Saturday, November 14, 2009


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love that its uniquely American, and that everyone in the United States (with a few small exceptions) celebrates the holiday. As someone who loves history, I can even look past the fact that the story of the "first Thanksgiving" has very little historical support, and, most likely, didn't happen in the way that its ingrained in our minds.
I have so many Thanksgiving-related memories, that I could bore everyone for hours on end with personal stories about my favorite Thanksgiving I'll spare you the details. The biggest reason that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday is because it exemplifies the FFF philosophy that I live by...Family, Food, and Football. Until my family situation evolved, I spent Thanksgiving at the same place for 26 of 27 years, my Aunt & Uncle's house in Hatfield, PA (Thanksgiving 2002 was spent in London, but we still enjoyed a turkey & all the fixings). I also spent the morning watching my high school (Pottsgrove) take on the local parochial school, arch-rival St. Pius X. The 40-minute drive to my Aunt & Uncle's house was always filled with anticipation of seeing whether or not we'd be dressing up as Pilgrims or Native Americans. YES, my Aunt created hand-made outfits for all 20+ guests, and, more importantly, individualized names (unfortunately, I cannot remember and/or cannot repeat most of the these names). Upon arrival, the day was spent catching up with family, watching lots of football, and eating way too much food (with Nana's pumpkin pie being a personal favorite).
While I always have fond memories of Thanksgiving & the three F's, I've chosen this topic because I think its important to stop and focus on the things for which I am truly thankful. On a personal level, I'm happy to have a truly wonderful family. My wife and children make every day special, always bring a smile to my face, and help me stay focused on the important things in life. In her daily e-mails, my mother often reminds me that "I'm a lucky man" or "I'm truly blessed" and she couldn't be more correct. I will always give thanks to having a stable & loving family my entire life. Thank you Mom & Dad, Sam, Zachary, Michael, Rylee...and the rest of the family.
On a professional level, I am truly thankful for the opportunity to have a career that doesn't feel like work. I get to spend my days in the company of children who are optimistic about the future, colleagues that are committed to helping young people reach their potential, and a school community that makes me feel like I'm part of a family. PDS is not perfect, but its about as close as you get in a educational environment. And, more importantly, this is a community that is driven to make it better.
Our middle school teachers and families do an excellent job of helping our middle school students develop a sense of thankfulness and community involvement. The relationship with JH Gunn Elementary and the CANstation project are two examples of ways that our students are encouraged to contribute to causes greater than themselves, and, directly and indirectly, develop empathy towards others who face daily challenges that the average PDS does not face.
I hope that all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Thank you for helping make PDS special, and for raising children and students that are destined for greatness in the future.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What Does the Survey Say??

Its hard to fathom how quickly this year is going by. Can you believe that Thanksgiving vacation begins in a little more than two weeks? Quite honestly, August 19th feels like yesterday to me. The 6th graders move around like grizzled veterans, the 7th graders seem to grow taller every single day, and the 8th graders mature by the minute. I often wondered growing up how my father taught for so many years (this year is his 37th and final), but I realize now just how quickly the years go by when you are teaching. Because things move so quickly, and we have so little time to stop and think about "how things are going" until holiday breaks and summer, I decided to survey some advisee groups. As all of us know, one of the great things about middle school students is that they will tell you how they feel about things. Its refreshing and sometimes humbling (i.e. a student asked me last week "if I forgot to shave today...guess they do notice those things:)...), so I was confident that I'd get some candid answers from the surveys.

The "survey" that I had the advisee groups complete was simple and completely unscientific in nature. I gave the students two boxes, one asking the "thing(s) they like the most about middle school at PDS" and the other asking the "thing(s) they like the least about middle school at PDS." 31 students ended up completing the survey anonymously, and, surprisingly, the answers were very similar.

The two things most often cited in the "like the most" category were the length of lunches, and the caring nature of their teachers. This is not surprising because the 8th graders take great pride in having the annex as their "private" dining area, and they truly make the most of the extra time to socialize, hang out, and play. Since this is my first year in middle school I have nothing as a basis for comparison, but this 8th grade class seems like a tight-knit bunch who enjoy hanging out with each other, and who, for the most part, treat each other with dignity and respect. Its amazing how this changes when they move into upper school where the 9th and 10th grade classes always struggle with identity issues and 11th graders are overloaded with stress. Its not until 12th grade where each class regains its respective identity.

The "caring nature of their teachers" shouldn't surprise anyone who knows and loves PDS. This is a SPECIAL group of teachers who are committed to supporting our middle school students through the emotional roller coaster know as middle school. Because of the "in between" nature of middle school, I'm convinced that middle school teachers never get the amount of credit they deserve for leading young people from lower school to upper school. When I asked a teacher over the summer to describe middle school, they said it was "the bridge between lower school and upper school...but keep in mind that its a SUSPENSION bridge...that isn't very sturdy most of the time:)" I'm happy to hear that our middle school students appreciate the professional staff that supports them.

The two things cited consistently in the "like the least" category are the dress code and the amount of homework each night. I can honestly say that I've learned a lot about the many subtle, yet important, differences in women's dress, and I've spent a significant amount of time discussing the dress code with girls. The biggest "problem" that many girls have with the dress code is that they cannot wear t-shirts or blouses that look like t-shirts. The challenge with any dress code is that the "line" needs to be drawn somewhere, and this is where the line is at PDS. The point I've made to the young ladies who've asked is that "allowing girls to wear t-shirts would create an additional challenge to the boys' dress code, because the boys are required to wear a collared shirt." The girls' dress code has more "freedom" as it stands, and adding t-shirts to the list of approved dress for girls might provide proof to the boys who say "girls can wear whatever they want..."

As for homework, I'm not surprised that it makes the top of most lists. I can't think of anyone who ENJOYS homework, but that doesn't mean that there isn't real value to doing work after the "official" school day ends. Some subjects (i.e. Math, World Language) greatly benefit from nightly practice, and I can't see a positive scenario that doesn't include homework in these areas. The challenge is that many of our middle schoolers have jam-packed schedules where they are literally doing something for 14 hours a day. I wish that there was a way to support the large percentage of our students who are talented in so many ways and committed in so many productive areas. As we all know in all areas of life, its very easy to add something new, but its hard to take something away. There is no better example than our different levels of government. It doesn't matter where you stand on the political spectrum, but we can all agree that government spending is constantly increasing regardless of what political party is in charge.

Thanks again for reading. I'd love to hear what you think about the "best" and "worst" things about middle school at PDS. Feel free to e-mail me or put a note in my mailbox if you don't feel comfortable posting a response. Have a fantastic week,