“Dammit Jim…”

•February 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Fall of 2016 marked my 17th year of teaching in some way, shape, or form.  From college composition, literature, and tech writing, to high school English, and even some adult education, I have dabbled in a wide variety of teaching endeavors.  I love teaching.  I love interacting with students.  I love feeling like I make an impact on the world, even if it is one small pebble in a huge ocean.  It’s what has kept me in the profession for so long when staggering numbers of teachers leave after a year, five, or ten.

But the last year or two have been very difficult.  It’s not that the reward has decreased.  I still love my kids.  I still love my content.  As with so many teachers, I struggle with the other influencers on my profession.  Data, data, data, and the subsequent standardized tests that interrupt quality learning all to pigeon-hole a round student into a square hole, or vice-versa.  The unfair pressure school administrators are under to show school success that unfortunately trickles down into classrooms.  With the focus on high-stakes standardized tests, comes the pressure for schools to appear successful.  Smarter Balance, Dakota STEP, ACT, SAT, graduation rates, and a host of “for profit” standardized test results that are publicly lauded or conversely criticized place insane pressures on school administrators to “show” that their schools are “successful.”

I had an epiphany a while back as to what is, for me, the most difficult outside pressure.  Last year I was working on my 1966 Chevy truck with my friend Eric when I made a troubling and unfortunate connection.  When something breaks, a watch, an appliance, or a cell phone, we throw it away and get a new one.  Society has become one of disposable possessions.  Almost everything is manufactured with an obsolescence date, and when that date comes, we toss the “defective” piece and get a new one.  Some things we try to prolong their lives.  Our computers and our cars we send off to a service technician or mechanic to “fix.”  Hoping recklessly to receive the device in “like new” condition.  It occurred to me while working with Eric in his shop, surrounded by the vehicles whose owners impatiently waited the return of their freshly functioning vehicles that education has become a “fix-it” shop for kids.

Parents enroll their children in schools hoping that when students have completed all of the “diagnostics,” “software upgrades,” “factory recalls,” and “routine maintenance” they will perform like they expect from a student who has undergone an “overhaul.”  Schools are not places of education, inspiration, or exploration.  Many parents view schools as repair facilities to fix “defective” children, upgrade “out of date” children, or repair “broken” children.  As with automobiles, many parents drop their kids off at school expecting when they pick them up after eight, ten, twelve years the “mechanics” or “technicians” will have worked wonders on whatever needed to be done.

Our children are not “manufactured” with an obsolescence date.  We can’t just throw them away when they screw up or don’t “work like they should.”  We can’t wait for the new model to come out so we can “upgrade” to the best features available.  But we want to apply those same principles to our kids, and it is tragic.  This “fix-it” or replace it mentality does a tremendous disservice to our kids.  When something breaks on a car, you remove the part and replace it with new.  When something “breaks” with a child, it cannot be removed and replaced.  The child is not a collection of parts, he/she is a whole, complete, individual who needs to be cared for.  You can’t “run a diagnostic program” to make a child smarter or perform better by swapping out a computer, flashing a new tune, or upgrading a part.

Education is not just a process of making a child smarter.  It is a complex, holistic experience where a student grows, explores, and becomes a more complete individual not through a twelve-step diagnostic process, but through inquisition, hypotheses, and failure.  And failure has been all but banned in today’s assembly line of standardized tests, common core standards, and digitally literate education where students enter through one door as a raw material and are expected to exit at the end as perfect, polished, college-ready, contributors to society.

Teachers as the “mechanics” or “technicians” in the process are ripped apart; torn by the expectation of “manufacturing” perfect products, and the reality that true education isn’t about what the parents and society wants, and more about how to best nurture and prepare an INDIVIDUAL student.  Teachers are forced to choose between what the curriculum, standards, and tests call for, and what their individual students really need.  It’s that pressure, that dichotomy, those disparate forces that makes teaching so hard for me.

The constant reminders to prepare for the upcoming standardized tests.  The insistent e-mails from parents lambasting a failed assignment or asking, “I just don’t know what to do.  What would you do?” in the same breath.  The students asking why they have to go to college when they don’t want to.  The pressure to be perfect in perception in front of the classroom, flawless in behavior in the community,  and above reproach in every aspect of life is simply too much to sustain in today’s post “No Child Left Behind”/Smarter Balanced society.

For me it’s the pressure to produce perfect students.  It’s the expectation that every student who walks out of the doors of my classroom do something great, be someone big, instantly achieve success.  I didn’t spend all this time and money becoming a teacher to be a mechanic.  I’m not here to “repair” kids.  I’m not a teacher to “fix” children.  I’m here to educate them.  To ignite their curiosity.  To help them find their passion…and have the courage to follow it.  I’m a teacher because I care about our kids and their futures.  I’m a teacher, not a mechanic.



Another Year…

•January 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Today is my birthday.  Not in the traditional sense of “coming into this world,” but the sense of a new chance.  Maybe I should call it my “rebirthday” or something more clever.

I’m eleven-years-old today.  Commence the jokes about how I act like an eleven-year-old sometime.  This day always sneaks up on me for some reason.  It usually occurs to me that January 6 has arrived almost after the fact.  Believe it or not, there are a series of symptoms that lead up to the day.  Mostly disguised by the holidays, I start to feel sad, scared14682134_10154604681438664_3160704524825106133_o, lonely, late November or early December.  The presence of friends and family helps with those feelings.  But after the New Year, I really struggle.

Back to school, getting back into the routine sometimes helps for a a day or two, but it always seems to happen.  This year is no exception.  It’s a combination of the time of the year, the lack of sunshine, and the fact that eleven-years ago today I entered the operating room at Avera with six months to live, and woke up almost eight hours later in the most crippling pain I’ve ever felt, but with a second chance.

I still struggle this time of the year.  I’m emotional.  I’m scared.  And at times, I feel very alone.  But I’m here.

Here’s  to surviving.  Here’s to living life one year at a time.   Here’s to…another year.

Seeing God…2016

•December 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been pretty bad at this blogging thing in the past year.  As usual, lots of ideas, thoughts, concepts, and content, and very little “time.”  Time is just an excuse for priorities, and a conversation with my friend last Sunday struck me on how I’ve let some of my priorities slip.

My friend wants to start journaling.  He feels what when he writes down his thoughts, he does a better job of processing them.  I told him that I love to write, but don’t often get the chance, and he asked “why.”  Well, I didn’t have a good answer.  So I either need to find a good answer, or I need to write more.  And until a good answer magically appears, I guess I had better write.

2016 has been a tremendous year is many ways.  My new business flourished, friendships grew, and challenges abounded.  I did not carry my camera as much this year, and as 2016 closes and I reflect, I’m a little sad about that.  Like my writing, I don’t have a good excuse, so I guess I’d better pick it back up.  Until then, here are some of the highlights I captured of my year.  Hope you enjoy.

Just Go…

•December 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I am a teller of tales.  I come by that honestly though, my dad has the same skill for spinning a yarn or hyping hyperbole.  Despite our 376795_182665425199441_1055111367_nreputation for telling tales, the reality is that we have honest-to-goodness stories to tell.  My dad has lived (and continues to live) a good life.  His fishing stories truly involve fishing.  His hunting stories are based on his experiences.  The truth of the matter is that while he and I have the gift of gab, the stories we tell are true.  And the simple fact is that we have stories to tell…unlike so many others.

Since I was a youngster, I’ve had an almost insatiable  sense of “Wanderlust.”  I first encountered the word while reading The Dragonlance Chronicles where I met Tasselhof Burfoot, an innocent, childlike, vagabond who constantly traveled the fictional realm of Krynn.  127585
Tas is incapable of sitting still for long, with a strong desire to explore and see the world.  And while, as a reader, I related to other characters more, Tas’s concept of “Wanderlust” stuck with me.  I was lucky enough to have parents who were adventurous.  After all, what else do you call tossing two boys into a camper for a cross country trip from South Dakota to Michigan to Tennessee to North Carolina and back to South Dakota?  Camping trips to the Black Hills, road trips to Minneapolis, family vacations to Alaska, I was blessed to have the opportunity to see a bit of the country before I even graduated high school.  This taste of the world only whetted my appetite for more.

In the intervening years, I have taken opportunities to travel abroad, visit big cities, speak at large conferences, and witness unspeakable beauty.  Every year I try to do something wonderful or go somewhere beautiful.  And every year, someone asks me how have I been to so many places or done so many things.  The answer is simple.  I’ve said “yes” to a lot of opportunities and “gone” wherever they’ve taken me.

Recently I had a conversation with my friend Zane about his general dissatisfaction and how he wishes he had “done more stuff” in his life.  It occurred to me while talking with Zane that many of my students, and indeed friends, feel similarly.  They listen to my stories with crooked grins and give each other knowing looks of disbelief or incredulity.  They tolerate my digressions, but at the same time bemoan their inability to cultivate
their own stories.

zaneZane is young yet.  He still has time to “go.”  To experience beauty, adventure, to see the world.  Last year, I took him to Yellowstone, and we explored this amazing and beautiful place.  He saw Old Faithful, hiked to the bottom of Yellowstone’s Little Grand Canyon, and watched a thunderstorm roll through a mountain valley.  And now he has a story to share.  This year, we’re hoping to road trip to Yosemite National Park and add another story to our collection.  Why don’t more people?

Why do so many people listen with jealous ears while others share stories of beauty and adventure?  My friend Devin makes beautiful pictures wherever he travels (which is a lot), and his friends comment how jealous they are of him.  And I wonder why people don’t “go” more?


Photo by Devin Wagner

There is so much beauty, so much adventure, so much to witness and experience in the world that it is a shame to miss it because we don’t “go.”  And rather than live vicariously through others’ Facebook accounts or Instagram posts, we need to do a better job of putting down our phones, turning off the game systems, finding a friend and “going” somewhere to do something.  To “go” means “to proceed without delay and often in a thoughtless or reckless manner, to embark on a journey” (Webster Online).  Sometimes if we think too much, we miss the opportunity to do something memorable, to see something beautiful, to write another chapter in our story.

They saying reads: “Go big or go home.”  I say, “Just Go.”

No Regrets:



•February 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It has been almost two years since I published a post on my blog.  Not that I haven’t written.  I have more than a dozen drafts of posts I started, wrote, polished, but for some reason, didn’t publish.  Sometimes I feel that what I have written isn’t for public consumption.  Sometimes what I have written is just a rant, that after I have typed it out, I feel better and decide not to share.  But I have to publish this post.  I have to share with you one of the most exhilarating and powerful experiences of my life.  Bear with me, because there is some backstory I must share first.

Five years ago I was asked to serve as a camp counselor at Wesley Acres Camp and Retreat Center just north of Valley City, North Dakota.  I had never attended any sort of camp in my youth, and a good friend “talked” me into it.  That camp changed my life in many ways.  I experienced the joy of true youth fellowship.  I learned the power of camp to influence youngsters’ lives.  I fell in love with one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  And I met three incredible kids.

Caleb and Logan Olson were two of my very first campers ever. They were much smaller
then, and their hair wasn’t near as good. 272116_10150258927683664_3362213_o But their personalities, spark, and heart drew me to them.  The two brothers, only eleven-months apart, were inseparable.  They always had to out-do each other in the water games, playing four-square, and in the belly flop contest.  (Logan won by default).

266983_10150258928623664_1939427_oCaleb, the older of the two, was clearly more outgoing, confident, and social.  Logan was just a bit more shy, but never one to back down from a challenge, he was always stride-for-stride with his older brother.  And together, the two of them left a very strong impression on my as my first year as a camp counselor at WAC. 411832_10151030139508664_320517524_o

The next year, the brothers were back at Wesley Acres for another week of rambunctious hyjinx, competitions, and driving the counselors nuts.  This year, they knew the ropes.  This year, they knew the camp.  This year, they knew me better, and I really got to see these two boys really shine.  Caleb had begun to grow into a strong leader.  Driven, introspective, 178033_10151030140033664_218937781_ocharismatic.  Logan had found his personality.  Thoughtful like his older brother, but more quirky.  Equally introspective, Logan’s charisma came from his goofiness, his heart, and his pure joy at living life recklessly.

Despite these two boys growing up and developing different personalities, I saw that they were growing closer as brothers.  During a time when sibling rivalries and competitions can become heated, these two had managed to maintain the fun in their one upmanship.  They were best friends.

The summer of 2013 saw me back at Wesley Acres leading yet another Walking on Water 1071293_10151759453848664_473008262_oCamp.  And the blessings of the Olson boys continued, but it wasn’t Caleb or Logan at camp this year to bring joy to my life.  Little known to me the tiny tike who was around to pick up his older brothers, Tanner, the youngest Olson boy had signed up for my third stint at a WAC counselor.

If you could bottle the goofiness and disarming charm from Logan and the charisma and beguiling smile from Caleb, you would have Tanner.  Outgoing, adventurous, personable, daring, and a little bit of trouble, Tanner filled in nicely for his brothers at camp.  Tanner never backed down from a challenge, and when confronted with conflict, Tanner was the ultimate peace-maker, even though the other participants were older.

From the moment I met the Olson boys, I knew they were special.  Each one, individually, was a truly unique, genuinely exceptional young man.  Together as a team, they were/are nothing short of extraordinary.  10481646_10152543089643664_7154041983676761782_o

S.O.u.L. and Adventure camp of 2014 saw the return of Tanner, a year older, and even more personable and charismatic.  Tanner has an unmistakabl10498518_10152543094133664_1678802217507295698_oe ability to gravitationally pull people to him. His innocent smile. His gentle demeanor.  His kind heart.  Tanner practically invites others to follow him simply because he is so kind and fun to be around.  Despite being an a combined camp of middle and high schoolers, Tanner stood out as one of the leaders of the camp.  The nature of the camps themselves were challenging and meant to cause a little discomfort to induce learning and adventure.  For some, it was too much.  For Tanner it was his time to shine.  Tanner stepped into the role of encourager, helping others overcome their fears through his genuine concern and heartfelt support.  10498122_10152594135953664_6438292901575273113_o

Later that same year, I counseled Walking on Water for the fourth year.  In past years, I
had invited a pastor, leader, or other speaker to come share their story with the campers at the end of the week.  It’s kind of a break from the regular counselors, and an opportunity to introduce the campers to new kinds of role models.  I invited Caleb to come, spend a day or two with the camp, and share his experiences with camp, and how he “took camp home.”  As expected, Caleb rolled into camp in his ghettoed out minivan and was extraordinary.  He was honest, compassionate, strong, caring.  His message was one of heartfelt love for others.  And the campers loved him.  It would be almost two years before I would see the Olson boys again.  And so much would change…

Eight months after Caleb left Walking on Water at Wesley Acres, he was involved in a life-11150939_10153296346625941_657372437145202243_nchanging accident while snowboarding with his friends and family in Red Lodge Montana.  Caleb crashed while snowboarding and was left paralyzed from the chest down.  But in true Olson fashion, his brothers and family surrounded him with the amazing love, compassion, and determination I had witnessed in him and his brothers.  Caleb and his family worked tirelessly on his recovery.  They have adjusted to their new normal. And they have continued to be amazing.

On December, 21 2015 I messaged the boys’ mom Kim about their plans for President’s Day weekend.  I had an extended break from school and was thinking about driving to Bismark to surprise the boys and hang out for the weekend.  But my plans were dashed.  Caleb had requested to return to Red Lodge, Montana so he could ski “the same damn slope that almost killed him” according to his mom.  And that’s where the plotting began.  Kim came up with the idea of me joining the family on the ski trip and surprising the boys.  I took my personal day on the Thursday before President’s Day and drove to Rapid City to spend some time with my brother, then took off Friday to beat the family to the condo.  Through a series of miscommunications and crazy timing, the family beat me to the condo.  And the best laid plans of mice and men…well they change.  Instead of me sitting on the couch in front of a fire waiting for the boys, I was the one crashing the party.  Surprise Video

After catching up Friday night and some deep conversations at bed-time, we woke early to Brothershit the slopes.  What I saw inspires me.  These three brothers, are so special.  Individually they are incredible people, great young men.  Caleb is the drive.  Logan is the dedication.  Tanner is the heart.  Together they are unstoppable.  The way they care for each other.  They way they look after each other.  They way they love each other is so perfect.  They are so independent.  So individual.  Yet so connected, it is impossible not to recognize that they share the same spirit.  Caleb would coach Tanner.  Logan would carry Caleb.  Tanner would help both Logan and Caleb.  Not a word was said.  They just knew what to do and how to do it.

Of course Caleb conquered the mountain.  That was never in d12742587_10153901275178664_2775994261165437236_noubt.  He is an inspiration.  But he wasn’t alone.  Not for one second.  He has his angels.  One tall, gangly, goofy, and soft-hearted.  One stocky, quiet, sweet, and dedicated.  And they have him.  Strong, determined, courageous, and unwavering.  Individually they are unstoppable.  Together they are invincible.  And I will never forget how they have blessed my life.

Live Bravely…and Never…Ever…Give…Up.

One Love
One God
One Way



Modern men…or the lack thereof…

•March 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I haven’t blogged in quite some time…heck, I haven’t even looked at this blog in several months, but two things caught my attention in the last 36 hours in such a way, that I could not ignore them.

To start, I am just going to say that I am not better, more important, above, superior, or anything else compared to anyone else.  But I
do have some pretty strong feelings on the topic of what it means to be a “man” in modern society.  Forget “man” and let’s go with “male” in today’s society.  Let’s include a range of ages in this discussion, because that is really what is at the root of this particular issue.


Earlier this morning, my friend posted this video to her account.  She is a VERY strong, independent, devoted, loving, kind, generous mother, wife, and friend.  She is in the middle of raising a beautiful family with her pretty awesome husband.  And when she posts things like this, I know that she is concerned.  In short (you should really watch the video before you continue reading this), the video outlines the dangers of societies’ continued stereotyping of young men. The phrase “Be a Man” is the focal point of the video and the accompanying documentary promises to explore the dangers of pigeonholing young males into societies’ stereotype of “what a man should be.”

About ten-hours later I watched the docu-mocumentary Mansome.  I was angered (to put it mildly) at the content, the insinuation, the Imagedichotomy, the contradiction, the paradox presented by this “documentary.”  It is a well-done piece.  It is very tongue in cheek.  It presents many troubling questions and issues.  But moreover, it shines a glaring spotlight on the issue of masculinity in today’s society.

I work with teenagers.  I am a high school teacher.  Every day I see vulnerable young minds exposed to conflicting messages about their worth, value, and identity.  In Mansome one of the “experts” referred to the identity crisis many young men are experiencing as “The Adonis Complex.”  FYI…if you Google “Adonis Complex,” it takes you to a Wikipedia article on muscle dysmorphia a disorder closely related to anorexia.  This is essentially the pressure to appear perfect to satisfy societies’ expectation of what a “man” is.  If I were not a 30something, pretty confident “man,” I would be confused by the conflicting messages of these two (and indeed all) pieces of media.

One piece talks about the danger of pigeonholing young males into the “stereotype” of being a “tough guy.”  The YouTube video warns that telling young males to “man up,” to hide emotion, to be a “strong” man is dangerous in that it teaches young men to stuff their emotions and avoid their problems rather than dealing with them.  Mansome highlights the increasingly stringent societal requirements on men to be more “attractive,” sophisticated, more like women.  A panel of men and women talk about topics from appropriate facial hair, to eyebrow plucking, and “manscaping.”  Here are two very powerful examples of exactly why today’s young males are so freaking confused!  For the LOVE OF GOD, the messages are so mixed that men today need a freaking translator to figure out what the HELL a “man” is supposed to be!

To compound the problem 35% of children today are being raised in single-parent families, of which 72.6% are in households where the mother is the primary provider and there is no (or little) male influence.  First off…mad props to all single parents out there.  This is not a rant on single-parent households.  The GOOD Lord knows, you all deserve medals.  But when all of our “boys” are being exposed to this sort of gender paradox, the inevitable result is confusion, conflict, and some messed up kids.  These poor boys are being told that their identity and personality is represented by whether on not they cry and how much facial/chest/back hair they have.  Because if you cry, you are not “man enough” but if you have back hair (a uniquely manly trait) you are ugly, flawed, “too manly.”  HOLY CRAP…talk about confusing!

And this sort of pressure is coming from all sorts of places.  Media and pop-culture are easy targets, but family and even religion are forcing contradictory expectations on today’s young males.  In the end, is it any wonder that this current generation of teenage boys seems so misguided?  They don’t know what direction they should go?  They don’t know how they should act.  They don’t know who they should follow.  They don’t know how to be men.  And it seems few are willing to step up and help them find their way.

I am afraid that today’s men, both young and old have forgotten something very important: Genesis 1:26 ESV “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” I am less concerned about the “dominion” part and more about the “in our image” part.  In all the noise that is what society is trying to tell us, today’s men, especially the young males, are missing something VERY important.

Under all of the pressures to dress right, to smell right, to look right, to have great teeth, hair, clothes, to be “cool,” today’s men forget that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) just they way they are.  Today I watched a teen male talk about how his dad would beat him if he cried because it wasn’t “manly,” and saw a grown man pay $20 to have four eyebrow hairs removed so he could “look perfect” because he wanted to “pick up some chick.”  It made me realize how blessed I am to have had a dad who didn’t (doesn’t) judge me for how I look, for how I dress, for how I act.  My dad and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I know he loves me for who I am.  I truly wish that our society would get its collective act together and figure out what my dad did so long ago.  Image

Guys…you don’t need the newest, most expensive clothes.  You don’t need a six-pack or bulging biceps.  It doesn’t matter how you look.  What really matters is how you act.

  • 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV) Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
  • Titus 2:7 (ESV) Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity…
  • 1 Timothy 6:11 (ESV) But as for you, O man of God…Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Jesus laughed, he cried, he sang, he hugged, he flipped tables, he took a stand against evil, and stood up for what is right.  Then He hung on the cross to sacrifice Himself…for everyone… Guys, when you need an example of a man to live up to…

And always remember…Philippians 4:13 (ESV) I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

I pray that today’s young men can see the value they have from God.  I pray that God will use me in anyway He sees fit to guide those who need it.  And I pray that I can be as good of an example as the 6’4″ shaggy bricklayer with the crooked grin God sent to guide me.

Always remember “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinth 13:13)

One God
One Love
One Way


Seeing God…All Summer Long…

•September 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It has been a busy, crazy, and amazing summer of 2013.  From a spontaneous road trip with my good friend Ryan, to a youth trip to New York City and Washington, DC, to multiple camps at Wesley Acres Camp and Retreat Center, I was blessed to cover thousands of miles, hang out with some outstanding friends, and be apart of some crazy awesome experiences.

While I cannot share all the experiences and tales in this blog, I can show you some of the outstanding things I was privileged to experience.  As usual, please feel free to comment, share, or give feedback on anything here!

And remember, I cannot take credit for these images.  God is the artist…I am just the one blessed enough to document His awesomeness!

One Love
One God
One Way


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