The Life of a Conflicted Teacher

Working hard to make sense of it all

Some Favorite Blogs I Read

Good morning! Happy Friday! Happy End of Sepetember!

Today, my energy level has bottomed out. My wife is out of town, and my youngest daughter goes and hides in her room, so I was left to my own devices last night. Bad idea. I stayed up WAY too late Minecrafting (yes, I’m a dork) and so this morning I’m just dragging.

However, as I was oozing along the beginning of the day, I came across a former student’s blog that I absolutely love reading. It’s titled “For All the F Words” and honestly, after a few reads of stuff I’d missed, my tank is much more full. So I thought for my own blog, why not share a little bit of what I enjoy reading. Some of it’s goofy, some serious, but all it makes me think about who I am, what I do, and what I do it.

For All the F Words I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this blog, or at least posts from this blog before work with the author’s mom, and she’s always hesitant to share her daughter’s work because of the language. While I don’t remember her language as a high school student, she tells it as it is in her writing, and that’s what I love. If you are looking for something inspirational, something to kick your butt in gear, or just something to laugh about, this is the blog for you.

The Tempered Radical This is another one of those blogs that you either love it or you hate it. Me, I love it! I love the style, the topics, and the tell it like it is attitude that you find here. The last blog, “Here’s Why I’m Thankful for Hillary Clinton” isn’t so much about politics as it is about a dad of a daughter. I can totally relate to it and that’s why I love reading this one.

Two Teachers Writing Oh my goodness, if you are a teacher of writing at any level, read this blog. Period. Do not past go. Do not collect $200. The stuff that’s shared here is amazing for all levels, and if you are a blogger who loves to share, their “Slice of Life Challenge” on Tuesdays and “Slice of Life Challenge” that happens in March is well worth your time to check out!

M MalMcrona Ok, this one sticks out like a sore thumb, and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how I got following this blog, but I’m glad that I do. First, the photograph in this blog is marvelous, making me want to get my passport and travel to all the places she’s seen. The writing makes you take a step back and think about life. Not many people want to do that any more, and I appreciate that style.

Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension Another teaching blog, Pernille Ripp, is one who is such a passionate person about giving students choice, a voice in their classroom, and about literacy education. Reading her blog makes me realize how far I have come as an educator, but yet how for I really need to go as well.

Black Heart Gold Pants One of my favorite Iowa Hawkeye blogs. I love the writing style and the various topics that are discussed via this blog. I also enjoy the comment section almost as much as the actual writing! We Hawkeye fans are a passionate bunch, too much so in some cases!🙂

Pounding the Rock I’m a huge basketball fan, of all levels, but love me some San Antonio Spurs hoops! This, like the above blog, is written in a very conversational style, but with a lot of great insight into the team. And the comment section is in this one is a hoot as well!

And there we go! A little bit of an insight into some great reading for education, for sport, and just for fun. I wish you all an awesome weekend and I hope you do something smashingly grand!🙂




Homecoming Super Friends


How could you not want to come to work with a group like this?? Our eighth grade team decked out for our “Super Hero Day” for Homecoming 2016. This is why we love what we do and we do what we love, because we have such a tight knit group. The Batman kneeling on the left hand side, a student teacher, just part of our gang.

Climate in a school makes a difference and as the kids walked in, saw us, and either rolled their eyes or high fived us, it didn’t make a difference. We were jacked up to be there, to be part of the Homecoming celebration, and why shouldn’t we be? Part of being a middle school teacher is acting like a kid. This is just one of those day!🙂

I’ll see if I can update this later, with the “Super 7th Grade Teachers” who did their own thing too! This is just one of those days where you smile, and play it up!

I Know All Five Secrets Now! #SOL

Finally, I know the secrets!🙂

Ok, so six months ago, I wrote about the book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, by John Izzo, Ph.D. At that point, I’d only read through two of the secrets: be true to yourself and leave no regrets. This book has been right beside on my night stand, and I’ve been reading bit by bit, taking notes, and reflecting on those secrets.  Finally, a few nights ago, I finished.


Well, that would be rude, wouldn’t it, not to share?! So, without further ado, the five secrets.

Secrets one and two, I’ve all ready talked about in my previous blog found here, so I’ll continue from there.  The third secret was become love.


John talks a lot about the choice of being a loving person, not just feeling the emotion, but becoming that person who sees and gives love to all those around them. First and foremost, we have to be able to see ourselves as worthy. If we cannot do this, being that loving person is that much harder. It has to be a priority in our lives, not something we occasionally do, but something we are doing intentionally all the time. By doing so, we open our lives up to so many positive possibilities. Along those sames lines, choosing to see others with kindness was another point he made about finding that love for life.  One of this interviewers, a barber from close by me here in Iowa said this:

I noticed that if you have love in your life and a job that gives your purpose, you will be a happy person.”

The quote of this chapter was a subheading: “Do good if you can, but always do no harm.” How amazing it would be if this kind of quote could be followed by all. Heck, if you what the debate last night, could this be applied there?? Yup!

Some questions posed from this chapter: Did I make room for friends, family and relationships today/this week? Was I kind and loving today/this week to those who matter most to me? Did I act as if each stranger was someone for whom I could make a difference? Am I planting flowers or weeds in my self-conscious mind?

Next secret: Live the Moment

Pretty self-explanatory if you ask me. He talked about choosing to be in every moment, that every day is a gift, to live as if it were your last sunset, and that the present moment is the only moment. The part of this chapter that struck me was the idea of training our minds for happiness. I’ve never been a “Sally Sunshine” kind of guy, keeping my emotions and feeling pretty much to myself (driving my wife crazy), but in recent years, I’ve really worked to find the positives, to live the positives of the things around me. We have that power to train our minds, and that’s what I worked hard to do. Part of that change in attitude has been my connections made online. There are just so many positive people who are out there that it’s hard not to have some of that rub off on you. Now, my students ask me “are you ever in a bad mood” and “why do you like Mondays so much?” My reply, my attitude is a choice and I choose to go positive.  John tells the story of a young man sitting in the front row of a talk, and how he had this great energy about him, laughing fully, crying, and just allowing his energy to be felt by those around him. Afterwards, when John talked to this man about his energy, that man talked about how his grandmother had this amazing energy and how he learned from her that “if you sit in the front everywhere you are, every day and in every moment, you will die a happy person.”

Questions from this chapter: Did I take every pleasure that was available to me today/this week (really smell the flowers), and did I was with awareness through my life or just run?  Did I find myself saying “I would be happy if….?” or did I choose happiness and contentment? Did I live in the present today/this week, or did I let tomorrow or yesterday steal the day’s happiness?

And the final secret: Give More than You Take

This one was so interesting to me because it’s so not what our society is based around. We work to get things, to desire things, and at Christmas or some other event, we might give something away. What John found out here in his interviews, we literally have two tasks as humans: to find ourselves then lose ourselves. We find ourselves by discovering our destiny and remaining to true to that and to ourselves. But to truly be happy, we have to lose ourselves in something larger. He found in his interviews that those people who were the happiest were those who gave back much more than they took whether that was through money, service, time with family and friends, all of it matters.  A couple of things I wrote down from this chapter that have stuck with me:

   – In the act of doing, happiness finds us.

   – We have a great deal of control over what we give, not so much on what we get.

  – Do you want a 10 minute funeral or a 10 hour funeral (referring to the amount of time and people who will come to pay their respects to you)?

  – Happiness comes from serving and loving.

This chapter just made me think about what I’m doing. I love what I do as a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and a teacher, but what could I change to truly make a difference in lives? I’ve not answered that question yet, but much of it has to do with something else John found out: what we hold in our awareness, we move towards naturally. I’m easily distracted by a lot of things, and I know this pulls me away from what really matters. How do I keep that focus on what’s important? One thought from the book, pay attention!🙂

Questions from this section: Did I make the world a better place in some small way? How do I want to be more kind and generous this week? Did I remind myself that I am making a difference even if I don’t see it?

And there it is. Yes, it’s a touchy feely kind of book, and for some it’s not their cup of tea. But it’s what I needed, and I’m glad that I kept this book around as long as I have. At 45, there are certain realities starting to set in, and this helped me to think about the life changing events that are on the horizon. It helped me find some perspective on what’s going on around me at the moment, and to keep pushing forward with my own attitude training.

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you. This book has certainly added something to my life and I look forward to reading it again in a couple of years!🙂

Reflections From a Cubs Game



This last Friday, I had the chance to travel to a Chicago Cubs game with my father, my brother, and my nephew. It was something that was very rare for me, a spontaneous moment where I put something before my time in school. Like most teachers, I hate being out of the classroom, but this was one of those times where I knew I needed to go. My father’s 72 years old and who knows how many more experiences like this will be offered up to us? Plus, it just gave me a time to have a look at my family dynamics and think about who does what and where it all comes from.  Riding together for eight hours, spending another four hours at Wrigley Field, it gives a guy a lot of time to be reflective on family and who we are.


I have always been the quiet one of the family. I’m the one who tends to sit back, watch what goes on around, and talk only when I truly need to. My father has the gift of gab. He can walk into a room of strangers and walk out with a new friend. His father, my grandfather was very much the same way. Grandpa was in the antique business and worked a lot of flea markets. I was able to travel with him and watch as he’d deal 50 ax handles for 5 sets of wrenches, then turn those sets of wrenches into cash, more than what he’d paid for the ax handles he started with. I’ve watched my own father wheel and deal when we’ve had garage sales or worked at auctions. My brother has this same gift. He works as a physical therapist at the VA hospital in Iowa City and has that ability to talk with anyone. I’ve seen him in action before in different settings, and he and my father are much more alike then either wants to admit!🙂


Me, I’m like my mom, soft spoken, quiet, and relatively inconspicuous in large groups of people. I prefer a smaller, more intimate setting where I can learn about someone, feel more comfortable with them, and be able to express myself a little more freely.  I’ve always found it uncomfortable when presented with a large group of people I don’t know, and tend to shift myself to a position where I can see a lot, but don’t have interact as much. I’ve never had that boisterous, outgoing personality, but as people will tell you, if I’m comfortable with you, I’m still quiet!🙂


As I watch my daughters, it’s interesting the traits we see in them that we see in ourselves. Gabrielle and I are very much alike. She too is very quiet, almost painfully so until you get to know her. It’s funny how teachers talk of her sense of humor, her dry wit, as if you didn’t pay attention, you’d never notice that it was there.  Faith has that gift of gab as well. She gets that from both sides of the family, because my wife has that ability, and her father had that ability time ten. Faith can walk into a crowd and come out with a friend, something that has always amazed me about her. She’s fearless in that respect, although I know that new situations make her uncomfortable as well. She also wears her emotions on her sleeve. You never have to wonder about Faith and what she’s feeling as it’s right out there for all to see. Her mother isn’t quite that forthright with her emotions, but both have very passionate personalities!🙂  Gabrielle and I, you have to pick at us to reveal what we are thinking because we keep those emotions and feelings to ourselves.


I’m writing this as my students are writing, both to be a good role model on getting words on a page and to get my thoughts down too. I swear I’ve changed this draft a half dozen times, and I know students are questioning what the heck I’m doing (it’s good to for them to see the writing process in full effect!). But it’s more than just that. Sometimes, it just nice to reflect on where you’ve come from. Going to the game, watching my dad, brother, and nephew laugh and interact with each other, it just gives me a better idea of who we all are.


And along with being reflective, it gave me a chance head back to Wrigley, a place where some awesome memories have been made!🙂


“I Like Big Butts….” #SOL


Ha ha ha ha!! I got you to click in, didn’t I??🙂  Somedays, it’s all about the hook!a

This is a picture taken from a dairy show we were at a couple of weekends ago, the last show of our season. This is our daughter, Faith, leading a dry cow named Ashia, a four year. Faith posted this picture with the above title, and it made me (and a number of other people) chuckle. We had Ashia for a year and my other daughter, Gabrielle, showed her, so this was Faith’s first time. As you can probably see, Ashia is a monster. As a heifer, this was the only animal that Gabrielle never felt comfortable with because she was big back then.  Now, Faith’s head comes to about the top of Ashia’s shoulders, and to lift Ashia’s head up, Faith is doing some pretty serious lifting.

We’d not had Ashia at our place for a couple of years (no way I’m getting into the milking business!), so when it was suggested that Faith show her, we immediately had our daughter go over and walk the cow.  Faith also did some clipping on Ashia, starting to get her show ready.  Faith walked that beast for about an hour that day, then, as we got settled up at the fairgrounds, Faith took her out again, just to get reacquainted with her “old friend”.  Ashia is the only animal that I’ve ever lost my temper with because she is as stubborn as the day is long. My wife’s been quoted as saying, “I’ve never seen Darin so angry before, ever!!” So, to get this beautiful animal to move, I learned that it had to be her idea, not mine. Brown Swiss are known for their gentle disposition, but their general stubbornness as well. The relationship I’d built with this animal wasn’t great, so I had to change was I was doing to make sure that we were never put in that situation again.

Too many times, we forget, if that relationship isn’t solid or if there are issues, that we have to mend those fences to make sure that we don’t get stuck with a student who’s locked her knees and won’t do what we need them to do. And too many times, we get locked into that power struggle, a struggle that constantly stresses the student/teacher relationship. I see that struggle right now in a situation that’s close to me, and I have to ask one question: why? As professionals, we know what the right thing is, we know that the relationship with our students is one thing that will make or break a student in a specific class. And if that student isn’t comfortable with the class or subject matter to begin with, the relationship is that much more important. If this is true, why do we allow those relationships to deteriorate to the point where parents need to be contacted? If we can see there’s a problem, why aren’t we the ones who are being the adults and reaching out, asking what we can do to mend those fences?

Like I said, this one is pretty close to me right now, and what makes it harder for me to stomach, our district set aside an entire day, the first day of our PD, to talk about relationships and how important they are for our students. We know what the right thing is. We know, even with our most difficult students, relationships matter, sometimes more than the actual content. Yet, we allow our students to lock their knees and we are left trying to drag them along. Does that work well?

So, as I led Ashia around that weekend, she wasn’t hugely tolerant of me. However, she followed my lead, not because I drug her along, but because as she walked in, I was right there, petting her, talking nice, and allowing her trust in me again, just like my daughter did. She didn’t lead because it was my idea, not at all.

Our students, they follow us because they trust us. If that trust is lost or broken, it makes life a lot harder for all involved. Will you make sure that you continue to build those relationships or is your classroom one of locked knees and no movement?

One will continue to push forward, the other, will continue to push.


“Teaching” Expectations #SOL

This summer, a few of us attended some professional development titled “The Well-Managed Classroom”.


I won’t lie, I was not impressed by the title or by the fact that I was going to this class. My classroom is well managed, right? I have kids who work hard when they have to, they aren’t too disrespectful, so why do I need this?

Well, I went begrudgingly, and took a few things away, the biggest being the idea of teaching expectation explicitly. Now, some of you are thinking “well, ya big goofball, why wouldn’t you do this?”  True enough. And I truly thought I was doing this, but as I reflected on my first year of 8th grade last year, not a chance. I lost a lot of classroom time with the way students entered and exited the classroom, my own fault for not teaching them “how” do this!

So, after seeing a couple of video clips and talking during this PD, we decided to really focus on the beginning and ending of classroom time.  We taught explicitly how to enter the classroom, how you sit down, what you do when you enter, all of it. We taught expectations on how you leave the classroom (push in your chair, pick up your things, leave in an orderly fashion). Then, we practiced. More than once. And the 8th graders rolled their eyes and sighed, and did all the things you’d expect those with teenaged angst to do. But still, in one word:


Our students, 90% of them, come in, sit, and read for the beginning part of class, no questions asked. They get up to leave, take their things, push in their chairs, and leave in an orderly fashion.

They are 8th graders. They are obnoxious, hormonal, temperamental, and sometimes a bit rude. Hard to imagine I know!🙂 However, by teaching and practicing the expectations, simple expectations, they have made our school year start out in a way that none of us expected.

And that is worth a blog of celebration!🙂


Friday Thoughts: School Climate, It Matters

Happy first Friday of September everyone! I’ve seen Facebook and Instagram posts about fall, pumpkin spice, and the lot. Meh. It’s September 2, let’s all take a deep breath, get a little oxygen to our respective brains, and not wish away what little bit of summer we have left!🙂

That being said, school is back, and we’ll complete our first full week of classes (I’ve gotten to teasing my student about the fact there are 170+ days left), and for the most part, we are feeling good about life. As those in education know, there’s always that beginning of the year “honeymoon period” where everyone’s making sure they are on their best behavior, so next week, things start to get real. But that being said, I feel real good about how we’ve started out. Our 8th graders are hearing the same thing from each of their core teachers, they are hearing the same expectations, and seeing the same “teaching” of those expectations, which is huge. They know we are all on the same page, and that we are talking to each other about how we do better.

Which leads me to where this blog begin. I got chatting online with a friend from the elementary a couple of nights ago. As I’ve moved to the opposite side of the school, those who I’ve worked with for 15 years, I don’t have the chance to see because we run in different educational circles now. There’s a definite dividing line between our elementary and middle school, and while it’s not done on purpose, it’s there. Anyway, we got talking about how much things have changed in our school over the last 17 years, how we’ve gone from two sections of each grade level to multi-aged sections because of declining enrollment and how certain things have been lost because of that.  I taught 10 years in the elementary in a sort of pod setting where sixth grade was on one side of the hallway, fifth grade on the other. During that time, those teachers I worked with (three of whom I now teach with again) had a blast. It was nothing to run across the hallway, ask a question, without any sense of feeling interruptive because that’s just what we did! As a group, we’d be in the hallway as students arrived to school, so they’d come down the hallway seeing their teachers smiling and laughing. As my friend and I talked, she shared that one day, one of her students stopped to watch us, and commented that she felt safe at school because she could come in the building and hear her teachers laughing.

She’s never told me that, and it made my night (triggering this blog). I’ve said this before, I work with an amazing staff. We laugh together, cry together, celebrate the joys of life and comfort each other in the sorrows. We are stretched right now, but yet, when tragedy strikes, we are there for each other with a comforting word, a hug, or a beer. It’s what family does. And as we go, our students go as well. If the family isn’t functioning well, you can tell with the kids. So it goes here too, if our school family has issues, you see it in the faces of the students.

So, reach out to your co-workers. Ask them about their lives outside of school, about their kids, or their Labor Day plans. Sometimes, it’s those little things that draw us out, and help us to know that we aren’t alone in our school community. It helps to start that climate of caring about each other.

And your students notice. They may not verbalize it, but they do.🙂

Junk sport? What Junk Sport?

I’ll qualify all this by saying there are no junk sports, period. Regardless of where our children focus their energies, that’s what’s important to them. If we are 100% behind them, we are part of the problem.

That being said, I’d never heard the term “junk sport” before my oldest daughter starting swimming. It was used by some swim friends to describe those sports who were not always in that favored status.

It’s hard for me to watch both of my daughters compete in sports that people outside of the sport really don’t value. One daughter was called lazy because she was a swimmer. Another daughter was told that cross country “is way easier than volleyball”. Our oldest always knew that swimming out of district was seen as odd to begin with, so very few of her classmates ever came to cheer for her at home meets. Cross country, every once and a while you see kids show up at meets, but mostly, it’s parents, grandparents, and other adult supporters who are there.

That being said, I miss going to swim meets something terrible. Our swimmers usually placed middle of the pack with a few great athletes leading the way, but the parental support at all meets away amazing. To listen to the crowd roar at the end of a close race, you’d think it was the Olympic freestyle instead of the first heat of 8! You’ve got your top swimmers at the end of lanes, cheering and going crazy for their teammates, and it shows in the culture of the sport.  And at cross country meets, you’ve got #1 varsity runners who are cheering and clapping, just going nuts for their slower JV counterparts, just trying to bring that runner home. You’ve got supporters who are cheering for ALL runners, not just the all stars. That’s what builds a community of students and parents together for one common goal.

The thing that bugs me the most about this label: these are two sports where I’ve seen the concept of team developed in a way that all other sports couldn’t possibly understand. Our oldest daughter’s swim experience was tremendous. She was never the fastest, but she worked her tail off, never complained about things, and that earned her the respect of her teammates all four years. Our youngest has struggled the last two years with legs issues, but is always welcomed and supported on the teams she’s run with. We talk about creating community and how important it is for our students, both of these sports do it in a way that I could only hope to replicate on my basketball teams.

I love coaching basketball and wouldn’t change that for the world. It’s brought me great joy, and we’ve done some good team building as a group. I love watching a good football game, seeing the coaches get their players jacked up for the game. However, my favorite “team” sports: swimming and cross country, both sports where outside of the small circle of participants and family, very little is known or cared about. I’d love to run a football team through a cross country practice, take a volleyball team through swim practice, and then see what they think of these “easy” sports.

I’d like to say thank you to those coaches who’ve helped my daughters through their junk sports. Without you, I’m not sure they’d be the girls they are right now. Your drive to push, to communicate, to build a team community is what has helped them in their own lives try to create that on their own levels. That kind of character is one that they’ve learned from you, so thank you.

Our friends told us about a cross country runner their daughter knew who wanted to try swimming in the summer instead of running, both for the impact on her body and to see if she could keep up. This was a varsity runner, one of the top runners in the state at the time. It took about a week, and the runner decided that swimming wasn’t for her because “this make cross country look easy”. Remember that when your son or daughter tells you, “I’d like to swim/run this year.”

They may be setting themselves up for a tremendous experience!

Finding Joy in the Little Things

My past month:

  • lost a week of preparations due to two separate trips to the state fair.
  • moved our oldest to college.
  • lost a friend to college
  • another person who’s been in the family circle for years has been given a terminal cancer diagnosis.
  • a favorite pet is fading fast.
  • an acquaintance has filed for divorce.

Oh, and school started too.

I wrote about this earlier, but there’s been a lot, A LOT, of change that happened. So it’s been all about finding the joy in the little things that have been around me.

  • fresh cucumbers. Haven’t had plants grow like this in a long time! I’m learning about how to save the seeds for this variety to see if I can get them to grow next year. Cucumbers cross pollinate, so I’m being a bit more careful with what I plant.
  • fresh tomatoes. My tomato plants have started this slow march across my garden, and at this point, there’s not much left that I can do!🙂 We’ve made one batch of salsa all ready, and will probably have tomatoes for another batch, plus marinara sauce too.
  • student laughter: as the school year starts, I love the sound of student laughter. It’s hard not to smile when it happens. It needs to happen more.
  • youngest daughter’s smile: she misses her sister like crazy, but she’s also been smiling more lately.
  • my wife’s smile: she’s not in class, she’s not stressed with busy work and papers, and it’s nice to see her smiling more too.

Overwhelmed? Just find those little things. As things start to calm down (I hope), they make all the difference in the world. They have for me.

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