Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Senioritis: Four Things to Ponder

Welcome to your last year!  If you are normal, you will experience senioritis.  Don't feel guilty about being sick of your high school, because...... it is normal.  In my 15 years of teaching high school (most of them with seniors)  I have come to not be surprised nor offended by senioritis.

By Richard Phillip Rücker (Flickr: Waiting for Time to Pass) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The thing I try my best to communicate to my students is that the senior year is really important even though it doesn't feel like it.   You need to fight through the urge to shut down mentally.  Here's some quick points to ponder on this year:

  1. If you will be applying for the military, you will need to score high on the ASVAB test.  Score too low and no military for you.  How do you do well on the test?  Keep Learning This Year!
  2. If you will be attending a community college, you will usually need to take placement tests.  Score too low on this and you may have to take high school level remedial courses that do not count towards your degree. Ditto any vocational colleges or programs.
  3. If you plan on going to a 4-year college, low grades this year could cost you your spot even after you have been accepted to college.   This is one reason colleges have waitlists.  You will also need to take those pesky placement tests.
  4. If you plan on doing nothing, then you may expressing to your parents the intense desire to be kicked out of the house as soon as you turn 18.

So there you go.  Just let all that marinate in your head.  Learning is a lifelong thing, so it is best to settle in for the long haul.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

9 Benefits of Advanced Placement Classes

Increased Weighted Grade Point Average: (for C and above grades.) Colleges and scholarships want to see a high Grade Point Average. Some college also want to see your unweighted GPA, so it is important to carefully choose your AP courses and not over-commit. AP does not affect your unweighted GPA.

Level of Difficulty:   Colleges and scholarships want to see that you are attempting the most challenging courses available

By Shenandoah University (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Priority Registration: Impacted programs often register students with more credits first. This ensures you get your classes and get out of school quicker.

Increased Knowledge and Skill Base:  AP courses are challenging. This increases your overall level of knowledge and skills. This decreases the burden of learning future material in high school and college. It is kind of like a genius snowball effect. You learn more, which frees you up to learn more.This is why smart kids do well in college. They are coming to the table with more knowledge and skills while others are working just to catch up. Writing skills often determine the likelihood of college graduation and AP will help to develop those skills.

When you know more you will also do better on the SAT/ACT college entrance tests. Colleges and scholarships often weight this as importantly as GPA.

College Credit for passed AP Tests:  You save up to $4000 savings per passed test! According to the survey of colleges by the College Board, the average private college tuition per year is $30,094. Add in an average housing and meal cost of $10,000 and that AP test is worth $4000! Public schools, scholarships, and living at home will lower this cost and therefore the savings, but it is still significant.

Earlier graduation. The longer it takes to graduate, the more likely you will drop out of college. Each passed AP test shortens the time it takes to graduate.
Get to work sooner and make more money. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average starting salary for a degree holder is $44,259. That is how much you can have in hand when you graduate a year early. This will also give you a year’s seniority towards future promotion, raises, and retirement.

Avoid those super-huge 100 level courses. You will have done these in high school. These are often some of the most difficult classes to get because people are having to repeat those courses. 200-400 level courses are often much smaller and more intimate.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Smashwords Interview

Interview with Michael Johnson

What motivated you to become an author?
I did not intend on writing a book, it just happened out of necessity. I used to teach a class called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), and over four years worked with a wonderful bunch of teenagers. The purpose of the class is to provide support in academics and behavior, as well as research for careers and colleges. In addition we helped them complete applications for colleges Naturally we grew very close, and I still maintain connections with many from that class. The problem was that as their senior year was closing I felt a strong urge to cram into them everything I felt they needed to succeed in the first year of college and beyond. They were getting frustrated, I was getting frustrated, and a good thing was quickly fading away. One sleepless night as I mulled what was going wrong and it hit me to just relax and enjoy the last few weeks with this great bunch of emerging young adults. The next day I told them I was going to write them a book and give them all a free copy. This book allowed me to say everything I really wanted to say as a friend and a mentor and not as a teacher. Being a Christian public school teacher presents issues in that I am not allowed to directly share my faith. After they had graduated, the limitations no longer applied, so I sent each graduate a link for a free copy of the book. Being an Independent author allowed me the speed and flexibility to quickly and efficiently get this book to these amazing group of young adults. The book was originally formatted and directed to this group only, but my wife encouraged me to continue to improve this work for wider distribution. This work later became my first book, The College Field Manual: A Young Person's Guide to Faith, Finances and Education.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love the free-writing process because it allows for randomness. I have a writing journal that I try to have with me so that when ideas strike I can get the idea down. In addition; I am an auditory learner, so I often discuss writing ideas with my wife Saundra. She thinks very differently, and much of what I write has her undeniable influence. I like to interview my friends and acquaintances to get their take on the issues that I am writing about to get their expertise. These talks are a lot of fun in that i am getting to know a person better and i am conducting research at the same time.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I'm that guy that if I don't get up immediately I will sleep in, but I also have a neurotic drive to always arrive early for everything. The fear of lateness has always caused me to bolt me upright immediately and move towards getting ready for the day. This may sound crazy, but for the last year or so I have had a praise song run through my mind immediately upon hearing my alarm. I still bolt upright and immediately engage the day, but now this memory of a song engages me with a purpose that is greater than I. I'm less driven by anxiety now than in past years. Most nights I sing and play guitar for my daughters as they lay in to bed. It's a spiritually deep time for us and often one of the songs on that night's playlist is what hits me right away when that alarm goes off.

What do your fans mean to you?
My fans drive my work. I love the ideas people bring to me. I have a huge line of books waiting to be created through the input of my readers. I wish I could get the books out quicker, but I teach and during the school year, there is little time for serious writing and research.

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
We have four kids ages 7-15 so life is hectic with all the routines of sports, appointments, and the like. The most noble uses of my time are spending time with my wife, kids and parents. I read quite a bit. I do a lot of day dreaming and scheming. I enjoy my guitar occasionally and have written a couple of songs of my own that I think are pretty darn good. Like a lot of people I sometimes veg out in front of the TV, but I limit my exposure to stay sharp. I'm currently dealing with a serious Candy Crush addiction, but they limit my exposure for me. I lead a men's Bible study group and attend another with my wife. School is a constant draw on my time and thoughts during the school year. In the summers I transition to full-time author, but I keep piddling with lesson plans even then.

What are your ten favorite books, and why?

  1. Foundation and I, Robot by Isaac Asimov : This book opened up a whole world of imaginary possibilities
  2. Wild at Heart by John Elderidge: This book opened my eyes to authentic manhood
  3.  Freakonmics by Steven Levitt: This book turned me on to economics
  4. Eternal Security by Charles Stanley: I was searching for a definitive defense of the power of grace, and this book delivered.
  5. Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell: This book has changed how I go about trying to get buy-in for a change to the system.
  6. Left Behind by Tim LeHaye: This book and series gave me nightmares, but I had to keep reading
  7. A Frog Thing by Eric Drachman: This book should be required reading for all children because we can't all do whatever we dream.
  8. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle: 10,000 hours of hard work + luck = awesome.
  9. Greetings from the Salton Sea by Kim Stringfellow. Eerie photo essay of a dream gone bad.
  10. Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Economics and Baseball are a great pair.

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
My dad used to read to me a number of books, but one book I made him read over and over was Roundabout Train. That book captured my imagination like few others. A new diesel train comes to town fully expecting to show up the old steam engines. He is outsmarted by the wise old locomotive and is faced with the futility of his pride. My dad read it to me so much that I memorized it. One day I volunteered to "read" it to him and I have been reading ever since.

What do you read for pleasure?
I read from the Bible every day, but I also have a ton of free e-books by new authors that I am working through. Most are pretty bad, but there have been some good ones. Here are the best free e-books I've read:
  • Memoirs of a Gas Station by Sam Neuman
  • Exiles in Eden by Paul Reyes
  • The Myth of the Garage by Chip Heath
  • How Not to Run and B&B by Bobby Hutchinson
  • Dear Coca-Cola by Terry Ravenscroft
  • Iron City by Davis Scott Milton
  • Endeavor In Time by Chris Hambleton

When did you first start writing?
I wrote some stories in high school that I was very proud of. I had a creative writing teacher who would pull out random stuff and we needed to create something that incorporated that object into a story. It taught me the power of harnessing imagination with my writing. I was dealing with the usual self-doubt of those years, so I began to journal my emotions. In a fit of embarrassment I threw it away. It would have been a best seller because the angst was so genuine and powerful. I couldn't recreate that magic if I tried.

What's the story behind your latest book?
The "No Freaking Guide" to College Admissions: Your 4-Year Plan grew out of the same AVID Class that created the College Field Manual. At the beginning I was wondering if the world needed "yet another college admissions book," but as I thought about it, there was more that needed to be addressed. Day after day I deal with teenagers as they deal with trauma of the college admissions process. I am noticing that a growing number of high school students struggle with the overwhelming array of variables involved in college admissions. I see a need to help kids focus on the most important issues and not get sidetracked with things of little value. I'm proud of the guide and I believe it is dealing with issues that other guides are ignoring.

What is your writing process?
I keep a nearby notebook to jot ideas. Occasionally I will sit and try to work out details of plot ideas, but I usually do not do details until I begin drafting. For my upcoming fiction work, I wanted to capture the reality of the outdoors, so I began to go to places and script everything I see, feel and hear. I need to do more of this in urban areas. For my non-fiction work I will begin researching once I am almost ready to begin drafting. I will try to cobble a draft in a few weeks of intense writing. I set the work down in a fit of exhaustion and disgust and let it marinate in my brain for months. I will then go back and begin filling in holes and doing additional research. Once I have gone through my work and feel somewhat happy, I will farm out the draft to writers and my wife who will review and give suggestions. I will then incorporate these suggestions. At that point the painful process of revision and editing go on and on like an endless rock tumbler getting it better and better with each iteration. At this point I am usually emotionally exhausted, but happy that the work is complete. It is not until later that I feel much happier with the work.

What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have a what Wikipedia calls a "4th generation Kindle" It is black on grey, but it can handle full sun. My wife has a first generation Kindle Fire. Sometimes I envy her ability to read in the dark, but I like the lightness of my Kindle. I can read websites but they look awful on it. It does format Wikipedia, and a few news sites fairly well.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Forward into Less

It is human nature to always want more.    When billionaire John D.Rockefeller was asked how much was enough,  his response was, “just a little bit more.”

Popular culture pushes this urge for more even further.  Watch any commercial and the basic message is that you are lacking and this product will make you feel better.  We are encouraged to be unsatisfied with what we have even if we have enough. 

A person at the US federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, working 40 hours a week grosses $15,080.  While this amount would make it very difficult for a person to live in the US, it would still be enough to put them in the top 12% richest people in the world (globalrichlist.org).

If you have the ability to read this blog, then you have enough.

There is a similar phenomenon in the spiritual realm.  For a person who has made Jesus his Lord, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the “perceived benefits” of service to the Lord.  When people notice the work that we do, it feels good, but it is not fun to toil away in obscurity or to see others get credit for our hard work.  This can lead to anger, jealousy and bitterness.  I think that is one of the reasons why we need to encourage each other.  But it stands to reason that there will be times when our work will not be as appreciated as we would like.

It is human nature to also want to move upwards in positions of leadership and with that the feelings of respect and admiration.  It stands to reason that we will reach our positions and may feel unsatisfied with filling a role that seems beneath us.  Having to accept a demotion can be very difficult to take because of the feelings of humiliation and perceived loss of respect and admiration.

John the Baptist was losing followers to Jesus, and when he was told this he responded correctly:
“A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’  The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:27-30)

John knew his role.

“The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:35-36)

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:1)

This year, He must become greater, and I must become less. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Welcome to High School, What is Your Vision?

Let’s talk about high school.  I love teaching high school because that is where I feel the action is.  So much hinges on the decisions made during high school.  In a way I think it is unfair, because most kids have no clue what they want to do, but they are expected to make this decision.  Most college students are also unsure, so if you aren’t sure you are not a freak.  In a perfect world you would know your career and your desired major.  Then you would take the best high school courses to make the transition to that field of study more easily.  You would then choose a college and a major in line with that exact career.

The problem is a concept of vision.  Look at the picture below taken from inside a forest:

Now look at the same forest from a different vantage point:

You can see that the higher vantage point allows you to see how large the forest actually is.  If I were lost I’d rather have a view that allows me to see more.  Career identification is a lot like this.  As you begin to interface with the working world, you will begin to see the immense career choices available to you.  There are thousands of jobs you can do.  If you take apart any organization you will see this.  Did you know that McDonald’s employs statisticians?  In the same way, IBM employs day care workers.  How do you get a clearer vision of what you want to be?

One thing is to just start paying attention to what you see around you.  You have access to quite a few adults who do many different things.  Ask them about their jobs, what they do, what they like and dislike about it, the conditions, the outlook, and the best way to get qualified to do such a job.  As you meet adults soak up as much as possible and you will get a clearer vision of what may be your dream job.  You are forcing yourself into a better vantage point that doesn’t appear fast enough if left to itself.  It takes effort to get a handle on what is a good career fit for you.

Volunteering at multiple organizations can help.  One student of mine volunteered with a local hospital twice a week.  He got a real look behind the scenes and found out that he didn’t want to be a doctor but rather a nurse.  In addition, by working in many different wards of the hospital he discovered the exact sub-field that he wanted to pursue.  When he went on to college, he sought a college with that exact major.  He is going to end up where he wants.

Your high school classes are a good indicator of career possibilities.  As you take your classes ask yourself if you enjoy the material and if you are good at it.   Competence and enjoyment are two powerful indicators of where we should be going.  They are mutually reinforcing.  When you are not competent in your job, people complain at you all day long, there is less pride in your work, and you will not be promoted.  This will lead you to be unhappy with your job no matter how much you initially enjoyed the job.  We need to have the basic skills required in order to pursue a college major.  A person weak in math should not pursue a math degree, nor should they pursue a career that demands a lot of math.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Young Men, Guard Your Rep!

How do people see you? 

Think about the different circles of people that you interact with such as classmates, teachers, teammates, coaches, principals, counselors, close friends, girlfriend, internet acquaintances, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, sisters, brothers.  This list would include all people who remember something about you even though you may not be aware of them.   

What if all of these people were to gather in a large room and in this room is a large whiteboard. The first person comes up and writes words that describe you. The next person places a check-mark next to any words they agree to and adds to the list.  The group lines up in a huge circle going round and round until everyone has a chance to check any words they forgot to list. 

Some of the words would probably have many checks, some might not.  Your girlfriend might write great kisser but obviously others wouldn’t check that term.  What would that list look like for you?  What we are talking about is something called integrity.  Integrity is maintaining a consistent character in all aspects of your life.   It is normal to adjust your behavior to the situation, but your basic character should be reliably similar regardless of the situation.  The problem is that many people have serious inconsistencies in their character.  They lack integrity.

The things you do will be the evidence for the judgments people make about you.  If you are caught lying, then you might be deemed a liar.  If you tell the truth 99 times and get caught lying one time, you are a liar.  Luckily people will cut you some slack.  When you screw up with people, apologize and don’t screw up and people tend to forgive with time. 

The secret to a healthy reputation is to consistently treat strangers kindly.

Our school has a no-hood policy.  Unless it is raining, sweater hoods must stay off the head.  Most of our students think the rule is really dumb, but a simple hood renders all of our security cameras as useless.  A hood also allows students to effectively avert and cover their eyes so that class discussions become less manageable.  I believe that the hood is also symbol of disrespect towards our school, so I enforce the rule wherever I walk on campus.  

What I have noticed is that when I am correcting one of my students in the hallways, there is compliance without complaint and the hood goes down. If; however, it is a stranger the reaction is very intense for some kids.  “Who are you?  You can’t tell me what to do (insert explicative here)!”  All schools have knuckleheads, so I try not to take it personal.  Since I teach freshmen and seniors I might have multiple run-ins with a kid before they walk in as a senior.  This is always an interesting thing in that their world is crashing around them, they are nice to those they know and jerky to strangers.  This is a lack of integrity. If you are a respectful person, you are respectful at all times and not only when people are respectful towards you.

This type of behavior is extreme, but you need to know that highly respectful people are more likely to benefit.  You never know who somebody is and whether they will hold the key to something you want.  Every adult you see on campus could be a potential recommendation letter or a single voice against you in a scholarship committee.  You never know who somebody may be, so make it your policy to be respectful and follow directions from any adult on campus.  That teacher or counselor may be next year’s vice principal.  That campus supervisor could become the principal’s secretary (the most powerful person on a campus).

He looked me dead in the eyes and with a look of pure hatred retorted, “You have to give respect, before you get respect!”  At that point it was clear the discussion was going nowhere.  I had just tried to explain how his lack of a respectful attitude towards me and his classmates was hurting his reputation.  He wasn’t getting that it.  As we sat together I could feel the anger dripping from this young man, and his attitude was going to be a death sentence for whatever aspirations he harbored.  I can’t remember anything else from the conversation, only that I think I have tried to tackle this conversation a million times.   Sometimes I get through to them, most times I don’t.  I think truth has a way of working itself into a person’s heart over time, so it’s possible that many of these hurting souls later got it.

That phrase: “You have to give respect to get respect” is interesting in that there is some truth to this.  It’s a half-truth.  We can earn respect when we are respectful to others, but not always.  Some people take a respectful attitude as a green light to be abusive towards us, but we can still be respectful in the face of disrespect.  The point is not to focus on how others treat you; it is to focus on how you treat others.  

Don’t wait to decide whether a person is worthy of your respect before you extend it to him or her. Make it automatic and you will have a healthy reputation as a person of integrity.

If you are disrespectful to those you feel are mean, then others will see you being disrespectful when they disagree with your assessment of that other person.  When I hear that one of my star students was disrespectful to another staff member, then that student has lost some of my respect for them and I will be less willing to back them in a scholarship committee or write a letter of recommendation.  I can only write a recommendation letter for people who are respectful in all situations to all people.  This is because the purpose of a recommendation letter is to vouch for a person that is not known by the college.  If I see someone who can be respectful to all people regardless of how they are treated, then I know for sure they will behave well  towards students or professors at that college.

Image: By The U.S. Army (www.Army.mil) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/Mixed_martial_arts_at_Fort_Benning.jpg

Saturday, August 11, 2012

College Application Anxiety

The decisions that cost us the most anxiety are those that involve a lot of risk and where there are many variables to consider.  The stakes are high when choosing a college because it is a major jumping off point for the next phase of life.  

If you are not anxious at all then I’m seriously concerned that you are not taking this whole thing seriously.  People who have zero anxiety tend to be lazy on the application essays thereby insuring a denial.   I’m going to assume you are taking this seriously, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  To you I say, stop freaking out! Anxiety is normal, but you cannot let it get the best of you.   

Make your list of things to do and begin working on them.  After that no amount of worrying will really change anything.

I have great news for you!  You don’t have to make a final college choice just yet.  You should be looking to apply to seven colleges.  This means we just need to narrow it down by the beginning of the senior year.  That said we should put a lot of effort into this process because we are starting with over 3000 fully accredited colleges.

I need to repeat something I say a lot:  Most public universities have a wide range of majors that will give you most of what you want in a college.  I believe the perfect college does not exist and all colleges (as well as all organizations) have flaws.  There are quite a few colleges that are very good and will meet all your college needs.