A Note That Made My Day

Make my dayBy Bill Henk –  Let’s face it.  As professionals, some days are better than others.  Some feel glorious and triumphant, and some feel awful and demoralizing.  Truth be told, most days tend to be ordinary.

Oh, I love the glorious and triumphant days for sure.  For me, those days can unfold in a number of different ways. The common denominator is that some news I receive is both major and enormously gratifying.  It could be a successful accreditation review.  It could be a generous gift from a friend of the College or from a foundation.   It could be a recognition of some kind for one of our faculty members, students, staff, or alumni.  It could be the culmination of a project I’ve worked long and hard on to achieve.

Fact is, the list goes on, and so you know, I enjoy more than my fair share of these special days in my role as dean.  And I’m thankful for every last one of them.

But I also have a special fondness for an ordinary day that turns into a profoundly gratifying one.  I had one of those last week, and I want to describe it briefly for you here.

The deservedly proud father of one of our fairly recent graduates shared with me a note via email that his daughter, a teacher, had received from a parent.   I share the note below.  When you read it, you’ll understand why I’d be tempted to feel some measure of pride even though I had precious little, if anything, to do with the outcomes it describes.

For the record, I never taught this alumna in a class.  And although I’d likely recognize her face as a familiar one from passing in the halls, I’d be hard-pressed to put a name to her.  I have no specific recollection of us ever speaking.  Sadly, and I hate to admit it, but that would be true of the overwhelming majority of our students, and it’s one of my biggest laments as a dean.

College of EducationAs a result, all I did to contribute to the contents of the letter below, and it’s a stretch at that, was try to keep the College of Education running in a way that helped make our graduate’s professional experiences, and those of her classmates, meaningful and productive.  In other words, pretty much the “ordinary” stuff.

By contrast, our education faculty, the professionals who helped form her as a deeply knowledgeable, skilled and caring teacher, could definitely take credit.  Accordingly, I forwarded the parent’s communication to them with the statement, “If you’re ever wondering whether your work with our aspiring teachers makes a difference in the world, you might want to break out this letter.”  Without further adieu, here it is:

Dear Ms. ______,

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you, and to let you know what a positive impact you have had on Katie.

Since the first day of your class, Katie has come home often with details about your organized, homey classroom and your positive teaching style. She said that she always knows what to expect, and has learned so much about writing a paper from your methods. You have given her much confidence; she actually enjoyed working on the research paper, and plans to take all of your teaching materials and notes along with her to college next year. According to Katie, your methods  “make the paper write itself!” ;-)

Most importantly, aside from being a great teacher, you are a positive and caring person. As you may know, Katie has struggled with some challenging health issues over the past two years, which have greatly affected her energy and self-confidence. She said that you always say just the right thing, and truly show that you care. She said that you care about everyone, and go through many extra steps throughout the day to help everyone do their best work.  Your class is truly the bright spot in her day – a place she wishes she could stay all day – and I cannot thank you enough for helping her and being such a positive force. You teach with great heart.

So thank you again for being an overall wonderful teacher and person. The world needs more of you!

Warmest regards,

Proud father.  Proud faculty.  Proud dean.  Proud institution. 

Ordinary?  Try EXTRAordinary…

Mock Trial Champions

mock-trialBy Nick McDaniels – It’s rare that I follow up a blog post immediately with another one on the same topic, but in this instance, this proud teacher needs to use some valuable internet real estate to brag about his students.

My most recent post discussed some of the joys and frustrations of teaching Mock Trial as part of a classroom curriculum (not as an after school club).

Last week my students won the Baltimore City Mock Trial competition, arguing the fictional case Shawn Wright v. Play and Learn Childcare Center against some really great competition from other schools. It was one of my proudest moments as a teacher, because, they did everything I taught them AND THINGS I DIDN’T. That was the best part.

The team of twelve students worked very hard to prepare as attorneys, two seniors representing the plaintiffs and two juniors representing the defense, six juniors playing witnesses, and two sophomores preparing as alternate witnesses. Their classmates who did not attend the competition served as jurors, witnesses, attorneys, and law clerks during preparation days in the weeks before trial, and teachers volunteered their time as coaches. Now, we’ve done this before, falling just short of a victory in the winter competition, a close race that only motivated my students more.

The motivation was clear as the students spent hours practicing. Opening statements, direct examinations, cross-examinations, objections. They practiced everything. But I will tell you right now, I did not teach objections well (not on purpose, we just ran out of time) and I did not teach closing arguments well (on purpose, because I wanted to push my students to deliver them on the fly). And these, if you ask me, simply a bystander in the courtroom on the day of trial, were my students’ greatest strengths, because they trusted their instincts, because they took risks and went of script, because they used the things that I taught them and then took the next logical step to take risks and try the things I didn’t.

As a teacher, there is nothing more exciting than to watch your students do everything you taught them to do, but then add a little flair of their own. So we are off and running now, my students with the confidence of the world, and the capacity to build. We have student leaders who have done this before and can help teach the next group of students. I am incredibly excited for the next few years.

The day after their victory, I took most of them as stowaways on another group’s field trip to Washington, D.C. where they got an amazing tour of the Supreme Court of the United States and stood in virtually the same spot where Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education (an experience this high school teacher will never forget). It occurred to me then, realizing this may be my only chance to be in the temple to justice, watching my students stand in the highest court in the land, that these students, from Baltimore City, as Justice Marshall was years ago, may be on a trajectory to return to the Supreme Court someday as advocates or justices. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to blog-brag about them then too.

Delightfully Awkward: Those First Few Days of Freshman Year

ready-or-not-freshmanBy Aubrey Murtha – I am a volunteer in admissions here at Marquette, and I had several students ask about MU’s Freshman Frontier program—a summer opportunity for incoming students to live and learn on campus for a few weeks.

They thought that maybe enrolling in the program would help them avoid embarrassment during their first few weeks of school come the fall.  I was honest with them: “Freshmen Frontier gives you a great opportunity to explore the campus and get a better feel for the MU environment. Will you still embarrass yourself next year? Obviously! That’s the nature of being a freshman. Been there, done that, times a million.”

This got me thinking about my first days on campus.  I can’t even comprehend how incredibly fast this academic year has flown by.  I know it seems cliché, but I remember my orientation week as if it had taken place just yesterday.  I remember that queasy feeling that came over me as my mom, my sister and I were driving the ten minutes from my house in Wauwatosa to my new residence—Abbottsford Hall on good ole Wisconsin Ave.  The night before, I had spent several hours picking out an outfit for the next day, ensuring that I had every little necessity gathered and packed away for the big move, and stalking and re-stalking my two roommates on Facebook (sorry Maddie and Nicole).

When we finally reached our destination, campus pretty much looked like a movie.  Bubbly upperclassman O-Staff leaders greeted us with giant, cheesy smiles.  New Golden Eagles dragged massive loads of junk to the end of the elevator line that wove around the lobby in zig-zags.  Girls giggled as they surveyed the male population of the floor above them.  A set of first time college parents got misty eyed as they watched their son collect the keys to his new home.

We made our way up to the fourth floor.  It was probably a solid 90 degrees that day, but it felt like 120 up there in room 409.  I shook hands with my roommates.  We lofted the beds, unpacked our clothes, organized our new home, and finally, said goodbye to the people who had lived with us for the past 18 years and loved us anyway.

And thus the most hectic week of our young lives began.  We played nice with as many people as we could because, after all, we had no idea who our best friend would be for the next four years.  We attended an exorbitant number of meetings.  We threw ourselves into terribly awkward situations.  Some attended their first college party.  Others uh…enjoyed their first McCormick meal.  If you’re like me, you got lost on campus two, three, four, maybe ten times during that first week.  We asked seniors for advice.  We did service in Milwaukee for the first time.  We attended the first of many Tuesday night masses at Joan of Arc.  We bonded with our floors.  We got excited about MU basketball.  We went to class and learned some stuff that we probably don’t remember now.  We explored the city that we would call home for the next four years.

Wow, what a beautifully precious time that was when we freshmen were awkward and excited and nervous and phony and fresh.  I’ve got one tip for this incoming class, the Marquette University Class of 2018.  Cherish those silly times.  I am a young freshman and still relatively naïve compared to my friends of MU senior status.  Some of you might be thinking, what does this kid know anyway? But take it from me for whatever it is worth: a Marquette education has truly been the best thing that’s ever happened to this homegrown Midwesterner, and you will make irreplaceable memories during those first few weeks if you are open to the many opportunities that this campus and these people have to offer.  Not sold just yet?  Call me, text me, write me.  Instant Messaging, anyone?  Heck, fax me if that’s the mode of communication you prefer.  I’ll convince you.        


On Hoops and Higher Education

Hoops and higher educationBy Bill Henk – Despite very strong urges, I’ve resisted the temptation to blog about basketball for the past two seasons.   Trust me, that level of self-control wasn’t easy for a former player, especially one who sees the acts of coaching and playing directly connected to teaching and learning.  It hasn’t been easy” sitting on the bench.”

Just for the record, here’s a brief listing of only some of what I somewhat painfully chose to “pass” on:

  • Our wonderful and unexpected run to the Elite Eight
  • One player’s ill-advised decision to hire an agent and prematurely declare for the NBA draft
  • The departure of our athletic  director
  • Our extremely disappointing recent season (one where we were ranked in the Top 20 at the beginning of the year and then couldn’t even make the NIT)
  • The former coach’s surprise defection to Virgina Tech and his flaunting of the move on national TV a few days later
  • The hiring of a terrific new young coach with a great pedigree and the values orientation and character we’d want in a Marquette leader

My restraint came from not wanting to be thought of as going to the basketball well too often for posts.  In my first two or three years of blogging, I might have over reached in that respect. Plus, the topics above, interesting as they would have been to address, were probably stretches for an education blog.  So I’ve stuck largely to more standard educational topics.  Until NOW. It’s time to take my “shot.”

Now to preface the rest of this particular post, I should tell you that, as a general rule, it’s bad form for those of us in higher education to criticize other institutions.  Consequently, negative public comments about fellow colleges and universities tend to be rare.  Put differently, although you can think “it” as a university peer, you probably shouldn’t say it.  It would be something of a “technical” foul.

Hatin’ on Hoops

But a certain university with a long history of basketball prowess, uses an approach with its hoops program that bothers me deeply as a higher educator.  And this time I can’t help but speak out.  In sports media circles, it’s a rule referred to as “One and Done,” and in practice it translates to the recruiting of athletes with such decided professional potential that they will almost certainly play only one year and then declare for the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft.  The following year the coach reloads with another crop of elite McDonald’s All-Americans.

Look, even though he’s been very successful, I’ve never been a fan of this coach for an array of reasons.  However, he does claim not to like the model either.  You should read a recent piece he wrote on the topic by clicking here, and judge the merits and sincerity of his arguments for yourself.

one and doneIn short, he blames the NBA for the rule, and says he would prefer the players  stay in school longer.   I’ll somewhat grudgingly give him the benefit of the doubt on this belief, because of what and how he argues for as an alternative.  Then again,’one and done’ is how he’s operated every year at the place, as he pulls down a multimillion dollar salary.  And there’s no end in sight for this approach — unless he jumps to the NBA himself, too, I guess.   He’s paid to win after all, and in fairness, the practice goes on at other big-time basketball schools; it’s just not nearly as prevalent.  At his institution, it’s a way of life.

Anyway I’m not blaming the coach or the players or even those who will benefit financially from the players’ future success.  Neither am I complaining because these teams have enjoyed a literal wealth of success.  No sour hoop grapes here.

But I do blame the institution.

Institutional Blame

Colleges and universities are supposed to be about teaching and learning, not be a farm team for professional sports.  Competitors in higher education sports should be amateur student-athletes, not biding their time until the NBA draft beckons.  The bottom line is that the model cheapens the game, by essentially renting players for a year, and in doing so, it cheapens higher education in my view.  It’s part of the regrettable reality of college athletics as big-time business.  And although Marquette isn’t a subscriber to ‘one and done,’ we’re certainly in the business of basketball, and so I apologize if that makes me seem like a self-righteous hypocrite on the topic.

In any event, college sports fans seem to be split on the model.  Advocates would apparently rather have ‘one and done’ than ‘none and done.’   Likewise, the sports media harbor mixed views.  Some think it’s perfectly fine; others hate it.

integrityI have trouble watching, listening, or reading sentiments from the former camp, because I’m squarely in the latter.  And again, for me, it has almost nothing to do with my beloved college hoops.  Instead it has almost everything to do with my professional life, my career.  I live and work in the supposedly hallowed halls of academia, and have done so for over 35 years.

Frankly, I find ‘one and done’ antithetical to what I believe about the essential purpose and nature of a college education and life experience.  I don’t know if others who work in colleges and universities feel similarly, but I would think, make that hope, that they would.

At the same time, I don’t have easy answers.  Wish I did.  Think of it as “dribbling” aimlessly. There seems to be a sentiment for what I’d call “Two and Through,” and on the surface, that does seem better.  But then it forces players, many or most of whom probably didn’t want to be  in college in the first place, to suspend their extremely lucrative professional careers yet another year.  In some respects they’re already being used and more likely exploited to generate large revenues for their institutions, so where’s the justice in that? — especially if they come from poor  or poverty-stricken backgrounds.

Somehow I’ve got to come to grips with an entity that threatens the integrity of both the game and the educational enterprise I so dearly love.  Honestly, I’m open to some coaching, some strategies, or whatever else can help me “rebound” from this obscene case of bad institutional officiating.  So if you’ve got game on that count, PLEASE bring it here.





What Baseball (and Softball) Taught Me about Being a Counselor

images (5)By Christie Hyland – With baseball season underway, I thought it would be fun to do a post about America’s pastime and how it shaped me as a future counselor.

Of course, all of our experiences in life can shape us, but my years of playing softball have been particularly salient for me.

1)      Dealing with a loss is difficult
Losing a big game can be devastating. I have had my share of tough losses, and they taught me a lot about coping and keeping my head up. While a softball game is petty in comparison to the tough losses of life, it really does help you in preparing for those tougher losses of the future. Having dealt with defeat in the past, I have the coping mechanisms in place to help myself get past the sorrow of a loss. Hopefully this experience can help me in working with my clients who are going through losses in their life, big or small.

2)      My teammates were my best friends
My teammates on the softball team were some of my greatest friends. There’s something about practicing for hours every day, traveling to away games together, sharing the joy of victory and sorrow of defeat that can bring people together. In counseling, I understand how important athletics and friendships are to many youth. I would encourage my child and adolescent clients to try a sport or extra-curricular activity. They are a fantastic way to flourish and make lifelong friends.

3)      Staying strong despite stress and tough times
I’ve been in a lot of high-stress situations as a pitcher. Some situations brought a lot of pressure, especially when the game is close. Those times have taught me to keep my cool and focus on my goals. My experiences dealing with the stress and pressure can certainly add to my counseling skills. I can help clients manage their stress to get through their difficult time. My clients may want to throw in the towel, and it will be my job to support them, encourage them to walk it off and get back out there.

4)      Hard work can make your goals possible
I’ve endured many long hours of practice, in both freezing and scorching temperatures. I’ve been so sore where I didn’t think I could move. I’ve been injured, once so bad that I needed surgery. But every sacrifice and setback made me stronger and helped me accomplish my goals of being a better player and helping my team succeed. I can use these experiences to better empathize with clients who are working toward a goal. Sometimes a goal can seem out of reach or too difficult to accomplish. As a counselor, I can help clients develop strategies to accomplish their goals.


By Claudia Felske – I’m generally one to abstain from conspiracy theories. I’m generally one to see the glass half full, I’m generally one to see both sides of an issue, but I’m having a hard time with this one.

Say you’re a kid, 12 years old. Your Dad sends you to the store.

“Go get us four ribeyes, a couple pounds of shrimp, chocolate milk,” he smiles, “and ice cream, any flavor you want.”

This sounds great to you as he just rambled off all of your favorites.

You wait for him to give you the money.

But there’s no money.

You look at him.

He looks at you.

“Go on, you heard me,” he glares, raising his voice “And don’t come back without ‘em!”

You scurry out the door and make your way toward the store without a clue as to what you’ll do when you get there, much less where you’re going to sleep tonight.

Ludicrous? Yes.

Abusive parenting? Without a doubt.

But perfectly analogous to what the Wisconsin State Legislature has done recently to its Public School Districts. State Statute 118.52 (known as Course Options) allows any student enrolled in a Wisconsin public school district to take up to two courses per semester at any other public or charter school or any public or private college while their school district foots the bill.

Sure, it’s a great learning opportunity for students—steak, shrimp, chocolate milk AND their favorite flavor of ice cream—but absolutely unaffordable for local school districts.

Wisconsin legislators are sending districts to the store with no money.

Since Act 10, since public funding of Charter Schools, since Youth Options, Wisconsin legislation has continued to financially devastate local school districts resulting in reduction of teachers, larger class sizes, and decreased programming.

And now, by law, districts will need to pay up to two classes of college tuition ($2902 at UW Milwaukee, $5730 at Marquette, for example) for any student who requests it. Multiply that  by 10 students, 20, 30 or more per semester, and the declaration of bankruptcy by school districts across Wisconsin isn’t far behind.

I’m generally not one for conspiracy theories, but with a mandate that is as ludicrous and wholly unsustainable as Course Options, it’s hard not to believe that there’s an agenda out there, alive and well and powerful, trying to defund and dismantle public education.

School Counselor or Proud Mama? What I think about my kids

proud_mama_hen_and_chick_painting_multi_mousepad-p144036783551868536trak_400By Sabrina Bong – When I first started as the sixth grade counselor, I made it clear to my sixth graders that they were “my” kids.

They thought it was the greatest thing, and joked about how hard it must be to keep up with 350 + kids. “My mom can barely keep up with three!” was a common line thrown around. It sounds silly, but the camaraderie that it built really helped me develop relationships with each of my students.

Sometimes, I think my kids hate my affectionate nickname for them, because they know that I’m that much harder on them. I make sure they get to class on time. I give them lectures about behavior. Some of my female students ask for dating advice, and trust me, they aren’t always happy with what I tell them!

(By the way, my overused phrase for this week is, “If he doesn’t treat you respectfully, he’s not the boy for you.” I think I’ve told this to at least twelve girls.)

I push some of the students who don’t want to work, and do my best to help motivate those who think that school is useless. In short, I expect A LOT. I really do think I sometimes act like a parent!

Which brings up a whole new topic: a lot of my students have been asking me if I’m that hard on my own kids. I usually laugh and tell them no, because I don’t have any children at the moment. It’s just not the right time. But being a counselor has really made me think about my becoming a parent one day. I see a lot of parents who do great things: they attend planning conferences, sit in on phone conferences, and overall shower their kids in love and affection. And then I have the parents who maybe aren’t doing the best things, kids who have parents who don’t care to bring them to school or don’t show up for meetings. The hardest thing is when the students seem to know that their parents don’t want to come in; I remember one student telling me, “Don’t bother calling my dad; it’s not like he cares about what I’m doing.” Comments like that hurt me, as a counselor, so I can only imagine how the students feel.

There are days when I get home from work, call my fiancé, and start our conversation by saying, “When we have kids, we are never doing …” I have heard so many instances where kids are mistreated, whether that’s verbally, physically, or emotionally. There are so many students I wish I could take home and spoil with attention. I know that’s impractical, but it’s something I often wish I could do, only because I could ensure that they are safe and protected and loved.

In my short time here at the middle school, I have met so many resilient students, students who are called to be adults way too early and yet, they somehow step into that role as naturally and easily as if they can almost foresee what will happen. I can only hope and pray that when I do have children, that they will never have to experience some of the horrific things that my students have. But at the same time, I hope my children are blessed with the same amount of resiliency and strength when they encounter obstacles.

So, for all of you who are parents, go home, hug your kids, and know that you are blessed to have each other!

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