Monday, June 19, 2017

Evaluations by Andy Jobson

It’s that time of year again.  As a department chair, I am tasked with providing an assessment of each member of the English faculty, noting a variety of issues as “excellent,” “proficient,” or “needs improvement.”  It’s a challenging task.  For one thing, I don’t get to spend very much time in their classrooms, as I stay quite busy with my own students and planning.  For another, I recognize that we are all on a spectrum of ability… where does ‘proficient’ become ‘excellent’ (defined as “it would be difficult to do any better”)?  Don’t we always think we can do something better?  I want to praise my teachers, yet I know that I also need to prod them to strive for more.  At our private academy, there is no room for mediocrity.

I also know that if I mark too many items as “needs improvement,” I can crush a younger teacher’s spirit, creating self-doubt.  So finding that balance is tricky—I want to acknowledge the good, praise the great, and point out the not-so-good while encouraging him or her to see that there is hope for improvement.

Reflecting on my teacher evaluations makes me ponder whether I’m too cavalier sometimes in my student assessments.  Teenagers are, if anything, more sensitive than my teachers.  They need praise as well as guidance.  I have found rubrics can be very helpful in this regard, as with appropriate forethought I can identify several areas likely to receive praise as well as focusing on a few new content or skill areas to assess. 

One particular challenge in assessing student work is the short attention span they have for feedback; it’s not unusual for me to write all sorts of comments throughout an essay, only to watch the boys flip to the back and look at their ‘score,’ the grade, and be done.  I may stop putting the final number on the paper and make them read the material I’ve written to find the grade buried somewhere in the notes! 

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Top 5 Books to Try When You Have Time…. by Mike Siekkinen

Teachers have a ton of extra time on their hands…during the summer.

I thought I would share some of my favorite books and why I love them. Many are read by my students and give us things to discuss or can be recommendations also so here goes:

1. Lord of the Rings – I love this story. Complex world with its own language. Most kids have seen the movie but it’s nothing is like the original tale. The original fantasy novel to start the genre! You can add the Hobbit also as it is the front story.

2. The True Game – This is a series of 3 novels that make for a great read. Science fiction with a fantasy “kick.” Easy read with a neat world where people are born with “powers.” I almost envision these as pieces on a board battling it out. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

3. The Stand - Hands down the best of Stephen King! What a story! A disease wipes out humanity with a handful of survivors. Good versus evil! A supernatural twist thrown in for good measure. Characters you’ll love and hate. Awesome read!

4. Harry Potter - Don’t scoff! Yes,they are children’s books but they are also an enjoyable read! Great storytelling is great storytelling! You’ve seen the story but if you haven’t read it, you should. The book is always better than the movie!

5. Call of the Wild - Great classic read. Adventure and coming-of-age story. Not sure if this is required reading anymore but it should be. I also recommend for you “northerners” a similar book Trap lines North. Bygone era but I used to read this as winter rolled in before I started my own trap line. I used to trap mink and muskrat to get Christmas money to buy gifts for family. 


Give these a try. I think you’ll find some enjoyable reading!



Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.


Monday, May 22, 2017

From the Homeschool Front...Competitive Speaking by Colleen Hroncich

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my goals in educating my children at home is to raise adults who can think critically. While there are many tools that I use to help accomplish this objective, competitive speech and debate probably tops the list. Whether you are a professional teacher, a homeschooler, or a concerned parent, I urge you to look into speech and debate opportunities for your children/students.

The most obvious benefit of competitive speaking is that the kids become better public speakers. (Duh, you’re probably thinking!) No one who knew my oldest daughter in elementary school ever would have predicted that in her sophomore year she’d be top speaker out of 56 debaters at a tournament drawing kids from throughout New England. My younger kids have followed her lead and are better public speakers (at ages 14, 12, and 10) than many adults.

While public speaking proficiency is important, the ability to analyze what they read, look at issues from multiple sides, draw conclusions based on in-depth research, quickly evaluate a question or argument and formulate a response, and remain friends with opponents after a heated debate are equally valuable takeaways from speech and debate. Although I must admit that it can be disconcerting when your child spots the flaws in your reasoning and calls you on it!

If you’re a homeschooler, there are several leagues you can consider: NCFCA, Stoa, and CCA are three with which I’m familiar. For teachers at public or private schools the leagues I know of are NSDA and NCFL. Homeschoolers can form teams in NCFL (we did that this year), but they have to go through their local public school to compete in NSDA. Different leagues are more popular in various regions of the country.


If you’d like more information, please let me know in the comments. If I don’t know the answer to your questions, I can probably direct you to someone who does.

Colleen Hroncich loves that homeschooling allows her to learn right alongside her children. A published author and former policy analyst, Colleen’s favorite subjects are economics/public policy and history. She has been active in several homeschool co-ops and is a speech and debate coach.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

From the Homeschool Front...Life Skills by Colleen Hroncich

Life skills. Way back in the old days, parents and grandparents passed life skills on to the younger generations. Basic carpentry, plumbing, home repairs, sewing, food preservation, and more were common knowledge to most people. Not anymore. These days it is a challenge to find someone with one of these skills – much less all of them.

Several years ago it occurred to me that neither my husband nor I had any of these life skills. How would we pass them on to our kids when we didn’t possess them ourselves? Moreover, with the school calendar ruling our lives, how would we ever find the time for the kids to learn them from someone else? This problem was one of the initial motivators in our decision to begin educating our children at home.

Of course, having the kids at home didn’t solve the problem of us not having the skills to pass on to them. For that we’ve had to use outside resources. Fortunately, in the homeschool world these skills aren’t so hard to find. Friends of ours have given our kids lessons in sewing, knitting, gardening, and construction. My son was able to help the contractor who finished our basement and learned how to frame walls, hang drywall, and install electrical boxes (although we won’t let him try that one on his own!). He and I went on to build beds for him and my daughter – we even added a bookcase headboard to his.


My girls weren’t too interested in carpentry work; the culinary arts appeal to them. They’ve taken classes in cooking, canning, and gardening. My oldest daughter takes on meal planning and preparation a few days a month, and her sister wants to follow suit. (I don’t like to cook, so it works for me!)

We still have a long ways to go before I can say my kids are proficient at these life skills. But at least we’re farther down the road than we were a few years ago.


Colleen Hroncich loves that homeschooling allows her to learn right alongside her children. A published author and former policy analyst, Colleen’s favorite subjects are economics/public policy and history. She has been active in several homeschool co-ops and is a speech and debate coach.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Educational Field Trips by Mike Siekkinen

I love a good field trip! My students do also. The chance to leave school for the day and visit somewhere, anywhere, can be a really fun and educational time for students and teachers. I have been my school’s “field trip guy” for many years now. I take my classes (team) on field trips at least once a quarter. When I first started this many years ago, I was told this was difficult, dangerous and expensive. With proper planning and research, field trips are high points of the year for all of us.

First, choose a place that can relate to your curriculum. If you are a biology teacher this may be a national park, a zoo, or a museum. For history, look around your area for historical sites or perhaps even in your home town. Many of these sites can be free for educational groups or very reasonable. I use a local military base, local historical sites, state parks and also cultural celebrations in the local area. 

Most of my trips, I only have to pay for transportation. I fund my field trips (as my district has no funding for field trips) by student donations. I have also been blessed to receive the Target Field Trip Grant a number of years ($700 per year). My field trips are always linked to instruction. For instance, I visit Okefenokee State Wildlife refuge. I link this to standards we have to teach in science, history and we always include writing assignments and research before and after each field trip as well as we finds a way to work in mathematics. Most school systems have some procedure and required paperwork to do before going on a field trip. Ask your principal what the district’s policies are regarding trips. Mine is supportive though I have to find my own money. With good planning, field trips are a great way to get students and teachers out of the classroom to show students real life applications to what they learned at school!

Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

From the Homeschool Front …Why Homeschool? by Colleen Hroncich

I never expected to homeschool my kids. Growing up, I only knew of one homeschooling family … and let’s just say they were considered a bit odd. My oldest was in 6th grade and my youngest was in kindergarten when we decided to make the switch. We had a bit of a bumpy start, but 5 years later we’re still at it. 

I love the freedom and flexibility that go along with homeschooling. We control our own schedules. We set our own school calendar. Learning is woven into every part of our lives, not relegated to “school” hours. When people hear I homeschool 4 kids, they frequently say that sounds stressful. Strangely, in many ways our lives are less stressful than when the kids were “in school.” No more packing lunches, hectic mornings trying to get to the bus stop, or chaotic nights trying to finish homework. 

One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is that each child can work at his or her own pace – slowing down or speeding up depending on the material. This individualized pacing is difficult to replicate in the classroom, although technology is bringing more flexible options to “brick and mortar” schools, too. 

Educating our children at home also lets us expose them to many points of view. We want to raise critical thinkers – adults who see through talking points and challenge conventional wisdom. We don’t want parrots … even if they’re parroting our own ideas. This variety of viewpoints, and the freedom to question them, is essential to developing critical thinkers.

Homeschooling certainly has its challenges. I’m the teacher, disciplinarian, bus driver, scheduler, cafeteria worker, and more. The house is messier than it would be if they were at school all day. There is a lot of togetherness (which can be a pro or a con, depending on the day). But the benefits – to our family as a whole, to each child individually, and to us as parents – strongly outweigh the costs. 

Our kids know they can stop homeschooling if they want. The fact that they stick with it tells me I’m doing the right thing for them.



Colleen Hroncich loves that homeschooling allows her to learn right alongside her children. A published author and former policy analyst, Colleen’s favorite subjects are economics/public policy and history. She has been active in several homeschool co-ops and is a speech and debate coach.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring Trip! by Mike Siekkinen

What do you do with your Spring Break? For years I spent mine with my children but as they have gotten older and moved on, I was left with an empty nest and a wife who worked. So several years ago, another teacher asked me if I would consider doing a Spring Trip for students. I was skeptical at first but agreed and we got with a company called Worldstrides and planned a trip to Washington D.C.

Advertising for the trip was not hard and we ended up having 57 students who signed up for the trip. We had to get several other teachers to come with us for that crowd! It ended up being a wonderful (and tiring) experience. Students were well behaved and the trip set up by the company was excellent. We visited so many places and even with a few snags (a broken tour bus in South Carolina, a couple sick kids, etc.) it was still an enjoyable experience.


We all committed to doing it again as long as we were all still enjoying the kids and the trips. I am doing my 5th Spring Trip this March. This year is snorkeling in the Keys and visiting the Everglades. I am still enjoying the kids, the trips and it is a wonderful way to spend my Spring Break! Worldstrides has been a great company to work with and has made it very easy with regards to planning the trips, providing needed materials for advertising and the people they have as guides and drivers have been nothing short of excellent! I highly recommend the company.

Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.