Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Being Prepared

Being Prepared
So one of the most important things in anything we do in life is being prepared. This is especially true for teachers, or when teaching something to someone. I am not saying every detail must be etched in stone from the beginning, as spontaneity is extremely important for keeping both students and teachers engaged. But good teachers will have contingencies simmering in their kettles of tricks in order to keep a learning experience that takes an unexpected turn from going bad, and scarring the students.

For example:

I was at the park after school with my youngest daughter Bella (8 going on 14) and our dog Tika. While Bella was playing with her friends I noticed a family fishing at the park pond. The mother looked to be in her early thirties and had two small kids; a girl maybe 18 months and a boy 4 years old. The father was in his early thirties also, and was showing his son how to fish. They were casting the rod with a bobber and reeling back in. What struck me strange was the father was wearing khaki slacks and a green, pin-striped polo shirt. I thought to myself “he doesn’t look like your typical fisherman??” but who am I to judge; maybe he just got off of work and met his family at the park.

About 15 minutes later a bunch of kids at the park were making a fuss and my daughter Bella ran over to see what was going on. Well, somehow the family caught a 24” catfish and the hook was stuck in its mouth. I am not a nosy person so I stayed back with Tika, and just kept an eye on Bella. The father seemed out of sorts and kids from the park were pouring water on the fish to try to keep it alive . Finally the mother had to ask me if I could get a hook out of a fish’s mouth. I, being the animal rescuer that I am (I told Bella she must now refer to me as Diego since I have saved a baby rabbit, a humming bird, a zebra, and now a fish) said “sure.”
Now I have been fishing maybe 100 times in my life, but I have only been fish catching 3 or 4 times in my life. The only thing I seem to be able to catch when fishing is mosquito bites. However, as a chef I have cleaned and filleted thousands of fish of all sizes and colors, so I felt pretty qualified at handling this fish. It took me two or three minutes, but I was able to remove the hook and send the fish safely back into the water.

The point is: why was the father teaching his son to fish if he wasn’t prepared to handle the catching and releasing of the fish. The mother said in the background “well I guess we will be retiring fishing.” As teachers it is good, even necessary for us to learn along with our students, but this father was a wreck, and may have ruined fishing for his kids forever.
When teaching something you aren’t experienced at take some time to practice by yourself a few times, or at least mentally run through the activity and try to anticipate any issues that may arise. “Frustration begins where knowledge ends” –Clinton Anderson.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tales from Finlandia

What makes good teaching?

I have been researching this idea for the last year or so, as I have noticed a discrepancy between the quality of teaching/learning from one classroom to another; even within the same school and subject matter. It generally boils down to the teacher, but there’s a saying leftover from my restaurant days that I love “The fish stinks from the head.” In schools the head is the principal, and/or the school district. The teachers have to be motivated, inspired, educated, and held accountable to be good. In any other industry people are fired if they become complacent and quit producing results. The integrity of the corporation is on the line.

I read a great article in the Smithsonian Magazine the other day titled “Why are Finland’s Schools so Successful?” by LynNell Hancock. I have read other accounts about how good Finland’s schools were, but most gave statistics and didn’t really surmise the magic formula. I have provided a link so I won’t reprint the whole article but I do want to point out some interesting points and quotes.

Before any of you start suggesting that National funding of education is an act of communism or socialism, consider this: More citizens educated = more citizens employed = fewer citizens on social programs = fewer taxes. So overall the investment in improving our educational system would actually call for less social program funding.

The Finns recognized this as the article states, “The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellant of the country’s economic recovery plan… ‘If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive.’”

Ultimately they discovered that they could spend less per student, “Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.”

So what is the magic formula? Well the culture does play a role to a certain degree, but in my opinion the smallest role. What seems to matter, according to the article, is that education and teaching are respected fields, “teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers.” Pride in their jobs is a big motivator for Finnish teachers. Additionally they despise competition between schools and standardized tests. They focus their time and energy on teaching and finding better ways of teaching and making lessons instead of creating tests, administering tests, grading tests, analyzing test scores, and publicizing test scores. I do feel tests have a place: to identify students and schools that might require more resources. But I don’t think funding should rely on achieving particular scores, or that students should get stomach aches from the intense pressure exuded by all school staff during test time. As a Finnish teacher commented “’We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.’”

Clearly we can’t just imitate a bunch of Finns and walk off, hand in hand, into the sunset, but there is a lot here to cause us to ask how and why we are doing things they way we are. With this blog I plan to leave little nuggets of ideas that I feel could direct our schools to better serve our children, and ultimately our communities.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tales from Pukelandia

It's been a few days since my last post. I want to try to post at least every other day but as the blog is titled: notenoughours! My wife Marcia is recovering from her 15th surgery and I am helping my oldest daughter with her online-home school. Then two days ago my youngest daughter brought home from school a stomach virus (:-, Every year, two or three weeks into public school and the stomach virus hits. If that wasn't bad enough today my oldest daughter started hanging her shoes out of the toilet as she caught the bug.

So now I'm trying to manage the household chores, take care of my wife tend to the dog's needs, keep the fish from going belly up, comfort two puking kids, all while attempting to maintain my own sanity. Now that my youngest is starting to recover, she is now complaining that I am doing more to help my oldest daughter through her sickness than I did for her. Seriously? Sibling rivalry is one thing, but catching flack for helping one child get over the flu is ridiculous.

(After writing this and saving as a draft, my youngest started throwing up again so I am running up and down stairs between the two toilets trying to keep the vomit out of everyones hair and from making my girls look like rastafarians; not that rastas look bad, but my daughters don't fit the look)

Well, what keeps me focused is realizing that no matter how bad I think I have it, someone else has it worse and I shouldn't be selfish and complain. A painter I respect, Carol Marine, has just lost her house to the wild fires around Austin, Texas. I would much rather be in the predicament I am in right now than have to deal with her troubles.

Let's just hope I don't get sick!

(I originally wrote this post on Friday night. Before I could upload the photos and post, I started to get sick and spent a miserable weekend throwing up with stomach cramps and a raging headache. Not fun.)

Normally I like to post photos with my blog posts, but I don't think anyone wants to see anything that's happening in our house right now; so I will post a photo of my recent painting from my painting blog.


OK, so this photo is kinda' cute; Nurse Tika looking after Briar.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Painting Again

With the start of my new blog Notenoughours (I know it's missing an H; I'm all for sharing, plus if your like me you don't have the time to type extra letters) I decided to resume my daily painting and blog (not truly every day, the concept refers to completing small paintings every couple of days or once a week to improve fluency with your medium). Last nigh I did a 6"X8" titled Blue in Pears and it is for sale for $40 on Daily Paintworks.

Those of you who know me and my work know I am fond of painting fruit, especially pears.

I started the "daily painting" and blogging a couple of years ago and was pretty good about posting every few days, but then my school work got heavy and I had to stop for a while. I want to resume these exercises to rebuild my "seeing" skills more so than my painting skills. Please check back often to help me stay motivated to keep painting.


Well I made quiche tonight. I haven't made quiche in a while because we ate it so much for a while the whole family started wearing ascots and began holding our pinkies out crooked.

Actually I made this so often because it is so easy, so tasty, and so easy to clean up; and it lasts forever and can be warmed up or eaten cold for any meal of the day.

Inevitably whenever I tell someone about my recipe I hear "you know, real men don't each quiche!" Then I say "Umm, dude, more for me!"

Usually I make two quiche at a time: one bacon, and one spinach and shallot. Tonight I made two bacon because my youngest daughter abandoned vegetarianism not too long ago, and my oldest daughter loves bacon so much she even brushes her teeth with the stuff.

See, no clean up!

How to (Bacon): Makes two 9" deep dish pie shell fillings

I use store bought frozen pie shells but you can certainly use homemade

1# bacon (don't use maple flavored)

7oz (weight) or 2 cups shredded Danish or Sweedish Fontina (if you prefer you can use the real Italian fontina: Fontal, but at $16 a pound it makes an economical meal pricey)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano (you can sub the shaky cheese in a can)

7 large eggs or 6 extra large eggs

1 pint heavy cream

2 cups milk

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (if you have the actual seed to grate yourself, all the better)

4 small pinches of kosher salt (my pinches measure about 1/4 teaspoon each; it's good to know the size of your pinch)

1. Lay the bacon out on sheet pans and cook at 375 til it looks yummy enough to eat (about 17 minutes). If you have nibbling gnomes that snatch off the counter like I do you might want to up this ingredient by 25%.

2. While the bacon cooks grate the fontina and parmesan together and keep cool til later.

3. Mix eggs, cream, milk, salt, and nutmeg (whip to fluffy)

4. When bacon is cooked and cooled (keep the oven on at 375 for the quiche), pat with towel to remove grease, crumble and divide between the two pie shells. Top each shell with half of the grated cheese mixture and finally divide the egg/cream mixture between the two (alternate between the two back and forth so the density of the mixture divides evenly; also it helps to whip again just before pouring). Once they are poured you may need to lightly manipulate the cheese with a fork so the egg mixture can seep down evenly.
5. Place on the top rack of the oven and cook for 35 minutes at 375. I usually need to cook for 10 minutes longer, but I like to check after 35 minutes to make sure nothing silly is going on in the oven. After 45 total minutes turn the oven off and leave the door open to let the quiche temper inside for 10 minutes. This prevents falling due to drastic temperature changes.

Make sure you time this so you will have at least 30 minutes out of the oven before you need to slice and serve. Slicing and serving warm quiche looks like toasted, scrambled eggs. Quiche is meant to be served at or just above room temperature so if you are rewarming, try not to get it scalding.

Serve with seasonal fruit or a light salad of your choice

For spinach quiche substitute the bacon with 1# of fresh spinach and 1 chopped small shallot. Saute the shallot in 1tsp butter until golden, add the spinach (It may take several additions because the spinach starts out bulky but cooks down to almost nothing. Set each pan full aside while you cook the next until the whole batch is done) and just the smallest smattering of salt (it is easy to over-salt sauteed spinach). Once the spinach is all cooked, chop roughly and put in a fine strainer for 10 minutes to let the excess water drain (otherwise your quiche will be drippy).

If you want to make one spinach and one bacon, by all means; use 1/2 pound bacon and 1# spinach (one in each pie shell). Everything else remains the same.

Buona notte!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Teaching is Universal

I was going to post about my daughter's new arrangement of attending middle school from home. There is much of interest to talk about regarding the positive changes for all of us, and I promise to post on that later, but something happened today that is small, but huge.

Most of you who know me know I am deeply interested in teaching and learning; both with animals and with people. I am constantly contemplating the best ways to impart knowledge and I seem to figure things out in some unusual places. While there are differences in how one would go about teaching people vs. teaching animals (and each animal species as well as individual animals may require unique methods), the concept is strangely universal.

What I have found is that a teacher (and that term can be applied very loosely) must achieve three things in a particular order to be able to teach a subject. First one must gain respect from the student. Second the teacher must gain trust. And Third an effective teacher must gain interest. Without these three things, and without gaining them in order, quality teaching will be an extremely difficult task. I will discuss these three steps in depth, in the future.

Enough back story. Today I found a humming bird trapped in our garage and she seemed to be frantically trying to get out. She was hovering at the ceiling and couldn't seem to fly out of the door opening which was partially closed. At first I tried shooing her out but that just upset her more; so I stopped to think logically and called upon my horse/zebra training knowledge. I had to think like a humming bird. Whenever I train a horse or zebra or bear, or teenager, I am most successful when I try to think like my student thinks.

Instead of scaring the bird by shooing her I remained very still to calm her down. Next I slowly raised a bristle broom and held it still in front of her. She must have been tired, and the bristles must have resembled twigs because she rested on one of the bristles. She respected me for not acting as an aggressor, then she trusted me (or at least trusted the broom; I don't take credit when it isn't due), and then I gained her interest, as she was truly interested in resting and escaping. She let me slowly lower the broom and carry her out to the driveway. Once in the open she remained still for a couple of seconds, turned her head to me and made two small peeps (previously the only noise she made was from the buzz of her wings) as if to say thanks, and flew away.

Small but Huge, depending on your perspective.

I truly believe these three things will make a great teacher in any discipline; the trick is figuring out how to adapt to the culture and perspective of the students.

Anyway, I felt it was an accomplishment and a reinforcement to what I know about teaching.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Off and running: Second Hand Cancer

Well I hate to start off with a depressing subject but one of the things that consumes my life is health care. Over four years ago my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and two weeks ago she had her 15th, yes that is 15th, surgery associated with her cancer. Her prognosis is good but the process has taken its toll on the whole family. A couple of years ago I wrote a.... hmm, I'm not sure what to call it, we'll just say a "piece" that dealt with my frustration. It was cathartic and I'm a little disappointed to say still relevant in our lives. Read on and try to enjoy some of the dark humor that is intended to lighten the ....hmm, "piece."

Hi, my name is Bart and I have second-hand Cancer.
I’m angry.
And I’m tired.
I’m angry that Cancer has interrupted my plans. I’m angry that Cancer has made Marcia Depressed. And tired. And scared. And cranky. I’m angry that every time we think we’ve turned the corner, another long hallway is thrust in front of us. I’m angry that once the Cancer is treated, no one has any time or answers for all the “LITTLE” symptoms or side effects.

I’m angry because we can’t make plans for next week, or next month, or next year because we don’t know if we will be well enough to execute those plans. I’m angry because Cancer has made my kids afraid. Afraid for Marcia. Afraid for themselves.
I’m angry because sometimes I don’t have enough patience for my kids. I’m angry because my kids have to be quiet in their own home. I’m angry because we have to wait until noon or later each day to know if we will be well enough to make plans for the day. I’m angry because once we know we can make plans for the day there isn’t enough time to enjoy the plans. I’m angry because I have to make a choice between school and supporting Marcia.

I’m tired of doing EVERYTHING.

I’m tired of being a father, and a mother, and a husband, and a wife, and a mother-in-law. I’m tired of being a student, a psychiatrist, a nurse, a pharmacist, a doctor, an advocate, a life coach, a friend. I’m tired of pretending everything is OK. I’m tired of answering the obligatory questions with answers that won’t give anyone else second-hand Cancer. I’m tired of still answering those questions four years later. I’m tired of not having any money left at the end of the month because an out-of-pocket maximum isn’t an out-of-pocket maximum. I’m tired of the stacks of medical bills that fill more boxes than my family photos.

I’m tired of having to use a magnifying glass to sift through medical bills from doctors I’ve never met of heard of to figure out whether or not the $500 bill for looking at a CT scan for 43 seconds is legitimate. I’m tired of insurance companies not paying bills they should, hoping we won’t notice, or have the time or energy to investigate whether or not they are responsible.

I’m tired of missing important phone calls because my voice mailbox gets filled up with messages from people looking for money they don’t deserve. I’m tired of getting unripe fruit. I’m tired of being strong.
I’m angry about and tired of feeling guilty for being angry and tired.

I’m tired of waking up at 6:15 A.M., taking the dog outside, feeding the dog, unloading the dishwasher, making everyone breakfast, telling my kids 3 times to keep eating or “we’ll be late,” telling my kids 3 times to clear their breakfast plates, keeping the dog from jumping on everyone and tearing their clothes, taking rolls of toilet paper away from my dog, picking up socks my dog has vomited up, cleaning up dog pee right when it is time to put a meal on the table, making snacks and lunch for everyone, checking my kids’ backpacks to make sure they have everything, making sure their clothes match, making sure their clothes fit,
making sure their clothes aren’t covered with animal hair, making sure they have brushed their teeth, convincing them that they actually do need a coat, walking them to school, trying to wake Marcia up so she can appear to be getting her work done and keep her job, getting her medication, making sure she takes her medication, filling and refilling her prescriptions, changing her bandages, emptying her drains, getting yelled at for telling her things are going to be OK, going to school, concentrating on school, giving a damn about school, picking up my kids from school,

going through their backpacks to organize their homework and fliers from the school that take more time to go through than my college homework, helping my kids with their homework, getting snacks, making dinner, taking the dog out to potty, cleaning up more pee because I didn’t take the dog out to potty soon enough,

putting dinner on the table, bringing dinner into the bedroom for Marcia, doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, getting Marcia’s dinner plates, taking out the trash, making sure my kids take a shower, resolving fights over who’s turn it is to take a shower first,

making sure they brush their teeth, reading to my kids at bedtime, telling my kids not to come out of their rooms anymore and to get to sleep, taking the dog for a walk so she gets enough exercise and stops jumping on everyone and tearing their clothes, doing my homework, making sure I spend enough time with Marcia, justifying why I have to get homework done instead of laying in bed watching TV with Marcia, checking to make sure all the lights are off, the dishwasher has been turned on, the doors are locked, my kids lights are out, and the dog is in her crate. I’m tired of brushing my teeth.

I’m tired of mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, putting the trash bins away, cleaning the leaves out of the pool, cleaning the pool filters, pulling weeds, raking leaves, picking up the dog poop in the yard, making grocery lists, clipping coupons, going grocery shopping, at 2 stores so I don’t go over budget, putting the groceries away, finding out that I forgot to buy the paper towels, collecting all the dirty laundry, washing the clothes, getting the clothes out of the dryer before they wrinkle, re-drying them when I didn’t get them out before they wrinkled, folding the laundry, getting my kids to put their laundry away, putting Marcia’s and my laundry away,
getting dressed out of the dryer when I didn’t get to the folding and putting away part, doing the bills, going through the junk mail, finding everything for everyone.
I’m tired of being tired of things I normally don’t mind doing.
I’m tired of wanting to run far away sometimes.
I’m tired of reminding myself that other people have things worse than we do.
My name is Bart and I have second-hand Cancer.