Author Archives: John E. Stack

About John E. Stack

I am retired Air Force, but currently teach middle school math. I've been married for 41 years to my wife Suzanne and I have 3 daughters, 39, 37 and 6. I also have 3 grandsons and 1 granddaughter. I attend a local Christian Church. A love to read, especially fantasy. I have published 3 picture books: Cody's Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody's Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia's Sweet Adventure.

It’s Not Really All About Bill by John E. Stack

Bill came into foster care two-years and nine plus months ago.  Bill was a micro-preemie weighing less than two pounds at birth.  We met him at two months and he weighed a little over four pounds.  He has been my daughter’s little brother since.  His dad was given almost two years to get his act together, but other things were more important.  Most parents only receive one year to work their plan.

Time has moved on and months have passed.  The more we experience, the less we like dealing with Social Services.  At first, it was a real dog-and-pony show.  For those of you who are not familiar with this term or have never been in the military, it means we are going to tell you what you want to hear and pretend that we are doing everything in your best interest.  We have really got our act together.  In regards to Social Services (some, not all) and adoption, we get “if we transition back home we will probably take four months” or the transition to a new home will be slow so that Bill suffers no trauma.”  “This all about getting Bill into the right home and we want to keep him in the local area.”

 

What these things translate to are “Bill has been in the system too long and we need to get him placed now.”  “My boss and the transition team decided that we know what is best for Bill (most never met him) and we think a fast transition will work best.”  “I have too many kids on my case load and if I place him, then that is one child we no longer have to worry about.  Even if he is re-homed (put back into foster care), it will go into someone else’s case load.”  It’s not really about Bill.

 

We had a family that was real interested in adopting him until the case-worker and her boss tried to force the family into a transition of 3-4 weeks.  The family thought that they and Bill needed to have a longer time to transition.  They were told that if they didn’t want to do this, then someone else will be found.  So, they backed out in the interest of the child.

 

Another family was found in another part of the state.  We were given no information, such as names, visitation dates, length of transition, etc.   We did get a call saying that they (social services) would pick Bill up on a specific day and transport him to another town to meet his new family.  Let me rephrase this:  they were going to have a stranger pick Bill up and take him to a strange place to meet someone he did not know in order to see if he will be a good fit for their family.  Then another stranger would bring him home.

 

We were trained to believe that a transition needed to begin in the place the child was most comfortable.  For the past several adoptions we have been involved in, they all began in our home.  We had the adoptive couple in as friends, maybe shared a meal and got the child used to the other couple.  We would have some day visits, then maybe an overnight or two, then over the weekend, and so on.  Eventually, the child spent more time in the other family’s home than in ours, so the final move was really easy.

 

Bill went almost three weeks between his first and second visit.  The first visit was for one hour, the second visit was for eight hours.  Due to his confusion, Bill now hits, pinches, bites, throws tantrums, and screams.  He doesn’t know whether he is coming or going, but neither do I.  After about a week and a half, it was time for a third visit – pick up on a Friday and return on a Monday.  Even the family thought it was a bit much.  We did get to meet the adoptive family when they brought him back.  We feel that they will be a good match for him and can tell that they are already in love with Bill.  They wanted to know if all transitions went like this and we had to tell them that we had never experienced a transition like this before and we had no say so.

 

 Bill will have another visit or so and the transition will happen at the end of the month.  The couple seemed like a couple that we would really like to get to know.  Maybe we will be able to in the future.  I have to think back to a saying an old friend used in regard to something done wrong that actually turns out right – God’s will will be done, even if he has to use the devil to do it.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

 

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Happy PI Day by John E. Stack

Happy ∏ Day. March 14th.  3.14. That is ‘p-i,’ not ‘p-I-e’.  Pi is an irrational number; it is a non-repeating, non terminating decimal that is used when solving geometry problems dealing with circles.  It is pattern-less.  Pi is the ratio of the diameter of a circle to the circumference of the same circle. 

This is not my normal blog.  I usually write about my kids, life in general and various other topics.  Today, my inner nerd comes out.  I am a middle school math teacher and everyone knows that in some form or fashion, almost all teachers are nerds of some sort.  Math nerds are a special group, misunderstood by most of mankind. 

PI.  Even though pie is how we mathematicians normally celebrate our special day, we allow others to indulge along with us.  Normally, it is with chocolate pies, but any type of pie will do.  Pizza pies will work, but only if they are round (not square) and the slices are cut through the center-point going the entire diameter of the pie.  Each slice should have edges that are the length of the radius.

In ancient days, a few years before I was born, it was believed that the circumference of a circle was about three times of the diameter, or a 3:1 ratio.  In the Bible, pi is referenced in 1 Kings, “And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did encompass it about.”

Other cultures have used different values to represent pi.  Archimedes of Syracuse, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the ancient world discovered that pi was approximated by using a 96- sided hexagon.  Many formulas have been used to represent pi, but it wasn’t until the 1700’s that a British mathematician named William Jones defined pi as

                                                                                Π = 3.14159.

This was adopted by Euler and became the standard.  Recently, pi was calculated to over one trillion digits.

Enough of that.  I may be a math nerd, but it usually doesn’t last very long.  Normally, we celebrate each year by having the students compete by reciting the most decimal places for pi.  I believe that in the past nineteen years most students were able to memorize twenty to thirty digits.  Only a few have exceeded 100 digits.  I have had only one to go way beyond that – 240 digits.  After that, no one wanted to compete.  In order to compete students had to memorize at least 10 digits.  If no one in the class could recite 10 digits, I got to eat pie.  I only got to eat chocolate pie once in nineteen years.  Tasted pretty good and of course it was homemade.  This year there will be no competition in my classes.  Currently, I teach sixth grade.  We don’t hit circles until next year.

So, in the grand scheme of things, what does this all mean?  You can use any reason to eat pie, even math.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Be the Example by John E. Stack

 

I had a date this past week and my date was one of the prettiest girls there.  I’m sure that every other guy believed the same about their date, but theirs didn’t even come close. She wore an emerald green dress and her hair was fixed just so. She looked good and she knew it – you could tell by the way she carried herself.  She was ready for an evening of partying and dancing.  This date had cost me at least $50 and we hadn’t even dined or arrived at the dance.  Who knew what to expect.

 

When she saw me, her eyes just sparkled.  She told me that I looked very handsome – not something most men hear when they arrive to pick up their dates.  We were running a little behind schedule, but we knew that we would arrive at the Father/Daughter dance right on time. 

 

I decided many years ago, and I was strongly encouraged by my wife, that I would be the first guy that my daughters dated. I hoped that the example I presented would help influence the decisions that they would make in the future.  I wanted them to always believe that they were special and they deserved to be treated that way.

 

My dad taught me the proper way to behave toward ladies, and it is a shame that the dads of today don’t believe that it is important.  I was born in the 50s, 1953 to be exact, and I still believe what my dad said. Too many men, today, believe that men and women should be treated equal. 

 

Dad said to always treat a girl with respect. What does that mean?  First off, when you pick her up for a date, ask for her at the door, don’t blow the horn from the curb. Then open doors – car doors, restaurant doors, any doors. And by all means, don’t use foul language around her. And last of all, be even nicer to her mom (this one will go a long way.) Oh, and one more thing.  Just because you asked a girl out on a date and paid for it doesn’t mean she owes you anything. Yes, the guy should pay for the dates until you both have discussed taking turns paying.

 

Any time I take my wife out, this is how I behave. So, when I take my daughters out I act the same way.  I want to be the example that my daughters compare their dates to.  My opinion is that if the guy doesn’t treat you better than I do, then he doesn’t appreciate you for who you really are.  Therefore, that guy doesn’t deserve to go out with you.

 

Though I would never admit it when I was young, my dad was a lot smarter that I wanted to give him credit for. He gave me advice on a lot of things, but I won’t go into them right now. I need to get back to the story of my date. 

 

She was kind of shy at first, but when she saw everyone dancing we had to hit the floor. We danced several songs and she got thirsty, so we took a break to get food and something to drink.  We were back on the dance floor after a few bites and really had a blast.  It is difficult to slow dance when you are six foot and she is only three and a half feet.

 

I only really embarrassed her once.  I tried to get her to do the chicken dance, but she was having none of that.  So, she laughed at me while I danced.

 

I got her back home before curfew, around 8:30, and right before bedtime.  He mom was happy that we made it home with time to spare.

 

Dads, I challenge you to be the example for both your sons and your daughters.  Teach your sons the correct way to behave when dating, and tech your daughters to except nothing less.  You will seldom be disappointed.

 

 

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

 

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Bill (continued) by John E. Stack

Bill has been in foster care for two and a half years now.  He has been the topic of my writing several times over the past two years, and we thought that last month we had a forever (adoptive) family for him.  Prayers were answered and visits were started.  Then Satan decided to get involved, again.  He placed a grain of doubt in the perspective father’s head and he couldn’t break free of it.

Adoptive mom had fallen head-over-hills in love with Bill and could just see him being an integral part of their family.  She spent time with him 3-4 times a week for around four weeks.  After a few visits, adoptive dad started to come to visits.  All indications were that he was “in,” meaning that he was ready to take on the responsibility.   They were going to proceed with getting the adoption started.

In watching Bill’s interaction with them, he didn’t warm-up quickly.  But, that is true with anyone that he doesn’t see on a daily basis.  Usually, about half-way through the visit he would  start warming up and by the end, he would be sitting on their laps.  It was evident that the mom was all in, but dad never seemed to truly get comfortable.  Before their last visit, all was good, but by the next day all had changed.  We don’t know why, just that dad had changed his mind.

We are glad that it happened before they started the proceedings, but dad should have been more honest from the beginning.

Bill was starting to bond with this family.  He was starting to get comfortable with them being there. Then, when visitation stopped.  Bill’s behavior changed.  For a while, he was angry – hitting screaming, biting. Things have calmed a bit, but Bill is now more weary of strangers coming in to the house.

We have not given up hope that right adoptive family will come along.  Bill deserves it.

Today, there are over 10,000 kids in foster care in North Carolina.  Two to three thousand of them are available for adoption right now.  These kids did nothing wrong, but many have problems.  Many have been abused: physically, mentally and sexually.  Many have done without food for days because their birth parents would rather party or spend money on drugs/alcohol.  These kids were not a priority in their own families.  Most of the babies that are in foster care are victims of mothers doing drugs and drinking alcohol while pregnant.  Fetal alcohol syndrome and ADHD show up in lots of these babies.

These kids have done nothing wrong, so they deserve a chance to have a family that loves them.  Will there be problems? Yes.  Will the children be angry? Yes.  Will there be some learning disabilities? Probably.  But, these kids deserve a home with loving, understanding parents.

What happens to a child that does not get adopted?  Unless they sign an agreement to stay in foster care and go to college, they are released at age 18.  Hopefully, they have bonds with their foster family so they can have some stability.  Most often, they turn to drugs and alcohol.  Many are homeless and get money through various ways.  More often than not, they end up in jail for theft, prostitution, drugs…

Most of the girls end up pregnant.  They continue using drugs and don’t/can’t get prenatal support.  So, if the baby or the mother has drugs in their systems, the babies go into foster care.  It’s a cycle that needs to be broken.  It costs $1200 to $2000 per month for a child to be in foster care, but it costs the child a lot more.

These kids have done nothing wrong.  Open up your heart and home and change the life of a child.  Is it tough?  Yes, but worth it a thousand times over.

Consider a career in foster care.  There is a vast shortage of foster families and even a greater shortage of adoptive families.  Step out of your comfort zone and do something that could change the world.  Open up and change a life.  Some how, some way, just get involved.

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Transition by John E. Stack

If you have read very many of my blogs, you would know that my wife and I are foster parents.  We work with medical critical babies. We care for them, help them feel safe, and try to help them get ready for their transition back home or to their forever families.  We have had babies live with us for as short as two weeks and up to two and a half years.  Currently, we have a little boy I will call Bill.  You may have read about Bill in some previous blogs that I have written.  He has been a part of our lives for quite a while.

Bill’s life is getting ready to start a new chapter and we are excited for him, but also sad because of the changes.  A special family has been identified to become his forever family and if all goes as we hope, then in a couple of months Bill will have a new mom and dad.

Bill was a preemie, with some medical problems.  The doctors didn’t have a very positive outlook on whether he would have a normal life or how well he would be able to function.  They figured he would have at least some learning disabilities.  In every aspect of his life, Bill was delayed.  Bill was followed by four or five doctors of various specialties.  This meant lots of appointments, lots of blood drawing, and lots of therapy.

In the meantime, Bill was tied up in court.  His birth mom and dad refused to get their acts together.  They talked a good talk, but they refused to follow the plan that the court had established.  After two years, the parents lost their rights.

Well, because the court process is so slow, the Department of Social Services did not start looking for adoptive parents.  They did keep asking my wife if we had found someone.  Finally, my wife told the social worker that finding adoptive parents was not her job.  Anyway, my wife started praying that we could find someone in the local area that would want to adopt.

We are firm believers in prayer.  We have seen too many children far exceed the doctor’s expectations.  We’ve also seen the expressions on doctor’s faces when the child they said would never walk, ran across the floor.  God is still in the business of miracles and we get the pleasure of watching them happen.

Bill is still small for his age, but is now running and jumping.  You can’t understand everything he says, but he likes to talk and asks questions all the time.  Bill loves to sing and everything is classified a drum, and anything can be used as a drum stick. (He plays in time with any music we listen to.)  And, he has a girlfriend, who is about his same height.

Once we were given the okay to really look for adoptive parents, Suzanne changed her prayers a little.  This time she prayed that she wanted a good Christian family that would be willing to adopt Bill, that would understand some of his issues, someone that had previously raised kids, someone that would help foster his love of music, and finally, she wanted to have someone approach her and say that they believed that God had placed the desire to adopt Bill on her heart.  Talk about asking God for specifics.

About three weeks later, a lady at his preschool asked Suzanne if she could talk to her about Bill.  Preschool was what my wife considered her last gift to Bill – the opportunity to be separate from her and gain some independence.  She said that several weeks before she felt like God was pushing her toward Bill and she had really fallen in love with him. But, within the past week she felt that God wanted her to adopt Bill.  She had talked it all through with her husband.  Then she looked at Suzanne and said that she felt that God had placed it on her heart to adopt Bill.  This was one of the few times my wife was left speechless.

After getting some information and a little small talk, my wife had to leave.  As she sat in the car, she felt amazed at what had just happened.  She really found it hard to believe that the lady had used almost the same words that she had prayed.  Then it seemed like a small voice said in the back of her mind – isn’t that what you asked for?

Miracles happen, sometimes we just need to ask.  We are pretty sure that all of this will work out and Bill will get his forever family.  Meanwhile, we work transition and short visits, waiting for all the paperwork to happen.  It is bittersweet, but he deserves the best.  He has been through a lot, but we believe it will be worth it in the end.

 

Have you ever considered an adventure in foster care or adoption?  Check it out.  It could be the most blessed ride you have ever taken.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Politics by John E. Stack

I do not like politics.  I do not watch politics. I loathe political hate ads (they are a waste of millions of dollars that could be better used elsewhere.)  Don’t tell me who you are , show me who you are by the things you do.  Don’t tell me what you are going to do, tell me how you are going to do it.  Don’t slam the other candidate, it makes you look bad.  Anyway, I was thrust into this place I do not like by a seven-year-old.

The other day my first grader came home and told me that her class was going to vote for president and she had to decide how to vote. Our conversation went kind of like this:

So, who are you going to vote for?

“I think I’m going to vote for Hillary.” 

“Why?”

It was like I had asked the most difficult question ever.  After a moment, she responded,

“Because she is a girl.”

“Not a good reason. Too many people vote that way.  You need to know something about the person and what they stand for before you make a decision.”

“Oh, okay.”

Suddenly, our conversation was over and she went off to finish her homework.

The next day, when I got home from work, our conversation continued:

“Do you know who Gary Johnson is?

Yes, do you?

“Of course.  He is running for President with Hillary and Trump.  I think I will vote for him.”

“You think so? Why?”

“Dad, have you seen him?”

“Yes, but that is not a reason to vote for him.  Too many people do that already.  You have to look at more than skin color, whether they are male or female, or if they are cute or not.”

“So, how do I know who to vote for?”

“You have to research how they feel about the things you care about.  You are a Christian (her own decision), and do you believe what the Bible says?

“Yes.”

“Okay.  So, as a Christian you should decide if the person you plan to vote for feels or believes the same way you do.  If you believe the same way they do about the important issues, then that is who you should vote for.  If they argue against what you believe then maybe you shouldn’t vote for them.  Let’s get the computer.”

So, we found a web-site that had a comparison of things each candidate said about different topics.  We went through the issues that she found an interest in.  The seven-year-old mind is a strange, but wonderful thing.  It is so full of questions, but has just enough knowledge to analyze some facts to form opinions.

We discussed babies and abortion; we discussed same-sex marriages; we discussed illegals; we discussed guns.  For some reason, she didn’t want to talk about corn subsidies, but we did spend about an hour and thirty minutes talking about the candidates and seeing if she agreed with any of their opinions. 

I reminded her that every candidate was not perfect and each in some way went against the American people.  I think that the most important thing that I told her was to use her knowledge of God and the things that the Bible tells us are right, and choose the candidate that feels the same way she did.

“Dad, none of these people make a good choice for president.”

“I know, honey, everyone has their own opinion of who to vote for and why it is the right thing to do.”

Her response was, “That’s hard, dad.  Who should I vote for?”

“I can’t tell you who to vote for.  That is the best part.  You get to make your own decision and no one has the right to tell you who you should vote for.   No one can tell you that you made the wrong decision.  Just remember, that God is still in-charge.”

She went to school and made her decision.  I didn’t ask the question I so badly wanted to know.

 

*** John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  Also, to be released very soon: Cody and the Great Zoo Escape, and Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).

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Happily Ever After (revised) by John E. Stack

(This is a revision of a previous blog in regards to Foster Care and Adoption.)

Stories. We hear stories everyday about people who were down and out, and they turn their lives around. They become successful and often wealthy. What about the stories we don’t hear? Are those lives successful? Do they pull themselves out or are they even capable of success?

We read stories where everyone lives “happily ever after.” Again, this isn’t always the case. This story about a kid is true. I’ll call him Calvin. This kid’s name may not be Calvin, and he could be either male or female. But, it is a true story all the same.

*****************************

It didn’t matter where he was or what school he attended, in his mind people always disrespected him, because of his clothes or the way he looked. Life really sucked when you were thirteen and stuck in middle school where no one knew anything about you. Nor did they even care!

“I said get out of my way,” yelled Calvin, as he pushed the boy against the locker. The boy slammed against the metal lockers with a loud bang.

“Calvin, in my office, now!” said Principal Stern. “I’m really tired of your attitude. We probably need to call your mom. These outbursts really need to stop.”

“Foster Mom,” replied Calvin, a little louder than necessary. “I don’t live with my mother.”

“I said – to my office, Calvin!” responded Mr. Stern.

All of a sudden Calvin was near tears. “Go ahead. Call her.” he replied in an almost angry tone. “If I get into trouble again, she will just call the social worker and have me put with a new family. So what does it matter if you call her. You won’t have to worry about me anymore either.”

Calvin was a kid in the system. Yeah, one of those foster kids. Those are the kids that the state has to pay money for someone to take care of them. Maybe you think that you’ve never seen one before, but you have. There are usually two types: one that you never notice and one that you can’t miss. The one you never notice usually blends in with their current family. They are dressed nicely and they are treated like one of the family. They get to go shopping at the mall and get to go on vacations with their foster family.

The other type of foster kid usually doesn’t match the family they are with. They might look kind of dirty, or they need a haircut, or maybe their clothes don’t fit quite right. Their pants are either too long or too short. Shirts are almost always second hand, stained or too big. It’s obvious that they don’t belong to the family they are with. They are treated differently, like when the family goes on vacation, the kid gets to go into respite care with another family. Life is definitely not fair.

Calvin’s story was typical. He didn’t know his birth dad. Brandi, his mom, never really had it together. She was really wild in school – bad boys, alcohol and drugs. She liked to party and it finally got to the point that partying became more important than anything else, even him. His mom was fifteen when he was born. Brandi’s dad told her mom, “She needs to keep the little brat, so she can see what it’s like to raise a child on her own. That will teach her a lesson to not go sleeping around.” They had helped out a little bit, but kicked her out after a while when she didn’t follow their rules.

Calvin was three when he was taken away. Calvin lived with the first foster family until he was six. The second liked kids with problems because the state paid them extra money. There were many others. But few really cared. His current foster mom really cared, but didn’t know if his anger problems could be controlled.

She also didn’t know, nor did he, but Calvin had a little brother.  His name is Bill and he was born when Calvin was ten.  Bill was born with cocaine and heroin in his system.  He is okay for now, but they do not know the long term implications of the drugs.  Bill was also taken away by Social Services and this time Calvin’s mom was put in jail.

***************************

I don’t know if Calvin’s and Bill’s stories will have happily-ever-after endings or maybe real-life endings, but they will have some sort of ending. Kids in foster care have a very slim chance for success. Often circumstances push them toward drugs, alcohol, prostitution, or some form of abuse. Those chances for success get better when they have someone in their lives that care.

In North Carolina there is, as I suspect it is in other states, a shortage of foster parents. This results in over-crowding of good foster homes and the outgrowth of lots of bad foster homes. There is always a shortage. Right now in NC there are 5 to 7 thousand kids in foster care.

Being a foster parent is a tough job. My wife and I have been foster parents for almost nine years and haves had 20 kids in foster care. We do new-borne babies and keep them until adopted. We fall in love every time. Of the 20, we adopted one, and wish we were 20 years younger so we could do more. I said it was a tough job, the toughest job you will ever love.

In November we will celebrate adoption Sunday. Check it out. There may be a life out there that you can change and give the gift of a “happily ever after.


***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Another Special Day by John E. Stack

Today marks a very special day.  In the doctor’s eyes, this special day was never supposed to happen.  Nor were the six before it.  Today is my daughter’s seventh birthday.  At seven years old, Allie is full of herself.  And, rightly so, because she has come a very long way.

We originally met Allie when she was 4 months old.  We are foster parents and she was in the pediatric intensive care at a hospital over an hour from where we live.  Right after she was born, she developed what is called “short gut” syndrome.  Due to lack of oxygen, her intestines started to die.  Her birth mom smoked a lot so delivery would not be so painful, but it was devastating to the baby.  After several surgeries, the doctors had removed around eighty percent of both her large and small intestines. 

Allie came to live with us at around six months of age.  The doctor at the hospital told us she was very sick and she didn’t expect the baby to live more than three weeks.  I won’t go into what my wife told that lady doctor.  We took her home and treated her as if she were our own – holding, loving, cuddling.

At that time, Allie was on a feeding tube and IV nutrition.  She had not been held or bonded with.  Through time, she has gone through more surgeries for intestinal blockages.   She has gone through occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy.

We quickly fell in love and knew that God had placed her in our lives.  At two years of age her adoption became final.  I became a dad again at the age of 56.

She is now in the first grade (a lot the doctor knew).  She is still in speech therapy but no longer has a feeding tube.  She has always been smaller than her peers, but is now starting to grow and is actually taller than some of them. 

Intellectually, she is doing great. Speech helped her to learn words that she did not know.  She taught herself to read at age three and now is reading chapter books, such as Nancy Drew Mysteries.

Allie surprises us every day with something new.  She is AMAZING.  God has blessed us in our old age with this wonderful little girl.  And, we praise him.   

To Allie:

Happy Birthday, my baby girl.  I love you!

                                                      Dad

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  He is also the author of soon to be released Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and Secret Lives (of middle school teachers).

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Why Do I Teach? by John E. Stack

As a public school teacher, I take a lot of things personally.  Whether it is hearing how bad our students do on end-of-grade testing, or some bureaucrat stating that paying out teachers more money will not improve achievement, it really bothers me.  Then, you have some idiot that is either a teacher or is someone associated with the school system being inappropriate with a child.  So, all teachers are then identified as being child molesters.  

Most of us really take our jobs seriously, and we work not thirty-five or forty hours a week, but often work sixty to seventy hours a week writing lesson plans, grading papers and attending school functions that many parents are too busy to attend. Why do we do this?  Well, it is not the big bucks that we supposedly make.  We do this for several reasons.  We care about the students and want them to do their best.  We also want our schools to look good.  If our students do well on end-of-grade testing, then our school gets a good grade.  Personally, I feel if they become successful my taxes won’t have to support them.

End-of-grade testing is how the school systems put a value on the teachers.  Teachers do not like giving the tests and students do not like taking them.  Still, we put our all into preparing the students to take the test.

There is also a big push on teacher/student relationships.  It is said that if a student doesn’t like a teacher then they will not do the work.  My dad did not care if I liked the teacher or not, if an assignment was given, then it better be completed.  I raised my girls with the same rule. It was never what did the teacher do, but what did you do?  The teacher was shown respect and looked at as a professional.  It is not like this anymore.

It really starts to weigh on a person when they are told they don’t meet standards, even though they have been doing a great job for years.  Adequate compensation (pay raises) is a thing of the past, which tells us that our government doesn’t respect as professionals.  It is always something that makes many teachers feel inadequate.  Most only want respect and to be treated as professionals.

Our small town publishes a newspaper three times a week and on one day it publishes the court records.  Seldom does a week go by where I don’t read three or four names of students that I taught – drugs, alcohol, assault…  It just adds to the pressure.  You wonder if you could have done something different to change their lives or their decisions.

For me, being told that my scores are not good enough, that I don’t know how to relate to students, plus all of the above really made me want to get out of teaching.  Again, I take a lot of things personally.

Over the last year, things have started to change and my outlook has started to improve.  Over the last year, I ran across a few of my previous students.  One young lady followed some advice and was happy to tell me that she got a book published.  (She started working on it in middle school and talked with me about publishing and what she should do.)  Another was on maternity leave from her corporate job and she just had to show me her newborn son.

This summer I ran across two young moms that I had taught, one of which was a nurse practitioner.  She told me about three other students that I taught that were also in the medical field.  It is so nice and enlightening to see where your kids (yes, my kids – it I taught them then they are mine, no matter how old they get) become successful.  What a breath of fresh air.

Then, my wife went to register our little boy for preschool.  The lady asked if I still taught school and to let me know her son was now a doctor.  Wow.  After eighteen years, the mom remembered I was her son’s math teacher.

Most recently, I received an email from a parent stating her son was going into the military.  They were giving him a graduation/leaving for the military party.  She asked him if there was anyone in particular that he wanted to invite and he said that he would like for “Mr. Stack” to be there is possible.  What a privilege to attend.  I asked him why the Army and he responded that my influence and stories helped point him to what he really wanted to do.  As a middle school teacher I seldom get to hear about the choices my previous students made.  These are some of the bright spots.

Every new teacher goes into the profession just knowing that they are going to change lives.  They are going to give everything they have to try to do this. I have a niece that is a teacher, a niece that is studying to be a teacher, and a young lady that my wife and I mentored that just took a position in the mountains of Arizona to teach in a Christian Indian mission.

Why do I teach?  I feel God put me in this position, but still, I teach to make a difference.  

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  Also, soon to be released Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and Secret Lives (of middle school teachers).

    

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Secret Lives by John E. Stack

Children always seem excited when they see their teachers in a different environment outside of school.  They often wonder if teachers do anything other than teach and grade papers.  They always ask teachers what they do in their off-time, because in the student’s mind the teacher lives at the school.  Even though it really seems that some do, most of us lead exciting lives, married, raise kids, and work other jobs (is writing another job?). 

What if teachers did do more than teach?  What if the middle schoolers we worked with were actually alien rather than just acting as if they were from another planet? What if….?

The above is the proposed forward to my latest submission, Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).  Secret Lives is my first attempt at something like a novel or rather a story other than a picture book.  We are always told to write about something you know or you are interested in.  So I did.

Let’s see, I have spent ten months a year for the last eighteen years teaching in the same middle school.  With that, I have worked around a lot of the same teachers and many new teachers that rotate through our school.  Some of the personalities are unique.  Sometimes the faces change, but the personalities stay the same.

I’ve taught close to two thousand students.  I would try to describe the normal student, but who is to say what is normal.  I have had parents ask “What happened to the sweet, little girl I used to have?  It’s like some alien sucked her brains out and didn’t give them all back.”  Or, they wonder why their sons stopped taking showers and why hygiene now means nothing.

So, I took a handful of experience (eight four-day trips to Washington, DC with four bus loads of eighth graders gives some experience), several teacher personalities, and a fascination with astronomy mixed them all together with a little humor and came out with something like a story.

God gave me a little leeway and allowed me to create a planet system around a known star.  In that system is a planet named after an Englishman named Nigel that I go to church with.  I got to determine what the people looked like and the environment in which they lived.  I also got to develop worm-hole technology.

My aliens are called Nigelians (Nigel) and they are very humanoid.  The only differences are their lack of noses and ears.  While on Earth they wear assimilation suits to disguise their differences.  They also have tufts of hair rather than a full covering.  There are other differences, but maybe you can read about them later this summer.

If you have ever been to Washington, DC, you may have passed by the Old Post Office.  I have been to the building once and even took a group of students up into the clock tower.  Most of the story takes place in DC, but the Old Post Office became the home for our school and was the center for a lot of the action in the book.

I also tried something that I haven’t really attempted since I was a boy (and that was a long time ago) — free-hand drawing.  In the military, I was trained as a architectural draftsman.  I learned straight lines and right angles.  This was something different.  I did sketches, perspectives and some doodling.  Eventually, I completed all the drawings except for one, which was submitted by a student.  I did make some changes, but gave her the credit.

I have to admit that completing this book was a lot more fun than the picture books I’ve been doing.  There was more freedom in writing, in the ideas, and my thought process felt more alive.  I also got to learn a lot about DC.

When we continue to try something new we continue to grow in our art.  And, as long as we enjoy what we do it is not a job. Keep an eye out for my new adventure.  Read, write and enjoy.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  He is also the author of the upcoming books Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and  Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).

 

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