Author

Happy Easter

It might not be as Happy as we’d like. But it is a sign of hope. There is much to be hopeful for. As we strive to end this plague and scientists and medical professionals around the world work to bring it under control, today is a day for Universal Hope, not universal fear. Jewish people celebrated Passover, a plague visited on the world from which they were saved, by again sheltering in place and remembering their ancestors. For those of us who celebrate Easter, we now look for the new dawn after a time of grief, pain and sadness. And that time will come again–and soon.

It’s certainly a painful time and all of us are afraid. But this is not without precedent–and we will overcome it and it was important to me to note that this morning. Easter brings with it the hope of renewal-and now more than ever, that’s what we need and what will come again.

Peace. For those of us in the Easter tradition, He is Risen. But whatever your tradition, life will spring again–and with it the promise of being able to know who we are, and how to do it better than ever.

Stop Making Sense

We seem to have come to a place where we are siding now with our favorite scientists, or our favorite news posts about our favorite scientists. The realists are leaning toward pessimism and the pessimists are already in despair. If you’re an optimist, like me, it’s determination to stay there and read posts that give you hope. Why read what is going to make you more afraid, more sad? Do more of any of those things work?

Making sense of a global pandemic is impossible at any rate. There must be a reason why there is argument about how the virus started (did it come from a “wet market” in Wuhan province in China, where patrons eat exotic proteins from bats or pangolins? Or did it come from a bio-weapons lab that didn’t handle procedures just right?). The conspiracies abound and no one knows. And then there are those who say if you call the virus the “Wuhan Virus” or something like that, you’re xenophobic. Nonsense, of course, but in a hyper-partisan age, no one is safe from assumption.

Either we will get through this thing, or we won’t. Not getting through it looks pretty “Mad Max” like. It’s not that the virus will kill everyone. It won’t. In fact, for the most of us, we may not even know we have or had it. But if we keep locked down much longer–the economy will sputter and food will become scarce, supply lines will break down. No one wants that. So even those who say, “stay home–don’t go out. Don’t do anything,” are at some point going to have to step aside. Sure, if we could all socially distance forever–it’d be a lot harder for the virus–any virus–to do damage. But that’s not how the world will work. Or rather, if it is–there’s a whole new world out there–and it’s not Disney’s.

But that’s the ugly side. And none of us–even if we’re the world’s worst pessimist–wants to entertain that. So, it’s good to see a debate building now about how to get back into the world. It’s going to have to be thought through, and we’re definitely not just going to open back up and start running again–not until there is a vaccine or herd immunity anyway. The vaccine is probably a way’s off, the best case scenario appears to be November or December. And that might be wishful thinking. Still–the world will not stop spinning, and we will have to begin a slow roll of putting people back to work, back to the world, back to the economy: The cure most definitely must not be worse than the disease.

Honestly, I don’t even know why I’m writing this. I have no answers–and that’s not what my podcasts are about. Right now, I am dealing with the here and now. Let’s talk about creativity and joy. Those things are at the heart of who we are–and we have to find ways to maintain them or none of this will make any sense.

A Momentary Lapse…of all things

 
I don’t want to write this. I’ve put it off for almost three weeks and I’m forcing myself to sit at the keyboard right now. As writing usually does for me, I find joy in the tactile feeling of punching the keys and feeling like I might be saying something coherent, but what–if anything–is to be said by the likes of me?
 
The novel coronavirus that began in China ostensibly with a bat that became someone’s meal has stifled everything. It’s silenced the world, killed many, sickened so many others and as I write this, the optimism that exists does so with the possibility of treating it with pre-existing medications that seem to have an effect on slowing the virus down, stopping it from duplicating and then–the hope of a vaccine sometime late this year or early next that will provide a return to normalcy.
 
I teach from home on my computer. Never has the Internet been so remarkably important. My daughter, a freshman in college two states away, is now home doing distance-learning as well as we hunker down leaving only to obtain necessary groceries and take walks with the dog for exercise. Outside still isn’t the problem. The problem is other people. Transmission comes by droplets from coughs or sneezes. It can also come from doorknobs or packages and other unremarkable things.
 
Life changed overnight. We are on our knees. Our economy, booming and thriving is mere days or weeks away from recession or even depression. The only work truly being done besides education from a distance–is the supply chain. That’s big, true–but to drive in Los Angeles in the afternoon or morning without traffic is unnerving, otherworldly. Air travel is near to non-existent.
 
I’m left to document. I have nothing to add, no insights and no grand thoughts. I’m an extrovert and I was deeply concerned that this attempt at social-distancing, keeping away from others not in our household, would be hard, frightening and lonely. I have found the opposite to be true. I’m comfortable with being home with my family. I adapted to a new routine quickly and I didn’t find it difficult. I rather enjoy the technology of teaching over the web, but I admit I miss my classes and I feel for them all–seniors, who aren’t really even going to get a normal graduation this year.
 
Best case scenario? One of these medications or more has an impact worth repeating hundreds of thousands or even millions of times and public health officials tell us that we can go about our lives with a bit of caution, washing hands, trying to keep a bit of distance–until a vaccine is online. But at least we have a cure should you need one.
 
Worst case scenario? I’m not capable of writing about it.
 
I’m left with faith and optimism. Neither are my strong suit, but I am adapting. I have always been a faithful person and my prayer-life is in overdrive these days. I’m not a pessimist, though I lean toward worry. I’ve found this time that worry isn’t a helpful thing at all and so I’m focusing on the former two. We’ll find a way out–as long as it may take, we will. Most who get the virus show no signs or mild to moderate signs. But, the virus is ubiquitous and since it’s new, no one has immunity and so those who get sick get very sick. About 2 percent die. That’s a large number of people, though the fatality rate will come down when we can do more testing and realize how many people actually have or had the virus.
 
I want more than that–we all do. This time has cemented my firm retirement at the end of next school year. That is the common theme of this post. I remain focused on the future, now. Shannon turned 19 yesterday in the strangest birthday she has ever had–and hopefully will ever have. I’ll turn 55 in June and I’m in hopes that by then, quarantine is lifted. I don’t know what that will look like–but I can imagine it.
 
So I’ll continue to pray, to hope and to read with ardor the updates that scientists, doctors and researchers are publishing. I’ll continue to reach out to those I love and keep them in my life. If I haven’t contacted you, it isn’t because I don’t think of you. We’re all trying to adapt–it’s new. It’s novel, as is the virus. And like it, we’re still finding our way. Here’s hoping we do–before it does.
 
​Onward. With faith.

A Lenten Fast

Giving up things for Lent is a time-honored tradition among Christians and takes the form of simple choices like alcohol, foods, social media and other distractions or luxuries. But in recent years, I began to discover the deeper substance of Lent and knew that sacrifice was much more than eschewing chocolate. The ritualistic ways in which we live our lives has become burdened with our selfish sadness and narcissism. In my 29th year as a teacher, I’ve watched the changes occur not just in me, or the education system or families–but in the students themselves. Yes, they have changed. And it isn’t for the better.

Our younger generations, now saddled with even more technology, more immediate gratification and a hyper-intensive focus on the always prevalent “look at me” ethos has proved ruinous. I’m tapping this idea out on my blog, a platform for writers who want to share their thoughts. When I was a teenager and writing short stories and articles, I had no immediate access to an audience. I was fortunate in that I had an opportunity to write for a local weekly newspaper where I lived and even got to appear on the radio once a week based on what I was writing. I worked for those opportunities and they became the threads that would define my future careers. But now, there is no need to work that hard. I tap it out here and link it on social media and on occasion, a few people read. It’s wonderful. But I’m not 16.

And we know that this instant gratification, whether we are adults or children, is not necessarily a good thing. But in those adolescent years, already filled with a brew of narcissism, self-doubt, lack of clarity and purpose and hormones that can’t control themselves, instant gratification can prove dangerous, even deadly.

On these front lines in public education, there is, as usual, precious little being done–or really, precious little that we can do. Schools are microcosms of the culture in which they exist. They have never been the generators of the culture, though admittedly, they are a part of it and at times, offer up created behaviors that seep back into the culture (i.e. grading performances, lecture halls, etc). But in the main, if a child is given a smart-phone and allowed to simply access the digital world, we know that left unfettered, that child is far more prone to depression and anxiety than peers who do not have such access. The speed-of-light rumor and information dissemination in young minds not prepared to process any of it provide the perfect breeding ground for the “look at me” generations to spin violently out of control as they seek to manage what is by definition unmanageable.

In the journalism classes I’ve taught, we discuss this on occasion in the form of getting facts and corroborating them. I’m not always sure it bleeds over into understanding that just because it is on the Internet, doesn’t mean it is true. But the students who have been in the class for more than a year do seem to have a bit more clarity about the idea that not every printed line is the word of God.

Which brings me back to Lent. Giving up social media accounts for the meditative darkness before Easter would be a brilliant choice for many teens and adults and I’m sure somewhere, many are doing just that. But by itself, that won’t change the world. The great terror of the modern world, a virus gone awry and spreading, wars and rumors of wars, the dark age of financial ruin, and our constant connection to it all are all merely signs that we still don’t get it. Lent should be a time when we accept that God moves through us and allows our hearts to decide. We must choose, though. He does not choose for us. That freedom, unshackled and unburdened, is tempted by so many things and the temptations in our modern age are stronger than ever. So perhaps our sacrifices should be in the form of that deep contemplation–not giving up just the material goods that have brought so much misfortune, but giving up the attitudes, feelings and actions that led our hearts astray in the first place.

​Onward.

Myths to Live by

Our plane drifted slowly down through the clouds after a somewhat turbulent flight and settled gently onto the runway at Seatac International airport in Seattle. It was Saturday and the flight was fairly full, but the ride was made smoother by a nice chap who Sue and I got to know, a Seattle restaurateur with a penchant for discussing politics–not my favorite subject, but he was reasonable and kind.

The stark contrast between the sunshine and high 60’s as we left California with the gray skies and high 40-degree temperatures in Washington was welcome. Most people would prefer the reverse, I’m guessing–especially after Puget Sound had just gotten through some 50 days of rain. For us, it was a nice change of pace and a way for us to consider what it was like here. Few people get to glimpse into their future like this and it wasn’t lost on us that we were looking at just that.

The Pacific Northwest is something of a compromise in our family. I’ve spent most of my life in Southern California, moving here from Pennsylvania with my family at 10-years old and only leaving for a brief time at 18. But in my quiet moments, though the people I love are here, my wife is native here and my daughter, too–I have to admit I’ve never truly felt at home here. Oh, I’ve come to love the west altogether, but Southern California is merely artifice for me. I’m at once kind of inside and outside of it.

But the Pacific Northwest always drew me. In 1992, when my dear friend Keith was living in Portland, I went to visit him with a teaching and college friend of mine. We spent a week in Oregon and I fell so in love with it, that I applied for-and was offered a teaching job in the Beaverton School District. I was ready to make the move. But at that time, I was also falling in love with Sue. And she was smart enough not to commit to anything until it became clear what I was going to do. I nearly gambled and took the job in Oregon, hoping Sue would come join me. But I felt more strongly about her than I did the job and so I returned to California with no regrets.

The rest is family history, of course, but it was endlessly fascinating to me that Shannon decided to attend college in the PNW at Pacific Lutheran University. And while a native Californian, she has fallen under Washington’s spell. For us, it really is an enchanted place.

So it occurs to me that the poetry of the moment is a kind of apex of much that I have pursued for these years. It’s a time for choices. I’ve been reminded twice in the past week of a quote by Joseph Campbell from his book, Myths to Live By. “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” In so many ways, that’s what all of us are doing. Shannon did it when she chose to go away from home for school. Laurie did the same when she uprooted herself from the comfort of her life with us here in California and moved to Washington not knowing anyone other than her niece. And now we too are headed that way, though another year stands between us and the move. It’s no use wishing a year of one’s life away, but I confess that I do sometimes wish it were 2021.

The past few days we spent in Washington with Laurie at her new home took on new urgency for us. We reveled in her new home and town and we no longer felt like travelers or tourists. We cooked in Laurie’s kitchen and we tried a new local distillery, while visiting downtown Tacoma and the state’s history museum. Our family, reunited in the north along with Shannon’s college friends, were no longer Californians. Instead, we were related to this place and we fell into easy comfort, enjoying the sites, surroundings, and preparing ourselves for the time we’re all here, in the north.

The comfortable thing to do, the easy thing, would be to teach for at least another three or four years and stay put. But life is lived forward, the broad windshield before us. A life that is, perhaps, waiting for me, is calling. It’s time to leave behind the life that was planned and start embracing new challenges, answering that call.

​Onward. Indeed.

This is Just to Say pt. II


Like Mike Rowe, I’ve always been leery about “following my passion.” Passion by its very definition carries little to no practicality. It’s too easy to dismiss that and as a free spirit say, “practicality is over-rated” or something equally banal. But I live by my passion, my feelings. I’ve always lead with my heart and often to my own detriment. That’s not simple self-deprecation, it is an admission to being weak in areas where weakness leads often to failure, or at least to being trailed by wolves.

So, when I made the decision to retire from teaching, it wasn’t without a pretty serious focus on the practicality of the decision, a sense of turning to face those trailing wolves and see if I could, at very least, fight them off. My original intent was to get out earlier than June, 2021. I sought out a kind of career change after 29 (or nearly 29) years. Somewhat to my own surprise, I was successful in finding work in another chosen field, working in a communications or student services capacity for a college. I got as far as the first step of applying for a job as an assistant director for communications for a university in the Pacific Northwest. In the moment, it felt good to consider it. I liked the idea of walking away from teaching and stepping into something new. But it didn’t make sense. I wasn’t fully prepared to take on a new career that might last another 10 or 15 years. Doing so felt like a rejection of the teaching career that I have committed to and even loved at times. I realized that I accept the choices I’ve made and I stepped back from that career-change for practical, and not passionate, reasons.

Shortly after I made that decision, another opportunity presented itself. This coincides with something I believe passionately, by the way–that placing one’s self into the stream means opportunities will come, at their own pace, yes–but come they will.

Our school district had an opportunity for teaching in the Independent Studies program, a truly alternative education process working in either small groups or one on one with kids who just don’t fit the high school process mode. A friend of mine worked in that department and I asked him about it. His answers convinced me it was the right fit and I got an interview. But it was during that process that something didn’t feel quite right. Here again, I am fairly certain that the feeling was a practical one: If I do this right, I have another year to teach–why change that up at the last minute? Why not finish with what I know and perhaps support a student-teacher on the beginning of their career in the process?

These feelings were not passionate ones. I didn’t have an overwhelming love of the choices I made. I knew that like some sort of lamp lighting a simple path, I needed to stay put in order to give myself more options when the time comes next year to pull that plug. I have a strong desire for change now, but a capricious application of that desire isn’t going to make life better for anyone in my family, including me.

So these days find me fixing my mind on the future. I’ve been reminded again of late of life’s uncertainties and the near impossible task of striking a balance between leaps of faith and plunges into the abyss. Discernment is such a monumental task and faith must play a role in it for there to be any hope of success. But in this instance I found that answering a call of passion wasn’t an answer at all. The heat of a moment can be a beautiful and powerful thing. But it can also burn and scar forever and choosing wisely is no simple matter.
Onward.

This is Just to Say pt. III: 15 months

 Midsummer sun was just about at high noon. June, 2011 and I was sitting in my little Scion xB with a smile on my face as bright as that summer sun, eating an Italian sandwich from Lombardo’s deli. I’d finished my 21st year of teaching and felt comfortable with what I was doing there. Simultaneously, I’d been writing for my local daily newspaper since 2007 and this summer, things were kicking into high gear. Graduation was just the day before and already, I had stories lined up for the next two weeks. I relished every bite of that sandwich and the sips of Diet Coke I took. I remember feeling like…like I’d arrived. I loved what I was doing.

That was the beginning of a three-year run in which working as a journalist, I was just as busy as I was in my classroom. Even during the school year, I would work after-school, doing interviews, meeting deadlines, making appts. for more interviews. On occasion, during my journalism class, I’d do interviews via speaker phone and let my student reporters listen in to get a taste of how to do it.  At one point, I was writing for the Ventura County Star, the New York Times, Ventana Magazine, San Jose Mercury News and the Silicon Valley Business Journal at the same time. I was granted opportunities teaching never gave me like when I was hired by the Mercury News to do an advertorial profile of a place called Santana Row. A mixed use business and residential community on Winchester Ave. in San Jose, the public relations arm of the corporation that ran Santana Row brought my wife and me to the community and put us up at Hotel Valencia, one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed, and one I don’t think I could normally afford. They paid for us to eat and drink our way through interviews, tours and discussions with some very nice people. I was in love with what I was doing and I can do no other here than be cliche in response and tell you I don’t know how I did it. I just did. I know for certain that the schedule I kept in my mid to late 40’s is simply not a schedule I could keep now. I feel that in my bones. At least not teaching at the same time.

There was passion there, truly. But like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s candles burning at both ends, it was a life I knew could not go on forever. I’d have to choose to either pursue this full-time or go back to the classroom and complete a “full-term” of teaching to accrue retirement.

But the choice never really came for me. Rather, it was made for me when, in 2015, newspapers had been burning their own candles, working feverishly to gain readership and advertisement dollars and failing at both while the Internet scooped up their businesses. Reeling from that pressure, freelance jobs around the nation dried up. Here and there, I’ll still get a story, but for the most part, that well is dry. With the advent of California’s AB 5, I wouldn’t be able to pursue such a life anyway. The legislature in California has dis-allowed a freelance lifestyle in large measure. I have an opinion, but this isn’t the place for that. The facts here are simply the facts.

I turned 50 in 2015, too. Sue went back to work full-time while Shannon came to the high school with me and immediately, our roles changed. I was now both bread-winner and caretaker, just as Sue had been previously. She worked part-time, but took care of Shannon full-time. Now, I was teaching and also taking care of Shannon’s needs, though admittedly fewer (at least physically speaking) than Sue had to deal with.

I satiated the passion I had for reporting by pouring it into my Journalism class. I don’t know that I was effective, I’ve always found writing much easier than teaching writing, but I did it and it satisfied that part of my life. Many of my kids won awards for their work and reporting and it made me glad to live vicariously through them. But the glimpses of a future without reporting to the school were starting to manifest themselves and then came the dark years between 2016 and, well…now.

I’ve reported in these pages previously and so for my own sake, I won’t go into detail. Between the Thomas Fire, the Woolsey Fire, Easy Fire and the loss of such dear friends like Edd, Brett, Craig, John and so many others–life seemed to take on an urgency that forced all of us to consider ourselves amid the chaos. What were we all doing to make our lives extraordinary?

The moment, as so many of my retired teacher friends and relatives have told me, came toward February of last year. A year ago, I went into my classroom one morning and simply felt…nothing. Tired and somewhat bored, the strains that states and Feds have put on public education in the last few years combined with 4 years of fecklessness at our school and demands for standardized testing, differentiated instruction (fathom that alone, dear reader–the push to “differentiate” instruction is followed by a push for all kids to score well on standardized tests), class sizes, technology changes, doing more with less–all of it, came to bear, though not in the way I thought. My friends, my cousin, even my late Aunt, who taught for many years, told me, “you’ll just know when it’s time to go.” And I did.

I don’t have regrets about teaching and I’m not bitter. I know how the pendulum swings and this one will, too. There are already new and better changes on the horizon swinging us back into some sanity about understanding relationships with students and how those will drive instruction. But I’m done with them. I don’t get excited like I used to, though I still love to talk about education. I don’t share a passion I once shared with my colleagues about how to do something better, more efficiently, with better comprehension and all of it. Now, I tune out when such things are discussed. I’m not interested.

And that was the moment–I sat in my chair at my desk and realized that I’ve done what I can do as a teacher. I’m not looking back on it and finding fault, I’m just not interested in going any further at the high school level. Maybe a few college classes? Yes, I’d love to perhaps. But K-12 education and I are leaving on amicable terms. I’m smiling, happy and sincere in my choice. But I want to pursue more writing opportunities, more travel opportunities and a chance to enjoy this time without the encumbering weight of grading papers and endless meetings, 5:30 AM wake-ups and preparing lessons, posting grades and all of it. I’ve done that. I’m ready for the next horizon.

The future just 15 school months ahead is still a bit fuzzy, blurry and its edges are not yet in focus. I’m scared of what might be next and what it will lead to. There are “known unknowns” that I wish were not unknown. I am slightly afraid. I ask a lot of  “what if” questions, rather like I did the night before I walked into my first classroom at Valley View Junior High School in Simi Valley nearly 30 years ago. And just now, that’s how I want it. In fact, I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I’m ready for what’s next. I’m ready for Sue and I to push on to another adventure and this is just to say–I have faith in the process, in God’s peace and plan–and in the future.

Onward.

This is Just to Say…

Christmas of 2018 fled and two posts ago, I said it left, spinning out into the universe to wind its way around the sun and would come back in 12 months. And it did–and now, it’s 2020 and Christmas has gone spinning out into space yet again. I’m a little bit older, as are we all, and a bit wiser, I suppose. So, this is just to say….

I’ve made a decision that is worth putting here for posterity and it’s the reason why I fire the Blog back up. Perhaps in the next few weeks, I’ll provide more essays and hopefully, find some creative ideas to share. But for now, and particularly with homage to the post immediately beneath this one from one-year ago, I’ve made the decision to retire from the high school classroom at the end of June, 2021. I have three more semesters to ply my trade and then I’m off for new horizons.

This is not the “thanks for the memories” post. This is the William Carlos Williams post; this is–indeed–just to say. In June of 2021, I’ll have taught for 30 years and that’s a long career. I could teach longer and the pension I earn would go up, that’s true. But I’m trading money for time and a little more experience for adventures and new traditions, a new home and a desire to make life anew.

As I seek to do that, I’m going to begin anew here, too. Our little girl is now a freshman in college and Sue’s twin-sister Laurie, has left California as we will soon do.  In August of last year, we lost our dear Lucy, Laurie’s dog–our dog–and Simon remains, sleeping here next to me as I write. Soon, though–I’ll be writing from different spaces and places. And while I do that, I’ll be writing new stories for myself as well. It’s time to trust our faith a little bit and make the changes that will lead to a life beyond my career of the past 30 years. 

​Onward.

On an earnest theory in education

 I have a fascination with timbres of voice and I often will listen to someone speak because I like listening to them. The poet N. Scott Momaday comes to mind. I saw him speak once at Cal Lutheran University where I was a student and I was mesmerized by both his poetry and his voice.

So when I heard Marco Pierre White for the first time, on the late great Anthony Bourdain’s show, I had the same feeling. The British accent added to it, of course, but the timbre of his voice had this gravelly clarity that I found so compelling. So I listened.

And it was while listening that he said something that has spurred a revelation for me that I must write here before I lose it. It’s too important to sweep it away.

As a chef, White said that he learned over-time that nature is the genius. Nature is what provides the best food. “I’m just the cook,” he said. “Start with beautiful produce and keep it simple.” He drew the small analogy of artists who often say things like, “I just drew what I felt was on the paper or the canvas or in the stone,” or whatever the medium. 

In the midst of hearing this, I have been contemplating 28 years as an English teacher. I confess that I have moments of clarity that force me into the realization that I no longer love the career. There are bright and shining moments in it, but the bureaucracy and the politics, the absurd state and Federal agendas, the pay that is almost worth it, but not quite–it gathers up on me now and I sometimes have regrets. 

I have no greater argument with my chosen profession than this: The current mantra in education is “Data drives instruction.” It may well be the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard. It breaks down this very human pursuit, full of all the imperfections and idealism and heroism and cowardly, sinister behavior of people into numbers on paper or screens. Nothing, really, could be further from the truth.

What drives instruction is us–human beings. We drive instruction. My students will no more learn from me if they don’t like or at least respect me than they would an axe murderer. Why would they? If I walk into each class thinking, “it’s the data that makes this class relevant,” I may as well simply go do a much simpler job where I could make no pretense about passion, commitment, love or curiosity. The bright and shining moments are the ones where kids light up with curiosity, discovery, passion or understanding. That’s human and it doesn’t come because of data. Nature provides the ingredients, as White would say. Nature provides the humanity. My job is to provide the opportunity for growth. 

Mind, my job is not to make the students grow–rather, it is to provide them with opportunities for growth, to coax out of them as a cook coaxes her ingredients. If the ingredients are at their peak of freshness and taste, then the dish has the opportunity to be at its peak. But if not, then there is only so far it can go. Time is needed.

And if we’re honest, as we rarely are in this profession, we know that many students at whatever age won’t be ready for growth until they’re much older. That makes them fragile while they’re in our classrooms and the very last thing we should be saying to such students, to such people–is that data drives what we do for, with and to them. It does not. Saying so won’t make it so. I won’t equivocate. Data informs instruction? Sure. Data provides information for instruction? Check. But drives it? Without question–no. It does not. And if you are among those who believe it does, I beg you to leave the profession now–or at least, go to a university and do research where data will provide you years of solace. If you stay in the classroom with that mindset, you are part of the very big problem being made worse every day by standardization, testing and driving education into a piece of data used to measure human beings without anything resembling a heart or soul.

As for me and what I do for the next couple of years as I finish this portion of my career–my profession–will be an honest humanity, a kind heart as often as I can and a hand willing to reach out to my students and provide opportunities so that they can become who they are meant to be. To be at work for any other reason as a teacher is to throw away the very heart of the relationships we build. I won’t do that.

​Onward.

Can it Last?

Snow and cold are memories I cherish with such fervent velocity, it speeds me up. Christmas comes and I want to savor it, like I did when I was a boy in the Midwest and east. But like my damnable eating habits, formed more from 28 years of teaching, its compressed half-hour lunches pocked with myriad bits of paper-work, coverage of various duties and students interrupting and attempting to find something out, I move through it all too fast–and while attempting to slow down, point a lens and maybe share it with people I love, I fail. I don’t live in the snow anymore, but that’s OK. This year’s Christmas has been seasonably cold, for here. 

The Christmas lights of our town’s own “Candy Cane Lane,” called Gemini street, a staple since our daughter was two-years old, is now a mission. She still likes to go, and at almost 18, I feel blessed that she asks and that she wants to share it with me. We went three times this year, once with my wife and sister-in-law, a few of Shannon’s friends–a big group making noise and gregarious with large crowds, spilling off the sidewalk and veritably shouting “Merry Christmas” to each other across the street, smiling and keeping warm together on a cold night. Two other times, it was just the two of us and Simon, the dog. She talked quietly, held my arm at times and barely ever mentioned the past. It was just now–just this Christmas. Just tonight.

I don’t feel age creeping up on me as much as I do experience. I don’t feel older, but I do feel wiser and I am grateful for this. It is a gift and one that I know also can’t last. Age is what age is–and it will do what it does indelibly and without critique. Christmas hasn’t changed. I have. We have-but Christmas is the same. 

And in the small weeks leading up to it, I take all of it in and I use Charles Dickens as my guide. I start listening to the digital book I have on one of the devices that cramps my nightstand with Tim Curry reading Dickens’ words and like the Bible, they begin to color how I am each day. I say Good Morning and Good Day to strangers, smile more and “seem by one consent to open my shut-up heart freely…”  I’m mad about Dickens, really–about A Christmas Carol. I think it’s a perfect book. Like good food, it’s seasonal and it fits into a specific rhythm of the year. It is filled with all of the things Christmas should be about, love, fear, children, ignorance, greed, faith, food, filth, corruption, life, death and redemption. And about a dozen other things I probably missed, but will pick up for next year because Christmas is now on its own journey outward. It left two days ago–and is going around the world sprinkling ever less of its magic as it careers out into space, only to pick up speed, gather ingredients for next year and come hard-charging again into the little darknesses we’ve created for ourselves. Its light will not be denied–at least not for a few weeks out of the year.

Christmas Eve is all hope and anticipation and as a child, it’s the closeness of the night–the “thin space” that allows for Christ to come, a poor baby born to poor people in need of constant care. We’re in that space with Him then and our hearts glow with it.

​When we’re older, we begin to see that the space was created for us by people who love us and we find we have to now create that space for others, for our children, for our loved ones. The trick is not to give so much of it away that we exhaust ourselves of the capacity to share in the joy. It’s the one time of the year when we become not just practitioners of faith, but active participants in it and if Christmas is successful, it reminds us to take more active steps every day of the rolling year. I like to think that’s what Dickens was getting at in his “little Carol.”

Next year, my wife and I will become empty-nesters as Shannon leaves for college and we hold the candle here–not old, but older. Not burned out, but melted a bit down the length of the candle. But she’ll come home for Christmas and because she’ll come home, that energy will be brighter than it was in previous years. It will carry with it her memories of Gemini Street, of Christmas Eve church service, of the meals of her childhood, her grandparents and visiting friends and family. I only hope we made memories worth her keeping.

Onward.