Assign students “before bell” work each day
  • Assign students procedure creation as part of procedure implementation
  • Develop anticipatory/closing actions for class topic set-up/review

All in all, it’s been nice to get away and experience (to a degree) life in the big(ger) city. I’ve learned a couple of things (okay, maybe more than a couple), met some cool people who have done (and hope to do) some really good things in the context of education, and eaten some great local food (Adobo Grill, Flat Top Grill, Potbelly Sandwich Works, and The Signature Room.

As much as I love Chicago, I’m probably more in love with the idea of Chicago than the reality of it; thus, the idea of going home to St. Louis (and a backyard that assuredly needs mowing) is appealing, despite the Amtrak trip that stands between home and me (don’t get me – or Megan – started). And that anticipation (despite the transportation required) is good.

Sorry the blog got hijacked this week, but it’s been good to process things along the way. I have some more conceptual processing I may do here, but for now, I’m clicking my heels three times and saying to myself, “There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…”

Education Realization

In Books on August 3, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Listening to several conversations today among those teaching English literature this fall, I heard major concerns as to the impact of past and future censorship (both generally, as well as in their individual schools) on what they can assign students to read and study in their classes.

Then it hit me: as a Bible teacher, I teach the most censored book in the world. For fun (and as an interesting conversation starter), I’m thinking of printing that on a T-shirt.

Mid-Afternoon Conference Funny

In Pop Culture on August 2, 2007 at 3:06 pm

Real teacher names (and the classes they teach) posted on various classroom doors around here at The Catherine Cook School in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood:

  • Ms. Majors – Humanities
  • Ms. Handler – 1st Grade
  • Mrs. Due – Library

Okay, so I’m bored and finally have real-time access to wi-fi. Danger, Will Robinson, danger

Quack

In Vacation, Westminster on August 2, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Buildings

(If you’ve been following along, you know I’m in Chicago for the week. If you’re interested in reading and hearing about all the city has to offer, see Megan’s blog; to experience the thrill and delight of sitting in a chair all day long in a four-day education conference, read on.)

Yesterday was a little rough. Thinking I knew what I was doing, I left the hotel (we’re staying at The Seneca, which is right next to the John Hancock Tower) and caught the Red Line train just as its doors were closing (I felt so urban-cool doing that). I got off at the correct station, but somehow got turned around coming up out of the subway and ended up walking the entire route I had just covered by subway, ending up within eyesight of Chestnut (the street our hotel is on) all over again. Giving up, I hailed a cab, paid $3.45, and went right to the door of the school.

This morning, I walked the five blocks to the Red Line station without my ticket card, which made it interesting trying to get on a train. I’m not sure why I’m having so much trouble with Chicago public transit (other than I’m an idiot), but as it was late (again), I grabbed a cab, forked over another $5, and showed up on time, pretending that I planned to do this all along.

There are about 70-80 new teachers here – mostly young, mostly excited. There are four of us from Westminster, though all of us being new, none of us knows each other that well (if at all). Surprisingly, there are also lots of folks from the other private schools St. Louis (one instructor told me there are 40 private schools in the Lou, which apparently is one of the largest clusters in the nation), so it’s been good to hear more about their schools from them.

The jury’s still out for me personally as to what I’m going to get out of this, but it certainly can’t hurt. I just wish we’d deal with content and stop playing stupid ice breakers and doing collaboration exercises ad nauseum. I understand the goal of trying to model interactive teaching as part of the conference, but a lot of times this “overteaching” swings the pendulum too far back the other way and all we end up concentrating on is the process rather than the content. Both are important, and my thought up to this point is we could do a better job keeping them together rather than dividing them up.

It’s an interesting group/association of schools – religious, non-religious, all independent (and proud of it) – as well as a real diversity of people from a variety of places, experiences, and ages. So far, I’ve enjoyed conversations with first-time teachers originally from Shanghai, Jamaica, and various cities unique settings around the U.S. In addition, as teacher types tend to be open to new things, I’ve met a variety of folks with some interesting stories: one woman taught ESL in Alaska for five years; one guy (a drama teacher) is starring in a play that opens in Chicago this weekend; and one young woman is a “junior rabbi” at a Jewish school here.

When they ask me for my story (farmboy who graduated public high school in a class of 30 caucasians, whose wife homeschools four daughters currently running all over Chicago, and who actually believes and teaches New Testament and Ethics to freshmen and sophomores), you’d think I’m the oddest duck in the pond (and that’s one strange pond indeed).