Don’t Shoot the Wounded

Today I’m not going to write anything except an introduction to a song that most of you have probably never heard but is something that all of us could learn from.  The song is Don’t Shoot the Wounded by Chuck Girard

Don’t shoot the wounded, they need us more than ever
They need our love no matter what it is they’ve done
Sometimes we just condemn them,
And don’t take time to hear their story
Don’t shoot the wounded, someday you might be one
It’s easy to love the people who are standing hard and fast
Pressing on to meet that higher calling
But the ones who might be struggling, we tend to judge too harshly
And refuse to try and catch them when they’re falling
We put people into boxes and we draw our hard conclusions
And when they do the things we know they should not do
We sometimes write them off as hopeless
And we throw them to the dogs
Our compassion and forgiveness sometimes seem in short supply
So I say…

Chorus

We can love them and forgive them
When their sin does not exceed our own
For we too have been down bumpy roads before
But when they commit offenses outside the boundaries we have set
We judge them in a word and we turn them out,
And we close the door
Myself I’ve been forgiven for so many awful things
I’ve been cleansed and washed and bathed so many times
That when I see a brother who has fallen from the way
I just can’t find the license to convict him of his crimes
So I say…

Chorus

That doesn’t mean we turn our heads when we see a brother sin
And pretend that what he’s doing is all right
But we must help him see his error, we must lead him to repent
Cry with those who cry, but bring their deeds into the light
For it’s the sick that need the doctor,
and it’s the lame that need the crutch
It’s the prodigal who needs the loving hand
For a man who’s in despair, there should be
Kindness from his friends
‘Lest he should forsake the fear of almighty God
And turn away from God and man

So I say…

Chorus

©1982 Sea of Glass Music/ASCAP

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O Captain My Captain

Last night we learned that a wonderful actor and comedian Robin Williams took his life at the age of 63.  That coupled with the reality that the new school year is fresh on my mind took me back to a time when I was a new teacher.  It was 1988 and I was fresh out of college and I had no clue what theory I would use or which educational philosophy I would follow.  I didn’t know about the Lesson Cycle or the 5 E model.  I just wanted to teach.  Then the very next year the movie Dead Poets Society came out.  As soon as I watched it I knew that’s the kind of teacher I wanted to be and today I want to share with you all of the things I learned in this movie that have made me a better teacher.

1) Humor- Obviously Robin Williams was a master at humor but everyday in my classroom I become a comedian at least part-time.  When students are laughing they are not bored and they want to come back.  I always think that this might be the only place they are all day where they can have fun.  If I can make my students laugh at least once a day then I feel that I have had a successful day.

2) Unconventional teaching- In the movie John Keating was constantly doing something that would seem out-of-place in an English classroom.  As a matter of fact he would literally go outside the classroom to teach.  There are scenes where students look at each other and you can see them asking themselves, “Is this guy for real?” or “Are we allowed to do this?”  I love it when my own students get those looks or when they actually ask me those questions.  Unconventional teaching strategies are often misunderstood and criticized but very rarely ineffective.

3) Passion- John Keating had a passion for the subject he taught and he made that completely clear on his first day of class and he didn’t apologize for it.  I don’t think any subject can be taught effectively without passion and enthusiasm.

4) Thinking for themselves- He challenged students to think for themselves.  Too many time in education we try to tell students what they should think.  We give them lessons with the right answers and move on and don’t allow them to question or see a different side.  By teaching students to think for themselves we prepare them for the real world.  You can see this portrayed in the last scene of the movie that is so well done when the boys fight that internal battle of whether to take the easy way out and go with the flow or literally take a stand for what thy believe to be right.

5)  Caring- Keating genuinely cared for his students and made himself available to them.  There is an old saying that says, “Students don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  I fully believe that students learn best from someone that cares and in whom hey can place their trust.

6) Disagreeing with colleagues- One thing that I didn’t see the first time I watched the movie was his interaction with a colleague.  The other teacher questioned his teaching technique and they had a discussion.  They ultimately disagreed with each other but remained friends to the end.  In education we must have discussion and debate.  There will always be differences of opinion but when we communicate we can solve problems and move forward.  I think today we call it collaboration.  But the bottom line is that we can disagree as colleagues and still work together to reach the goal of teaching students.  I am fortunate that I am able to have open discussion with many of the faculty at my school.

I owe a great deal to this movie and to Robin Williams for portraying the character so well. I can only hope that my teaching has had a lasting impact on the students that have come through my classroom and been in my care.

Dream On!

First of all I have a newsflash for all of you.  Nobody is perfect!  Profound right?  Now let me explain why I am stating the obvious.  It seems like in this world of imperfect people we somehow expect to find perfect relationships, perfect jobs, perfect families and perfect situations.  The closest thing I have had to perfection was a vacation and since I had to pay for that it wasn’t really perfection.  Just like two wrongs don’t make a right, two imperfect people cannot make a perfect couple.  In the 80s we had The Cosby Show and Family Ties showing us that the perfect couple can have the perfect family and perfect jobs.  Even when there was a problem it can be solved in 30 minutes with a perfect solution.  Tough problems might take two episodes.  I find it very ironic that two of the child actors(Lisa Bonet and Justine Bateman) were going through very real problems while portraying roles in these “perfect” families.  The reality is that the perfect job, the perfect spouse, the perfect president or the perfect county doesn’t exist.  But you can be happy in imperfection.  This is a personal struggle of mine.  Without really saying it or consciously thinking it, I was seeking perfection.  I have changed jobs several times in my career looking for something better only to find that every job has pros and cons.  More importantly I was seeking it in my marriage and the reality was I was letting something beautiful slip away.  Instead of seeing and holding onto what I had, I constantly focused on what I didn’t have and what my wife wasn’t doing or providing.  How terrible and what a recipe for failure.  If we focus on what we don’t have we will be constantly disappointed.  John F. Kennedy once said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”  I think the same can be said for relationships.  Unrealistic expectations and the myth of perfection is destroying many marriages and families.  These expectations are also robbing us of our happiness and fulfillment.  Life is about choices.  It’s about time to choose where your focus will be.  As for me, I know she isn’t perfect but I am going to choose to see my wife for what she really is, which is one of the best blessings I have ever received.  Thank you Kristen!

What we really are in America!

It is no secret that the American public is completely and totally enamored with celebrities.  Whether singers, actors or sports figures we place these individuals high on pedestals and although it has been this way  for many years I feel like it has gotten even larger with so many celebrity gossip magazines, T.V. shows and websites.  And I will agree that some of these celebrities are inspirational and are worthy role models.  Some have overcome great odds and have become the best at their jobs.  But the biggest problem I see with this type of hero-worship is that we forget the people who really built America.  The people who have also worked hard to be the best at their chosen profession and do so without ever having accolades, recognition fame or fortune.

Being in a profession like teaching I see this all the time.  I have had the privilege of working with so many great and awesome teachers.  Teachers and coaches that have worked hard and spent countless hours becoming the best at what they do. They teach and inspire literally thousands of students in their careers and most of them will never be recognized with much more than a small token when they retire.  Many like myself are driven by the fact that they didn’t have the opportunity when they were growing up.  Coming from homes where they were the first college graduates in their families.  And teachers aren’t the only ones.  There are ministers that give hope, law enforcement that provide protection, small business owners that genuinely want to help their customers while making their own living and the list could go on and on.  I think about my own students that I have taught.  Most of them will never know fame and fortune although I am confident that many of them will become the best in their chosen fields by overcoming great odds and rising from humble beginnings.

Lately I’ve been asking the question, “Is the United States still the greatest country?”  There are many arguments against it.  But it is these people who continue to do their jobs at a high level and to the best of their ability that will ensure that America will remain great.  The foundation of this country is the common people who do ordinary things extremely well.  The average joe that sees his job as anything but average and the people who keep pushing forward through difficult times.  I encourage you to tell someone you appreciate the job they do today.  As a matter of fact anytime you see someone do something that get little or no credit let them know that they inspire you.  We may not all be heroes but we can be role models and we can maintain he integrity of this nation and continue to make it great.

My 50th year

Well it’s August 1st which means in 8 days I turn 50.  Some people cringe at getting older but my attitude is that I am going to appreciate it and wear it like a badge of honor.  I’ve explained in an earlier post about why I feel that it is special.  I wrote an earlier blog about ideas to make my year special and I received many good ideas.  I appreciate everyone that contributed.  Unfortunately I can’t do everything that was suggested.  In same cases I just don’t have the time and in others I just don’t have the money but some of them are now on my bucket list.  So today I’m going to tell you about what I plan to do in my 50th year and what I have learned as I thought about it.

As I said in my earlier blog post I want my 50th year celebration to be a tribute to my brothers and I want to honor their lives.  There is a quote from Henry David Thoreau that I have always loved.  He says:

As I thought about what I was going to do this year I did learn a great deal about myself and life.  I could fill the year with many grand travel plans and exciting adventures that everyone would be envious of.   But if I focused on that it would take away from the little things that happen in my life every day that make it worth living.  So yes I will do a few big things along the way but more importantly I am going to pay more attention to the things that happen that make life real and not take them for granted.  So here is a partial list of the things I plan to do for my 50th year.
1)  Spend more time outdoors.  Me and my brothers grew up on a farm.  We rode horses, worked cattle, went hunting, worked in the garden and did general farm work.  We worked outside and played outside.  For the first 18 years of my life being out in nature was part of who I was.  I’ve gotten away from that.  This year I plan to reclaim that part of my past.  I’m going to spend the morning of my birthday watching the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico while I listen to the waves crash on the shore.  I can’t think of too many things that could be better than this.
2) Take a picture of something every day that is meaningful.  Some days that will be something with huge significance but most days it will be something small or even mundane.  But if we don’t find these small things meaningful we will never enjoy life or understand it.

3) Do something nice for an individual every day and give handwritten notes of encouragement to people every day.  After all, it is the people in our lives that really make it worth living.

4) Visit as many places as time and money will allow.  That may be Washington D.C. or the Grand Canyon or the Stockyards in Ft. Worth.  We never traveled much when we were kids so it is always a huge thing to see something “big” or go some place just to say we have been there.  I’ll always remember seeing Bob at the beach and listening to Johnny talk about all the places he got to go with his job.  For us the simple experience means a great deal.

5) Rediscover family.  Now that I have lost so much of my family it has become more important to me.  There is a wedding in October and I am going to go.  There is a date set aside every year to visit the old communities in Ft. Hood where my dad and all of his family lived and grew up.  I’m going to go.  I want to look at every picture and talk to everyone I can about who our family was because I don’t want to lose it.  It’s also a part of who I am.

I think that this is a good list.  A list that reminds me of what life is and what is important in it.  Thank you again for all of the suggestions and thank you for the continued support on my blog.

What are we afraid of?

I have been writing this blog for a while now and covering a variety of topics. So far I have avoided anything too controversial or difficult. However, if I am going to be completely true to myself I am going to have to bite the bullet and get it over with.

I was raised in a Christian home and I don’t remember a time when we didn’t go to church. Most of my life I never questioned what I was doing or what was really being said. Then a few years ago I started paying more attention and noticing discrepancies in what the scriptures say and what we as Christians actually do. It became even more of an issue for me when my brother died of a heart attack at a very young age. At this time everything I had been taught about about God and why bad things happen to good people just didn’t seem to make sense. People who were well meaning would say things like “all things work together for good,” and “it’s all in God’s will” but that bring me any peace and even raised more questions in my mind. The sad thing is I had probably said that to people hundreds of times before and never realized how hollow and empty those words were.

I questioned much of what I had been taught since I was a child. Not so much my faith in God but my faith in what I had been taught about God. But my main question is why are we as Christians afraid to talk abut these things? We teach that we are supposed to be a family and the Body of Christ but when we try to ask questions the first response is, “well you just need to pray about it.” I’m beginning to think that we say this more because we don’t want to discuss something that might require us to think about our faith. What are we afraid of? Does it hurt us to delve deeper into our view of God? Why have we become so afraid of open dialogue and honesty? The Psalms are some of the most human of scriptures and in many of them David or another writer is sincerely questioning God. Where are we allowed to do this today? I have faith but sometime my humanity comes shining through and I need someone real to talk to about it. Why are we afraid?

The purpose of education

everybody-is-a-genius-poster

There is a quote that says, “Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”  That quote is sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein although it is uncertain whether he coined it or just repeated it.  At any rate he lived the quote.  He didn’t speak until he was four years old and didn’t read until he was seven and eventually was expelled from school.  Some of his teachers actually thought he was mentally challenged.  There is evidence that other famous scientists and inventors struggled in school.  Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were all below average students in formal school settings.  Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade.  Woodrow Wilson didn’t read until he was twelve years old.  Orville and Wilbur Wright both suffered from depression.  What does all this have to do with the purpose of education?  If someone was looking at our education system in the United States they would probably conclude that our goal and purpose is to teach every student to learn the same thing in the same way and if they don’t then they are labeled as slow or below average.  In my opinion we need to work harder and finding out how student’s learn and what they are gifted to be.

Let me share something I saw from the 2008 Olympic Games.  NBC did an analysis of Michael Phelps which explained why physically he had the perfect body to be a swimmer.  With long arms, relatively short legs and big feet he was literally born to be a swimmer.  Most of us would agree that there are other athletes that were born to play their sport.  Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Tiger Woods are just a few that come to mind.  Some of you will remember when Michael Jordan tried his hand at professional baseball.  He was a good player but far from the best.  My thought as I was watching this piece was, what a tragedy it would be if Phelps had never gotten the opportunity to be a swimmer or if Michael Jordan had never played basketball.   The difference was between being good and being the best.  How many times have students in our schools been dismissed or left behind because we didn’t find the best place for them to fit in or we tried to make them fit into a role they weren’t ready for.  One of our main goals of education should be to help students find their strengths and gifts and help them build those strengths and skills.  In order for this to happen we as educators have to be open-minded and flexible.  In our current system we try to put everyone in the same classes and take the same tests on the same timeline.  We do all of this while trying to prepare them for a diverse world.  It is no wonder that many students, teachers and parents are frustrated because we are not allowing for the truth that everyone is different.  Student’s that don’t succeed in the current system take on the perception that they “aren’t good enough.”  Instead of exercising so much energy on student weaknesses, let’s focus that energy on what makes them strong.  This could take more work, more preparation and more time but it seems to me that the benefits far outweigh the investment.