The most frequent question posed to me this time of year is, “So how was your summer?” It was good, thank you. The travel highlights were a computing conference in San Antonio and 11 days in the Seattle area.
NECC in San Antone
Three other Bartlesville teachers joined me at the National Educational Computing Conference, where I explored the immense exhibit hall to assess the state of affairs. As Bartlesville schools struggle to catch up technologically, I wanted to ensure we weren’t missing anything major. From what I saw, our strategy to equip teachers with LCD projectors and the occasional electronic white board makes sense. We will get the most bang for our buck by concentrating on improving teachers’ direct instruction for now, since equipping each student with his or her own mobile school computer remains a rarity.
San Antonio was fun but scorching hot. Despite the heat, I enjoyed strolling and dining with my fellow teachers along the Paseo del Rio, which easily outshines Oklahoma City’s imitation in Bricktown. The Alamo was about three blocks from my hotel and as shockingly small as I remembered from my previous visit 23 years ago, when as freshmen at OU my roommate and I spent our winter break touring Texas.
My friends were not surprised to find that I found a way to spend over a week in the Pacific Northwest this summer, my fourth trip to the area since 1998. Escaping to the sunny but cool June or July weather of that gorgeous area helps me endure the horrid late-July and early-August Oklahoma weather that signals both my birthday and the end of my summer break.
I spent time in Seattle, on the Olympic Peninsula, and in Victoria, British Columbia. New experiences included the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Port Townsend on the peninsula, and a ridiculous but entertaining Ghost Tour in Victoria. I greatly enjoyed returning to Mount Rainier, but was less than impressed by Seattle’s new Olympic Sculpture Park.
Next summer I hope to return to the area, journeying down the Oregon coast as I did two years ago. I’ll be seeking out new day hikes using a book I picked up at Seattle’s wonderful Elliott Bay Book Company. I love to hike the trails for a few hours while using my iPod to enjoy college-level lectures on history, literature, and the like from top-notch professors. But afterward I’m always ready for a good restaurant and a nice hotel.
The Latest Toys
The Kindle is already broadening my reading habits, since I can easily download public domain books and also sample the first chapters of the electronic books at the Amazon Kindle Store for free. I hadn’t read a Mark Twain book in years, but the Kindle prompted me to enjoy The Innocents Abroad and I’m sure I’ll be downloading some more works by good old Sam Clemens. And I purchased and thoroughly enjoyed the modern novel Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris after sampling its first chapter.
The iPhone is a stunner – having the internet in your pocket puts almost any information at your fingertips. I wish the purchasing experience with AT&T had been smoother, but the device’s design and capabilities easily compensated for temporary frustrations. One disappointment is that I cannot access my school email account on the device. I blame both Apple and my district’s technological limitations for that failure.
A year ago my father had major open-heart surgery and I spent a few weeks in Oklahoma City helping him through that rough stretch. He is now doing well, but this summer was my mother’s turn for a hospital stay. She had a skin cancer on her nose, the removal of which gouged out a big area and necessitated gruesome plastic surgery. We joke about how she just never seemed the type for a nose job, but I’m struck by her brave composure throughout this unexpected trauma. I’m very fortunate to have parents who remain consistently conscientious and thoughtful even in the midst of their own pain and suffering.
Disappointment Coupled with Relief
I was surprised last spring to again be named Bartlesville’s Teacher of the Year, the first person to receive that honor twice. A decade ago I advanced in the competition to become one of the 12 state finalists, but was disappointed this summer that I did not advance despite putting considerable effort into preparing my nomination. It could be that my past refusal to pursue National Board Certification played a part, or that the selection committee didn’t want a previous finalist in the group. But my disappointment was inextricably linked to a sense of relief, as I truly did not relish ever becoming the State Teacher of the Year and having to leave the classroom for a year of travel and speechifying.
The Year to Come
This school year we’ll have three new science teachers at BHS, which should be interesting. I’m serving as district science department chair yet again, which no doubt will bring both rewards and frustrations. And I’ll experience déjà vu, since I’ll be returning to the Bartlesville Public School Foundation’s Board of Trustees as an ex officio member, something I last did about 15 years ago. My seniors will be from the class I’ve heard tales of since they were in sixth grade. I’m certain I’ll need to brush up on how to motivate students and improve my patience, but there are no doubt some bright stars in there who will be fun to teach.