Monday, July 14, 2014

Measuring a Teacher's Success



I am proud to say that I am the son of a teacher. My mother taught fourth and fifth grade. Well, that is until I came around. I have always said that her career in education was the first of several that I ended. I also knew that Mom was a good teacher, but it seems that I am constantly reminded by her former students just how good she was at teaching.
Let’s just say that her last year of teaching was over forty years ago and we will protect the age of all involved (including myself). There are very few things in this world that stand the test of time and especially four decades of time, but the impact my mother had on her students certainly did. Over the years I have met many of her former students and most have told me that Mom was their favorite teacher.
I also think it says a lot that both my sister and I went into youth work. My sister is a high school English teacher and I suspect she has the same impact that my mother did. I chose to go into 4-H work and I can only hope that in forty years my former 4-Hers will remember me as fondly as my mother’s students remember her. OK, so enough of the bragging on my mother, if she were alive she would really be embarrassed and probably a little peeved at me for writing this. So what is my point?
During my career in Extension we were asked each year to document the meaningful results and impacts we had during the past year. It was not hard in the agriculture part of my job. I could say I helped x amount of farmers with y problem and it resulted in this amount of economic benefit or a certain amount of increased production. Even in the area of community development I could say I did this and this impact was the expected benefit.
Those of us who have worked with youth know that documenting impacts and successes is just a bit harder. I often said, tongue in cheek that I was going to write down in my reports that none of my 4-Hers had been arrested in the past year and therefore I had saved the county several thousand dollars in court and jail costs. However, I also recognized that the kids I worked with would not get in trouble whether I as their 4-H agent or not. The bottom line is that those who work with youth often do not see the successes for many years but the benefits are profound.
Mom has been gone for several years now and I miss her each day, she put the same energy and dedication into being a farm wife and mother that she did into teaching. I guess that is why I always am lifted up when I meet one of her former students. I find it amazing just how much impact elementary teachers have and I can only wish that she heard from her students like I have over the years. I also know that what I have experienced is not uncommon or unusual for the children of teachers. Which makes me wonder why we don’t seek out those teachers who have made a difference in our lives and tell them.
Those are the impacts that each person who chooses any other kind of youth development work hopes to make on the kids they are charged with. We hope that something we do will push, pull, prod or inspire just one person on to bigger and better things, but we are never quite sure. You feel good about what you do, you know it is the right thing to do, but measurable results are often years  and lifetimes away.
I am quite sure that teachers are among the most patient professions, just by that very nature. It also makes me wonder just why we don’t hold them up, why we don’t put them on a higher platform. Each of us has been helped and inspired by a teacher and we credit them for helping us achieve whatever success we have accomplished, many times we don’t come to that realization for many years.
I will close this out before I get to gushy, because Mom would not have liked that either. She believed that whatever you did, you did it well and you did not do it to get praised. I will just say that there is something comforting and reassuring each time I talk with one of her former students. To them even after forty plus years, early impacts are meaningful and important.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Water, We Will Have a Plan



I am writing this in the middle of what seems like monsoon season. For the past couple of weeks we have gotten rain about every two to three days and the weather pattern doesn’t seem to be changing in the near future. Yesterday I was asked if we had gotten too much rain. My response was that it was a lot easier to figure out what I am going to do about too much rain rather than too little.
I know this can all change in the blink of an eye and in two weeks we will all be worried about when our next rain will come. I have heard many people compare this year to another. You know the old well in 1974 it rained every day for three weeks and then it quit until December. The truth of the matter is that we have no idea when our rains are coming or shutting off, even those paid to tell us what the weather is going to do.
The best thing about this period of wet weather is that Western Kansas has also gotten some beneficial moisture. I know the drought is not broken there and it did nothing to help the wheat crop but I am sure that the rain helped to boost morale. Isn’t it funny how something we cannot control has such a grip on our outlook on life? The bottom line is that water whether too much or too little can have that effect on us?
I have had the opportunity to be a part of sending some recommendations to Governor Brownback for his water plan. Specifically we were asked to address the declining Ogallala Aquifer and the silting in of our federal reservoirs. On the surface it seemed like a fairly easy exercise but in reality it was a monumental, utterly complex undertaking. In all of this I realized that water issues will probably be our biggest problem in the years to come.
The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is the most controversial. The quick, easy answer for those of us not using the aquifer is to shut it down. After all, it is declining and in a matter of some years probably will be gone. It is not that easy. Sure if we had known fifty or sixty years ago what we know now we probably would have handled it a little differently, but what can’t we say that about. The truth is that the Ogallala is the lifeblood of an entire portion of our state and it affects much more that production agriculture.
The entire economy of Western Kansas is dependent on pumping water out of the aquifer and each part of the economy is dependent on the other. Farmers, feedlots, dairies, processing plants, and even the municipalities are all inter-dependant and all rely on the water stored in the aquifer for survival. Take away one segment and you will cripple the others. It is a very, very complex and highly charged debate over what to do.
Then there is the equally complex dilemma of what to do with our federal reservoirs and their silt problems. Dredging them out seems to be an easy enough solution until you really think about it. We are not exactly flush with money right now and it will take an unimaginable amount to do the job right. That does not even take in account the massive amount of silt and how to dispose of it. Silt can be spread out on agriculture grounds but in very small quantities and with an equally high cost. Restoring our federal reservoirs will be an engineering feat of historical proportions.
All of this seems to be very daunting and after a massive amount of input from a lot people from every segment of our population I am sure a water plan will be formed. I am also sure that following the formulation of this plan unexpected problems and issues will appear.  Does this make the process of formulating the plan useless?  The answer is no, it has started us down the road of thinking about and addressing some of the most important and complex issues we will ever face. I am equally sure that we will find solutions and most of them have not even been developed or even thought of yet. We will find answers that will not only address the problem but make us better stewards of our limited water and more efficient producers of the food we all need.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thoughts From the Rainy Season



Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. I am not going to complain about the rain, nor will I ever complain about the rain again. I know we have had quite a bit here in the month of June but I also know that it can shut off and we may not have any rain in the month of July. I also know that someone reading this will still be dealing with dry conditions and it just seems wrong to complain about rain. Of course, I am also aware of the fact that it will either be dry or wet and there is nothing I can do about it.
However, as I sit here I have become painfully aware of certain things during this wet stretch of weather. Let’s just say that I have had too much time to think about things. Therefore, I have decided to share my random thoughts from the monsoon season with you. Please hold your applause, and you can thank me later.
Random thought #1; nothing feels better than a rainy morning after a long stretch of dry weather. May was fairly dry and it allowed us to finish planting just ahead of the start of this unsettled weather pattern (that is some of my best metrological terminology). The first morning of waking up to rain on the roof and being able to enjoy my morning coffee watching the rain was wonderful. It is an experience that is second only to the first day back in the tractor seat when the weather finally straightens out again.
Mud is the by-product of wet weather and it is easy to deal with at first but it soon grows tiresome.  Mud tends to be everywhere; you can’t walk out of the house without getting some on you. After a couple of days wearing rubber knee boots, nothing is more refreshing that the first day it is dry enough to do chores in your leather boots.  Dumping water out of feed bunks goes hand in hand with doing chores in the mud. The water that is dumped out of the bunk has nowhere to go and you can’t get away from it. It did make me wonder if the EPA would designate the water in the feed bunks or in my boots as “Waters of the USA”.
I am always amazed at how slow days go by but how fast weeks seem to disappear. A day of being stuck in the house seems to last forty eight hours but I think someone must have misprinted the calendars this year. It seems as though they missed the first two weeks of June, we can’t possibly be nearing the end of the month; I have too much that didn’t get done. I don’t necessarily need both missing weeks back but an additional seven days in June would be nice.
Each year I forget what humidity is like. I just cannot get used to those mornings where it never gets below seventy-five degrees or seventy-five percent humidity. You have to love those mornings when shortly after starting chores you have already sweated through your hat and have sweat dripping off your nose.  While humidity is a bad thing for fat guys like me, I am amazed at how fast plants grow.  My corn seemed to grow several inches each hour, unfortunately so does the grass in my lawn. I guess you can’t have one without the other; at least I had time to mow the lawn.
Finally, I have asked myself over and over just why Noah decided to take those two mosquitoes on the Ark. I cannot think of any good reason for the mosquito’s existence on this earth. He probably did not intend to take any with him and they just showed up, much like they just show up anytime I am outside right now. I just wish he had packed a fly swatter and taken care of them and the flies while he had time during his period of unsettled weather.
I know I am whining and I should not be. I am very grateful for the rain and I really hope it keeps coming. I can deal with the side effects of precipitation because it is a lot easier to deal with too much rain than too little. Nothing is more miserable than to have nothing to do because everything is burning up during a drought. I guess in the end mud, humidity and mosquitoes are a good problem to have.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Remembering and Teaching So We Don't Forget



This past weekend my daughter played in a softball tournament in Oklahoma City. One of my favorite things is to go with my kids and watch them play sports, so I had looked forward to the weekend for a long time. We looked at her tournament schedule and noticed that we had a lot of free time each day and Tatum asked me what I wanted to do.
I told her that the only thing I really wanted to do was to go to the bombing site. This request was met with some indifference but as the father of two teenagers I have become immune to teenage indifference. I really didn’t put anymore thought into it and we packed the car and left on our big adventure. That night the team decided to go to Bricktown for supper and during the meal the conversation among parents and coaches turned to how to fill the free time.
I again mentioned that I would like to visit the bombing site. One of the coaches said that evening about dusk was the best time to go to it. When we finished our dinner, we asked the restaurant staff how far it was to the site. We were told that it was three blocks over and three blocks down, an easy walk. I am here to tell you that it is not three blocks over and three blocks down, it might be six but not three.  In any case, it made for a long walk (especially for most of the girls because they were wearing flip flops, but that is a subject for another day) giving us a lot of time to talk.
The adults in our group were talking about where we were that day and other memories of what happened. Through all of this I noticed the girls again looked somewhat bored and really quite indifferent, most of them only wanted to return to the motel and swim. I suppose I should have expected that response but I was still a little stunned by their disinterest. I mentioned that to a couple of my fellow parents and that was when we realized that none of them had even been born, the bombing had happened four years earlier. Then with more quizzing we realized that this event in history was not something they had learned about in school.
With this knowledge we started to tell them about the event, the circumstances, Timothy McVey and Terry Nichols and other facts surrounding the bombing. Suddenly they started to gather more interest, they started to understand. Then we reached the site and walked in through the entrance and the whole group of chatty teenage girls grew quiet and the real reason we, adults, wanted to come to this place seemed to sink in with the girls.
If you have never been to the memorial, I highly recommend going. The first thing you see are the entrance ways with the time stamp 9:01 on one and 9:03 on the other, they represent the time before and the time after the bombing. Then you see the reflecting pool, on our night it was perfectly calm and quiet. However, the part of the memorial that drew the most attention was the chairs. Each victim has a chair and they are arranged by which floor that victim was on, along with the five chairs representing those killed outside the building.
Quickly one of the girls noticed the smaller chairs on the second row. We explained that they represented the children killed in the second floor daycare center. After a moment of complete silence, the question of why would anyone blow up a building with children in it was asked. None of us had a good answer, other than the obvious one that hatred and evil make no sense. The truth is that there is no good explanation for what happened that day.
At that moment I think the girls understood why the adults were so interested in walking halfway through Oklahoma City to spend time in that particular spot. Bad things, horrible events happen, there are no two ways around that, however, it is important that we remember that they did happen and that each of us walk away with the understanding of what was lost that day. We need to make it our goal to make our part of the world better in memory of each of the victims. I am not sure, but I believe that each of those girls left that spot grateful that we shared it with them and why understanding events of the past are so important.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Do Fence Me In



We finally did it! No we did not climb Mount Everest or explore the Amazon rainforest. Although I must admit that it did seem like that was what we were doing.  No, what we accomplished was even more monumental and even more dangerous. Jennifer, the kids and I built the fence east of our house. And if I must say, I believe it is the eighth wonder of the world.
OK, I am not that full of myself or that proud of my fence, but it is a giant relief to finally have the fence done. To fully understand why I am so giddy we need to go back about fifteen years ago. Yes, sadly enough this all began fifteen years ago when we purchased our home place. At that time I decided to start building fence along the road. We built the fence west of the house that first winter and I must say we learned a lot about building fence.
I have often heard that we learn by experience and much of that being bad experience. This was the case on my first fence. It is still there but much of it needs a major overhaul or at least a good stretching. In all fairness it where I winter cows and it does come under tremendous pressure late March into April. The one thing I do know is that the posts are in good shape. The fence from the house east was to be my next project.
During that time we started to get really busy with the kids and all I got done was to tear the fence out. I am not proud to admit it, but I ran a “temporary” electric fence along the road fourteen years ago with the promise that I would get back to it soon. I guess those fourteen years were soon enough. Part of my excuse was that the county needed to do some work on the ditches on both sides of the road and I did not want to tear out new fence when they fixed my road.
That excuse stood up pretty well until this spring. The county came in and reshaped the road bed and made the whole roadway drain better. In doing so they cleaned up the side of the road, leveled it and cleaned all the vegetation off of it. It was never going to be easier to build half of the fence. I announced to my family that we would build fence on Memorial Day weekend. This announcement caused a great stir among the kids. They made the point that all of their friends were doing “fun” stuff like camping and traveling over the long weekend. I pointed out that fence building was a great family bonding experience and a whole lot of “fun”.
We started with the stretch cleared off by the Pottawatomie County Road and Bridge Department. It actually went in very well with only a minimal amount of verbal persuasion.  The situation got a little tense at times, but the family withstood the “bonding” experience. Even more amazing is the fact that the fence only has a little bit of crook and bend to it. In the end, we all looked at this fence with satisfaction. Now it was on to the dreaded hill.
I had been dreading building fence up the hill since the day I had decided the fence needed replaced. The hill is really steep, very wooded and rocky beyond belief. This stretch was not going to be fun; the family “bonding” was going to be intense. The project needed to start with brush clearing. Any self respecting person would have rented or hired a professional to clear the way. Not me, we started up the hill with a chainsaw, loppers and machetes. Two dull chainsaw blades, about six dozen ticks and a really bad case of poison Ivy later and the hillside was cleared. Now the fence building could commence.
Digging post holes was out of the question so we decided to drive all steel posts into what appeared to be pure rock. Isaac and I did this one after noon. Have you ever hit a baseball or softball with a metal bat and had it send shock waves up your arm. That was how this whole stretch of fence was but crooked as they might be, the posts were planted.
Running the wire down the hill was another exercise in courage. We had to navigate the stumps and stubble that we had left too tall in hopes of saving chainsaw blades. More ticks and poison ivy were gathered during this portion of the fence building. Finally the last wire was tightened and we stood back and looked at what we had done.
I am here to tell you that the fence weaves down the hill, much like we did. The posts are a bit crooked (OK, they are really crooked) but they are in solid. Anyone else may look at my fence and giggle and wonder what drunken crew built it. However, Jennifer, the kids and I know the truth.  This engineering marvel came about with a whole lot of blood sweat and tears, otherwise known as quality family “bonding” and the best part is that it is done.