Taking and making the most of each moment and learning about moleskin: I think we need to find the moleskin in education along with switchbacks

Bird Droppings January 6, 2022

Taking and making the most of each moment and learning about moleskin: I think we need to find the moleskin in education along with switchbacks

Sometimes I miss waking up to our dog barking because he needs to run outside for a second. Not always the best way to wake up. My oldest took Timber with him when he got married. My son was away for a few days, and we doggie sat a few nights, so duty fell on me. I put on my easiest put on shoes and grabbed the leash, and went for a walk in the brisk dark morning air. As I sit here and the morning, my birddroppings title keeps growing. This isn’t about quick fixes or band-aids; it solves the problem.

I recall nearly nine or ten years ago after a similar morning. On that day, I received a call midday that my mother had to be hospitalized, and my wife was heading over to meet the ambulance at the hospital. One of the Assistant Principals had come to my room to tell me to call my wife since my cell phone did not pick up service in that building. Since only one or two can be in the emergency room area with the patient, I felt it a better use of my time to finish my classes and then head over. I drove by my house on the way to the hospital, and as I opened my car door, a hawk was calling. I was not paying attention at first, but then I looked, and again he called several times and flew immediately over my head to a pine tree not too far from the house. I knew all was well.

This morning as I shuffled items from one pair of pants to another, my swiss army knife, my father’s ARAMCO pocket knife, a G2 pen, my handy Australian marine toad money pouch. I thought back to taking mom a BBQ plate from her favorite restaurant for dinner; she was ninety and doing great. There are moments I miss my parents and try and make sure to tell grandkids all the stories.

Today is a colder gray day, although the sun has come out now, and we have no rain, at least for now.  

“Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe 

But as I sit thinking, hopefully, winter is coming to an end, and my writing will finalize in the next month. The schools will soon get back into their daily routine again in many of our lives this second semester. Our teachers are walking the hallways faced with state and federal mandates in test scores going to training and meetings to teach better the submit test material to children. Soon we will be facing that challenge as spring comes around and the annual test cycle begins anew. As I think back to days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail and all the switchbacks, how we approach testing and teaching is much like that mountain climb.

You can often see the trail above your head and go straight up rather than following the trail. It may seem more accessible, but it is wiser to carry a fifty-pound back and walk the switchbacks for an extra seventy-five feet and not struggle to hang on sometimes. For those uneducated and mountain illiterates among you, a switchback is a more gradual ascent usually taking a bit longer, sort of a handicapped ramp but in reality, safer than scaling a cliff. I see a similarity in how we teach today, teaching massive amounts of content to score well on tests and little context to have that material stay with the student.

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” Robert W. Service

Walking for hours with a grain of sand digging into your foot can be painful and from firsthand experience taking your shoe off to try and complete the journey sometimes is even harder. Far too often in education, we have taken off the shoe. Carefully address the grain of sand when you notice it rather than waiting until it is way too late.

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.” Jimmy Carter 

I walked many miles barefoot years ago because I would not take care of a sore foot when hiking, and finally, I succumbed to the experience of those around me and learned the value of moleskin. I was five miles from a road and a fifty-pound pack to carry, and I was in charge of a group of kids; the choices do change occasionally. I had blisters on blisters, and they were getting infected from not taking care of a small spot on my foot when it first had occurred a few days earlier. I was saved by a thirteen-year-old boy scout (and me a former Eagle Scout and scout leader) when he handed me a piece of what looked like soft thick cloth, which turns out to be called moleskin. The good Doctor to the rescue so high on a mountain in North Carolina and me who knew all about hiking, I learned a simple lesson from a much younger teacher than myself.

“Few people have any next; they live from hand to mouth without a plan and are always at the end of their line.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I never again went hiking without moleskin and shared moleskin numerous times after that, and needless to say, I never again had a foot problem hiking. As I look back over my thoughts today, all can be applied to education and life in general mountains can be issues we face daily family problems, friends, and work. They are but winding trails, and there can be solutions.  Sometimes we think far too simple than an all-out confrontation a grain of sand. It could be a rumor that starts so small and grows and festers and soon is crippling.

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”  Jimmy Carter

I have often surprised myself and achieved far more than I ever intended to in many aspects of life.  I am sitting here procrastinating, getting serious about getting back into my research, sorting out files, and looking over records and all the fun stuff of teaching. I am back to writing for graduate school and my dissertation, hopefully finishing up in a few weeks and more reading and writing and learning. I enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship of education perhaps more than the content being taught in some cases, and often in that friendship, you learn as well. I was reminded of my ending each day in an email from a dear friend in Texas, and he offered a thought from his weekly comments on his website nearly five years ago. Dr. James Sutton is a clinical psychologist and lectures around the country on Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Conduct Disorders.

Dr. Sutton had been in a meeting and thought about his son-in-law in Afghanistan and how his daughter had recently sent photos of their baby by fax. There had been a bomb in Kabul when his son was there, which elicited these thoughts.

From Dr. James Sutton’s website:

  1. We might think otherwise most of our lives, but none of us are ever completely exempt from what happens in this world. The tragedy is not reserved for others only; even the innocent suffers sometimes. That’s just the way it is, and we are not going to change it. If we fail to understand this, our recovery from deep pain and loss can be seriously affected. 
  2. We need not be selfish in our empathy. Just because my son-in-law was spared shouldn’t detract from the fact that others were not. An expression of caring and empathy, even toward folks we don’t know, is a good thing.  
  3. We should all make it a point to never have any unfinished business with our loved ones. (I think I was alright on this one.) Life is a precious and fragile thing. Opportunities to reconcile, embrace and reaffirm might be more limited than we think.

It is difficult to follow such choice words, and as I responded to Dr. Sutton, we as humans have to try and do no harm to others, and that should be our sole purpose in existence. Unfortunately, too many are not adhering to or even considering, and again I will say, please today keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and may peace be with you all and above all, please always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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