A Passion For Teaching and Opinions

This blog chronicles the journey of a teacher in Northern California

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  • The Kīlauea Iki crater was one of the better hikes in Volcano National Park. It’s a short four miles but takes you through lush rain-forest and eventually drops you down into, and across, the pit crater. Steam is still venting and the landscape is quite surreal.  It’s also a very popular hike so it is essential that you get there early.
  • The stretch between Volcano and Naalehu is agricultural land filled with coffee and nut farms mixed with ranching. The towns are about the size of Hopland, maybe a touch bigger. There is certainly a lower standard of living that doesn’t seem all that dependent on tourism. And once again, everyone is just really, really nice.
  • Our only disappointment was the Papakōlea Green Sand Beach. The trail head to the beach was located at the end of a narrow winding road about 3 miles away from the beach. We were immediately approached by the “locals“ who offered to take us to the beach in 4 x 4‘s or ATVs for $20 apiece. We had planned on hiking anyway so we declined. The trails to the beach were basically off road paths that have been severely eroded into the ground and lava fields. Multiple places along the trails contained piles of trash and hulks of rusted out cars staining the coast. The whole situation reminded me the Native American reservation experiences in Chinle, Arizona at Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The views along the ocean were nice but the journey was culminated by a beautiful view of the beach with a very difficult scramble down a cliff face to the relaxation below. We declined the scramble and simply walked back to our car. And although it was a disappointing result, we need to temper that disappointment with the fact that it was a 6 mile hike along the beautiful Hawaii southern coast.


  • We spent the morning with the turtles again at Punalu’u State Beach and found this man net fishing. It was quite surreal.
  • Our location at Sea Mountain was at sea level. Volcano National Park spans a massive distance and the visitors center is up near the Kilauea Crater at 4,000′. This means it was around 75 degrees when we left the room and fifteen degrees cooler when we started our small hikes.
  • Kilauea is pretty much closed off. The hikes around it are still enjoyable and we took in some of the steam vents around the area.
  • The drive down the Chain of Craters road is interesting and worthwhile, although there is no actively flowing lava when you reach the southernmost terminus at the ocean.
  • We also stopped and took the half-mile hike across the coastal lava flow to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs, which were carved into the rock and quite similar to the petroglyphs we’ve seen in Utah.
  • We came upon Koana Coffee by total chance. Located in an old pool hall, the upscale establishment offers tasty samplings of coffee, chocolate, and dried fruits. The owner, Brian, is an artist and entrepreneur and we were very impressed by the coffee tasting. Not only were flavors deep and interesting (coffee soaked in wine was quite good), Brian created an atmosphere that rivaled many of the wine-tasting rooms we’ve visited. It wasn’t just the coffee, it was the experience.

Hawai’i Observations: Day 1

My wife and I chose to take a four day weekend journey to the Big Island of Hawai’i to use some leftover Southwest Airlines tickets.

  • Southwest Airlines was perfectly fine in its ability to transport us to Kona in Hawai’i. The seat room was acceptable, the service was (as usual) quite good, and the tailwind allowed us to get from Oakland to Kona in four hours and fifteen minutes.
  • The only Costco on the island is located 5 minutes from the airport and is a must stop if you are spending any time in Hawai’i. Prices are marginally higher than California on many items but lower on others. Hard alcohol is a few dollars more but wine is cheaper. Washington wines were three dollars less than in Oregon.
  • People in Hawai’i are extremely nice. We stayed away from the resorts of Kona and into the agricultural coffee and nut plantations on the south end of the island. The “island vibe” and relaxed nature seems real and genuine.
  • Don’t expect to drive in Hawai’i like you drive in California. The speed limits are lower and Hawaiians drive like they have nowhere in particular to be at no particular time. And we were warned by many people that police are very in-tune with speeding tickets.
  • The black sand beach at Punalu’u has Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.


For my 19 years as a teacher we’ve had many, many drills. Fire drills. Earthquake drills. And more recently, active shooter and shelter-in-place drills. We’ve had two actual fires that required school evacuation; one was a fire in a kitchen, and one was a fire on the hillside behind the school caused by someone grinding metal too close to the brush.

Ukiah High School has now had two shelter-in-place alarms this year, and this is after 18 years have have zero incidents. Shelter-in-place is simply the signal that something is happening off-campus that might be dangerous and requires that students stay in the room until the danger has passed. The students on campus aren’t in any real danger during the alarm and it basically becomes a “something is going on somewhere nearby so yawl just chill” mentality. What does it look like in my classroom?

There is an unusual alarm that goes off on the loudspeaker and a notification on my cell phone that will start to ring. The phone states “Shelter-in-Place” and it doesn’t contain “this is a drill”, which is my normal sign to follow simple protocol and be ready to evacuate in a couple of minutes. Before the alarm finishes I have a student close the back door (it is already locked) and I calmly go and lock the front door. Within seconds the loudspeaker has the announcement “this is a shelter-in-place related to an issue that is not on campus”. Being a denizen of social media my mind flips right to trying to reduce panic and engage in damage control. I tell students to immediately text their family and tell them that the shelter-in-place is no big thing and that they are safe. During this time there is pleasant conversation and nobody is panicked, although I’m watching a few students in particular just in case I see signs. During normal classes (the last time the alarm went off) I simply continue with the lesson. We were basically done with a couple of minutes left in class so I did a quick review and then the information started rolling in. The issue was a half mile away, had nothing to do with the school, and this was just a precaution. Within five minutes all the students knew the situation and were completely calm. I put on music, we chatted, a couple of students joked about needing to use our classroom toilet (yes, we have one), and the alarm was lifted after about 20 minutes.

The real news here would be the normalcy of the whole incident. Students weren’t concerned and teachers that I spoke to had the same atmosphere as my own classroom; students saw it as the sign of the times.

That’s unfortunate.

Specialization in High School Sports is Bad

Scot Pollard is a former Kansas Jayhawk and Sacramento Kings player that was known as a hustle player, a banger, and a man with a personality. His Twitter feed follows that personality but I was really focused on the above thread about multi-sport athletes.

The amount of single sports focus at Ukiah High School is unfortunate and regularly promoted by many of its coaches. I was not one of them. I had an AAU team that was designed for gym rats to work on their game but I was very adamant that kids not only play other sports but also be totally focused on that sport when in-season. Now it seems the expectation that kids spend the off-season in constant training for their high school career. Soccer is probably the worst, followed by wrestling, then volleyball and football. Soccer and volleyball are so club driven that the actual high school team matters less and less than the “exposure” that people get from travelling with clubs. Football preaches weight room, weight room, weight room, and then Spring work-outs and Summer camps. Wrestling at Ukiah High is probably the most successful of all the sports programs. This is based on the intense parental support, year round wrestling programs, constant weight lifting, and the attitude that being in the program is like being in a special family. It works really well for wrestling but ends up creating the notion that if you aren’t always part of that program then they won’t measure up to being one of the “the best”.

The specialization might seem nice on the surface; consistent support and friendship, practice and specialization at one thing, maybe even success within the program (it doesn’t seem to do much across the board) but the underlying problems are also apparent. Student become less “athletic” with specialization, students aren’t exposed to different coaches and ideas, students become dependent on a routine and program that isn’t there after high school, and stress injuries to kids at an older age are becoming more common. Since athletics have become less of a priority for schools now and communities are applying less pressure, now might be the time for programs to promote serious cross-pollination.


I look forward to this class everyday. I laugh in this class and it feels like a small family. And it doesn’t make me feel stupid.


I try to make a classroom that is engaging, rigorous, relevant, and one that holds the students accountable for their learning. When a student says something like this, when an environment emerges from those expectations that is….healthy, I’m going to take a moment and celebrate it.

Free Markets Reduce Poverty and Suicide

Textbook Updates

Here is an interesting Bloomberg article regarding the beginning of the decline of college textbook prices and some of the market maneuverings that are taking place by the big companies in response to the deflationary track that texts are taking.

One thing that is not mentioned in the piece is the downward track that K-12 has taken towards the use of textbooks. The combination of ridiculous licensing prices for online textbooks, and continuous data showing that reading off a computer screen reduces comprehension and retention should be an ominous sign of the times for the Pearsons of the world. Even classes that “require” textbooks have the resources of the Internet at hand, and anything can be found online at no financial cost. But more and more classes aren’t using textbooks at all. At this point in my career I use text as more of a frontloading mechanism for Advanced Placement and a review element for my standard classes. Primary sources rule the K-12 universe at this point and engagement and inquiry hardly comes within the pages of a textbook.

Textbook companies are going to have to respond to the new wave of educational pedagogy to maintain profitability. They are behind the times and have a significant mountain to climb.

Leave it Alone

I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

The drive from Bryce Canyon National Park to Capital Reef National Park in Utah is one of the most beautiful on Earth. It winds through a series of canyons, over and along magnificent ridges, and presents people with geography that makes them feel small, fortunate, and awestruck. It is a profound experience.

Most of that drive takes place through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Unfortunately President Trump has created a plan to shrink the size of the monument (along with Bears Ears near Blanding, Utah) and open up the BLM land to drilling and mining. There is little justification for the shrinking of both areas as both brought significant economic benefits to the region while preserving both biological habitat and ancient ruins of Native Americans. On the surface the action simply looks like an easy way to eliminate symbols of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Regardless of the current announcements, the court cases continue and one would hope that the judicial branch sees the land manipulations as executive overreach. That or the election of 2020 sees a new president who keep Utah beautiful.

What Will Horrify Your Grandchildren?

The Economist has an interesting article that asks the question; what beliefs and behaviors, commonplace today, will be condemned by future generations? Being a pragmatist and a study of history I’ve come to follow the Billy Joel method of seeing society as through “We Didn’t Start the Fire”; it’s always wise to see where we were and how far we have progressed while realizing that every generation has had its issues.

What subjects does The Economist bring up as possible issues for future generations?

  • Lack of Climate Change action
  • Eating meat
  • Opposition to Immigration
  • Attitudes towards gender identity and sexuality
  • Overuse of antibiotics

Climate Change seems like a clear choice, and probably some attitudes towards gender identity although it seems to have eased off in the last few years. I would probably add:

  • Lack of resources towards mental health
  • Sluggish response to the opioid crisis
  • Lack of city/community planning away from automobiles
  • Flippant attitude towards alcohol.