Do You Have a Child In Elementary School? I Have a Request.

I make this request every year, so prepare yourself because I’m about to sound super pretentious, which is way more more than my usual pretentious …

It’s around this time of year that I notice, online, the parents of elementary students discussing teachers they hope their child will get.  Now, I won’t pretend to lie to you — my wife and I have definite opinions about who we hope our children will get, too.

Here’s the thing: I’m a teacher and I’m married to a teacher. We can tell you it hurts when there’s a chance we can have someone’s child and they say they hope their child gets someone else.  Of course, the parent may not mean anything malicious by it, but it’s still hard not to take it personally.

But it can actually get worse.  When a parent’s child gets a particular teacher and publicly states they wish they’d gotten a different teacher — yikes.  That can open a wound that stays fresh all year long. I know teachers are supposed to be above such reproach, but we’re only human.

Anytime something is said on Facebook, Twitter, etc., there is always the potential for it to get back to the teacher in question.

Do I blame you if you’re upset about getting a teacher you didn’t want your child to have?  Absolutely not!  We all have opinions about such things.  I’m just asking that you keep it off social media.  The Internet is already such a breeding ground for misinterpretations and misunderstandings, no need to add to the mix, right?

So, as a teacher, I’m asking you, the parent, to help set the tone for a great new school year.  Even if you don’t like the teacher your child gets, let’s avoid publicly stating you wish you’d gotten someone else.  It will save everyone hurt feelings and lingering resentment.

Okay, I’m switching off “super pretentious” and now going back to “regular pretentious.”  Thanks for reading.

Wonder Woman – Leaving the Boys Behind

So you heard me gush about the Justice League trailer yesterday, and then I saw something that appears even better – Wonder Woman.  If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, prepare to be impressed …

“Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.” Doesn’t the tag line say it all?  We’ve waited a long time for a Wonder Woman movie, but if this trailer is any indication, it was worth it.  Here are a few reasons why Wonder Woman is now the movie I’m most excited to see …

One detail that people may not realize about Wonder Woman is that her origin and story is heavily infused with Greek mythology.  Her mother is literally Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.  Yes, those Amazons.  There are different iterations of Wonder Woman’s creation, but Zeus played a role in them all.  The fact that they name-drop Zeus in the trailer tells me that they are not shying away from this vital, and rich, aspect of Wonder Woman’s character.  And seriously, those magic lasso scenes?  Awesome.  They are going for it!

I am also shocked they are planting her firmly in the middle of World War I.  Batman v Superman certified she hasn’t been seen as Wonder Woman in 100 years, which, by my estimation, means the war scenes in this trailer must be the Great War.  Do you know the courage this takes?  First of all, a comic book movie featuring a female lead has not exactly proven a successful endeavor, but to also make it a period piece?  I love it.  The Wonder Woman team has no fear, and that’s exactly what you need to make a great Wonder Woman movie.

Speaking of no fear, Wonder Woman is one of the most powerful entities on the planet.  She’s a warrior-born, the best of a warrior race.  I love the battle scenes in this trailer because they put that on full display.  She takes on a battalion of enemy soldiers using mortars and machine guns with her sword and shield!  That moment of her climbing the ladder from the trenches … mesmerizing.  You don’t get much cooler than that.

Let’s face it – there’s a lot riding on this movie.  Not only does it need to make money to secure a sequel, to bolster the shared universe they’re trying to build, and to recoup their expenditures, but it also needs to fulfill an incredible void in the super hero cinematic world.  Little girls need more than just Black Widow (who is awesome, of course).  Wonder Woman is an icon on par with Batman and Superman, and little girls need her.  They need a hero with whom they can relate, who can inspire them, who can show them that they don’t need to stand behind or next to the boys — they can take the lead and leave the boys behind!  Compared to the male-dominated movies of the last fifteen years, this will be a breath of fresh air.  And let’s face it — boys could stand to see a tough, self-reliant, intelligent woman on screen who isn’t there merely to serve as a love interest or sex object.

Finally, the majesty.  The cinematography of this movie looks majestic.  Gal Gadot emits a regal aura.  Her costume absolutely looks like the garb of an Amazonian princess.  The colors are rich.  The scenes are epic.

Plainly stated, it looks beautiful and feels full of heart.  “Power.  Grace. Wisdom.  Wonder.”  Absolutely.



5 Reasons I’m Excited About That Justice League Trailer

Yesterday fans rejoiced as the first sneak peek arrived pertaining to the Justice League movie.  In case you somehow missed it …


I’m a 40 year old die-hard DC fan, so you knew I’d love it.  I won’t even pretend to be objective about things.

Here are 5 reasons I’m delirious with excitement …

1.  The Look –  I love that the costumes are all very distinct from each other, yet, when seen together, they mesh perfectly.  It’s so important that Batman’s costume looks plausible next to the Flash’s, and I believe they’ve accomplished this perfectly.  Yes, it’s true that some of the costumes are radical departures from the source material, yet in this new shared DC Universe, they are consistent and cohesive with what’s already been established.  Best of all, they appear as though a comic book has come to life without looking “campy” or overdone.  In fact, other than the Flash, I think all of the costumes are fairly restrained.  Is the Flash’s look a bit too much?  Maybe, but I have a feeling it’s going to be the result of Barry Allen’s technical prowess displayed in the trailer.  Remember, he has to deal with incredible friction and debris as he runs.  The comics rely on an “aura” to protect him as he runs, but the movie counterpart may not be so fortunate …


2.  The Theme –  Man Of Steel established a theme that was also on full display during Batman v Superman – loneliness.  Batman is forever the orphan.  Superman suffers alienation due to his extraterrestrial origin and his resulting abilities.  Wonder Woman has chosen to leave mankind behind for over one hundred years.  Heck, in the new trailer, the Flash comes right out and says that he needs friends.  I think it’s fitting that the Justice League movie seems to be as much about uniting and overcoming loneliness as it is about an overwhelming threat.  It is by no accident that Batman is the one on the recruitment drive.  Though he touts himself as the ultimate loner, he actually has a rich history of trying to construct a surrogate family.  Plus, it builds off of the end of Batman v Superman.  Batman wants to honor Superman by bringing heroes together to continue what Superman started and defend humanity.


3.  The Tone –  While I loved Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, I’m the first to admit that they were serious, perhaps even dark, movies.  Other than Perry White and Alfred, nobody cracked wise very often.  Of course, we have to keep in mind that neither Superman nor Batman are known for their one-liners.  With the Justice League trailer, the tone certainly feels epic, but it also feels substantially lighter.  Not a comedy, of course, but willing to offer a bit of levity every now and again.  Truthfully, even Shakespeare realized the importance of throwing in a chuckle or two for the audience.  I think it’s great that Bruce Wayne had some of the most entertaining lines.  The fish comment to Aquaman, the exchange with Wonder Woman – Bruce seems a man more willing to enjoy himself.  But, obviously, Barry Allen steals the trailer.  To fans of DC, Barry Allen is the light of the DC Universe.  He’s a good man with a good heart.  He tries to do the right thing.  He does not take himself too seriously, and though he’s not outright funny, he’s willing to look at the lighter side of things.  The Flash is greatly needed in this shared DC Cinematic Universe, as the trailer clearly establishes.  His impact is immediate.


4.  The Actors –  My wife, who is in no way invested in these characters, actually commented today about how Gal Gadot seems perfect to play Wonder Woman.  Besides her obvious beauty and the fact she served in the Israeli army, she seems to possess an air of royalty befitting the character.  Ben Affleck has the sheer size of Bruce Wayne, but he also encompasses the anger, arrogance, kindness, and intelligence of the character.  Jason Momoa’s take on Aquaman seems perfect and I personally love the direction he’s taking the  king of the seas – he’s a true force of nature.  Ray Fisher clearly shows the man under the metal with Cyborg, which is key to the character.  We didn’t see much of him, but I can’t wait to see more.  Truthfully, Ezra Miller had the greatest feat to accomplish in my mind.  The world loves Grant Gustin’s Flash, as it should.  In his few moments of the trailer, Miller depicts an equally likable Barry Allen.  His Allen seems far more erratic and twitchy, but just as endearing and charismatic.  Though Gustin has had far more time to establish himself, Miller seems to have captured the genuine goodness of Barry Allen.  I love how Miller is constantly looking around as he talks.  Remember that the Flash can live between the gaps of a second.  As he looks away while speaking, I think Miller is establishing that he’s thinking about a great many other things as he’s trying to carry on a conversation.  This take on relativity will be really fun to explore.


5.  The Potential – Leaving Superman out of this trailer seemed a wise decision.  The ending of Batman v Superman obviously leaves a great many things to reconcile, and I’m hoping Justice League not only addresses the looming threat of Darkseid, but also the unresolved Superman story line.  Allowing the Justice League to thrive without the ultimate ace in the hole (Superman) is the perfect way for these new heroes to prove their mettle to the audience and, consequently, garner interest in their solo adventures.  Forcing them to work together without the aid of Superman will allow for great conflict and chemistry.  Plus, when Superman returns, as you know he will, there is potential for him to even once again feel alienated as the team is already established and he must play catch-up.

There is no doubt that Marvel has clearly won the world over with their comic book movies and wrote the book on sharing a universe for their icons.  And while I wish DC and Warner Brothers had gotten their act together sooner, it may be a blessing in disguise.  By taking their time and making sure the right people are involved, they appear to be swinging for the fences with each outing.  Personally, I am ecstatic for what the future holds.  But remember, like I said earlier, I’m a lifetime DC fanboy and am in no way objective about these characters.



How To Contact Your Central Illinios Legislators Concerning Elementary PARCC Tests

I wrote an article called “Elementary PARCC Testing: Stand Up For Your Children” a few days ago that seemed to resonate with parents of young children in particular, so I thought I’d share with you the means to contact your local legislators if you’d like to voice an opinion concerning the PARCC.

Of course, my issue is that my eight year old will be required to take the PARCC exam to prove her college readiness while the high school students are not mandated to take the test any longer because, according to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois officials determined it wasted too much class time.  I think it also wastes too much class time at the elementary level, especially because the elementary students are already taking the MAP exam three times a year.  Don’t you agree the MAP exams should provide the state with more than enough data concerning your elementary student?

You can visit the Regional Office of Education #17 website by clicking HERE  for a complete list of your legislators’ contact information.  Bear in mind that they only provide street addresses, but I believe hand written (or typed) letters carry greater weight than an email.  They illustrate stronger resolve.

If you’re like me and feel that the ISBE is doing a disservice to our elementary students by making them continue the PARCC while the high school students do not, please contact your local legislators.  As always, I urge you to do so politely, respectfully, and articulately, but assertively nonetheless.  As a high school teacher, I absolutely believe in the power of public education and I have no doubt that the vast majority of teachers and administrators want the best for our students.  Sometimes, though, things get a little complicated for teachers and administrators and it’s up to the parents of children to enact change at the legislative level.  Please join me in doing just that.

ROE List



Elementary PARCC Testing: Stand Up For Your Children

On Monday, the Chicago Tribune released an article stating that the Illinois State Board of Education had ended the controversial PARCC test for high school students.  This came as a great relief to many, yet I can’t seem to help noticing that this change in policy is inequitable and an incredible double-standard.  Keep reading to find out why.

First and foremost, let me make it abundantly clear that I am both a teacher and a parent.  I teach high school English, so I can attest firsthand that the PARCC test caused great distress to our student body and their families.  Officials across the state also apparently found it lacking.  In the article it reads, “At the high school level, the PARCC exams took away from key instruction time, school administrators said.”  (It did not specify which school administrators.)  The article also cited low test scores and “thousands” of high school students skipping the test as a reason for its discontinuation.  Superintendent Lynne Panega, of Lake Park High School District 108, even went so far as to tell the Tribune “…  The implementation of PARCC at the high school level was flawed from the onset.”

The secondary education teacher in me is totally fine with this decision and, frankly, knew it was just a matter of time.

Unfortunately, the parent in me is outraged because while the high school students no longer have to take the PARCC exam, the article says that third through eighth grade students do.  I have a student going into third grade, and while I never agreed with her possibly taking the PARCC, I am even more against the idea now.  Let me offer a few reasons as to why, and if you agree with them and have an elementary or middle school child, I hope you’ll join me in voicing your disdain.

First of all, PARCC literally stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.  It was supposedly to act as a gauge in regards to … well, you can read what it stands for again.  So let’s examine this contradictory development.  Those students closest to actually going into college and a career are no longer required to take the exam that assesses the readiness for college and a career because, according to Illinois administrators, it wasted too much instructional time.  But my eight year old will still need to take this assessment of college and career readiness despite the loss of class time it necessitates and the fact that there is absolutely no need and no impact upon her regular academic performance.

I have it on good authority that, at the elementary level, between preparing for the PARCC test and actually taking the thing, teachers and students lose nearly a week’s worth of classroom instructional minutes.  At the third grade level, for example, the students last year had seven different testing sessions that averaged over an hour apiece.  Don’t believe it?  Check out PARCCC’s own site detailing the lengths of testing sessions.  Furthermore, the elementary PARCC test, according to my source, is poorly designed, overly complicated for elementary students, and an arduous experience.  Why in the world would I subject my eight year old child to such a test when it has absolutely no bearing on her academic assessment or success?    There’s a long list of PARCC test beneficiaries, but my daughter is not to be found among those names.

Really, what is the message we’re sending?  The high school kids are old enough and thoughtful enough to realize the PARCC did not immediately benefit them and contained several flaws.  So, they (maybe) explained it to their parents and skipped it.  The state realizes the PARCC isn’t working and discontinues its use at the high school level.   So why didn’t they eliminate it at the elementary level?

I may sound cynical here, so forgive me, but I’m willing to guess most elementary students didn’t think about the PARCC as deeply as the high school students, didn’t notify their parents as to its problems, and did not take it upon themselves to skip it.  I’m also guessing most parents adopt the philosophy that if the school isn’t contacting them about their child being a problem, all is well.  (I’m in this category as well, but I should know better.)  In other words, I don’t think most parents have any idea about the specifics of PARCC.  This entire situation feels gravely unjust and I’m disappointed our elementary students are now being treated inequitably to their high school counterparts.

I am a teacher.  I believe in education.  I believe in public education and I think most teachers and administrators want what’s best for any child, not just their own.  But I can tell you that when it comes to issues like the PARCC, things can get complicated for teachers and administrators.  Sometimes it takes the community to stand up and demand change.  I encourage you to stay active in your child’s academic life, ask all the questions you need to ask of a teacher or administrator, and stand up for your child.  If you think time is being wasted, if you believe a test isn’t justified, if you feel something is amiss, you have every right to ask for an explanation.  Just think, if more parents of elementary students had offered opposition to the PARCC, perhaps our young children would not have to waste invaluable instructional time displaying their college and career readiness.

On Working With Sandy Vick of Wintrust Mortgage

Years ago, in 2010, my wife and I needed a mortgage broker.  A trusted source recommended Sandy Vick to us.  We were pleased with the experience, but in the chaos of building a home, Sandy’s service got lost in the mix.  I did remember liking and trusting her, however, and so in the last few months, when we wanted to refinance, we tracked her down and gave her a call.

Now with the entire process complete, I can authentically tell you that the experience with Sandy proved exceptional.  We appreciated her professionalism, her expertise, her patience, and also her willingness to accommodate our schedules. Furthermore, she responded quickly to emails and phone calls and made herself available literally at any time of day or night. We felt completely at ease as we worked with her because of her obvious trustworthy character and good humor. Sandy exceeded our expectations at every level.

If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area and you’re looking to take out a mortgage or refinance, I wholeheartedly recommend Sandy Vick.

You can reach Sandy at the following …

Mobile: (309) 706-6539

Address:205 North Williamsburg Drive, Suite A, Bloomington, IL, 61704

Sandy Marshall Vick

You Should Be Watching Orphan Black

My wife and I have enjoyed Orphan Black for several years now, and with the revelation that next season will be the fifth and last, I urge you to get caught up now.  Season 4 just finished, so there’s no better time.  As of this writing, you can actually watch the first three seasons for free on Amazon Prime.

If you are unfamiliar with the story line, a lost soul of a woman witnesses a suicide alongside the rail tracks.  She steals the victim’s purse only to discover she looks exactly like the deceased.  Before long, the woman – Sarah – realizes she and the victim were clones of one another … and they aren’t the only ones.  A vast science fiction thrilling epic ensues.

Don’t let that term scare you – “science fiction.”  My wife doesn’t do science fiction, yet she loves Orphan Black.  Yes, the show is firmly rooted in science fiction, but it’s mostly grounded in reality, it’s mostly street level, it’s mostly a thriller with appropriate swatches of humor, and it’s extremely well acted.

In fact, to us, the main actress named Tatiana Maslany is the real reason you need to watch this show.  She plays five different cloned characters on a regular basis, as well as several others on an intermittent basis.  Each of these characters has a unique look, a specific manner of speaking, and individual body language.  Some are good, some are bad, and some are somewhere in the middle.  This actress is so masterful that we forget it’s the same person playing all of these distinct characters.  Honestly, this woman is superb.

Because the show is provocative, exciting, unpredictable, funny and amazingly acted, I can’t recommend it to you enough.  Get caught up this summer so you’re ready for the final season next April!