A letter to Indiana Legislators and State Board of Education

Guest post posted with permission:

Test Teaching ToFebruary 2, 2015

Dear Indiana Legislators and State Board of Education,

Since many of you do not work directly with our Hoosier students, I thought I’d share some stories of just a few past students* who frequently surface to the top:

Christopher moved into our district as school started: All his mom could tell me was, “He’s bad. I can’t control him. He’s a bad kid.” The state of Indiana now deems that I am an effective teacher only if I can get him to pass a ten-hour standardized test, not that I helped Christopher understand he’s not a bad kid.

Jonah slept in class all morning or was seriously agitated. He confided in me that his father “raged” a lot at night. One early morning in April his house was involved in a drug bust and all his adult family members were arrested. The state of Indiana now deems that I am an effective teacher only if I can get him to pass a ten-hour standardized test, not that I gave him a warm blanket and a snack most mornings.

Lilah was just one of the homeless students I came to know through the years. She had moved in about a month into school from out of state. During the seven months she lived here she stayed in four different locations, including the homeless shelter. The state of Indiana now deems that I am an effective teacher only if I can get her to pass a ten-hour standardized test, not that I visited her at each house and usually brought her mom groceries.

Ricardo was big for his age and a real prankster, too. That was his way of communicating since he did not speak much English. We would sit together and read books in Spanish and English. The state of Indiana now deems that I am an effective teacher only if I can get him to pass a ten-hour standardized test, though I cannot even imagine how difficult that test is for him in English.

I never saw William smile once. He had witnessed his mother brutally attacked and wanted to be home with her. Every time I see one of those hard metal chairs they had in that school it reminds me of the one that he threw at my head. The state of Indiana now deems that I am an effective teacher only if I can get him to pass a ten-hour standardized test, though the best I ever managed was convincing him not to rip it to shreds.

Then there was Kaylah. She was mentally impaired and only recognized a few sight words. She loved stories, especially the repetitive ones with the slightly different surprise endings. She’d burst with excitement and “read” that part with me. The state of Indiana now deems that I am an effective teacher only if I can get her to pass a ten-hour standardized test. I cannot. Neither can her resource teacher, who cries along with her in frustration during the test.

I could tell you more stories; students who grew up in crack-houses, parents abusing the foster care system, autism, severe paranoia, molestation, blindness, loss of siblings and parents.

I care about each of the children mentioned above. I care about each one I know today and each little one coming to me in the future. I do not fear your evaluation. What I fear is never breaking the cycle of poverty and abuse that is pervasive in our culture. Please trust me when I say the tools you are giving me now are implements of more hurt, more pain, more destruction of lives. Please, begin to give me the real tools and proper resources we all need to make meaningful change in this state.

*All names and possibly the gender of former students have been changed to protect their identity.


John Stoffel

Congrats to Pastor John

Pastor John

On 1/25/2015 John Gardner, Jr. was ordained as a Pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church.

Pastor John with Laurie Gardner, Nate, Carrie and Nora.

It has been a thrill to watch John grow in his faith and in responsibilities at Stevens Street Church. He started attending as a Fall 2000 Freshman at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee. The church had two services on Sunday mornings in their second worship center. During John’s college years, the church went to three morning services. As a musician,  meant rehearsing early, playing for the first and second services, attending Sunday School and then playing again for the third service.

The third Worship and Education Center (pictured below) was supposed to get everyone together, but as the church continued to grow, by the time the Worship Center was completed, it opened with two services.

After college graduation, the church hired John (part-time at first) to be their Instrumental Director and Administrator of the School of Performing Arts.

A few months ago, with the departure of the Worship Pastor, John assumed those duties on top of what he was already doing. Recognizing that he had proven himself during his 15-yr involvement, along with his near completion of a Master of Divinity Degree in Apologetics at Southern Seminary, John was ordained as one of six pastors.

John honored ME by asking me to speak for “@2-3 minutes” to close the ordination service. Here’s an approximate transcription of what I shared:

Toward the end of a previous century when it was time for college selection, we thought we had done our due diligence as John had visited campuses and participated in music camps and clinics in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

He had not considered Tech, however, until two professors from two other schools in two different states suggested he consider Tennessee Tech.

Anybody think that is a coincidence?

So Joan and I loaded our college-mobile and helped John move into a school we knew little about and where he knew no one….in a town we’d never heard of – 500 miles away from Huntington, Indiana.

But John visited your church. Not long after, I get a call:

“Hey Dad, two men from Stevens Street visited me in my dorm room, how cool is that?”

He started attending your church, eventually moving his membership. I get another call:

“Hey Dad, I asked the people at Stevens Street if I could start an instrumental ensemble to play in their worship services.”

How’s that working for you?

[…as I glance over to the 20+ piece orchestra section of the platform]. As a student, John started the instrumental ensemble that has grown into the current worship orchestra, which includes a  drum set, two guitars, two violins, 1-2 keyboards and about 15 wind instrumentalists. He also rehearses and conducts the 80-member choir.

You helped and supported John all through his college years. As graduation approaches, I get this call:

“Hey Dad, they want to start a School of Performing Arts and they want me to help.”

How’s that working for you?

John has been Director of the School of Performing Arts, which now trains over 150 students.

So, Stevens Street, as a parent of a long distance college student entrusted to your care, I submit to you that:

  • When you visit a student on campus
  • Provide a meal
    • [Church currently has up to 350 college students on a Sunday morning and then offers them a Sunday lunch following the morning service.]
  • Offer a placetoplug in and be a part
    • [There is a full-time College Pastor]
  • Provide a place to call a church home away from home

…you never know what will happen. In John’s case, you have now been a part of his life for about half his life, and most of his adult life.

And as you ordain Pastor John, you are not ordaining him to send him out — you are not hiring him in from somewhere else. You have enabled him to serve you from within. In a significant way, John is a product of Stevens Street church.

I thank God for YOU.
As a parent, I thank YOU.


Stevens Street Church front copy
Stevens Street Church. At the right of the picture is the original church building. Farther to the right )not in this picture) is the second Worship Center. This is the third Worship and Education Center. Also not pictured are the Care Center and additional buildings which house staff, college students and youth.



We didn’t help the retailers much this Christmas season…

Even with all the tv ads for buying new luxury cars and diamonds, Joan and I have always been practically minded, preferring what we ‘need’ vs stuff for stuff’s sake. When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she summed up our mutual feeling very well,

“We don’t need more ‘stuff’. We already have a house, garage, basement and attic full of stuff. We’re trying to get rid of stuff.”

We’re not scrooges…. We had ‘christmas’ a couple weeks ago with the grandkids and family, and will spend a few minutes Christmas morning exchanging gifts with our other son.

In comparison to the several Christmas tree with gifts posted on facebook, ours looked skimpy….but we also won’t be spending the next several months paying down the credit card debt many run up this time of year.

We are truly blessed with a family that gets along and shares lots of love even when we can’t all be together. Joan and I are relatively healthy, our sons are healthy and happy and our grandkids are wonderful.

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas Reason for Season John and Joan

Remembering Wayne and Eva

Remembering Wayne and EvaEighteen years ago, on Sunday evening, September 22, 1996, our good friends, church family and business partners Max and Barbara Garwood and Joan and I with our two sons, were attending the third and final evening of church revival services. The Garwoods were noticeably distraught at the end of the service as they left quickly to find out why their three children, who were leaving the house right behind them to go to the church…..never showed up. It was just a few minutes later when I received Max’s panicky call telling me that he was on his way to the hospital for one of his sons – and asking me to call the Sheriff to find out the whereabouts of his other son and daughter.

Wayne, Eva and Marquis were traveling down one of our country roads (a little over a mile from their home) when a car (the high corn prevented either car from seeing the other) ran a yield sign and broadsided the Garwoods’ Accord. Wayne and Eva were killed instantly and Marquis was thrown from the car. Marquis survived, but struggled for years with migraines and other accident-related issues. Now, in 2014, he is happily married and has a beautiful baby son.

I remember talking to a software customer the day after we put a message on our business phone system explaining why we were closed for a couple days. The comment went something like:

I was a little upset as I was dialing your number because I had this software issue….. but then when I heard your message, all I could do was cry. It made me remember a phrase from somewhere….’the problem is real, but remember that nobody’s dying here’.

Our older son and Eva were both 16 and close friends. John  would be 18 before he expressed interest in getting his driver’s license. John is now happily married with three children.

Most QDP customers don’t know Max and Barbara Garwood because they haven’t been involved in the day-to-day operations at QDP since even before 1996. Max was the original programmer for the DOS version of Ultra that we designed back in 1984, just as Microsoft® was releasing PC-DOS (Disk Operating System) for the new concept of Personal Computers.

For several years, we passed daily the two small crosses planted at the crash site. I promised the Garwoods in 1996 that we would “never forget”….so thanks for your understanding and reading as we remember our friends, church family and business partners.

John & Joan Gardner

Anybody can be mediocre

By John Gardner

When I asked my son why he had chosen a particular college, he answered,

I’m tired of being the geek. I’m tired of ruining the curve. I’m tired of people getting mad at me because I do the extra credit anyway. I want to go somewhere I can be normal; where it is okay to be an achiever.

Pressure surrounds teens. Parents push them to do better. Teachers need performance data in the ever-increasing “prove-you’re-teaching-and-they-are-learning” world of government schools.  The strongest pressure, however, can come from peers.

In handing out a “pre-test”, a beginning of a semester assessment to find out where students are on a subject, a teacher was explaining to the class.

“This is NOT for a grade. This is to help me find out where to start. If you already know most of what is on this pre-test, I’ll be able to give you higher-level work.”

A student in the class spoke up, Continue reading Anybody can be mediocre

7 Reasons To Hire Workers Over 50

Credit to  Ron GrimesSr Software Engineer, Web Applications, Silicon Valley Firm

My seven reasons to hire a 50+ worker:

Person Holding Hire Me Sign in Crowd1) We won’t spend half the day surfing websites that have nothing to do with our job.

2) We won’t exhibit a Pavlovian response to our cell phones every time they make a sound.

3) We don’t think text messages and emails require an immediate response; we know how to schedule a specific time slot in the day to respond to them (if they’re not an emergency).

4) We won’t be taking maternity/paternity leave for 2-3 months, leaving you wondering how you’re going to get that project done on time now.

5) We won’t have to take off early to pick up a sick child from school.

6) We don’t have to Google how to do something because we actually know how to do it, based on having done it a hundred times. We don’t pretend experience, but actually have it.

7) We’ve seen a hundred different ways to do things, and aren’t limited by the narrow mindedness of thinking everything has to fit within how our college professor told us is the “right” way to do it (e.g., we’re not as prone to being pedantic).

Works for me. I’m over 50. Check me out here.

VMO Business Card


And…..they’re OFF!

By John Gardner

College Dorm MoveMost of the college students are on campus by now. I’ve been enjoying the posts (more from the parents of the freshmen than anyone else) about their first (or even their last) child going off to school. As for wife Joan and I;

“Been there. Done that.”

Parents express concern that their children won’t call — or come home often enough. That’s legit, but if we parents have done OUR jobs…..they will. Ours did….and yours will too.

As a teacher I am grateful and appreciative when graduates that shared four years of their high school life at least leave me on their “friend” or “follow” list so I can continue to follow their personal and professional growth. And no! That’s not creepy. Its caring.

Sometimes I wish grads would touch base more, but I can’t judge as I didn’t keep in touch with my high school or college teachers. And I think I know why…

Few of my high school teachers ever took a personal interest in much more than whether the academic overload they were heaping on me was soaking in….at least so that my test scores would help them keep their jobs. The ones who DID take interest, I was never comfortable with how to approach or respond after graduation. I regret that.

As a teacher, I invest interest and energy into students. I want to know more than just whether or not they can pass my class. And I would love to hear from them after they go. I know. I’m just a high school teacher. And the reality is that for many, I am just the part-time assistant. So I get it. And I deserve it.

But I hope for more…..

Graduates, most of YOUR high school teachers DO care and would love to hear from you. Never feel like you are interrupting. If you don’t know what to call them (are they still Mr/Mrs/Ms?), then ask. If you’re not comfortable with first names, that’s ok. They just want to hear from you.

Maybe a note sometime about something you discuss in a college class that reminds of you of something from high school — or maybe that you have finally realized the value of some of those talks about making smart decisions — or maybe that you have bounced back from a hole you fell into during your teen years.

Never assume that you cannot encourage a teacher mentor.

Some of my favorites have been……

  • someone now working on a doctorate who just found that reference letter I wrote and asked for permission to use it again.
  • a college grad who wrote to say that, “I wish I had listened to you….but I’m okay now….finally.”
  • “can I take YOU out to dinner. I want to say thank you.”
  • stories from the students I taught who now have children in high school and college.
  • …and probably something YOU posted or wrote to me.

Oh, and by the way — now that I am no longer your teacher and you are no longer my student, whether you continue to call me by first name or last — is totally up to you. I answer to just about anything, you know.

Have a great college life.


10 Excuses From Unproductive People

By John Gardner

From a post published at: http://www.inc.com/john-brandon/10-excuses-unproductive-people-always-use.html?cid=readmore

If we are going to "Aspire to Greatness", we must reduce the excuses. We must put marching band at the TOP of the list. Yes?!1. I’m overworked.
2. That’s not my job.
3. I’ll finish that later
4. I don’t have all of the answers yet.
5. I’ll wait for the boss to tell me what to do.
6. I don’t understand all of the variables.
7. I don’t see the benefit for me.
8. I might not get the credit.
9. I’m worried about my quality of work.
10. I might fail.