Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Officially Retired
I am officially retired. There, I've said it. It likely won't sink in until August when I DON'T have to report back to school. Even so, this year is different because of all the good byes. Good byes to my students, good byes to colleagues and a few to people who have become genuine friends. Perhaps the hardest was to go today, Wednesday, to the memorial service for the mother of another retiring teacher. Never an easy thing, the sorrow was palpable. But the memories shared were good. Rest in peace, Honey Salzman.

I never planned on being a teacher. In fact, I privately laughed at teacher ed courses. I am still convinced that for a high school teacher, a strong background in your subject area can overcome weakness in other areas. Even after a pretty trying first year of teaching, I decided to stay with it. Ten years later, I left education and was miserable. I missed it very much. I came back the next year and have never looked back. I have been blessed. I have had 2 great teaching experiences. one at my alma mater, Norfolk Christian High School, for ten years and the other at Pine View School for the Gifted, 27 years. I wish them both continued success in their mission to educate young people.

But I am moving on. The next chapter in my life is titled, Go See The Eclipse and Take A Kid With You. But I need help. The vast majority of people in America are clueless about this upcoming eclipse. My job for the next 2+ years is to inform and educate them about the eclipse and the benefits of viewing/experiencing it.

I am closing this blog and transitioning to, where I will post updates on celestial events and the eclipse. (And you can buy my book. It makes a great gift.) I will also use facebook to let you know where I am traveling and what is happening in the sky.

Thank you for reading this and following this adventure that was my final year in the classroom. I knew it would go by quickly and it did.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Time Has Come

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."- The Walrus and The Carpenter, L. Carroll

The book of Ecclesiastes says "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." Then gives a list of the kinds of activities that qualify as those having a season. While there is no mention of retirement anywhere in that list, it has come to be in our society that if you live and work long enough, retirement usually becomes an option. And so it is with me. Today, May 29, 2015 was my last day in the classroom with students. It's true I have 2 more days in my contract next week, but teaching is about the students, so that is what I count.
This was exam week for the high school. That means less than it used to. Advanced Placement courses had their national exam 3 or 4 weeks ago. Several science and social studies courses have state administered End Of Course (EOC) exams 2 and 3 weeks ago. In both those cases, the student has no school/teacher administered final exam this week. Astronomy is neither of those so I gave my exam yesterday, Thursday, May 28. For many, it was their last final exam of the year and for seniors, their high school career. It was my final final exam to give.
This week was a roller coaster of emotions for me. There was excitement at the impending conclusion of my teaching career and the prospects of freedom of schedule and opportunity to travel, alternating with regret that I would be losing the opportunity to teach any more students. A chapter in the story of my life was definitely reaching a conclusion. 
There was a study done several decades ago seeking a correlation between certain life events and illness. The interesting thing I took from the study was the ranking of life change events and their stress. The most stressful is the death of a spouse. Retirement ranked tenth behind marital reconciliation and ahead of pregnancy/gaining a new family member. The take away is that retirement is not necessarily free of stress, both for the retired worker and the (in my case) wife.
Regardless, I determined that I was going to make this week worth remembering. I gave more handshakes and hugs than I can remember. I used more than my usual amount of tissue wiping my eyes. There is no doubt, I am going to miss this.
Wednesday, the day before the astronomy final exam, my last period astronomy class pulled a fast one on my. They got me good. As students were coming in to class, a campus aide came up to me and told me the principal wanted to see me. This has not happened to me since I was a student. I told her that I had a class to teach and she said she would watch them, after taking me to the office in her golf cart. So I went and told the students I would be back as soon as I could.

We drove to the admin building and went to the principal's office. His secretary said that he had not called for me and he was busy. I was a little confused and chalked it up to miscommunication. We drove back to my classroom and as I approached, I noticed that the small window in the door was covered with a cardboard insert that I use when showing video clips or slides. I thought the students were playing around and as I opened the door, heard a shout "Surprise. Happy Retirement!" or something similar. They got me. I had not a clue. (And, yes, the aide and secretary were in on it.) They posted a sign at the front of the room, festooned the room with balloons and had cake and soft drinks. (A student posted pictures on facebook. Here's one of them.) Thank you, guys.
 In the photo I am holding a wooden box. That was a gift from another student. He had heard me make reference, from time to time, to getting on and off my soap box, so he made me an actual soap box, sturdy enough that I can really stand on. That was a terrific present. Thank you Peter.

 I have told you that I have great students. And these things serve as evidence.

Thank you for reading this. I will make one more post here before I transition to a blog at my site.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The End is Nigh

I've got to say it right up front. As of this moment there are 9 more days of school, so the countdown has begun. This thing is really going to happen.

This was a busy week. Last Saturday was Cobalt (if you don't know, don't ask). The students cleaned up extremely well and the outfits were very nice. I must say that this type of event is where the ladies certainly shine. I mean the boys (young men) showered, cleaned up nice, wore tuxes, some came in limousines, and were quite dapper. But the ladies really had the stage. I mean bright color dresses, dramatic designs, terrific coiffures, and high heels made for one great visual impression. And a very memorable evening. Oh, and the dance floor: so cozy, so warm, so active. I actually stepped onto it for 5 minutes or so and pretended to have a sense of rhythm.

This was held at a new venue, The Devyn. Trying to find a place to comfortably hold the 300 or so (I don't really know how many) students for dinner and a dance is difficult in Sarasota. But this place worked reasonable well. I would come back.

Then we had the second of the two AP Exam weeks. Students who took multiple AP courses this year were very busy. Once again my classes were affected, but it worked out alright. Friday I gave the last of my weekly constellation quizzes. There is a final test on these this coming Thursday. This is the one thing that sets my astronomy class apart from every other that I know of in the country. I make the students learn all the constellations that can be seen from Sarasota. There are 66 of them. I am so pleased with the progress they have made and I know that many of them will actually remember these for many years, and if they practice just a bit, for a life.

This afternoon the Pine View Foundation and PVA hosted a get together for the retiring teachers. It was very nice to see some retired teachers who came back and visited. The time was very rewarding for me. My family was there and as long as there were cookies and soda, my grand-daughter was happy. There is no question that it is the people that make the institution. I have truly enjoyed my time teaching at Pine View. I'll say more about that in a later post.

Each of the retirees got an opportunity to say something. So naturally I mentioned that I am going to be busy promoting the total solar eclipse of 2017 and my book about it. If you haven't already, like my facebook page, Go See The Eclipse, or my website . Either has all the information you need about the eclipse.

Friday, May 8, 2015

May the fourth be with you

This week saw May the fourth, a pseudo-holiday for Star Wars aficionados, Cinco de Mayo, an actual holiday in some locations, and May the seventh, the day the AP Computer Science Exam was given, the final one of my teaching career. In an interesting side note, I was not anywhere near the exam room when it was given. The College Board does not want teachers of a given subject anywhere near the testing room, lest they see some of the questions or help a student, I guess. So during AP Exam weeks (there are 2) we hire exam proctors whose sole job it is to deal with handling, supervising, and collecting all the AP exams we give (which is a LOT). In addition to AP testing we have FSA (Florida Standards Assessment) and EOCs (end of course) exams, so we (at least the high school) are up to our eyeballs in testing. Since I knew this was coming I had my astronomy students working on presentations for their 4th quarter astronomer biographies.

This has also been Teacher Appreciation Week (my last) and our parents have shown once again that they are the best. No really. At least when it comes to food and feeding us. We have enjoyed daily repasts of breakfast, lunches and dessert (ice cream). They have been doing this for years now and it never gets old for us teachers. The food is wonderful and the chance to sit and talk with others that I don't normally get to, is also appreciated.

I went to see a 5th grade class do water rocket launches today. The students, in teams, had designed, one per team, and built a rocket using a 2 liter bottle as the fuselage. They then launched the rocket using a special launcher that controls the process and is safe to use when used properly. I enjoyed seeing them liftoff in a rush, only to spend their fuel and drift slowly back to earth.

I have noticed that the closer we get to the end of the year, the more comments I get from others about my impending retirement. I don't bring it up. They do. The cutest is the office assistant who reminds me, "Your days are numbered." Many people ask me "How many days?" I reply with "June 2nd. All I know is June 2nd." A few tell me that they are envious of me and my retirement. I must admit I have mixed emotions. I am having a terrific year. Great kids, classes I enjoy, and a full paycheck ;-) Although I do have the eclipse to look forward to in retirement.It will be BIG!

So remember, Go See The Eclipse And Take a Kid with You.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Stop Mocking Me

As I write this, the count down clock on my blog says there are 36 days until retirement. That doesn't seems possible. This year is going by so fast. I thought that it might, but the reality is setting in. In my distorted version of Latin, tempus fidgets. Oh, there was one "last" this week. Much of life in PV high school classes revolves around AP courses. We offer 23 or 24 of them. The national exams are in early May. In preparation for those we try to simulate exam conditions by giving students a mock AP exam. This year we tried something a little different. In prior years, these mock exams were spread over two weeks or more. It really disrupted the other classes for the entire two weeks. This year we packed almost all of them into one week. This week was a total mess, instructionally speaking, but it was just one week. I gave my last such test Friday to my computer science students. As a result I spent most of Saturday grading them. (Grading AP exams is not for the faint of heart.) The students have 8 school days to finish preparation for their exam on May 7. I realize that some students take four and five of these courses. The next few weeks will be very stressful for them.

One of the hallmarks or distinctives of my astronomy class is that, over the course of the year, I have the students learn the names and key facts about the constellations we can see from Sarasota. This is a lot of constellations, sixty-six to be exact. There are eighty-eight altogether, but some can only be seen from the southern hemisphere. The students learn these two or three each week. Every Friday we have a quiz that is cumulative and I am so pleased that they have managed to learn so much about these. Most of them have missed some items on the quizzes and lost points but for those who manage to go the entire year with perfect scores, I have two awards. They are exempt from the final constellation test and they receive a certificate awarding them the status of Magister Siderium, Master of the Stars. As of now thirteen of my ninety-six students are still in the running for this award, the most I have ever had.

To show how unusual my requirement of learning constellations is in astronomy courses, I must tell you a story. Last summer I had coffee with a former astronomy student, who went to college majoring in astrophysics. She entered a graduate program and, several years later, successfully defended her dissertation again in astrophysics. She told me that the department had the graduate students help with undergrad labs and public stargazes. She knew that she would always get to talk about constellations because she was the only doctoral student who knew them! I, personally, am a little sad when I realize that learning about the celestial sphere and the constellations is not on the radar of astronomy departments. I have had former students tell me, in a pleased tone of voice, how they were able to show their parents/girl/boy friend/children the constellations and stars they learned in my class. <Big smile>

And if anyone asks you what my favorite constellation is, it's Perseus the Hero, slayer of the Medusa as portrayed in movie Clash of the Titans, the 1982 version anyway. The story line was altered beyond recognition in the newer release.

Thanks for reading this post.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

No Man Is an Island
There is no question that there is a new fragrance wafting on the breeze around campus. It has been around for a while as a faint, hard to discern aroma, but has blossomed into a heady scent. Some would call it the bouquet of spring (Okay, it's practically summer in Florida.)  Others would call it the smell of freedom. I'm not sure what to call it, but it has cheered me, despite the loss of instructional time due to student testing and field trips. This has been a good week and I fully expect to have six more of these before June 2nd, the last day for teachers this year, and for me, period. The book that I announced last week is progressing nicely. I received the proof copy and approved it. It looks great, if I say so myself. They are now converting it to a Kindle ebook format that will be available on Again, as soon as that is ready, I will let you know. Trust me.

This week I have started using my planning and lunch periods to walk around campus and reflect on my time in the classroom at Pine View and at Norfolk Christian High, where I graduated and taught for ten years before moving to Florida. PV's campus is so big and departmentalized that you can go nearly a year without seeing other teachers in the 'north 40' as I call the new building. I have decided to make deliberate stops and visit with some of the other teachers I never get to see, while I am still on campus. This has been cathartic. Reconnecting with these people has been uplifting and encouraging to me and reminds me again and again, what a great place I have had the opportunity to work. Are there issues with the place? Sure. Are there things I would change? Yes. Is this a great place to teach. Oh, YES!

Each quarter in astronomy the students do a report that is a biography of someone who made significant contributions in the field of astronomy. We start with historical figures and work our way to the present. This quarter students will make a presentation instead of a report. I additionally made the requirement that they make note of the names of people in their astronomer's life who influenced them or who they influenced or collaborated with. Which made me think of the people who have influenced me in my career and life. I know when you start lists like this, there is always the danger of leaving someone off the list who definitely belongs. If that happens I will make an addendum next time.

My favorite teacher in high school was Don Emmett. I had him for math, physics and as class sponsor. When I went back to teach at my alma mater, he was still there, so I got to be his colleague as well as his student. We have kept in touch and spent a day together last summer. Great man to know. Keith Phillips, 'Coach', taught American History but was the basketball and baseball coach. I was team manager, so got to spend much time with the team and Coach. A great experience being manager. In college there were two: my physics professor, Elmer Nussbaum, a great and humble man who was a great teacher and mentor. Also my computer science professor, Wally Roth, who was a huge help. We kept in touch and we even worked together as APCS readers one summer. Great role model.

When I started at Pine View, a teacher was designated as my mentor for my first year. I will never forget, Sol Malinsky. My first year at PV turned out to be his last. I am grateful for the chance to get to know this loud, boisterous, obnoxious sounding man who had a heart as big as all outdoors. He would gently poke fun at the students and had crazy nicknames for many, but they knew he liked them and they loved him for it. He died in 1990 and the service was packed with students, friends and family. Bernie Brenner taught next door to me on the old campus. She taught English. We attended the same church for several years and I appreciated her skills as a teacher. She passed away and her memorial service was touching and memorable. Sharon Griffiths was, I believe PVs first full time computer teacher. The program was growing and they needed another, so I was hired.  She was on the committee that interviewed me. I was grateful they made the decision they did. Sharon and I were the Tech Department for 5 years.

I may add to this list, because there are so many who helped and encouraged me along the way. I hope that I have done the same for others. God has been good to me. Thanks for reading this post.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Big Reveal

Before I get to the title topic, I have to mention one thing. This week our school's history club put on a day long simulation of the Renaissance. This was for all grades, 2 through 12. It involved doing all kinds of activities of the time period (roughly 1450 to 1650). Among the titles of these activities were:  stained glass, armor workshop, apothecary, Sistine Chapel painting, weaving, Mermaid Tavern, The Renaissance Museum, and meet Copernicus and Galileo. I had the privilege of being Galileo for the day and performing in a recreation of a court trial during one period. Bonnie made a terrific costume with pants, top and hat for me. Thank you, dear, for making it. The tights weren't so, but other than that, it was terrific and I had a great time. No, really, I had a wonderful time. NOTE: I chose not to use an Italian accent because mine is really cheesy. Pine View has a history of doing these simulations. The first that I recall was the Berlin wall simulation in 1990. There have been others. This is the first one that I have been directly involved in, partly because I do not teach history and partly because I did not feel a direct connection to the theme. What was different this year was the character, Galileo. I teach about Galileo every year in astronomy. And since this is my last year, how could I not.

Speaking of which, when people hear that I will be retiring at the end of this school year, the most common response is "What are you going to do after you retire?" Well, hear is the answer. (I am doing this today, because I presented at a conference this weekend, so it is out.)

I teach astronomy (among other things). It is a hobby as well. I enjoy seeing and sharing the wonderful sights that are in the heavens. Saturn and its rings, Jupiter and its moons, and the Orion Nebula are three of the sights that are considered among the most beautiful and ones I try to make sure my students see. Another one those sights is a total solar eclipse. Most of my students have never seen one. How many of you others reading this can say that you have seen one? Not a partial solar eclipse, but a total. Probably not many of you. That is because they are rare at any given location. Bonnie and I have traveled to see 5 of them. They are common globally but at any given location they occur on the average once every 200-300 years. The last one visible east of the Mississippi River in the USA was in 1970. Forty-five years without one. That is a long time. But that drought is about to end. Mark your calendars for August 21, 2017 because a total solar eclipse will be visible along a 60-70 mile wide strip going from coast to coast, west to east, Pacific to Atlantic. I want as many people as possible to see it. But especially school age children.

After I retire, my (self-imposed) job will be to promote and inform people about the eclipse and encourage people to go see it. [What follows is a shameless plug. You have been notified.] To that end I have written a book, Go See The Eclipse And Take a Kid With You. The book will give you a taste of what it is like to travel to see one of these. Each one of the five trips I have taken has been an adventure in and of itself. The book contains ways to prepare to view solar eclipses and information specific to this upcoming one. For instance, the center line of this eclipse travels through 12 states, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina Georgia, and South Carolina. You will have to be in one of those states to see the eclipse. I show you specifically where you can go.  I have a companion website, and a facebook page. The book will be available in early May on as an ebook and on as a print on demand softcover hardcopy. The website is up and will be fully functional soon. After June 2, I will be closing this blog and transitioning to a blog on that site.

The cover of my book.