Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Questions to start the year

As the school year starts again, I am restarting my blog and sharing it at TwoWritingTeachers on Tuesdays. I look forward to sharing with others and reading what they have to share. Cheers and good luck this school year!

Student Questions at the start of the year!

Each summer, I ask the students in my class to write me a letter before the school year begins, so I can get to know them better. I asked them to ask me a question that they were wondering about. My class has twenty-three students, ages almost eleven to almost fourteen. Below are the answers to their questions, although I did not always include the questions and leave that up to you, the reader, to imagine. You may notice that there are not twenty-three answers since not all of them included a question in their letter to me.

1. Once on an overnight trip with my class we were staying in cabins with three sets of bunk beds. My cabin had five other students to start the night and only four when I woke up. Two students, staying an another cabin, had snuck in and "stolen" the missing student in the middle of the night to prove that they could do it without waking me up. They even had a picture to prove it (taken by my assistant at the time who helped them). I had to laugh at it and they were so proud of their "ninja skills."

2. She is obviously an incredible performer and has a great voice. I'm impressed with how she crosses over from country music to pop and respect her like I would respect anyone who is at the top of their field. I believe she gets back at old boyfriends by writing songs about them but that might be another singer I've heard about. I could not name one of her songs but I'm sure I could sing along to them if they were playing at the time. So…I'm not a big fan in terms of just loving her music, but I think she's a great singer performer.

3. I would chose to be Dean Moriarty from On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  He is bold, brash, passionate, adventurous, and drinks deeply from each moment in ways that I don't allow myself to in my own responsible life. I'm not willing to give up what I have to live that way, but the idea of grabbing life by the horns in each moment is inspirational to me.

4. I think the best high school for you would be either Kent, East or Regis. It will come down to which school feels most respectful to you as a student and the soccer coach you want to play for.

5. Blue

6. As you know, I climb 14ers here in Colorado, and I have been climbing them since I was five. Until I was in my late teens, I often got very altitude sick and I had some miserable moments on climbs trying to get to the top of a peak with my dad and little brother. I always enjoyed the views, the accomplishment of getting to the top and the joy of being outside, but on some days it was hard to keep going. While an argument could be made that my dad pushed too far on occasion, he always did it with encouragement and help, never with anger. And I learned that I can climb the peaks in my life if I just keep going. That inner knowledge has given me strength whether I'm actually doing a physical activity or dealing with a really tough patch in my personal life. I can ask for help, rely on others and take breaks along the way. Now that I have experience with making it to tough goals, I can help sympathize better with others struggling towards their personal peaks and often help them in their quests. I also learned when to turn back and try again another day. One last thing I learned was that sometimes, it gets easier when you grow up because while I do get some minor discomfort climbing peaks these days, it is nothing like what I used to go through.

7. I am going to always ask you if what you turned in is your best work. I will help you plan your time and I will tell you when you are just getting work done instead of aiming for the sky. I will listen to you when you have ideas and work with you to create projects you are excited about and ones that challenge you to try new things. Lastly, after making sure you have what you need, I'll give you time and space to find your own way and only give you help or suggestions when you ask for it. And actually lastly, I will be excited about your work and love you for who you are.

8. Dark chocolate without question. And this summer I drove to Washington D.C. with my family, caught some fish, played disc golf, climbed a few 14ers, and worked in the classroom.

9.  I prefer to dip them in milk and then eat them. Occasionally I will twist them open and eat the cookie top in milk and then the frosting/bottom part by itself. Or, I use them as a spoon for ice cream. I have climbed 29/54 14ers in Colorado. That would be too many to name but it includes most of them along the front range, many in the San Juans and the Sawatch, and a few in the Sangre de Cristos and Elks. My favorite so far is Sunlight.

10. I have so many embarrassing stories I can't even choose the worst one. Once, when I was in another town for a wedding, I got onto a hotel elevator with several other people who were all dressed up. Trying to be friendly, I said, "Are you all here for a wedding too?" "No, a funeral," was the reply as the elevator doors closed.  During the awkward silence I pushed the button for the third floor and said, "I'm sorry for your loss," as I exited.

11. The Colorado Rockies…even this year.

12. The classiest sport I do is probably fly fishing.

13. My moms are teachers and my dad is a snowboard/ski instructor. Some of my jobs during breaks during college included being a kids ski school instructor and a fly fishing guide. Early in my adult life I experienced teaching in different ways and enjoyed it. I do love kids, but mostly I love helping and coaching people learn new things and watching them light up as they discover new information, questions and talents. It is a job about connecting with people, not just passing along information.

14. We are going to camp in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah for four nights and then stay in Glenwood Springs the last night on the way home. It will be a great trip to start our school year!

15. I have climbed 29/54 14ers in Colorado. That would be too many to name but it includes most of them along the front range, many in the San Juans and the Sawatch, and a few in the Sangre de Cristos and Elks. My favorite so far is Sunlight.

16. Because Kam thought of it and we started coming up with so many ideas and connections that Limits seemed like a great class unit.

17. The biggest difference will be the freedom you have and the responsibilities that come with it. The responsibilities include a higher quality and larger amount of work, being a great role model for the younger students in the school, being more independent, advocating for yourself, and taking charge of your own education. The freedoms will include more places you can go in school, more independence on trips, choosing

18. She does get mad but since she's from Minnesota, it only comes across as annoyed. Actually, she has wonderful control of her emotions but she does get frustrated. I have not seen her be crazy wild mad though and I think that's a good thing.

19. This will be my seventeenth year teaching. I taught nine years of high school science and am entering my eighth year as a teacher here. Other teaching experience included being a ski instructor for parts of three winters at Keystone Ski School and a fly fishing guide for three summers.

Those are the answers to the questions on my student's minds as we enter this next school year.

I wonder what unexpected magic will come our way?


  1. I love that you posted the answers so we could guess the questions, Max. It looks like it's going to be a lovely year. It's great the kids are so curious about all different things! Have a terrific day tomorrow!

    1. I'm so excited to finally get everyone in the classroom and to get started!

  2. What a great way to begin building a meaningful relationship with your students. I think I may have to steal this idea:-)

    1. Feel free to steal away. Like most of my ideas, this one has come from other teachers. We also have the parents write a letter about their child. It's a great way to get a feel for the kids and their families as we all enter the start of the year.

  3. Asking your students to write you a letter before the school year starts is an AWESOME idea! In my school, the sixth grade LA teacher asks the students to write to their seventh grade teacher regarding three things they learned about themselves and/or hope to accomplish. The only draw back this year is that I moved up with the students, so my letters probably aren't as exciting as yours. Best of luck for a successful year full of magic! From the looks of it, you're about to meet some awesome and unique students.

    1. At my school, we have multi-age classes so I have students 6th-8th grade in my room. I usually have students for two years and sometimes three. Even though the questions I ask are usually similar year-to-year, the kids change and their goals as well, so it's great to read what they say each August. Have a great year!