Is the Passage of Time Constant? SOLSC 31

I have to confess: I teach subject material I don’t really believe.

I teach my students there are 24 hours in a day, and all of those hours take the same amount of time to pass.  The rotation of the Earth, and all that.  There are 60 minutes in an hour, and, again, they all take the same amount of time to pass. 60 seconds in a minute…same amount of time for each one of those, too.

I teach it, but I don’t believe it.  Perhaps you don’t, either.

Sometimes, time speeds up.  For example, those 48 hours between 5:00 p.m. on Friday and 5:00 p.m. on Sunday: Do you think those hours take the same amount of time to pass as any given hour during the week?  Nope, me either.  Much faster.

The 30 “minutes” I get for planning–are those the same as the thirty minutes during a reading test?  Again, not even close.  There you have it, more proof that time speeds up.

Sometimes, time slows down.  The best example I can give happened just today.

I was in the middle of a science lesson, when the intercom “dinged.”   Time froze.  The entire class froze with it, waiting for whatever announcement was to follow.  Waiting.

“Code red, code red.”

Argh, an intruder drill (I hoped).  The class knew what to do, and quickly got into its position.  Time slowed down once again as we waited for the all clear.  Minutes crawled by as we looked for the under-the-door shadow of the feet belonging to whomever would give us the all clear. Finally, our principal turned her key and gave us the word.

After a few moments during which the passage of time returned to normal, it slowed again as I began to wonder, one drill, two drills…three?  The speed of the next period of time vacillated as we went through the weather and fire drill procedures.  Finally, all went back to being as it should (except for recess–that goes fast, too) for the rest of the school day.

Is the passage of time constant?  Not even close.  I’ll still teach it, but you’ll never get me to believe it.
It’s hard to believe that this is the 31st day of this year’s Slice of Life Challenge.  I’d like to say thank you to each of the folks responsible for this event, and to each of you who have taken the time to read my slices (especially my Welcome Wagon readers).  I appreciate the time and effort, and look forward to continuing the relationship I have with this community.  

The Kids are Alright SOLSC 30

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Whenever I can, I like to incorporate music into my classroom routine.  I’ve only had limited success with music to teach content (trust me, it’s me and not the students…I’m working on it), but I enjoy playing music to brighten the classroom climate.  My go-to music is Kidz Bop.  I don’t think I could play many of the original songs with students, but the kid-friendly covers are well done.

Perhaps my favorite time to turn on the tunes is when the class is practicing cursive writing.  The students are sort of on autopilot (we’ve had the instruction, now we’re just refining letter and word formation) and things are pretty casual.

This morning was great.  As hard as it is to believe, I had just about everyone engaged (yes, you can go to the restroom) and the class was sort of collectively swaying to the beat and singing along.  If it wouldn’t have messed up the morning (and rightly so), I would have done the “hit pause” trick just to hear those few seconds of uninhibited singing along.

In my early years of teaching, a mere ten years ago, I got along with folk tunes (really…Peter, Paul, and Mary were classroom favorites), but in this day of YouTube and streaming audio the students don’t really go for that anymore.  That’s okay, I suppose; I can adapt.  To quote The Who, “The kids are alright!”
Word nerd note: For fun, take a look at the “all right” versus “alright” discussions at the various credible grammar sites.  Interesting reading.

Recess SOLSC 29

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Today was a beautiful day here in north Alabama!  Right around 80 degrees, a light cloud cover, and a slight breeze made it a wonderful day to be outside, which has been nice after the few recent rainy days we’ve had.  

Today was a recess day, no doubt about it.

As a teacher of third graders, I’m a big fan of recess.  I know the research: How students need a time of physical exertion, how recess helps student engagement, and how nice it is simply to have a break (okay, that last one was peer reviewed personal research, as in, all of the other teachers in my grade level like a break, too!).  Mostly, though, I like to play on the playground, and this was that kind of day.  

On occasions like today, I feel the best vantage point for my playground supervision is the top of our large geodesic dome.  I moseyed on over, and climbed right up to the very top.  I’m probably going to hurt myself someday, but today was not that day.  This particular structure isn’t the most popular on the playground since we recently had new equipment installed, but within a few minutes I had a swarm of kids all around me, clamoring for my attention. Needless to say (yet he says it anyway), not many of our teachers have been to the top of the dome.  We had a big ol’ time hanging out and talking, and I watched nearly a dozen students show me how they could drop down “from almost at the top, Mr. Gels!”  

“Wow, look at you!”

Writing this slice reminds me of a day during my first year teaching.  One of the students challenged me to a race around the playground.  Being an enthusiastic, sprightly 41-year-old, I picked up the gauntlet he threw down and we were off.  Rounding the last turn, I wiped out in the loose gravel and absolutely shredded the right knee of my pants as well as me.  For the record, I still beat him.  We were gasping for air at the finish line (me more than him) and he looked down and saw the blood running down my exposed leg.  

I’ll chuckle about his first words for the rest of my days: “Mr. Gels, is your mom going to be mad?

Kids.  Sheesh.


There isn’t Anyone SOLSC 28

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When I started this Slice of Life Story Challenge, I said to myself (and I know I’ve mentioned this once or twice before) that I was going to keep things light and not dwell on the difficulties of life as a teacher, husband, father, or friend.  There have been a few times where I’ve had to move toward the dark side, but I’ve done pretty well at meeting that early goal.

As of this moment, it’s about 3:30 in the afternoon.  My students have left, I’ve graded the few papers that needed my attention, and I’m looking forward to a retirement event that I’m going to this evening.  I won’t be back until late.

I don’t have a lot of time to write today.  This is it.

Knowing this was going to be the case, I’ve had my eye out for the subject of today’s slice.  The beginning of the day came and went…no story.  Lunch? Uneventful, for the most part; certainly nothing to write about. The afternoon was routine (okay, except for a PLC meeting which was interesting, but a short slice on morphology is escaping me).  The students made it out the door without incident.  That’s certainly noteworthy, but not fodder for my writing.

Honestly, though, today was one of those days where it was not easy to keep from the dark side of slice writing.  Spring fever is in the air, and my students haven’t bounced back from the slump of the nine-day break we just had.  The students who struggle were struggling mightily, and I don’t just mean with academics.  Today was hard.  A light, happy slice is beyond me today.

One of my heroes was Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers.  I’ve got very few memories of his television program, but have the same feeling about him that so many others do (he’s a whole bunch of slices, isn’t he?).  In a book I read about him (sorry, the name escapes me), it is reported that he kept a quote by Mary Kownacki written on a card in his wallet.  If it was good enough for Mr. Rogers, it’s good enough for me, so I’ve got it hanging on my bulletin board near my desk.

“There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

My eyes fell on that index card during my earlier despair over my lack of a story idea.  There it was.  There was my slice.

If you’re a teacher or just a friend, you might need those words today.

I did.

I’m sharing them with you, neighbor, because they mean so much to me.  May your day be a good one.

When Worlds Collide SOLSC 27

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This is my first time participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge, and I’ve enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.  I’ve long considered myself a writer, but have never written and published with regularity.  I know I’m still a few days away from the end–this isn’t a reflection slice–but the realization of one particular way it’s affected my life in conjunction with a chance run-in with friends has prompted today’s slice.

That “one particular way,” as I’m sure is true for many of us (at least 99.9%), is the community that comes with this endeavor.  I have been a regular reader of a few different blogs, and have enjoyed the feedback and comments I get from my readers (especially my incredibly dedicated Welcome Wagon readers–thank you Linda and Diane!)

I feel an awareness that I’m becoming part of the community–I’m becoming part of a new world.

My worlds.  I know that as teachers (as many of us are) we all wear different hats in our lives, and I’ve come to call those hats my different “worlds.”  I don’t know if I have more than the next person, but the variety is certainly interesting.

I have, of course, the world that is my circle of co-teachers and co-laborers at school.  We know each other and relate through all of our “school stuff.”  We can speak in shorthand (just an eye roll and most of them know what I’m talking about) and have each other’s backs in the trenches.

There’s also my church world, where I’m part of a completely different circle of people with different situations, stories, and shared experiences.

As a military retiree who’s active on social media, there’s that world as well: 21 years of service and relationships spanning from when I was a dumb, young 17-year-old through my early 40s.  Three different continents and a whole lot of travel.  Oh yeah, two different services, so I live in both the Marine Corps and Army worlds.

My environmental education world (I’m active with a number of different organizations through Alabama).  My conservation world (Land Trust and Audubon).  My yoga world (perhaps my most colorful, people-wise).  My woodworking and art worlds (small groups, but unique in their own ways).  I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all that come to mind with this writing.

Last night I was at an event, and out of respect for their privacy and the situation (I know, I feel like I’m leaving out the best part of the story) I’ll skip the details, but two folks from completely different worlds of mine (let’s just say far left and far right) came together.  The conversation was awkward, the situation comical (to me), and the follow up conversations over the next few days are sure to be interesting.

I’m me, though.  I’m happy to say that, having read just about everyone’s “About” page, I see that each of you are you as well.  What a crew–thanks for having me.

I like it.  I like it a lot.

What a Dovetail Means to Me SOLSC 26

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I’ve spent some time this weekend exploring what I need to get a newly acquired dovetail jig ready to use.  I want to make some boxes and think they’ll be better looking with that particular joint.  Fortunately, my dad had a jig he was willing to give me, and I just need a few accessories.
As I’ve been working on getting the jig ready to go, I’ve had some time to reflect on just how much doing so means to me.

I know that not everyone knows what a dovetail joint is.  I do, and I’ve got my dad to thank for that.  Dovetails are what you sometimes see when you open a drawer and look at its corners.  Those trapezoidal shapes are called dovetails.  They’re typically machined these days, but still hold a place in our collective consciousness as a mark of hand-work quality.  I spent a lot of my formative years, as well as lots of time since, in my father’s woodshop.  While I don’t remember him cutting any dovetails back then, it was something I knew about.

I know that not everyone knows how to use the tools necessary to cut a dovetail joint, either by hand or with machinery.  I do, and I’ve got my dad to thank for that.  Tools were a part of my childhood as well as the years since.  I recently got to spend time with some of my childhood friends: a twist drill that has long since been replaced with power tools, a coping saw that has seen countless blades through the years, and even a “spare parts” bin with sawdust in the bottom that comes close to matching my 52 years.

I know that not everyone knows how to make a simple wooden box, much less one with dovetailed corners.  I do, and I’ve got my dad to thank for that.  I’ve watched him for years, turning plywood and other lumber into furniture and home improvements.  As the years went by, his skills have improved and I’ve worked to keep pace.  As with age, I don’t know if I’ll ever truly catch up.  We got to spend some time in the shop together last week, and I caught myself standing there watching him work.  I know we’ll both someday close our shop doors for good, so I relish every moment we can make sawdust together.

I’m a maker because he’s a maker.  I’ve got my dad to thank for that.

Degrees of Cathie SOLSC 25

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I have absolutely no idea how many degrees of separation there are between Kevin Bacon and me. No idea whatsoever. That said, I do have a positive recollection of him in Footloose all those years ago. Truth be told, that positivity could be because of my date (high school, tons of nervous energy, 35 year-old memory, blurred, blurred, blurred), but I can’t be sure.

Today is a bumming around town kind of day. A few errands, a cup of coffee with my favorite mermaid, and–and this is a treat–a stop by Lowe Mill. I live near Huntsville, Alabama, which is home to what is reportedly the largest community of artists in the United States. The building itself is a renovated textile mill (yes, I do live way down yonder in the land of cotton) that has been divided into a hundred or so studios for artists of all stripes. Potters, painters, jewelers, printers, carvers, stained glassers, weavers, cabinet makers: It’s an incredible place. I get here when I can. Given that I live a whopping 25 minutes away, the regularity of my trips is depressingly low, but I love it when I can get here (I’m writing this, by the way, in a non-Seattle-based coffee shop located on the second floor of the Mill, fueled by what is probably more caffeine than my cardiologist would recommend).

Tim, what does this have to do with Kevin Bacon? Nothing, I don’t even know the guy.

I do, however, know Cathie. Cathie is a wonderful person who is probably the most understated, laid-back, ball of energy that I’ve ever known. She wears a number of hats with the local Land Trust, each of which takes her out into the community spreading the gospel of conservation and stewardship. Cathie knows people. Not in the I’m-important-and-I-can-show-you-by-dropping-names kind of way, but in a good way. The kind of way that even has her knowing people like me.

Shortly after walking into the Mill, I headed up to the second floor after a quick lap around the first. I was plodding up the stairs (dimly lit, concrete steps, smells vaguely of urine–no idea why) when I became aware of someone on the landing above me. Cathie. Did I mention that she’s connected with the art community as well? Just another reason to love her.

She wasn’t alone, and quickly introduced me to her friend Martha. After a flurry of conversation–a quick flurry, but a flurry nonetheless…did I mention the smell?–in which Martha and I learned we had more in common than just Cathie, I headed back down the steps to Cathie’s studio. Okay, it’s technically her daughter’s studio, but that has no relevance to this story…kind of like Kevin Bacon.

Degrees of Cathie. As I mentioned earlier, friends of Cathie so often find that they have more than a little in common with each other, and I’m always the better for meeting one of them. Martha, it turns out, was once a third grade teacher, just like me. She’s also a writer, albeit one significantly more recognizable and published than me. She loves nature–hey, just like me. She even has a husband named Tim, just like me! Actually, I don’t have a husband named Tim, but my wife does. Good people, she is, to use the cliche.

After a half hour of lively conversation filled with wonderfully scenic rabbit trails, I gave my regards and left them to whatever business brought them here today. It’s a bumming around kind of day for me, but it’s turned out to be one of the best kind. Spring weather, coffee (just one more cup, please), a trip to the Mill, and thirty minutes of good conversation with friends old and new. All things considered, I couldn’t ask for more.


By the way, if you have no idea what I was talking about in my first paragraph, look up “Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Fascinating, in a pop culture sort of way.

That’s Right…I Can Draw SOLSC 24

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Being a teacher of third graders has its challenges, but there are a few things that come pretty easy to me.  Playing basketball with my students, for example.  Being 6’ 4” tall allows me to dominate on a court with an 8’ hoop.  Not many students beat me with multiplication flash cards, either, and I’m usually a lock at checkers.  Old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill, as the saying goes. (Not that I’m very treacherous…)

Today, though, we didn’t play basketball or work with multiplication cards.  We did, however, have our Den Days.  Our school has a monthly event in which every student participates in a “den.”  (We’re the Endeavor Cubs, so we don’t do clubs, we do dens.)  Each faculty member has 15 or so students for an hour, and we get to share something we enjoy with the kids.  The dens let students participate in everything from board games to singing to yoga to crochet to drawing–that’s what I lead.

As with basketball, I’m really not particularly skilled at drawing, but I have the basics down.  That allows me to deal in a currency that my students appreciate: Pokemon character drawings.   Today, I learned about Karrablast and Glaceon.  Certainly you know who they are, right?  Yea, me either.  I used them today, though, to teach a few art basics and develop some relationships.  That’s a win, even if it’s a little treacherous, in my book.

Strange, but true, fact: My niece is employed as a graphic artist and works for a Pokemon licensee.  She really does draw them for a living. Pretty cool.

Dinner Date SOLSC 23

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My daughter saved me–and you, my reader–from having to write about school.  Thank goodness.  Today was one of those days where it wasn’t a bad day, but wasn’t necessarily a good day, either.  For this teacher of third graders, it was a busy day. Busy, as in, “Wow.”

But, I’m not going to write about that.  Nothing to see there, citizens, just move along.

Thursday night, my youngest daughter, Kim, normally comes over to our house for dinner.  ‘Tis tax season, though, so I’m sorta baching it (my wife’s an accountant).  I’m perfectly capable, mind you, of making a meal, but sometimes it’s nice to go out as well.  (Quick aside: No, I didn’t know how to spell “baching,” so I Googled it.  Most definitions were a variation on “living as a bachelor while one’s wife is away,” but the Urban Dictionary says it leans toward infidelity.  Darn.  Another perfectly good word headed down the drain of modern usage, but I’m still going to use it today.)

We decided on a nearby Mexican restaurant that she enjoys.  I’ve only been there once, but it’s been quite a while.  It was good, and after April 18th I’m pretty sure I’ll be headed back with my wife.  (Another quick aside: Tax day is April 18th this year.  Why not the 15th, you might wonder? (Then again, you might not.)  The 15th is on a Saturday this year, and Emancipation Day is celebrated in Washington D.C. on April 16th.  That means it’s observed on Monday, the 17th–a holiday for the IRS.  Hence, Tax Day is on the 18th.  Go ahead, relax–you’ve got plenty of time.)

The food, as I mentioned, was good, and the conversation was better.  My daughter was probably the better conversationalist today (see my first paragraph), but I think I did okay.  It’s nice to spend time with my girls.  They’re both closer to thirty than twenty, now, and I’m more than proud of the women they’ve become.  My other daughter, Karin, doesn’t get out much without her two daughters in tow, but I love the time we spend together as well (I need to write about the granddaughters–maybe a later slice).

As I’m wrapping this up, a closing pun occurred to me: Tonight was nachos with two asides.

I know, I know. Did I mention today was a little crazy?

Your Turtle is Loose SOLSC 22

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If you’ve been a teacher for more than a few days, you’ve been here: You’re in the middle of a lesson, you’ve got decent student engagement, you’re feeling pretty good about what’s going on, and…

The phone rings.  Really?  I mean, really?  Yep, just yesterday.

Caller ID showed that it was the front desk, and I answered with what I hope was a friendly, “Hello.”

“Mr. Gels?” our receptionist asked.

I’m not trying to be snarky here, honestly I’m not, but I always get a kick out of it when people ask, “Mr. Gels?” when I answer the phone.  I’m the only male teacher in the school, and no one’s ever accused me of having an feminine voice. “Mr. Gels?” Of course I’m Mr. Gels.  But I digress.

So I’ve already got that goofy grin on my face as our conversation starts (I really do love our receptionist–she’s great, and there’s a chance she might read this some day).

She continued, “Your turtle is loose.”

Awkward pause as now I am looking for a snarky response as well as wondering just what Tina might be talking about.

“One of the coaches told me that there’s a turtle by the fifth grade door.  Her class saw it when they came in from PE.  She asked me to let you know,” she elaborated with a smile in her voice.

Ah.  The outdoor classroom (I’m the coordinator).  The turtle from the pond.  Got it.  I love my job, I really do.

After saying that I’d go out and take a look as soon as I was able to, I got back to my my lesson.

And stopped again when the coach herself came in to tell me that my turtle was loose.

And stopped again and again when two different fifth graders came in to tell me that my turtle was loose.  Sigh.

So, the turtle.  Our pond is a small body of water that a fantastic volunteer with a backhoe dug for us seven or eight years ago.  It’s home to an assortment of fish (that we put there), snakes (!), insects, and random turtles that appear every now and again.  I say that about the turtles because it’s virtually impossible to imagine that they got there on their own.  In “the wild,” aquatic turtles of our sort don’t travel miles from the nearest body of water in search of our 10 square yards of water surface.  More than once, I’ve had students or parents let me know that they donated a pet or an animal they rescued from the road…hence, “appear.”

While I guess you can tag me with responsibility for the pond, the same can’t really be said for the turtles.  They live there, but they’re not technically captive.  There’s a fence, but it’s not turtle proof (it does, however, satisfy the legal requirement for our pond).  Why does an aquatic turtle suddenly take up wandering?  With my grin back, I’ll just say that it’s the season for reptile love and leave it at that.

Anyway, during lunch I went out, found the turtle and returned it to the pond.  Has its wanderlust been satisfied?  I don’t know, but if you see it roaming around, just let me know.  I’ll go out and get it–that’s what I do.

Quick springtime note: If you feel the need to rescue a turtle from the road (and I’ve done it many times), please be safe as you do so.  Help the turtle get to where it’s going–don’t take it back to where it was.  Its instinct is telling it where to go and it will just try again.  Finally, turtles have a home range and suffer if taken from it.  Please don’t bring it to me.  Thanks!

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