Birthday Post

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January 17, 1974

It was exactly 42 years ago on this day in history that I was born. My life has never been the same since.

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Around this time of year I always get way too introspective for my own good. The combination of New Years and my birthday always gets me thinking about the past year. I mull over the good and the bad, reflect on the goals I did or not not accomplish, and set new goals for the next year. Sometimes I write these goals down, but most often I do not. Most years I often wonder what I’m doing with my life, and if I’m even contributing to the good of the universe. Some years I can say yes, some years I’m undecided. This year I think I err on the side of doing good, and adding positives to the world.

I think that 2016 is going to be a pivotal year for me. For the first time in a long, long time, I am starting out the year in a mindset to get healthy. The school where I teach is doing a “biggest loser” weight loss competition, and I am committed to a team. I bought a FitBit tracker for my birthday, and have been tracking my calories consumed, as well as steps taken in a day. So far, I feel I’ve been fairly successful. In the first week I dropped close to 8 pounds, and 2% body-fat. Not too shabby, considering all I did was stop eating junk food in the evenings.

I’ve also started the year with a renewed commitment to my writing, although I will admit it’s not quite as strong as my commitment to health. I guess when you have team members who are counting on you, and providing positive peer pressure, you have more incentive to keep your end of the deal. With my writing, the only person I let down is myself, and I have a pretty thick skin, so it doesn’t bother me as much as it should. Anyway, during National Novel Writing Month last November, I wrote the first book of a planned series, and in December I started the second book. I should be finished with it in the next week, if I can keep up my current pace. I just have to make sure I don’t listen to that little voice in my head that says, “What’s the rush? You’re tired today. Relax. Write later. Maybe on the weekend?” To fight that voice, I put a sign in my bathroom that says, “Write the Words.” Hopefully it will motivate me. So far, so good.

If things go as planned, 2016 will be the year I become a published author. For real. This time I mean it, and I really think I can pull it off. The growth of the indie publishing market is still on the upswing, and it’s not to late for me to get on it. I just have to do it. The thing that I’m discovering with self-publishing is that it is not a cheap venture, at least not at first. Once you have three or four books out there (and people are actually buying them) it starts to pay for itself. But that first book, and even the second, are costly. I have to think of it as a business expense. Maybe I can find a corporate sponsor? (Ha ha, made a little jokey-joke there.)

IF things go well with the book publishing thing, I hope to make a go of it full time in a few years. I know that teaching is a dying ship. I can’t do it forever. Even if the education system itself starts to fix the many inherent flaws, I can’t keep doing what I’m doing for what they pay me. The output isn’t equal to the income. I know teaching isn’t supposed to be about the income, but you know what? Sometimes it is. I heard an interview where business owner basically said that $40K/year is not “real money,” and that to get quality people he’d have to pay “real money.” That kind of depressed me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’m not ready to run out and look for a new job, per se, but I wouldn’t turn down a winning lotto ticket.

So, there’s my birthday post. Hard to believe I’m now 42. That’s half-way to 84, and while I think with modern medicine I’ll probably live to be close to 100, I still feel like I’m close to the mid-point of my life. I want to make the second half of my life feel more productive than the first half. I want to put words on paper. I want to see my name on the spine of a book or two, or ten. Who knows. I want to get out of the classroom, and into the world. Maybe do something worthy of calling it a legacy.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll blog more than once a year.

Maybe.

Kevin…

 

 

An education rant

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WARNING: this rant is directed to “education” as a national institution. It may contain comments some may consider “inflammatory.” (Note-it is in no way intended to reflect upon my current situation. I love my school, my colleagues, and so far this year, my students.)

I’ve heard a lot about education reform in my fifteen years as a teacher. I know of no other profession that is constantly undergoing some sort of reform or remodel. Can you imagine if lawyers had to change the way they tried a case every other year? Or if a judge could make a ruling without telling the lawyers what the criteria for the ruling was before the trial began? That’s what education feels like to me today. If any other profession was managed the way the education system is run…well, no other profession would stand for that, now would they. And yet, teachers do.
Lately I’ve been thinking, what if the answer isn’t education reform, but rather educator revolution? What would education look like if educators instead of politicians made policy decisions? What if no one could be a “district level” administrator unless they were still at least part time in the classroom? (I give school level administrators a pass because they work their asses off, at least at my school.) What if it was just as hard to get into a university education program as it is to get into med school or law school? What if the media, and as a result the population at large, treated teachers with respect, rather than blame? 

My mind freezes up trying to consider the possibilities. I love speculative fiction as much as the next guy, but there are limits to believability. It is a strange time to be in education. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves, so that there are literally not enough warm bodies to put in classrooms. Teacher education programs are facing all time enrollment lows. Those of us still fighting the good fight are demoralized on an almost daily basis. Some teachers can’t even remember the last time they received a noticeable pay increase, yet every year are asked to do more and more.

It’s easy to say “what if” when there are no real answers. The sad truth is that education will not get better simply because those of us in the trenches have no recourse to change the system, and no one that I know of on a national or state level is seriously fighting for teachers. So my question is, one I’d really like an answer to, is how can teachers take education out of the hands of the government? Give us the tax dollars directly, and stay out of it. If doctors and lawyers can manage their own professions, why can’t teachers? 

I will be the first to concede that being a teacher isn’t about making a Bill Gates sized fortune, and yes, having the summer “off” is a nice perk. But the system is collapsing in on itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years you will be hard pressed to find a teacher with more than ten years experience. We will all reach a breaking point where it’s no longer worth it to stay in the classroom. When working at the corner gas station as a manager will be a more fulfilling (and more lucrative) occupation.

It’s time to end all this talk of education reform. Let us instead talk of educator revolution. Have frank discussions with each other, with policy makers, and with parents about making real, lasting change. Reduce the amount of bureaucracy. Actually improve things so that kids do better, learn more, and leave school as productive members of society.

It has taken me fifteen years to finally fall in love with being a classroom teacher. Now that I’m at a point in my career where I can enjoy it, I hate the thought of giving it up. Just the same, I’m told it never hurts to have an updated résumé.

Back to School 2015

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Today ends the time of the year known as “pre-planning.” Where I teach, we are given five days to set up our classrooms, attend staff and department meetings, and plan out the first days of school. I really enjoy working with the other teachers at my school, and we all seem to get along fairly well. I have a feeling that this year is going to be as much fun for us as it will be for the students.

Last night (Thursday) was open house, and I got to meet most of my new students. They all seemed fairly typical. I always forget how small they are at the beginning of the year. Some of them you just want to pick up and put on a shelf. The parents were all very nice, and seemed genuinely interested in me, and my class. You can always tell when a parent is just going through the motions and doesn’t really care, but I didn’t get that vibe this year. All in all I’d say it was a successful nigh, and it has been a successful week.

As always, one of my personal goals is to build strong positive relationships with the students. I think it is a key to being a successful teacher. I don’t care how much control you may have over your students, if they don’t like you or think you like them, they are not going to learn much, or do very well. I like to think of the line from the TV show, “The Office.” The boss of the office says in an interview, “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” That’s my attitude with my students, and most years it has seemed to work for me, so I’m sticking to it.

I’m going to try something new this year, my 16th as an educator. I’m going to try to write a blog post every week about what went on in class, and how I feel about it. I want to be more “reflective” about things, and really focus in on what works and what doesn’t. If you’re bothering to read this now, then you might be of the type of person who would enjoy that sort of thing. And if you do enjoy it, and I start slacking on posting, feel free to call me out on it.

That’s it for now. For everyone going back to school, best of luck to you all. We’re going to need it!

Kevin…

Flash Fiction Challenge

There’s the set-up: I follow a blog by Chuck Wendig, an author who issues a weekly flash fiction challenge. The challenge for this week was to take two random pop culture story worlds and combines them in a new story of about 2000 words. Through luck of the draw, the story worlds I ended up with were “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” I don’t know why I chose this week to participate, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I came up with.

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“Do Elves Believe in Aliens?”

Morning spilled light over the large river that was their last obstacle before being completely out of the dragon’s territory. The company was camped on a hill that overlooked the river, and the sunrise brought with it a sense that they’d finally completed their quest. They still had the river to cross, which meant packing all their gear in their cloaks and holding the bundles over their heads as they waded across, but then they would be free from the dragon’s influence.

“Thank you, again, for coming to get me,” Heather said, shaking off the dew from her cloak. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t found me.”

“What, I was going to let a dragon eat my sister?” Mark said, putting an arm around her shoulders and giving a squeeze. “Mom would’ve killed me. You know you’re her favorite.”

“I’m not the favorite, you ar—“

“I can’t take it anymore!” Carl growled. The company all stared at the dwarf with shocked expressions.

“Can’t take what, Carl?” Mark asked.

“This guy.” Carl jerked a thumb at the elf sitting beside the fire.

“Me?” John said.

“Him?” Mark and Heather said.

“You heard me.” Carl turned around to face John. “What in the four hells is wrong with you?”

“Me?” John said again, the shock still on his face. “What do you mean? There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m perfectly fine. I mean, other than that bit of memory loss, which is rather quite unsettling, I feel right as rain. Why? Is there something wrong with me? Am I wounded and I don’t know it? Is it the camp-site? I picked a bad camp-site, didn’t I? I knew I should have suggested a spot closer to the river, but I thought that here by the forest edge would be more advantageous should the weather turn bad.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Carl said, stepping back from the fire. “You’ve said more since leaving the dragon’s lair than I’ve heard you say in all the years I’ve known you.”

John rose to look down at the dwarf. “So? I’m just feeling glad to be alive. Is there something wrong with that? Traumatic experiences have a tendency to put things in perspective, you know?”

“Traumatic experiences?” Carl practically shouted. “We’ve been on hundreds of quests, killed at least six dragons, rescued a dozen fair maidens,” he glanced at Heather and winked. “You being the most important, of course.” She nodded, but said nothing. “We’ve killed more orcs and goblins than could possibly be counted in a day,” he continued, raging back at John. “You get knocked out for a few hours while we do all the work,” again he paused and winked at Heather. “Worth every minute, to be sure.” Heather nodded, but again said nothing. Carl returned his focus on John. “And you think that is a traumatic event? I swear by my grandfather’s beard, I will never in my life understand the mind of an elf!” With that, Carl went about the business of packing up his gear.

“Are your quests always like this?” Heather asked as Mark kicked apart the embers of the campfire.

“Not usually,” he replied. “I don’t know what’s gotten in to him.”

“You know,” Carl interrupted, “if memory serves, there’s a bridge a few leagues upriver. We could cross there.”

“But that would take almost all day to get there,” said Mark. “Besides, that bridge is owned by a troll, and we’d have to pay some sort of tax, or kill him outright. I’m not up for either of those options right now.”

“Hold on,” John said. “Let’s not be so hasty. Maybe the bridge isn’t such a bad idea.” He fiddled with the string on his bow, glancing nervously at the river from time to time. “I mean, why get ourselves soaked to the bone when it gets so cold at night, when there’s a perfectly good bridge to use?”

“Again with the cold?” Mark said, tightening the straps on his pack. “You complained all night about the cold. What’s up with that?”

“I’m just concerned for you guys, that’s all,” the elf said, glancing at the water. “Besides, we don’t even know how deep it is here. What if Carl can’t touch the bottom? He could drown.”

Carl stared at the elf in disbelief. “Are, are you agreeing with me? Now I know there’s something wrong with you.” Carl turned in one swift motion and held his axe with one hand and the front of John’s tunic with the other. “Start talking. What happened to you while we were in the dragon’s lair?”

To his credit, John remained calm, even with the edge of the axe resting against his neck. “I told you, the last thing I remember is going to scout one of the passages. My torch went out, and then I was knocked out. The next thing I remember is you guys waking me up outside the lair. That’s it, I swear by the veil of the full moon.”

“We’ve been over this already,” Mark said.

“Why would he make up a story like that?” Heather asked.

“I don’t know, and I don’t rightly care,” Carl said, releasing John and setting down his axe. “What I do know is that’s not the same elf that entered the lair. He’s…different, somehow. I don’t like it.” He thought for a moment, eyeing the elf. “Maybe if I hit you on your head again you’ll get your memory back?”

“Oh, you’d like to try that, wouldn’t you?” John said.

“You know, there’s no proof that works,” Heather said at the same time. “It’s really just an old wives’ tale.”

“Couldn’t hurt to try,” Carl said and reached for his axe. Several things happened at once then. Carl raised the axe over his head, the hammer end turned to strike a blow. Mark jumped up and grabbed Carl’s outstretched arm while John ducked low to tackle the dwarf, and Heather started screaming for them to stop fighting. Her cries going completely unheeded, they grappled and fell to the ground, rolling down the hill toward the river’s edge. The bank of the river was a slight drop-off, no more than three or four feet, but time seemed to slow as again, several things happened at once. The trio splashed into the river and released their respective holds on each other. Carl quickly sank to the bottom, finding it to be shallow enough that when he finally sat upright his head just poked out of the water. Mark stood and grabbed a large tree root sticking out of the river bank.

John’s reaction, however, was hard for the others to comprehend. They had all experienced the effects of witchcraft and sorcery on some scale, and Mark knew firsthand what happened to a man hit by dragon’s fire, but what they saw happen to the elf was something entirely different. For one thing, the sound that came from him when he hit the water was more than the shock of a cold river, more than just pure agony. It was a symphony of pain, as played by a thousand tone-deaf orcs languishing in the underworld. It was a sound that brought both sorrow and pain to them, and caused Heather to come close to losing the contents of her stomach. Carl felt as if his brain had been split with his own axe, and Mark started to weep.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

As the elf flailed about, the water began to churn and bubble like a pot of stew left too long on the fire. Smoke began to rise from the elf’s flesh, as it began to blister and bubble as though he were in that same pot of stew. John thrashed about desperately, finally finding the river bank and pulling himself out of the water, and slowly crawling a few feet up the hill, to collapse in a pile of smoldering flesh, no longer recognizable. The three companions just stared at the thing their friend had become as the screaming ceased, leaving behind crackling and popping sounds of melting flesh.

Slowly, Mark helped Carl out of the river, and they took a wide berth around John’s body as they made their way back up the hill to where Heather had collapsed on her knees, her hands clamped over her mouth, eyes wide in terror. The two joined her and just stared down the hill, not knowing what to say or do, just watching.

Finally, Heather said, “Should we—“

“No,” Mark said. “What could we possibly do?”

“Is he?”

“I hope to the high heavens that he is.” Mark swallowed hard. “There’s no magic I know of can fix that.”

“What the hells happened to him?” Carl asked. “Why didn’t it happen to us?”

“I don’t know,” Mark said. “I just. Don’t. Know.”

The trio sat in silence a while longer, watching until the smoke finally stopped flowing from the melted corpse.

“I guess,” Carl said at last, “I guess we should bury the poor bastard.” Mark was about to agree when the form moved.

“Did you see that?” cried Heather. Before the others could answer, the remains moved again, more deliberately. The three watched, almost as if spellbound, as the arms stretched out and pushed up from the ground. They could see chunks of flesh slide off the face and arms of their companion as he made his way to a kneeling position. Then, in a motion reminiscent of an animal shaking off wet fur, John began to shake his body back and forth, sending even more pieces of flesh and clothing flying off in all directions. When he was finished, what remained was certainly no elf, but rather some new creature they had never encountered before.

The pale white creature stood on wobbly legs, now freed of both skin and clothes. It was slightly shorter than John had been, and much thinner. It had large almond shaped eyes, no discernible nose, and a small mouth. Long arms ended in slender fingers. It gingerly stepped out of the pile of elf garments at its feet and began to walk towards them. Carl jumped up with axe raised in a protective stance. The two humans were too stunned to move.

“Stay back, demon!” Carl swung his axe back and forth. The creature paused, and tilted its large head to the side, as if sizing up the angry dwarf. Mark stood and drew his sword, standing between the creature and his sister. The creature tilted its head the other way to contemplate Mark’s weapon, and then held up both hands in front of it in a gesture of surrender.

“Guys, I can explain, really,” it said, the voice of their elven friend clear as ever. “Just give me a minute.” It began to walk closer to them, keeping its hands out to the side. “It’s me, John. Really!” Before any of them could say another thing, a silver arrow flew out of the wood’s edge, passed between them and embedded itself in the creatures left eye. It stood there motionless for a moment, then collapsed, dead.

The three spun around to see John, another John, running out from the woods. He quickly reached them, a mischievous grin on his face. “There you are!” he said, finally stopping just short of the tip of Mark’s upraised sword. “I thought I wouldn’t get here in time.”

“You have exactly one minute to explain yourself, before I run you through,” Mark said, barely above a whisper. Carl strengthened his grip on his axe and raised it above his shoulder.

“It’s me, I swear it. And have I got a story for you!”

“First things, first,” Heather said, and ran up to him. Before anyone realized what was happening, she grabbed John by the tunic, and in one swift move, swung him about and tossed him into the river.

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There you have it. Hope you enjoyed it!

Kevin…

Welcome to 2015

January 1, 2015. The start of a new year, always filled with possibilities, filled with hope. For whatever reason, we use this day as an opportunity to start over, start fresh. To do something. Anything. As a society we have this drive to better ourselves, and I, like just about everybody else, have things I want to do, too.

I have made resolutions for the new year, and like many of you, I have every good intention of following through on them, even though I know deep down that I probably won’t. As much as I want to, keeping my car clean, while on the list, really isn’t very high on my priority list.

Eating right and exercising are high on my priority list, but past experience has proven that they are not high enough that I will continue with them past the point of discomfort or inconvenience. Such is life.

One thing that is high on my priority list, and something I am willing to do when it becomes inconvenient is to write more. Starting with this blog space. My goal is to write a blog entry at least once a week, about whatever strikes my fancy. Today it is about resolutions, naturally. Next week, it may be about school, or writing, or religion or whatever life brings may way.

Whether or not anyone reads what I write is irrelevant, I guess. What’s important is that I write. All the other author blogs that I follow say that to be a successful author in this day and age you have to have an online presence beyond your personal FaceBook page, and so mine begins with this blog.

You see, I think I’m finally ready to admit it to myself, and to the world, that I want to be a writer. A successful writer. I want to get to the point that I can make a living through selling what I write. That is my “five-year plan,” such as it is. I hope that anyone reading this will hold me to this goal, and bug me about it constantly. Maybe, buy the time 2016 gets here I’ll be a published author.

Who knows? Anything can happen.

Happy New Year!

Kevin Lute

Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July! Today we celebrate our nation’s independence from England, and while our country today may not be anything like what the founding fathers expected, it’s still the best place in the world to live. Everyone born in America, no matter what your station in life, is truly blessed.

Think about it: born on another country, but at the same socio-economic level, would you fare so well? In the majority of the world, I think not. Our system is far from perfect, but we don’t have sprawling slum cities, or refugee camps, or drug cartels ruling the countryside. We haven’t suffered through daily rocket attacks, our children can walk to school without fear of land mines, and clean water is easily accessible. We can choose what faith to believe in, or not to believe anything at all.

Is America perfect? By all means, no. But no place ever could be. There are things that could be better, changes that need to be made. But overall, you have to admit, America is a pretty great place to live. And what better time to be alive than now? The future is closer than ever. Before we know it we’ll have our flying cars and laser guns (won’t traffic be fun then?).

So today, July 4, 2014, I say Happy Birthday America! Also, I declare my own independence from the tyranny of diet soda. No longer will it dominate my beverage choices, at home or out about town. No longer will I suffer from the bloating that comes from the over consumption of that sweet man-made nectar of the gods. No longer will my father have to send me email forwards of the health risks linked to artificial sweeteners and food color additives. I will learn to drink coffee, and there’s always iced tea, lightly sweetened, of course. And a nice glass of cold water isn’t so bad on a hot summer afternoon.

In fact, I think I’ll have a glass right now, and raise it in a toast to this great land of ours.