Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chuckles Checkered Cheeseburgers!  Add this little twist to your next outdoor grilling outing! Kids will love them. Take your favorite yellow and white cheese (I prefer sharp cheddar and swiss)..and make long slices about 1/4 inch wide. Weave your cheese until you get a checkerboard design. You are gonna love these!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Harder than I thought

I don't know if I felt a chuckle form in my stomach or a tear form in my eye this week as teachers began reporting about their summer coming to an end and all the emotions that might come with that. For me this summer dragged on and on like no other I can remember. I've gone through the full range of emotions this summer. It started off on a Wednesday morning at Starbucks in Springfield, IL. I was in Springfield with Theresa, my sister Janie and her husband Rich because my Mom was in the hospital along with my uncle. While chatting in the little outside patio area I got a phone call from U.T. wanting to schedule an interview with me! We scheduled a job interview at United Township for Friday morning at 9 am. I felt like I did an awesome job in my interview. I knew by the lack of phone call the next day that they probably decided to hire someone else--well actually two someone else's because there were two open positions. Sure enough, late in the morning on my birthday I got the call--and I was right. It was like a hit in the gut I've never felt before. I have been to as many interviews as I've had jobs. Up until this interview, I've always gotten the job I've interviewed for. I've tried to figure out how someone right out of college is the best candidate for the job over someone ALSO right out of college in a teacher certification program but also has years of experience in the classroom as a paraprofessional and experience in the private and public sector. It was the beginning of a very long summer.

Theresa and I took a little trip to St. Louis which was the highlight of the summer. It was nice to just get away from it all for a little trip. That trip, which included a stay at my sister and brother-in-laws house, flew by. While on vacation I was checking the teacher jobs sites online and saw a position post for Orion High School. So the first day at Janie and Rich's house I put vacation on hold and printed up my resume, altered my letter of interest to fit the Orion position, print up my letters of recommendations, transcripts, etc and sent it off to Orion from Carterville, IL...all while on vacation.  We returned home from vacation and the summer started to stall as it did before leaving town.

Days and weeks went by and no one called from Orion. Let me tell you, that is a MUCH better outcome than finishing runner up out of 80 applicants. Summer would continue to drag by--with not much action until the end of the summer when that spark of hope would show it's face again.

At the end of July another job opened up that was in Galva, IL. That is the maximum driving distance I think I can do to commute to work. I was called for an interview and had a week to practice for it. This time, I told myself I'm going to do great, am not going to worry or stress about it, and whatever happens--happens. And I truly did go into my interview relaxed, confident, and prepared. During my interview--I NAILED IT! I knew I did a great job and just really thought good news would come from it.

The last weekend in July my sister and her family were in town for the Bix Weekend in Davenport. That Friday I was jamming on guitars in my bedroom with my nephew and his friend who was traveling with him and my daughter Sara. I got a phone call and excused myself taking the call outside where it was quiet. I told no one about my Galva interview except Theresa. I've learned family will not leave you alone until they hear whether you got a job offer or rejection--and those calls I can do family should know when I find out I will tell the whole world I kept this news under wraps. Well the phone call was from the Galva principal who said I did an excellent job and said the word "congratulations" 3 times. He did say "well we have you and one more candidate we'd like to meet again with the superintendent"...but I felt really good about this!  He scheduled my interview for first thing Monday morning. I had prayed to God that if God's plan was for me NOT to get the job then please don't let them call me for a second interview. I don't want to get my hopes up again to have them come crashing down. I figured this was a VERY good thing as I had been praying to God for most of the day and evening before to NOT call me for a second interview unless I was hired for the job.

I arrived at Galva Adminstration offices (Galva Elementary School to be more exact) to meet with the principal and superintendent. They told me right away the interview would be much quicker than the last one--they just had a few more questions. This is typical in a final interview. Again, my interview went extremely well and they said they would notify both candidates as soon as early afternoon possibly but certainly before the end of the day. When I didn't get a phone call by early afternoon I knew again--bad news.

Bad news it was--and I've rehashed this over and over again. I've determined that with my background, experience, letters of recommendations, accomplishments etc...that I either screwed something up that I am truly unaware of, or they hired the wrong person. I go back to "God's Plan" a lot and for the life of me I can't see what God's Plan in this is. The only thing I can think of is God was saving me from some car accident some morning or afternoon commuting to or from work. If that is the reason--I can live with it. But I know I'm still kicking myself harder than I've ever done before because I must have done or said something or omitted something that they were looking for to not get hired. Maybe the other person was just better than me--whatever the reason they got the job and I didn' is what it is and I accept that.

But this past week has been tough. Seeing teacher friends commentate on their summer ending and returning to school--how some are looking forward to Christmas break already--just has been tough to see. Having a wife as a teacher I hear all the stories of life in 3 schools and the hectic work pace, the fun expectations of new students, rooms, teachers...realizing I've been part of all of this the past 7 years--but not now. It's harder than I thought.

I know sometimes it takes something being taken away for you to truly appreciate it. But I've always appreciated the opportunity to teach. Whether it was as a one on one aide to an Aspergers child, to a paraprofessional in a special education classroom with Kindergarten through 3rd graders, to student teaching in one of the most awesome history classrooms in the world, to substitute teaching at the high school--I've always appreciated the opportunity to teach. But honestly, I want so much more than being a substitute teacher--when things don't really get started for another month or so--and then it isn't my classroom, with my teaching strategies, lesson plans, etc...I realize this is much harder than I thought. I realize exactly what it is I should be doing--pray to God it happens soon, and realize what I am doing now--watching my wife go off to work everyday teaching the subject she loves...reading all the status updates from my teaching friends on their new school days etc...all from the "comfort" of my own home is not comforting at all.  This is much harder than I thought.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Home Is Where The Door Is Open

Happy Birthday to Me!

I got the call today with a decision I knew had already been made. My Alma mater decided against hiring me for the two open social studies positions created by two retiring teachers. Am I disappointed? Yes. Was I the most qualified? Yes. My answer to that question doesn't change after the hiring process. During the interview do you expect me to say "No I wasn't the most qualified"? In my mind I was the most experienced and most qualified applicant for the positions. I can understand having a difficult time deciding on one position with dozens, if not hundreds of applicants. Two gets to be a bit easier to make sure you get the "best" candidate.  I have hashed things out in my mind rather than express my thoughts publicly. I will say this--things happen for a reason and I think the winner today are the students of Moline High School.

What I will focus on is going home....home is not the home it used to be. You see I was a graduate of United Township High School. I loved that school--I was a Panther. I remember loving it before I was even a student there. My Uncle was a teacher there who was one of the best role models I ever knew. He also loved the Panthers, especially high school basketball. I traveled with him to all the Western Big 6 basketball games, watched every game in The Panther Den, and traveled to Champaign to watch U.T. in the state basketball tournament. In high school, the teachers challenged me and sparked my interest in learning. I have no doubt if more teachers had the passion and excitement for what they taught, there would be fewer schools on the Academic Warning list for not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress. You see the Home I remember in U.T. back in the 80's is not the same place. It is run by totally different people with different goals, ambitions, and motivations. This is not a knock against U.T. It just isn't my home anymore.

What I do know is where home is. Home is where the door is open. Home is where you are wanted. Home is where they know you best. Home is people who know exactly what you can do and how good you can do it. Home is the place that brings out your best. Home is where the door is open...Home is Moline High School.

I remember walking through Washington Elementary School in Moline towards the end of the school year. This was where I worked for 5 years until November of 2009 (before moving into the classroom at Moline High School to begin my preclinical and student teaching phase of my teacher certification program). I remember telling my wife, "Wow the hallways are so narrow" and "The lockers seem so much shorter than I remembered."  I also remember thinking it didn't seem  like it used to. In that short period of time the school had a new principal, several new staff/faculty members and lots of unfamiliar student faces. Home was now Moline High School.

So in all likelihood, I will return home this next school year at Moline High School in one manner or another. I have no doubt the decision to hire me would be a different outcome if the opening was at Home instead of my Alma mater. I will go back Home and do the best job I know how--continuing to build upon the great rapport I've built with the students and faculty of Moline High School. Someday I WILL be a contracted teacher at Moline High School. It became crystal clear to me this week--Home is where the door is open...and Home is Moline High School!--Go Maroons!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A School Year That Felt Like Two

It's hard to believe this school year ends tomorrow. I was telling Theresa this past school year seems like two different school years. What started off as almost a full semester of demonstration teaching (student teaching) finished with over a semester of substitute teaching. I accomplished a great deal this school year. A lifelong dream of becoming a certified teacher was fulfilled this school year. One benefit of being a bit more experienced is knowing what your passion truly is. I see many teachers in the profession who have been there a long time and so many work hard to do a good job. I don't see as many living their passion and with good reason. It's hard to realize your passion as an 18 year old kid. That is what we ask of teachers in most situations. College for those entering the teaching profession is rigid. There is not a lot of room to find yourself exploring different classes (unless you want to spend tens of thousands of extra dollars and a couple extra years of college). And let's face it, most of us use our 20's and even part of our 30's figuring out who we are and what we want to do. I don't care what profession someone goes into, it seems many change jobs once, twice, or several different times within the first 10 years within their vocation.  I realized I wanted to be a teacher a long time before I actually became one. I am not only certain teaching is what I want to do, but believe it is my calling in life--my passion.

So I have a great deal to be thankful for this school year.  As always, I am thankful for the wonderful life I have made with my wife and children. I love them more than words can describe. I am thankful for the sound foundation of character and integrity I was raised with. And I am thankful for a wonderful staff and students at Moline High School who allowed me to attempt to perfect my teaching skills at their school. Without a doubt, I owe a big thank you to a teacher who opened up his room to me this school year--Trent Lamphier. He is a teacher I wish I could have had in high school and a teacher I was blessed to learn from while finalizing my teacher certification program.

I end the school year with a bit of uncertainty. I am not sure where I will be working at next school year or what I will be doing. I know I will be at a high school doing what I love--working with students. I hope I will have the opportunity to live out the passion I have for teaching in my own classroom, with my own students, and with the content I am passionate about. I know God has greater things in store for me than I know. In the past I have realized the numbers game works against any teacher not yet employed as a contracted teacher--there are more teachers not yet employed than there are positions available. But God has greater things in store for me than I know. I am not yet aware of God's plan for me--I trust in him that his plan is grand and one that is just right for me. So wherever I land next school year--I trust it will be just the right fit for me and where I am supposed to be. And I will share my journey to where that road leads right here with the friends and family who mean a great deal to me. 

School year 2010-2011 you were one unlike any other!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Circle of Life

I believe we all have a purpose. My purpose in life is to be the best husband in the world for my loving wife, father in the world to my three awesome children, and it has always been my desire to be the teacher all the students of my school want to have. I am accomplishing the husband and father thing very well!  Now it's my turn to be the social studies teacher students go to their counselor trying to get as their teacher. My teaching philosophy is students will learn when interested and excited about the subject and lesson they are studying. I always ask myself "Would I want to be sitting in my classroom tomorrow if I were a 15 year old student taking part in this lesson?" If I wouldn't be, I'll scrap the lesson and plan for something that is going to spark their interest and engage the student to interact with the lesson. Simply put--my classes are fun and kids learn!

My excitement level was off the radar last night when I saw that my Alma mater, United Township High School, in East Moline, IL has an opening for Social Studies next year. I knew with the state budget crisis, new openings are only happening with retirements of current teachers. The closest retirement at Moline is still several few years away. In the back of my mind I knew one of my teachers at U.T. had to be approaching retirement--Herb Ritter.

Mr. Ritter was my sociology teacher at U.T.  He also was a good friend of my uncle who also taught at U.T. from 1966-1979-John Picco. Anyone who knows me and my family, knows I admired my Uncle John as much as anyone else in this world. He was an AWESOME teacher. Beginning his career as an English and German teacher, John was asked to start the psychology class at U.T. He taught the one and only Psychology class and kept teaching German as well. It didn't take but one semester and students were all wanting to take Mr. Picco's Psychology Class. There were more kids turned away than could take the class. The next year he picked up a few more Psychology classes and fewer German classes. Eventually Psychology was all he taught. He was one of U.T.'s most popular teachers. He sparked the students interest and engaged them to a new higher level of thinking. He loved U.T., his students, and the subjects he taught. The reason I majored in Psychology in college was because of my Uncle John.

So why didn't I major in education while at Western in the 80's? It was a dream I very much wanted to fulfill, but I didn't have the confidence I needed in college. Family persuaded me there were more opportunities in other vocations. In my heart, I knew no vocation would provide the passion I had for teaching. It wasn't until I met and married my wife (an Art teacher with the same passion for the subject she teaches as my Uncle John) that I was truly exposed to education at the vocational level. Once in the classroom, I knew this was my destiny--my calling in life.

Now, after finishing a very demanding and challenging teacher certification program, I am finally certified to teach the subjects and grade level I am passionate about. And with an opening at U.T. I can't help but think "THIS IS FINALLY MY DESTINATION!" It is incredibly hard, no impossible, not to get my hopes up. When I was in high school I absolutely loved U.T. I went to every basketball game, football game, wrestling matches, and admired all my teachers. I knew I was going to be one of them someday.

I remembered tonight Mr. Ritter signed my senior yearbook so I went to our memory chest in our bedroom and pulled out my yearbook which I hadn't looked at in years. I knew exactly where Mr. Ritter signed my yearbook. I went to the yearbook and read his entry. "Chuck, It's been a pleasure knowing you and having you in class. You're a very fine student and young man. Turn out just like Uncle John. Best of Luck, Herb Ritter.

I hope in the next few weeks I turn out more like Uncle John than Mr. Ritter ever could have realized. It is an honor I would cherish forever!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who's Your Favorite President?

Happy Presidents' Day everyone!

In honor of the Presidents who each took a monumental task to serve the country and attempt to make the country a better place in his own way, I am going to talk about a President I currently am reading about on my new Amazon Kindle.

Currently I am reading A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent.

James K. Polk was one of our most unlikely Presidents. After being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Polk eventually became Speaker of the House. Polk left Congress in 1839 to run for Governor of Tennessee. He won election, but lost re-election and lost a second attempt in 1843. 

So we have this Polk guy--a young ambitious man who gained early success in Congress. Then his career curtailed in the state of Tennessee...losing elections for Governor twice after serving in the office. So his chance to win the Presidency look good at this point, right? Who would even think the Presidency would even be on his radar?

Well Radar didn't exist back then but political ambition did. Polk never lost ambition but never intended to serve our nation as President. In the election of 1844 his goal was to become nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democrats. The nominating conventions were nothing like they are today. There were smoke-filled room making deals that often placed candidates not predicted to become president or vice president on the ballot. It took 9 ballots at the convention before Polk was unanimously nominated as the Democrat candidate.  He promised to serve only one term. But boy, did he have a lot on his agenda. Why was he so popular? He was an expansionist. He wanted America to acquire Texas and the Oregon Territory.

So what did Polk accomplish--We can thank Polk for acquiring Texas, California, New Mexico and the Oregon Territory--all in four years. Polk, nicknamed Young Hickory, was a protege of Andrew Jackson. Polk believed the government should take in revenue only to provide the basic constitutional requirements of government. He greatly reduced tariffs. He sought strict constructionists to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today we would probably call Jackson and Polk--conservatives.

James K. Polk is probably a lessor known president to many Americans. In just 4 years, Polk acquired a massive amount of land that proved to be his greatest legacy. Though not perfect (was a slave owner), without Polk and his determination, America may have had the British Empire to our west between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.

I like reading about some of our lessor known presidents.  We all know about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt (both of them), Kennedy, Reagan, and for all their good and bad, the famous guys are famous because America faced crisis during the times of these men.  And we certainly needed each president to step up and save the day. I am not saying each of these were great men, but Greatness found each of them. Relative peace (or wars that are further from America's memory) often excludes presidents from the fame of greatness. Yet, give the presidents their due! Each (yes even the bad ones) served this country in ways very few have. They gave up any private life to make sure this land stayed free. 

So Happy Presidents' Day everyone!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Records Records Everywhere

Is it a Blizzard Dad? Oh those winters of 1977-79. Those were the good old days of winters being like winter. I remember the winter of 1977. I was living in Hampton,  IL as far removed from civilization as a boy just transplanted from the center of the city in Springfield. Living on the bank of the Mississippi River was cool for like a few weeks. After that you realized just how isolated it was. And nothing isolates like a winter storm. But luckily, one weekend in 1977, my Dad was in town staying with us. I remember it snowed like crazy--not the record we all remember, but an incredible amount of snow none the less.

It was a Saturday morning, and like any Saturday morning in January, I had basketball practice at St. Mary's school in East Moline. St. Mary's was a unique school. It sat on the middle of 13th street hill. This hill was incredibly steep, as are most hills that create the Mississippi River valley. My Dad and I, both troopers, headed out to the basketball practice. The roads on Highway 84 were bad enough, but soon enough, we got to the hill.  My dad and his little Mercury Bobcat hatchback, I with my basketball in hand made the turn from 17th Avenue to 13th Street. And we slowly attempted to head up a snow packed hill, the first car to do so since the snow began falling. That little Bobcat's wheels spun and spun, snow flying from under the wheels to reach the hood and windshield of the car. As we traveled at a rate of about 3 feet a minute, I looked over at my dad and said, "Do you think it's a blizzard Dad?" He laughed and laughed, "I think it's worse than a blizzard" he said. My dad, being my dad, could have let me out at the bottom of the hill and walk the half-block up the hill to go to basketball practice. But Dad, either out of the goodness of his heart or because he wanted to see if he could do it--climb his Mt. Everest, (I've made the personal decision Dad did it for both reasons) made the turn and drove all the way to the door of St.Mary's. All along Dad kept saying, "There is no way they are going to have practice today." I kept saying, "But Dad, I won't play in the next game if I am a no show at practice."

We finally reached our destination to find a white 8 1/2" X 11" paper saying "Practice canceled due to Snow." If the lack of snow tracks and cars on the road couldn't confirm this already--that note did. My Dad smiled and said, "Oh well, it was fun getting here." This story would forever be etched in my Dad's memory--one of his happiest memories. When we'd visit, he'd almost always revisit this memory--it was a good one that has been forever stored in my memory.

Winters would continue getting worse and worse. Finally in January 1979 we received "The Big One!" 18.4" of snow from January 11-13. It was a mess! Those old cars with rear wheel drive cars couldn't  maneuver the roads in that snow depth. Cities didn't have as many snow plows as they do today. Cities shut down. We didn't have 800 satellite t.v. channels. We did have about 30 cable channels...but we had board games, cards, music, and the companionship of family. We survived and had fun doing it. School was canceled for 3-4 days because of it. I gained an enthusiasm for winter weather that winter season. I didn't want snow of 2 or 3 inches. I wanted it nice and warm...or blasted with a blizzard. If you have to endure winter-do it big!

This week we had "Blizzard Watches" for 2 days prior to the storm. Lately, storms have been fizzling out before they ever reach their potential severity. Not this one. And I knew it. My enthusiasm for weather has evolved into at home meteorology. There are so many tools to use to track the storms via the internet. The computer models all indicated this was "The Big One!" I think some local weather forecasters had a hard time forecasting that much snow. They may have been overcome with recent storms from the 90s on, that just didn't materialize to the fullest potential. But this storm had all the makings for being big. A huge amount of moisture, a terrific snow to liquid ratio, and a favorable track for blasting the QCs with record snow falls. On Monday morning, I forecast 16-20 inches for the QC area...more specifically said I thought the QC Airport would receive 18.9 inches. We received 18.4" tying exactly the three day winter storm of Jan. 1979. We also set a record of 16.7 inches of snow in a 24 hour period--the most ever. The shoveling would prove brutally difficult but that is a story for another day.

And through it all I kept hearing my voice "Is it a blizzard Dad ?" Irony?? well the Blizzard of 2011 ended on February Dad's 75th Birthday! Happy Birthday Dad..and the answer to my question has always been--YES!