Translating and communicating

Bird droppings June 25, 2022
Translating and communicating

“Scientific management is always on guard against people who don’t fit securely into boxes, whether because of too much competency, too much creativity, too much popularity, or what have you. Although often hired, it is with the understanding they must be kept on a short leash and regarded warily. The ideal hireling is reflexively obedient, cheerfully enthusiastic about following orders, and ever eager to please. Training for this position begins in the first grade with the word, don’t.” John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2010

I looked for a copy of John Dewey’s Experience and Education a few days back. As I traveled the bookstores, the only one available was a tiny version that old folks like me have a hard time reading and is the one I already have. The new printing is a slightly larger font and much easier to read. While looking for Dewey’s book, I found Gatto’s latest endeavor. The book’s subtitle is A schoolteacher’s journey through the dark world of Compulsory schooling. While a teacher of thirty years, Gatto sees the issues rampant in education today. Teaching to the test is not just a catchphrase but a method of teaching that is being taught to teachers. Here is what is on the test. Now teach just this.


In about two months, I may have students in a classroom again. I will walk down hallways and talk with students and teachers, and I wonder if anything will be different from when I left. I wonder if teachers have studied how to be more effective and if students read and became more scholarly over the weeks of summer. Some teachers have attended graduate school, and many will have attended leadership training programs teaching them how to manage teachers and students better and move them through the education processes so that required tests get passed. A few may have opted for philosophy, literature, psychology, social studies, or other more liberal arts courses.

“An effective teacher is one who is able to convince not half or three quarters but essentially all of his or her students to do quality work in school.” Dr. William Glasser MD.

In his book The Quality School, Dr. Glasser explains his ideas. I found it interesting one of his first references is to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who revolutionized the industry in Japan. The Japanese contracted with a US quality expert who US industry barely recognized to improve quality. In a few short years, they overtook and surpassed the US industry in production and quality. I can recall only a few years ago when a certain US car company used the slogan “Quality is job 1”. A good view of quality is the resale value of cars and trucks. Amazing how nearly all of the top ten best resale vehicles are Japanese.

“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.” Dale Carnegie

Carnegie provides a quick guide to life for teachers, parents, students, and children. I have always felt example is the key in almost any aspect of life. I wish it were not so but how we look and or are perceived is often how we are judged first in life. What we say can affect those around us and how they determine whether or not to believe us or not and always how we say it. What do we mean? Looking at Carnegie’s words, I wonder if there is more to communication somewhere?

“A world community can exist only with world communication, which means something more than extensive short-wave facilities scattered about the globe. It means common understanding, a common tradition, common ideas, and common ideals.” Robert M. Hutchins

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins

Although both hold elements needed for people to communicate worldwide, even in another town, a common language, a standard set of words, and ideas are needed to initiate thoughts. It also knows that each person may see the world differently and be able to work around that and through that.

“The higher you go, the wider spreads the network of communication that will make or break you. It extends not only to more people below but to new levels above. And it extends all around, to endless other departments and interests interacting with yours.” Donald Walton

I went by Wal-Mart yesterday looking for a particular item, a movie my son and I wanted to watch, no luck, but as we were walking out, he and I had both been thinking the same thought. This store was a mini-mall for this community; people were just shopping, walking about looking, everywhere. Wal-Mart had become a focal point for this town. I had recently been to a Wal-Mart Sam’s club, talking with a manager and other staff. There is a network of communication.


As I sit here going back through my morning writing, I have used many industry icons as featured quotes. I started using a quote from an educator who implicates industry as a culprit in this systematic process of education we now have. Creating workers, yet each of the industrial leader’s quotes does not imply that. Yesterday as I emailed back and forth with several friends, we discussed building a network of teachers, and working that network would not build a powerful teaching tool. What about a parent network where issues could be in the open immediately and clarified and discussed rather than become a sore and fester? Communication is an essential item in today’s fast-paced world and so overlooked. Today is a day where a week is nearly over; please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart’s namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)
bird

Today should always be a first day

Bird Droppings June 24, 2022
Today should always be a first day

“I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself.” Lone Man (Isna-la-wica)Teton Sioux

So often in life, we think we are the one and we can do it all on our own with absolutely no help from others. A few years back, I was working in my room when a former student came to see me. What amuses me is this student could not wait to get out of school to go to work with his dad. I asked how things were going, and he had quit already. He didn’t like it, but he had enough gas for four hundred miles of driving a full tank, and that was all that mattered. He came by with a fellow I had not seen before, and he was a rough, scruffy-looking fellow. Both guys were not clean, like they had slept in the car for several days. I was amused at how he did everything he could while in school to get out, and here he was visiting. His last bit of our school was physically getting kicked out and finished in an Alternative school.

I recall how he told me he did not need to know how to read, and yet he was telling me how he failed the online exam at Wal-Mart while trying to get a job. He was joking about how he Christmas treed Wal-Mart test just like he would at school. I asked if he got hired yet, and he said no, but they were letting him retake the test his mother works at Wal-Mart. I had this quote many years back finding this website of Native American quotes, one I use frequently. We cannot be monastic in our lives. We are, in effect, herding animals and need the support of a group. On a brighter note, after several jobs, he found one he could be successful in. He is working for a paving company and has been for nearly two years now.

“Man is never alone. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, that which dreams through him is always there to support him from within.” Laurence Van der Post

Laurence Van der Post lived, some might say, in another time. Growing up at the edge of the wilderness along the Kalahari Desert, he was raised by a Bushmen nanny. He later named the first non-royal Godfather in history Prince William of England. Von der Post often wrote of the bush and life among the Bushmen, as well as numerous articles and books of his travels worldwide. While a very solitary and reclusive people partly due to encroachment and government pressures, the Bushmen were still devoted to their land, tribe, and people. To them, the community was life itself. I started thinking back to the paper I was writing yesterday and the Foxfire Core Practices. Foxfire Core Practice eight: “The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.”

“Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is an ancient human need.” Margaret Mead

I was standing outside listening earlier to the world around me. I was alone yet knew I could step back in doors any moment. I searched the sky, looking for familiar constellations and stars. The overcast of the sky hid most but the crescent moon peeking through. The black edge of the treetops surrounded my view. I enjoy this time of the day, especially here in my backyard, a world away from civilization yet only a foot or step back into it. Encircling my dreams in black lace, the treetops form a circle around my view. Listening to my friends seemingly all in chorus, crickets, tree frogs chirping and barking, and an occasional whippoorwill and a drone of the main highway waking up in the distance. But I know my family is in the house if I need it. I started thinking back to the young man who visited me a few weeks back. I wondered how he thought about his family, and I know his comment about having enough gas was self-centered and strictly an extrinsic motivation of the moment.

I doubt he had supplies stashed about as the Bushmen tribes would in case of drought and need. We tend to be more self-serving, thinking only of the moment and immediate. Perhaps our society has done this to us and so limited us. As I look back, primitive man was interdependent for survival and success. In today’s world, we stress independence and self-sufficiency.

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Carl Jung

I find myself wandering, searching, and pondering a bit today, thinking of Bushmen, Foxfire, and a former student. I wonder what if I had known this student say fifteen years ago and not just for the few years I was involved with him. I wonder what if I had read Von der Post years ago and had not just found this great author and human being more recently. I often wonder if I had done something differently would a former student be in prison now serving three life sentences in the Jackson, Georgia Psychiatric Prison Facility. I recall as the day gets near, each tiny shred of influence we have is noticed and perceived, and each idea is carried away by those around us many times we do not even know. As a teacher, often we never see how we influence a student, and often as with my former student, we cannot be there every moment and assist with every choice made. We can only provide pieces to the puzzle and offer directions and strategies for solving each puzzle as it is presented.

Recently, a friend began a new direction, and her daily wandering and philosophizing ceased on the internet, and a piece of me was left wondering. Perhaps the teacher in me finds changes while a necessity is still tricky. I commented to my wife over the weekend that while very independent, I am still a creature of routine and have a hard time with change. In less than two months, new students will enter my room for the first time, exposed to perhaps a different type of teacher, and I wonder how it will be taken. It will be fun and hopefully enlightening, so peace, my friends, for today, and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Why do we wish, wonder, and wait?

Bird Droppings June 17, 2022

Why do we wish, wonder, and wait?

“Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.” William Davenant

It has been nearly fifteen years since we moved last and found ourselves in this house.  I was not sure where to start. Several ideas have been running through my thinking the past few hours. It has been almost sixteen years since I read and heard the news on Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s death. I do my best pondering when alone I go outside thinking and wondering about the shortness of life—perhaps checking my heart rate on my Apple watch that has me pondering about my mortality. I have been assured that pacemakers improve the quality of life, which made me more acutely aware of life. 

I looked about the backyard I know so well in the dark, spending more time here in the early hours than during daylight, it seems at times even taking pictures by a flash of night-blooming flowers and tree frogs. We do become attached to routines and people and things. I was thinking back to each new semester being with a new teacher co-teaching, and it would take a few days to adjust, granted I enjoyed it and the teachers I was with. The funny thing was I fought the idea of co-teaching for several years and never co-taught a class in my first ten years of special education in public school.

On another topic, grandbabies, my wife, and I have been discussing ideas of rearranging and redecorating our official grandbaby’s cave (bedroom). All of our sons are moved out, and in careers, my parents and Pat’s father have passed; Pat’s mother is still with us, so it is interesting to be thinking of going to Toys R Us again and painting our new project. I have never planned an endeavor in detail and thought out why and how but in this grandbaby event a big change for us is finding new sustenance. As the days and hours get closer, my sons can help do some of the work, and we will make new accommodations for our grandbabies. My wife and I will sort through the preponderance of materials we have collected over the years, memories from raising three sons. I am a pack rat, no doubt about it, but I am sure there will be items we might use among the boxes. Many times, it is hard looking back at those pieces of our lives together, good, bad, calamity, tragedy, or uplifting experiences; somehow, it seems there has always been a light.  

Nearly fifteen years ago, I recall my first email of the day was from a dear friend, Dr. James Sutton, who wrote a beautiful forward for my first book to be Bird Droppings, A teacher’s journey if and when I finish it. I was opening emails not too long ago and another note from Dr. Sutton.

“It’s great to be affirmed. A chuckle: I mentioned in a training session one time that we need to always be aware that the boy in our class who cannot keep his hands to himself may well hold a scalpel someday and save our life. One lady in the audience gasped: ‘Oh my God! I just pictured Johnny with a KNIFE!'” Dr. James Sutton

In a Saturday BD a few weeks back, I was talking about being reaffirmed as a teacher from a previous student’s comment. But for today, I go back to words from two songs running through my head for some time now. Both are older songs, but to me, significant. Country Stars Big and Rich claim to fame is the song; Save a horse ride a Cowboy; not one of my favorites though it helped promote them to national fame. It is another song on that same album that, to me, is a far more powerful message entitled, Holy water. I heard this song nearly eighteen years ago and was impressed with the harmonies and words. But as songs go, I heard the words wrong, as we often do.

Holy Water

By Big and Rich

Somewhere there’s a stolen halo
I used to watch her wear it well
Everything would shine wherever she would go
But looking at her now, you’d never tell

Someone ran away with her innocence
A memory she can’t get out of her head
I can only imagine what she’s feeling
When she’s praying
Kneeling at the edge of her bed

And she says, take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She wants someone to call her angel
Someone to put the light back in her eyes
She’s looking through the faces
The unfamiliar places
She needs someone to hear her when she cries

And she says, take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She just needs a little help
To wash away the pain, she’s felt
She wants to feel the healing hands
Of someone who understands

And she says, take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me
And she says, take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

The first time I heard this song, tears welled up. I was listening to the words of holy water as if the woman in the song was being washed or cleansed by holy water. I used the words in class many months ago. I took the CD into a sort of a listen and translated for students and asked what this song was about, and one of my red-necked skateboarders piped up and set me straight.   “Mr. Bird, she wants to be held like holy water – special sacred.” The old saying could not be truer from the mouths of babes. How many of us want to be held at some point in our lives like Holy Water? I remembered a quote from Parker Palmer that I used a few days ago as I thought about the ethereal aspect of holding water.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

Years back, for lunch, my oldest son and I were eating at a barbeque place and on the TV, Martina McBride’s music video was showing entitled, God’s Will. It hit me again. This time I was in tears and a powerful image as I thought back to what took me into teaching exceptional children so many years ago.

God’s Will

By Martina McBride

I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves
It hid the braces on his legs at first

His smile was as bright as the August sun
When he looked at me
As he struggled down the driveway, it almost
Made me hurt

Will don’t walk too good
Will don’t talk too good
He won’t do the things that the other kids do,
In our neighborhood

[Chorus:]
I’ve been searchin’, wonderin’, thinkin’
Lost and lookin’ all my life
I’ve been wounded, jaded, loved, and hated
I’ve wrestled wrong and right
He was a boy without a father
And his mother’s miracle
I’ve been readin’, writin’, prayin’, fightin’
I guess I would be still
Yeah, that was until
I knew God’s Will

Will’s mom had to work two jobs
We’d watch him when she had to work late
And we’d all laugh like I hadn’t laughed
Since I don’t know when

Hey Jude was his favorite song
At dinner, he’d ask to pray
And then he’d pray for everybody in the world but him

[Chorus]

Before they moved to California
His mother said they didn’t think he’d live
And she said each day that I have him, well it’s just
another gift
And I never got to tell her that the boy
Showed me the truth
In crayon red, on notebook paper, he’d written
Me and God love you

I’ve been searchin’, prayin’, wounded, jaded
I guess I would be still
Yeah, that was until…
I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves

My son asked, “Dad are you crying again” as I watched a powerful music video and song for some of us who are where we are to be. Over fifty-five years ago, my brother John was born. My mother was in labor for nearly two days, and John was born with cerebral palsy and severe brain damage. When he was two, while in Florida, he contracted encephalitis and suffered more brain injury. John lived till a few years ago with his family sharing in all gatherings all the time. He never spoke a word. He was never toilet trained, yet he left his mark on each of our lives. So much of the past two days got me thinking back in time.

The impact my brother John had spanned several states as his influence spread. In 1971, the city of Macon was segregated in its education of exceptional children till John came along. Many the teachers of exceptional children who, after babysitting or being around John, chose this field to teach in this field and in other areas of education, including myself, two sisters, my oldest son, and several nieces and nephews. My own family ended up in Georgia because of John. He is buried on a hill by my mother’s home in Walton County, and not a day goes by that I do not look back and wonder what if he had not happened to our family.

My mother answered in several books of poems and thoughts she had put together over the years. My brother and sisters have responded in their fashion, and I respond in my daily Bird Droppings. Sitting here thinking of the passing of a good soul in Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and my brother John and thinking of these two songs, maybe we can begin to set aside differences and challenges and calamities and start seeking out each other. Peace, my dear friends, and thank you all for the support and emails over the years; please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Teaching and or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

Bird Droppings June 16, 2022
Teaching and or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

After returning from PT, I walked into the house after running a few errands, swam about a mile, and sat down to write. I will assume retirement will not be as tense and hectic as my first day teaching high school on September 11, 2001. While driving home, I was thinking back to a song one of my students chose to write an essay about several years ago, Live like you were dying by Tim McGraw. A dear friend passed away recently, and a post caught my eye this morning. It is difficult as I write today not to think about how many friends I want to see and talk to one more time. I have been sorting through books and files and found a small inspirational book based on that song that could be what got me thinking about it. The song came up when I gave a writing assignment to pick a favorite song, find the lyrics, and then explain the song. There is something about country music and lyrics and emotions that hit you.

As various music genres came forth, one song stood out among the rest that day. Here we can argue genres and such, although I used Beyoncé and Bob Dylan in a sarcastic graphic mainly pointed at our system of measuring schools. If anyone is unaware, Bob Dylan has been chosen as the greatest songwriter of all time. Some can argue, and I got into this the other day with a fellow teacher and friend as I was picking on his heavy metal blaring after hours. I used the rock and roll hall of fame as an example, and Dylan has songs covered by the greats, including Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and All along the watchtower, to name a couple.

“You have to do what you love to do, not get stuck in that comfort zone of a regular job. Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it.” Lucinda Basset

“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.” Cathy Better

I was searching for words midst a deluge of thought. I got caught up in Tim McGraw’s words from that assignment many years ago.

“I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift, and you got eternity to think about” Tim McGraw

We take life so often for granted, wasting precious moments, and missing bits and pieces as we go hurriedly to the next event of the day. I had not seen my dear friend since 1978, but we regularly communicated on Facebook. We are sharing all of those years in photos and one-line captions.

“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” Josh Billings

“It is not how many years we live, but rather what we do with them.” Evangeline Cory Booth

“I went Rocky Mountain climbing. I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, and then I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter, and I watched an eagle as it was flying, and he said, someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” Tim McGraw

All week in the morning, I walked out as I do. Over the years, so many mornings early in the day, to my right, a clearing deep in the pines often a great smile of a moon, almost half a full moon but still a smile. The stars added to the effect and surrounded me with that great chorus of crickets and tree frogs; it was overwhelming. I have yet to figure out how crickets in our neighborhood can harmonize. Perhaps they were singing for my friend.

“The essential conditions of everything you do must be choice, love, and passion.” Nadia Boulanger

“On life’s journey, faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day, and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.” Buddha

We each search and try to find the best pathway as we journey through life. How and why we go the direction we do is our choice, and our attitude again is our choice. Reading the words from Tom McGraw’s song again and listening to teenagers respond is interesting; living each day to the fullest is not just about riding a bull named Fu Manchu for 2.7 seconds or mountain climbing in the Rockies. It is more about loving deeper and speaking sweeter; it is the moments, not the events; it is extracting as much as possible and giving as much as possible in each second of each day.

“I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t, and I became a friend a friend would like to have,” Tim McGraw

Again, a flashback to a phone call several years ago. Again a few years back, another incident struck me. My middle son called from college and sounded upset. There was an uneasiness in his voice. A female student had killed herself in the dorm; several of his friends were peer leaders in that hall. In another situation, I was informed two students I have been talking with for three years were both pregnant events, each was encompassing in its own, a life ended and lives starting. One of the girls came by to tell me personally after I had heard rumors.

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot

It has been many years since I walked out into the pastures at night and heard our buffalo snorting. It is hard to explain seeing a bull buffalo’s breath blowing across the grass in the wee hours of the morning on a cool day or watching fireflies skirt the kudzu and sumac of our backyard. A young lady took her life and had a plan with a stopping point. I wonder if she lived as if she were dying, or was she dying so she could live? What a paradox we set in motion as we journey each day.

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“I asked him when it sank in that this might really be the real end how’s it hit you when you get that kinda news, man? What’d you do…….live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift, and you got eternity to think about what’d you do with it what did you do with it” Tim McGraw

I won’t be riding bulls or skydiving, but I will be smiling, and I will love, and I will live each moment I have and hopefully set an example for those I meet along the way. I may make a few more day trips this summer to spend precious moments with friends. So my dear friends, take a moment and honestly think about it, live your moments to the fullest and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and please be sure to give thanks for the moments namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Life is making a quilt

Bird Droppings June 15, 2022
Life is making a quilt

Nearly fifteen years ago, my wife told me that my mother said this would be a happy time, a joyous occasion, as we celebrated my father’s life on a Sunday. She said we even have a snow cone machine, and I thought it gets hot in Georgia on an afternoon in June. About this same time, another event transpired in our families’ lives. I helped my son with a project of repairing the Ramblin Wreck of Georgia Tech. Fourteen years ago, my son and acquaintance, a 1968 Ga. Tech graduate of Tech and I were talking about a body shop and getting the Wreck ready for the first football game. Somehow or other, the idea of how things fall in place came up, and after they headed out, I started on my idea of a quilt.

I had started thinking about my father again and remembered talking with my son’s friend and how he had been all over the world lectured and taught in countries that most people will never know. Another email I recall mentioned how dad always gave folks something; it could be a necklace with a rock from South Africa or a bola with some African trinket or South American artifact as the clasp. Sometimes it was a story or wisdom from his years working with people. It hit me that his life was like a quilt.

“People come out to see you perform, and you’ve got to give them the best you have within you. The lives of most men are patchwork quilts. Or, at best, one matching outfit with a closet and laundry bag full of incongruous accumulations. A lifetime of training for just ten seconds.” Jesse Owens, 1913-1980, American Olympian

I often use the comparison to a puzzle each day as I write. But when I read this idea of a quilt of our lives. A patchwork quilt, with each piece a significant event in life, alone is not enough to make the whole. Each piece of the quilt is still independent of the other piece. My wife has a quilt from her grandmother, whose grandmother made it; each little piece of fabric is sewn to the next, each little section connects to the next, and in the end, a quilt. We have several quilts made for our sons by a friend’s mother many years ago. A good friend in Holland is a quilter, and she posts pictures of each intricate masterpiece as she sews.

For twelve years, during my summers, a few years back, I went up to the mountains of North Georgia and have been involved with the Foxfire program for teaching. The instructors have used an exercise where each participant makes a piece, and together a quilt is created each session. The quilt is hanging on the wall, adding pieces as the week progresses. Traditionally in the mountains, there are sixteen stitches per inch which is the measure of a quilt. I learned while up at Foxfire, talking with one of the women at the museum center. Often when talking with kids, I will use timelines to piece together, but I think I will try this idea of a quilt each piece adding to the whole, let alone just a scrap of fabric. As I look back at so many memories, and you know it seems to all be flowing and piecing together, I like the idea of a quilt. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Teaching in a spiritual sense

Bird Droppings June 14, 2022
Teaching in a spiritual sense

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from oneself. Not about the absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior American Association for Higher Education associate and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, to me, and I have given away several copies now over the years.

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students?” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have been teaching for over fifty years and have watched teachers burn out or fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting their all into what they do, and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there, to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting like gangbusters succumb to teaching blues and boredom. They come in full zeal and within a semester are borrowing premade transparencies from their next-door neighbor because they no longer have the time to create new ones.

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

I have for many years considered teaching an art form, and I think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happened to be teaching. If you genuinely want to connect with your students, you open your heart, as palmer indicates, and this is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a particular person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer, in his writing, discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect on John Dewey and his revelations of education as a social event and, more critically, a necessity.

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer

 
In my journeys in life, I use a word whose connotation is plural as I discuss my journeys since I have been in several directions before to where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude for me: a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can reflect on my day or my day ahead, and I ponder sitting while listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot as sacred, and some will scuff how you can say it does not have a church or religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching, and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

It has been about respect and trust in the several years I have been teaching. I have gone about this by building relationships with students. In my opinion, that is one of the most critical aspects of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books; it is relationships. I see what I do daily as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand or even experience this knowledge in any way. It was nearly thirteen years since I wrote a trust scale for the human development course I was taking. It follows a similar concept I had read about in Dr. James Fowler’s book, The Development of Faith. We start as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. I am thinking about a new week ahead, a few days left in this week, and the positive and negative that will come my way. I tend to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I hope each of you can take a moment to reflect and to please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Wondering is a powerful tool

Bird Droppings June 13, 2022
Wondering is a powerful tool

Several years back, during the school year, we started a school-wide vocabulary of the week. I was reminded of this as I looked through my various files for quotes. About six years ago, as the day wound down, an email from the head of the English Department featured our vocabulary words of the week. The email asked each teacher to feature and have a featured word. The word for the next week was to be diligent, an adjective that means showing care in doing one’s work. I had a photo I took the first day or so of school of one of the teachers across the hall from me talking with a student. I knew there was a use for that photo, and it became the background for the word of the week poster. Conveniently the teacher is an English teacher as well. I am sitting in the morning’s wee hours, thinking back to my first word of the week poster in near darkness, wondering about today and my word of the week here at home this summer.

“He who wonders discovers that this in itself is a wonder.” M. C. Escher

I first became aware of artist M.C. Escher in the early 1970s. As a side note for those unfamiliar with Escher, he would use forms and geometric shapes to create his pictures. Many would-be woodblock prints often took the form of a puzzle-like maze. One I remember is a series of lizard-like creatures that begin to change into birds as they pass the midpoint of the picture. He was a man who was in awe of awe.

“It is the unseen and the spiritual in people that determines the outward and the actual.” Thomas Carlyle

Perhaps as Carlyle points out, it is that aspect of our nature we do not reveal that is more in control than what we think. Coming from a psychological background and working in settings where these aspects are integral to what might transpire in a day, I have come to find there is fragileness, a gossamer, delicate layer that makes us tick, and yet there within that fragility is our strength as well.

“To know what people think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.” Rene Descartes

I recall as we listen to our politicians who pass laws that they are immune to. So often, for politicians, the rhetoric that elects has little meaning once elected. I am always amazed at how we cut taxes and increase spending and wonder why you are in profound deficits and going deeper. However, in reality, it seems that all people, in general, seem to be politicians as we go through life.

“People don’t change their behavior unless it makes a difference for them to do so.” Fran Tarkenton

We all are selfish creatures and may occasionally try to alter that behavior and focus on others but deep down unless we find something in that effort, we seem to turn back. I was being cynical this morning as I am getting up at the beginning of the week and did not start that way today. I was reading several pieces by Skinner this morning, one of which has always bothered me even though we have ethics guidelines as teachers. 

“Give me a child, and I’ll shape him into anything.” B. F. Skinner

During the early 1970s, as I received my undergraduate degree in psychology, Skinner was a mainstay of my thinking about behavior modification. I ran many rats through Skinner boxes. Press the lever and receive a food pellet. Skinner firmly believed all behavior could be controlled, manipulated, and repackaged. I have learned much, if only one thing, over the years. There is a bit more to it. If Skinner were correct and in the wrong hands, there would be little to be in awe of. There would be little wonderment left, but that aspect is where behaviorism hits a wall. We can point to control and manipulate behaviors. We can change behaviors. We can alter, negate, and extinguish behaviors. But somewhere deep within, there is a spark, as Carlyle says. There is that unseen part of us that is outside that reinforcement of desired behaviors.

“Just as a flower that seems beautiful and has color but no perfume, so are the fruitless words of a man who speaks to them but does them not.” John Dewey

“Don’t you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?” St. Augustine

As I read this morning and searched for answers yet to be known, I find we all are searching for each other. We each were trying to find that elusive aspect unseen, that hidden portion as we journey and trod the pathways of life. There are answers, and simply sharing answers would be like cheating, but providing lesson guides to help others find answers that perhaps would be different. So, with a day ahead, a new journey to go. Take a step forward, one before the other. As you walk, look at what a person does more than what they say. I do believe that there is more to man than simply what is there and seek to find answers, keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and mind, and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering and reflecting all in a few minutes?

Bird Droppings June 12, 2022
Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering
And reflecting all in a few minutes?

I drove to southeast Georgia over ten years ago to take my oral exams for my doctorate. This was a face-to-face follow-up with my committee of professors and, in turn, responding to my three written questions which were answered in a minimum of fifteen-page papers; my total was closer to eighty or so. I always enjoyed the drive down, generally going part of the way on back roads. I have several stops I traditionally make. One is a Georgia-native plant nursery, and the other is the world’s best barbecue, bar none.

I got to Statesboro, Georgia, at about seven o’clock on a Friday evening and had forgotten about a graduate conference that was going on that Thursday and Friday. Hence, several of my friends from my doctorate cohort were in town, and I had dinner with one that evening. I went back to my room to review further my answers and slept a little anticipating my oral exam the following day. Much of my discussion with my professors was optimistic and enjoyable as we all have a similar view of education. While waiting, I talked with another doctorate student who was there for the conference, and we discussed the right and left wings of education which have been heavy on my mind recently.

I am far too often on the balance beam’s extreme left, and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam. Participating in the Foxfire teacher courses in Mountain City on the Foxfire property, I often found myself outside discussions. So many are locked into a supposed teacher ideal that has been the norm for a hundred years. In talking with others the past few days, I found that my success and lack were based on whether I was following a specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I have been over the years in an odd sort of teaching role, for ten years in a resource room all day and for six years in co-teaching. I never had more than seven students in resource; seven were often emotionally behaviorally disturbed students who required significantly more attention. In shifting to co-teaching, the demographics are all phases of special education and a large population of at-risk students who seem to end up in co-teaching classes.

Just before I retired for the first time, I was being evaluated by an administrator who saw education for the first time in many years, which is very similar to how I see education. Special education is anything but black and white, has numerous shades of gray, and is often multi-color. All of my evaluations during those couple of years were excellent. As I compile data over the next few weeks on what students had done with teachers and classes especially sitting here pondering the remarks and statements of teachers involved in the past training programs up in the mountains, I want to find commonality among good teachers. What makes a specific classroom work? How is it that one teacher does well without just teaching to test? What combination of attitude, ideas, and skills creates a workable scenario for learning? Perhaps most critical is this significant learning that will be carried away?

Over the past years, in Atlanta’s leading paper, numerous administrators and teachers in multiple counties faced criminal charges for altering standardized test scores as the ongoing testing scandal unfolds. In the scoring process, they found numerous erasers and corrections, which were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also, the schools questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average. These administrators and teachers are faced with termination as their schools were testing lower than required for the fourth year. No child is left behind is what we are told is the name of the bill that mandates all of this testing and curriculum. I use the word curriculum very loosely.

In education, we are in a vacuum as to what success is in school. Is it genuinely test scores on standardized tests that here in Georgia have been controversial from day one? Recently on a first administration, a particular math test had no one passing. How can a specific grade test, over a given grade subject curriculum, be so hard that no one passes? How can a test at the end of a subject session measure what students have learned without a reference point? I started thinking in math somewhere that someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were testing about.

As I talk with and gather information from the former students and teachers of Foxfire, and now new teachers are learning about this idea for my dissertation, I have had the pleasure of communicating with students who have been in the program for nearly forty years and even fifty years ago as well as some in the program at Rabun High School now. Interestingly, they still had fond memories and remembrances of those classes and are still using that knowledge today. Somewhat different than cramming for a standardized test, “teaching to the test” that all teachers hate and are the norm nationwide in many schools. In my reading, most recently, many great educators talk about lifelong learning and that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly, many teachers have gotten away from this.


It was refreshing in my exam ten years ago to sit with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education. I did pass the exam, and now in my procrastination am working on finishing my dissertation. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today, but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans. It could be the mountain air I am looking forward to is getting to me, or maybe my brain works better at higher altitudes.

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. A little smarter, a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever another prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris

“Success is just a little more effort,” from his column, Strictly Speaking, it is not that difficult to be a little better than most, but we often see that as too much effort and too much work.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

We need others to succeed to move ahead to provide support for us as we journey. Succeeding is often an effort of a group and a person in an endeavor. I tend to find myself alone, often out of choice, and my monasticism is coming out. But for me, alone time reflects what has been happening during a given day.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers, yet a little more of it sinks in each time. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time. As I read his words, the last line becomes so significant success is having made another’s life easier. A compelling statement in our selfish society is that it is not that we have done that following a prescribed method.

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

Success is how we leave others as we walk away; the difference we make is the level at which we change the environment and, in some instances, our ability not to make the change and still accomplish something.

“My definition of success is total self-acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily. However, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives, but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside, we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Franklin Covey

Seeing ourselves honestly and learning to like and love ourselves is crucial to success. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort, yet success can be attained with the heart and the body.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning, it was interesting how various people defined success. In many situations, wealthy people defined success in terms of their wealth, and others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches, and comparisons were available as I looked. Was it accomplishment, outcome, achievement, or something else were all listed as definitive words for success as I read and think back to two of the quotes I used today.


Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key? This man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson, as he indicates success is that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself, I truly believe success is a word needing others to define it as about your impact and the difference you make. Still, I cannot help but feel successful when contacted by a parent that their child has passed all of his classes for the first time in their life or, even better for me, that their child was not sent home from school for the first time in eleven years. That makes me feel successful. I have found success is not measured as much in volume as in quality. Quality defined by the guru of quality Phillip J. Crosby is exceeding the customer’s expectations. To draw a simple parallel, success exceeds what someone else expects from you. Please keep all in harm’s way in your thoughts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

A firefly crossed my path 

Bird Droppings June 7, 2022

A firefly crossed my path 

I wonder how many even notice when a firefly crosses their path. Most will not even stop to look at an insignificant moment in time. Today, as I sat in the darkness of a quiet morning, fireflies graced my yard for the first time; I was only outside briefly. As I watched, an occasional blip of light would appear among the shrubs, along with the tree frogs and crickets echoing through the trees. I wonder who saw the first firefly. I recall long nights of collecting as we ran around our yard in Pennsylvania, placing the fireflies in a mason jar and returning to our rooms with a unique lantern. Recently, I use my mason jar more for sweet tea than chasing bugs. 

I will be driving up to North Georgia for research this summer, and looking forward to the effort. On one occasion, I drove out of the north Georgia Mountains differently, taking the scenic route and back roads. It was a bit farther yet so enjoyable sometimes, in our hectic lives, we forget to enjoy a moment or two. 

“True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous, and it is rare.” Gilbert K. Chesterton 

When I started writing this morning, contentment was not the word I was looking for, but the ease with which it seemed to fit was appropriate right at the moment. The issues at hand seemed not significant as I sat looking for fireflies on my porch.

Contentment is an interesting word, but do we ever really find it? 

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” Buddha 

For me, what is contentment? Is it simply sitting and listening in the still of the morning, or is it feeling satisfied with a job well done and the adrenalin rush is over, and that calm permeates your every being. Perhaps you even need a sip of water to complete the effect. 

“Man falls from the pursuit of the ideal of plain living and high thinking the moment he wants to multiply his daily wants. Man’s happiness really lies in contentment.” Mohandas Gandhi 

Sometimes a thank you is all that suffices, and contentment is close at hand. I received a note from a friend yesterday who is headed back to her home stomping grounds after teaching with me for five-plus years. We have been good friends bouncing ideas and thoughts off each other, and she was my immediate supervisor for three years in our department. I am writing about how you convey all that has transpired in those years. Arguments over modifications and testing of students, having lunch and dinner with friends after a long-drawn-out serious meeting with parents and administration, trying to figure out all of the quirks of education, and still pondering that one, after all, is said and done. Many fond memories and long talks are all now stored to recall and consider as the journey goes on. We all miss her very much.

As I look back at the word contentment, yesterday, taking pictures of my friend as we all shared a few moments laughing, there was contentment in she had made the right choice in her life and for her kids.

“We may pass violets looking for roses. We may pass contentment looking for victory.” Bern Williams 

Watching others meld into the vastness of reality or searching for an ember as the fire died, I wondered if the words spoken made sense to anyone but you. I wonder as I sit and think and ponder this morning. When I walk out the front door into the morning, the smell of gardenias blossoms fills the air, and it seemed in our move several years ago, we moved to a virtual garden as each day we have added to the flowers and shrubs, knowing we will be here for some time. Walking out the back door, a yellow rose miniature bush greets you. Even today, blossoms are coming, and I am reminded of a note we received several years ago. We had a large yellow rose bush beside the stairs on the front porch, and one day a note was left telling us how beautiful the flowers were. As we add more roses, I am sure more notes will be left. 

What kind of rose bush is that magnificent plant? Where did you get it? Could I get a cutting? These are all questions a few years ago would have just slipped away in the noise of the day. Today I would be taking cuttings if someone wanted or recommending my favorite nursery or two, depending on what they were looking for. I have constantly been reminded, however, that midst the flowers a thorn, yet if not for the thorn, the value of the flower would diminish wish I could remember who said that. 

“Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.” Sarah Ban Breathnach 

Emotions and oceans are both powerful forces in their right impact us as we go through life. Sitting on a beach so many years ago, unsure how I had arrived, a friend was still waiting for me back in our room. The chill of the air made the morning seem distant as it was winter, and the beach in New Jersey can be a bit chilly at that time of year. But at that time, I was alone to think and wonder about where I was. 

“As we become curators of our own contentment on the Simple Abundance path… we learn to savor the small with a grateful heart.” Sarah Ban Breathnach 

Today is a new morning, a new chance to rise above and see new ideas, thoughts, and wonderings. I will go out and see, as should you, but always please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts, namaste. 

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Keeping the stories going remembering a dear friend

Bird Droppings June 6, 2022
Keeping the stories going remembering a dear friend

For years, I would visit, take photos and offer my two cents at the Foxfire Approach to Teaching Course by Piedmont College for graduate students and teachers already in the classroom in Mountain City, Georgia. This course had been an elective graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. The experience with Foxfire, for me, is almost addicting. On Monday afternoon, a few years back, as I made my way home in the pouring rain from Black Rock mountain, I was invigorated by the discussion and interactions of teachers and teachers to be. Within the course, we talk about the positive and negative aspects and look at the Foxfire Core Practices. As always, I would come away excited about teaching and education. About eight years ago, as the students finished their final assessment of the program and turned them in, Dr. Hilton Smith handed each a piece of paper. My first thought was they are getting a Foxfire course completion certificate. Later as we were leaving, Sara, Hilton’s wife and often co-teacher, handed the sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought. Today as I remember a dear friend, it is so poignant.

Musings from the Mountain by Kaoru Yamamoto,
The Educational Forum, Vol. 53, No. 3, 1989
“I am told that everyone needs to feel the exhilaration of being the cause of things, of making a difference. No doubt, such an experience boosts one’s self-esteem and confirms personal significance. To grow up healthy, children should certainly taste the nectar of the sense of control, power, and accomplishment. However, among most grownups engaged in ministering or teaching activities, the caring and guiding take on a far less direct form, given the fact they are interacting with other human beings who have their own minds and live their respective, intimate contexts. Teachers’ function is often likened to that of a catalyst and for many purposes, the metaphor seems apt. Nevertheless, certain aspects of the analogy need to be kept in mind lest these helpers should become much too self-important and or frustrated. Good catalysts are seldom precious metals or stones that call attention to themselves. Theirs is not a life of acclaim, even as their presence at the critical time and place is making a difference. They will not be a visible part of the resultant changes; they are left behind, unaltered, and typically forgotten. It takes a person secure in oneself to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity. The essence of this unique contribution was beautifully captured by the late Chief Dan George in yet another analogy. ‘The sunlight dies, not leaving its marks on the grass. So we too should pass silently’”

I have read this paragraph many times over the years and found a bit more each time. Today I am pondering nearly forty years plus of knowing a person. We never truly know each other as we always tend to withhold pieces of our puzzle, even from friends.

“It takes a person secure in oneself to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity.” Kaoru Yamamoto

While we often disagreed on some topics, we agreed on many more. As I think about my friend and how many times we shared stories of family, current and past students, politics, religion, art, and always sheep shows, a tear comes to my eye. So many times, she would stop by my room and “borrow” stuff, an ugly face jug, an animal skull, my huge eland mount, sometimes a live animal, and occasionally ask if I could print this seemingly impossible jpeg out for her. I read her note from my retirement several times yesterday as I thought and wondered what I say or think.

I was glancing through several books this morning, one the autobiography of the founder of the Foxfire program, who came into this idea purely by chance. Over the past several years, I have talked to many of his former students, and all consider him one of the best or best teachers they have ever had. For nearly forty years, I have watched as enthusiastic young teachers start and, within six months, do as so many others do, printing out worksheets and going page by page through the textbook. Looking at these words, I thought of my friend.

“As always, there is a high ground in the middle. On this knoll, gather those teachers who are determined to preserve their spirit and their love for the field. Most of these individuals like myself have a credo that goes something like this: The profession of teaching is exactly that – a profession, not an avocation or a hobby or a marriage of convenience. Because of its goals and its potential, to achieve those goals, I selected it. It did not come knocking on my door. I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and chose this field; I believed then, as I do now, that this is a profession of honor and true merit, and though I may not remain in it for all of my working days, it will continue to deserve and receive my best.” Elliot Wigginton, Sometimes a shining moment, 1986

I could envision my friend saying something very similar. She loved teaching and loved her students. Some might have argued no way she was concerned about them, but I always knew better, and as an advisor, I sent her some winners for art class. As I thought about my research and readings and had this teacher work for me outside of the teaching profession in graphic arts for a year or two, I could see her repeating Elliot Wigginton’s words as her mantra.

“I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and chose this field.”

I have shared with her that you can pick the teachers who are along for the ride almost immediately. They do what is necessary because they feel this will never impact their teaching. Then, a few see beyond the forced mandates from the county, state, and federal standards, regulations, and testing parameters and can see a “fire in the bathroom,” borrowing from Kathleen Cushman’s book. This is my friend.

“Wanted: One teacher. Must be able to listen even when mad; Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad about themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must take a break sometimes; must not jump to conclusions; must let students know them; must get to know students; must encourage students when they have a hard time; must tell students if they do a good job or try real hard; must not scream; must not call home unless it is real important; must smile; must help students with their problems if they ask; must not talk about students to other people; if it’s a lady must be good looking.” Eighth and ninth-grade students, from the introduction to Kathleen Cushman’s Fire in the bathroom, by Lisa Delpit

As I read the paragraph above, it hit me that we seldom ask students what they think? It is usually an administrator and only one administrator who will see a teacher in the classroom for twenty minutes and leaves checking off the required boxes in the State mandated checklist. I have been following posts from students who shared my friend’s obituary notice, and reading each post can see how students would have graded her. We teachers seldom hear from former students about how we influenced and impacted their lives, and sometimes it takes finality to bring us to voice our thoughts. My friend and I often shared that we both enjoyed what we were doing even though we came at teaching from differing philosophies. It has been years since my oldest son left a quote for me on my computer—a line from an Aerosmith song.

“Life is about the journey, not the destination.” Steven Tyler

On more than one occasion, my friend and I discussed this idea. We both struggled with how we engage and inspire students to choose to learn and achieve. Each day as my summer progresses, I find myself asking how do we engage and how do we inspire students to desire to learn? As would happen, I have been thinking a lot lately about storytelling, and my friend was an avid storyteller relating pieces of her own life and offering to make a point in her classes. Stories are what students remember and hold on to, and it is those pieces I will remember as I go forward from today. Forty years of stories I cherish and hold in my heart. So tomorrow we officially remember my dear friend, but for today Helen, I miss you dearly. I have wandered around today, but as I do each day, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

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

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird