Friday, June 19, 2015

Change, Not Chains

Today was my last day at the school I've been teaching at since 2001. A population decrease in the district necessitated lots of cuts and movement, and while no one lost their jobs (this time!) many people were displaced. Before I knew I was going to be one of them, I spent a lot of time talking to people about the benefits of change and I guess I must have convinced myself, as I wound up volunteering to leave (even though seniority would have allowed me to stay.) Below is the letter I sent out to the staff, explaining my decision, and even though it's personal to my situation, I've heard enough talk of change and transition out there (and not just about Caitlyn Jenner) to justify sharing it with you all as well. So, for what it's worth, here it is...

Hello, when I walked into school last Tuesday, the only thought on my mind was how relieved it felt to be "safe" from getting moved down. Sure, I felt a little guilty knowing others were getting displaced, but mostly I was just glad it wasn't me.

 6 hours later, I found myself VOLUNTEERING to be the one to go!

I was as surprised as anyone, and frankly, am still trying to wrap my head around it. But basically my thought process was: I LOVE teaching LA. I live in a world of words. I've read close to 40 books just since January. I've WRITTEN a couple books. I think and act and cope with life through the knowledge gleaned from books. I even have an English degree (which, apparently my professor was right, is not worth the paper it's printed on!) Plus, for the past 14 years, I've worked on the local, state, and national level to develop and improve the LA curriculum and assessments, as well as my own instruction and practice. So when I was informed that I'd be teaching Math next year, it just didn't work for me. I'm HORRIBLE at math. It's not a strength. It's not my passion. And while I'm sure I could have been good enough, I think the kids deserve better than that.

I only had a few short hours to process and decide all this, and in that time, I kept asking myself, "Why?" Why leave the comfort and security of a place I've known for the past 14 years? Why leave the friends and colleagues that have welcomed me into their classrooms, their homes, and their lives since 2001? Why have to pack up ALL my stuff and move? Why change my routines? 

The answer was NOT because I don't like math!

No, the answer was, as much as I fear it, I LIKE change. I truly believe that change keeps us young and sharp, and fresh. Change slows down time and keeps us from going through life on auto-pilot. Change is good.

Yes, I hear some of you wondering, "Well, isn't teaching math enough of a change?" And to that, all I can say is, I found myself more excited about the scary prospect of establishing myself in a new building than the safer choice of learning how to teach a new subject.

Granted, this all happened over the course of an evening, so I may soon be regretting this decision, but I know I made it with the best intentions, for me and the students. If all works out, our math teacher will stay where HE belongs, teaching 6th grade math, and I'll still be doing what I'm highly qualified to do...just away from the people I love. 

And that's the hardest part. We've been through so much together. Forget the school stuff. Over the past decade and a half, we've gone through everything from wakes to weddings, funerals to bat mitzvahs, concerts to happy hours, and from tailgating at retirement parties to illegally dumping a colleague's ashes! 

I do not expect to find another group of people who are more dedicated and generous in the act of teaching children as you all, but I promise to carry that spirit with me wherever I go. And for what it's worth, I don't plan to be gone long!

Thank you all for everything, especially your understanding. 

See you in town and around,


PS - don't worry, this year's staff party will still be at my house!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Don't Ever Leaf Me!

I collect stories the way others collect shells – shotgun or sea, it does not matter - I pick them up, brush them off, shine them up a little, examine them, and then either toss them back or place them in my pocket.

I’ve got stories about friends that I share with strangers, and stories about family I share with friends (and stories about myself I share with anyone who will listen.) Recently I heard what very well may be the BEST story ever told. It has memorable characters, an interesting set-up, a relatable premise, and an absolutely HILARIOUS pay-off – but, unfortunately, I can’t share it here...yet!

Ask me in person, and I’ll gladly tell it. Just be forewarned, it is awesomely awful! The sort of story you can’t unhear. I’ve already told it a dozen times since I picked it up last week, and it gets better each time.

As for a story I CAN share here, allow me to offer up an all-time fave. It’s one of many that come courtesy of my in-laws.  And while knowing them definitely adds to the humor, it’s still a good story for anyone...

Back about 25 years or so ago, my father-in-law was taking an Environmental Science course, part of which required a weekend of camping and canoeing down the Connecticut River with his classmates. 

He had his wife drive him up there, and when they arrived at the drop-off site, she was surprised to find a bunch of much younger students, mostly artsy, bearded dudes and  attractive, bra-less, free love hippie type women, all waiting to paddle off with her husband (and father of her two children) for a weekend in the woods.

As she waved goodbye from the shore -  he may have waved back – it was hard to tell among all the jiggling boobs and hoisted beer cans - she was certain she would never see him again.  So much so, that when she returned home, her first action was to remove the leaf from the kitchen table as her children looked on.

“Why did you do that?” the kids wanted to know.

“We don’t need it anymore,” she said. “Your father is never coming back!”

Of course, he did come back.  And remained a wonderful and faithful husband right up to (and through) her death in 2010 - but what I really love about the story is my mother-in-law’s physical reaction to cope with an emotional response. In her heart, she knew her husband would return, but the way she dealt with that shadow of a doubt in such a dramatic, yet sensible, manner, really pinpointed her personality for me. And even though I did not know her at the time it happened, hearing it retold cemented my respect for her. 

I know that to an outsider, this is probably just a funny story about the ups and downs of marriage. To friends and family, it might be the essence of Kathy captured in a nutshell.  To me, it's a time capsule peak into my wife's family before I came on the scene. And to you...well, you can share your reaction in the comments below! But that's the true mark of a good story, when both teller and listener come away with something to put in their pockets.