Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Good words are worth much, and cost little." George Herbert

As long as I can remember, I have had certain words that I loved. Some words because of the way they tumble around in my mouth as they form, some because of the sound they make when they leave my lips, some because of their meanings, some because of the way they look when written and some because of the memories they evoke.
What makes us like some words more than others?

In 2001, psychologists Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard repeated experiments conducted in 1929 and again in 1947 concerning how people perceive words. They showed participants pictures of two forms like below:

They then asked the participants to label the shape that was called kiki and which was called bouba. Interestingly in all of the experiments conducted, 95% to 98% of the participants selected the curvy shape as bouba and the jagged one as kiki. The results show that the human brain attaches abstract meanings to the shapes and sounds in a consistent way.

The rounded shape may most commonly be named bouba because the mouth makes a more rounded shape to produce that sound while kiki is formed by making a more taut, angular shaped with the mouth.
So the reasons I like some words because of sounds are not so strange.
I asked friends, family and even my students to tell me their favorite words. Most of them responded with many that are on this list: 100 Beautiful and Ugly Words

Some people responded with words that were unfamiliar to me or are infrequently used. My husband's favorite word is bifurcated, meaning to cause to divide into two branches or parts. A very well-read friend likes grawlix, a word I had never heard of before. Grawlix is the different characters and symbols that cartoonists use in word bubbles to show curse words.

Other words people suggested are more for connotation than denotation:  peace, family, vacation, retirement, love and work. These words have special meanings to those who suggested them because they hold memories of times together, of past events or those longed-for future times. 
Many of the favorite words of friends, family and students are below:

Words, like smells and music, are catalysts for memories.
At this time, my favorite word is epiphany. I like the way it sounds, mainly the p and f with the -any at the end. It's very lyrical. I also like the way it looks when written, with the downward slopes of the p's and y and the upward stroke of the h
The meaning of epiphany is great, too. Besides the religious meaning of  the Christian festival held in honor of the three wise men coming to see the baby Jesus, it also means a moment in which a person suddenly sees or understands something in a very clear way. It's sort of like the light bulb that goes on when someone sees how a difficult math problem works or how to put together a lamp following instructions written in Chinese.  

Oprah calls an epiphany her Aha Moment, a time when she might throw out her arms and shout, "I know! I get it."

Unfortunately, I don't get to see these Aha Moments often enough from my students. They tend to have one when we discuss why a character's name or a certain title is chosen for a story. 

Most people have words that they like for one reason or another. That's what keeps language interesting and keeps us adding new words all the time (selfie, google, etc.). The next time you hear an interesting word, roll it around in your mouth and see how it sounds when it leaves your lips. It might become a favorite one.

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world. -- Robin Williams

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A leader is admired. A boss is feared.

October 16 is Boss’ Day.

What makes a great boss? I’m sure employees have all kinds of ideas but the four most effective ones I found are that he/she will 
  • engage and inspire.
  • provide feedback and coaching.
  • recognize and reward.
  • set goals and help us achieve great things.

On the other hand, what makes a bad boss? Research claims that 60-75% of managers are incompetent or poor leaders. The reasons for this high percentage are because

  • they were promoted for technical skill, not management ability -- the Peter Principle (people often get worse at their jobs the higher they climb the ladder).
  • they're narcissists. They possess confidence and charisma instead of knowledge to handle the job.
  • they fill a psychological need for authority. The boss takes on the role as our parent or authority figure.

don't have a boss like a person who works in an office. My boss is in charge of 200 employees and 2,000 teenagers. 

I've had a total of six bosses/principals over my 34 1/4 years of teaching. I can find something good and bad in all of them, which is probably what they would say about me, too. My friend at school said once that since I'm old and near retirement, I can say anything; therefore, I'm using my voice to evaluate my bosses like they always did me.

Marvin McCain
My first principal, Marvin McCain, will always hold a special place in my heart because he gave me my first teaching job at Mosley High School. Mr. McCain really cared about the kids at school and everyone who worked for him liked him, or at least I think they did. I was so new and not much aware of school politics at the time. After two years of working for him, Mr. McCain retired because he was being demoted to assistant principal by the superintendent. Many parents, employees and students were very upset about losing our leader. We took out full-page ads in the local paper, wrote letters to the school board and started petitions to show our support for him.

Mr. McCain’s forced retirement was probably the best thing to ever happen to him. He started selling real estate, opened his own property management corporation and is today a millionaire. 

Hugh Tucker
After Mr. McCain, the superintendent appointed Hugh Tucker as the new principal. Mr. Tucker was the total opposite of his predecessor; he was all about the business of running a school instead of taking an interest in the people who made up the school. Mr. Tucker was such a micromanager, even insisting on typing(on his manual typewriter) his own daily bulletin.

Mr. Tucker was another principal that got on the bad side of the superintendent. Like Mr. McCain, he was threatened with a demotion but instead chose to retire. I never heard that Mr. Tucker made any great achievements like Mr. McCain did in retirement. He did some things when he was principal that caused me to lose all respect for him. I won't go into that.

Larry Bolinger

The pendulum swung back to a people person as a replacement for Mr. Tucker. Larry Bolinger, a fellow English teacher, was named my new principal. By this time, I was old enough to call the boss by first name. Larry was a mover and shaker. He was knowledgeable of all the new programs in education and allowed a group of us to form an academy of technology, math, science and English teachers. We developed our own curriculum and taught in a truly integrated classroom. Larry really supported our efforts.

Larry was such a motivating principal, was usually smiling and seemed to really enjoy his job. The line in the  poem “Richard Cory” by E.A. Robinson –“ he glittered when he walked” – always made me think of Larry.  It didn’t take but a couple of years for all of us to realize that Larry was using our school as a stepping stone to run for superintendent. At that point, Larry's glitter had worn off, and many employees said they voted for him to get him out of our school. 

Larry won and served only one term. During the campaign for re-election, someone videotaped Larry stealing his opponent’s political road sign. The tape made the news, and Larry lost the election.

Bill Husfelt
Perhaps Larry's best decision as superintendent was making Bill Husfelt his replacement as principal. Bill was a family man, truly cared about all students and did what he believed was best for the school. I didn’t always like everything Bill did, but I respected that he rarely wavered in any decision he made. Bill was also a micromanager. One of the buzz phrases in education during his time as principal was shared-decision making. I always thought Bill’s interpretation of this phrase was “You share my decision.” 

Bill is now serving his second term as superintendent and does a pretty good job. I was proud to work for him.

Rocky Hanna
In 2005, Rocky Hanna had just been named principal at Leon High School when I started my last ten years working there. Rocky was a third generation Leon alum, so he truly loved the school. He was a real motivator and when he latched on to a cause, he did his best to get everyone else involved. He got the students to raise record amounts of money for cancer research and collect cans of food for the local food bank. 

Unfortunately, the superintendent promoted Rocky to a district-level job making lots more money with lots fewer duties. Rocky’s great qualities of being the cheerleader for worthy causes are being wasted which is a shame. I won't be surprised if Rocky's name is on a ballot in the future.

Billy Epting
For my last three years, I have been honored to work for one of my best principals, Billy Epting. Billy isn’t much of a cheerleader or motivator, but he has a level head and handles touchy situations with grace. Billy is making my last years very pleasant and smooth, and I hope he continues for many years at Leon.

How do my bosses rank using the four qualities of a good leader? At some point, all six showed all of the qualities but not all at one time. They have also possessed the negative qualities, too, but again, not all the time. They are human and therefore, allowed a few mistakes. Like most of us, they are getting through the job one day at a time. 

I've learned a great deal, both positive and negative, from these six men. I’d say that I’ve been blessed to work for four really good men. I’ll let you decide which four.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

We're Going to Pump You Up!

Recently, I attended my last high school homecoming pep rally. Over my 34 ¼ years of teaching, I’ve been to a zillion such gatherings. I have enjoyed maybe one of them which was when my 21-year-old daughter was five and was Little Miss Homecoming.

The Homecoming Queen and five-year-old Kelsey as Little Miss Homecoming

Pep rallies usually follow the same routine – loud cheerleaders cheer, loud drum line plays, loud coach introduces the team, loud skits performed and so on. At the high school where I currently teach, those in charge of the pep rally jam about 1,500 kids into the gym. Teachers are required to attend, so I usually show up with my camera, snap some pictures for the yearbook, and sneak back to my classroom to get a few extra minutes to grade papers.  

I don’t enjoy big crowds, but I don’t shy away from them either. However, I do prefer nice, orderly crowds. Most of the time, I do some people watching to pass the time. At high school pep rallies, as with most large gatherings of sports fans, you’ll find people dressed in crazy masks and costumes.

Milo from Planet of the Apes came to the pep rally.
This unicorn didn't bring much magic to the players. Our team lost the homecoming game later that night.

I thought this was a real person's face when I first saw it. This baby looks so life-like by crying real tears.

Pep rallies, and the need for such, have always puzzled me. What’s the point? Does it really do something to pump up the players to get them ready for that night’s game? I asked two student athletes who had different opinions. One said it did nothing for him, but another said that it built up his ego because he was one of those being honored. I can see that latter athlete’s point: pep rallies allow the band, cheerleaders, dance team, etc. to be praised for their efforts. Pep rallies also give students time to socialize and maybe learn to behave at such gatherings. I’m not too sure about the behaving part, but at least we can say we gave them the opportunity to learn.

Social psychologists have used pep rallies to study human behaviors. In these crowded settings, a person can experience

  • The cocktail party effect which lets you hear your name called across a crowded, noisy room.
  • Conformity which is obvious. Everyone is dressed in the school colors and chanting the same cheers.

  • Deindividuation which goes along with conformity. The person is no longer an individual because he is part of this group.
  • Procedural memory which is memory for a skill, a step-by-step process or knowledge of how to perform a task (cheerleaders, dance team, band).

  • increased sensation of the sympathetic nervous system. This system helps in the control of most internal organs. It’s the “fight-or-flight” response. This effect is the one I notice more when I’m trapped in the crowded gym.
  • Figure ground which lets a person distinguish between a figure (cheerleaders, coach) and the background (bleachers, court), deciding which is the figure or the ground. I'm sure you've seen the drawings that are really the picture of two items, usually one black and the other white. Your eye's have to adjust to see each.

Some students could care less about pep rallies and would rather not attend. These nonconformists hang out in the cafeteria or outside which is not a bad choice, as far as I’m concerned.

Any rowdy crowd allows us to perform in ways that we normally wouldn’t if we were on our own. Being a member of a crowd offers security and acceptance which is ok unless that crowd is doing something wrong. Remember those cheering crowds who watch public stonings or executions? Violent gangs are also the wrong crowd to join. Those crowds are the ones my mom warned me about when she said, "If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas."

High school pep rallies seem like a harmless group of which to be a member. The kids have fun, the cheerleaders and dance team get to perform for the crowd, and the players and coaches get to be honored for their hard work. 

HoweverI'd like them better if they were quieter and less crowded. What's wrong with the cheerleaders  whispering their chants and holding up signs or the band playing kazoos?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Get Rid of Those Rotten Bananas -- Banana-Nutella Muffins

I'm not much of a cook. I used to be, but I don't enjoy it anymore. It's stressful gathering all the ingredients, following a recipe, and then cleaning up the mess. However, sometimes the younger people who live in my house need to eat, so I have to cook.

Today, one of those younger people and I decided to make a muffin recipe I found while waiting in the doctor's office. I thought it would be a great way to use up bananas that are too ripe and have turned brown. I always freeze these bananas. They stay in the freezer for a long while, and then I usually end up throwing them away. 

This recipe appealed to me because I had all the ingredients in my pantry. The only item I didn't have was nuts, but my family isn't crazy about nuts, so I was ok about leaving them out. We put in extra Nutella to make up for the lack of nuts.

Here are the ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted
1/4 cup Nutella

Prep time: 18 minutes    Bake time: 22 minutes  

Here are the instructions followed by pictures of my favorite helper:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or coat with cooking spray. 
2.  In a bowl, combine flours, baking powder and salt.
3.  In another bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, bananas and vanilla until smooth. Gradually stir in flour mixture. Fold in nuts.
4.  Divide batter among muffin cups. Spoon 1 teaspoon Nutella on top of each cup. Swirl together Nutella and batter with a toothpick.
5.  Bake until muffins are golden, about 22 minutes. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, invert onto wire rack, turn muffins right side up and let cool completely.

Per serving: 305 calories

Using our super camera, I took pictures of the process.

We had two frozen and two overly ripe bananas to use.
Cloee lines the muffin cups. I doesn't take a trained chef to do this job, but Cloee was very precise.

I always liked how cooking show hosts put everything in little bowls. I have little bowls, too. My son, Drew, usually puts his ketchup in one for dipping his fries. 

We used To Your Health Sprouted White Wheat Flour. The recipe calls for two kinds of flour, white and wheat. We used only this flour. They turned out great! You can read about the benefits of sprouted flour here:  To Your Health Sprouted Wheat Flour

Cloee carefully adds the baking powder and salt to the flour. I included this picture because she had just painted her nails pink for breast cancer awareness. She's going to wear something pink the whole month of October. 

Here's the softened stick of unsalted butter and 3/4 cup of sugar I'm about to cream together using this old mixer. This mixer belonged to my neighbor, Anne Armstrong, who died suddenly over 10 years ago. She was such a sweet woman, and I think of her every time I use this mixer, which isn't very often, I'm afraid.

Cloee adds the two eggs to the sugar and butter mixture. She also added the vanilla here.  I know you aren't supposed to eat raw eggs but when I was a kid, I'd stop a recipe right here and taste the sugar, butter, egg and vanilla mixture. It was so good. I know Paula Deen loves "butta" but it's so much "betta" when added with "shugga." 
The flour and bananas are in the mixture now. I was going to show a picture of adding the bananas, but over-ripe bananas are not attractive. Frozen ones are even uglier.

I dipped the Nutella on the top of each muffin, and Cloee swirled it into the mixture using a table knife. The recipe said to use a toothpick but that made a big mess. The knife worked much better.

Out of the oven. 

I shared some of the muffins with my teacher friends at school, and they all raved about how delicious the muffins were. My husband said he thought they'd taste better without the chocolate. Cloee and I were shocked! No Nutella? Being the chocolate lover she is, Cloee said the muffins would be better without the bananas or with more Nutella. That's my girl.

Anyway, the muffins were good. I got rid of the bad and frozen bananas and ended up with an "I'll-make-it-again" recipe.