Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Gift of Literacy

If I am a literate guy, and I am not saying that I am all that literate, I owe it to my mom. The other day I asked my second graders to bring in some writing that is special to them, something they can read over and over, something that they would take with them to the proverbial deserted island. They brought in an incredible array of pieces from their current chapter books to the very first books they could read on their own, from cards and letters written to them by special people in their lives to Calvin and Hobbes and Tom and Jerry collections. We ended up calling these “precious pieces”.

After listening to the children read their precious pieces, we generated a list of what makes a piece of writing powerful, what makes it precious. I brought in a few precious pieces of my own to share and they were all connected to my mom.

First there was Green Eggs and Ham. I had to include the first book I could ever read on my own. Now I wasn’t one of those kids who could read anything at age three. I wasn’t reading chapter books by the time I got to first grade. My mom taught me to read the year before I went to school. She stayed home that year with my baby brother and me.

I’m sure my teachers had something to do with my eventual literacy development (no doubt, the phonics overkill part). I remember my sister Ruthie reading to me as well. But it was my mom who gave me the gift of literacy. She treated books as precious gifts from as far back as I can remember.

Green Eggs and Ham was my breakthrough book.  I can’t recall the exact events but it has to do with my mom reading to me in bed. I think I was sick. My little brother Danny was a baby so he was probably asleep or in his playpen. Come to think of it, we spent a lot of time together in that playpen so, if I was sick, Danny probably was too.  Green Eggs and Ham. She had probably read that book to me a hundred times.

I am Sam...     Sam I am 

She probably read it to me a few times that morning, but I remember saying, “Hey! I can read this!”

Would you eat them in the rain?  Would you eat them on a train?

“I mean I can REALLY read this. I can read these words!”

Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?

It was in her warm bed. Just the two of us. Green Eggs and Ham. Good old Dr. Seuss. How could she have known?

Would you eat them in a house? Would you eat them with a mouse?

I brought in other precious pieces to share as well. Some of her letters. I never did read any of those aloud.

When I was about 10 or 11, my mom gave me Of Mice and Men to read. How could she have known what that would do for me? And after I read it my folks let me stay up late and watch the old black and white movie classic, the one with Burgess Merideth and Lon Chaney Jr. My mom watched it with me. It was on the late show. My first late show. It didn’t even start until 10:30. When it came to the end, I cried. Right? I mean how could you not cry?

George takes the German luger, the one that they killed Candy’s loveable but stinky old dog with. He takes that luger, and after it is perfectly clear that Lenny is going to get caught for killing that pretty little hussy. That Lenny would go to prison – which he would never be able to take without going absolutely crazy. George takes that luger, and gets Lenny talking about their dream. You know the dream. They’d get themselves a ranch and raise rabbits and Lenny could pet the rabbits any old time he wanted to. George takes the luger, and gets Lenny to look out into the distance where he can actually see their ranch. And then he shoots Lenny when Lenny is waxing on about their dream. He shoots Lenny when he is at his happiest. And he shoots his best friend because he loves him, because he wants to protect him. How could you not cry, right? It was a gift, that book, that film, those tears.

I still read that book from time to time. I still cry. I still give it to people I know who have not read it yet. Years later, when I was in college, one of my beloved professors said, “If you can’t cry then you can’t read.” And I remember thinking, my mom taught me that a long time ago. It was Steinbeck. It was Of Mice and Men. It was clever and crafty George. It was loveable but dangerous old Lenny. Lenny, who needed to be saved from himself. It was George, brave enough to save him. But you know it was more than that. It was Green Eggs and Ham, and Danny and the Dinosaur, and The Hardy Boys, and Boy’s Life Magazine. It was Tom and Huck and Scout and Atticus Finch. My mom gave me all of that. And so much more.

My mom is a woman of letters. While she is also a person of the internet age – she does email regularly, she knows the value of a handwritten letter. She does not send cards with sayings or poetry someone else has written. She does not send the kind of things you buy and put your name on, somehow indicating that you took the effort to find just the right words. She writes just the right words. She always has. When I was in college, just out of the house, she would write to me regularly. She would make my little brother write too. I missed him the most. I know he never would have written if she hadn’t made him.

I keep her letters. They are time capsules of my adult life. They are snapshots of her life with my dad, her sadness when he died, her loneliness, her fears, her joy at finding new love, Otto’s kindness and now big, tender Jim. They are her travels, her friends, her romance and disappointments. Hers are among the only real letters I ever receive. And they mean more to me than any other personal possession. 

They are not cc’d to anyone, or listserved or groupmailed. They are pen-in-hand, random paper and licked envelopes. They are stamps and a post office. They are latenight and earlymorning; they are quiet homes with sleepy mates, after dinner and before breakfast. They are insomnia and tears and laughs. They are rambling and shuffling and loving and funny and intimate. They are silly and descriptive. They are kind and reflective and desperate. They reflect the seasons, the wildlife and the seasons of life.

My handwriting is so bad now – but I know you like written letters so I will try.

I am sitting alone listening to Mozart’s C Major Concerto…

He and I would remember the Huichol Indians who sat near the lake with their babies painting pieces of amatyl (bark) with colors like Mexican pink, blue and yellow…

I am 82 – 3 of my children will soon be 60. My baby is 46.

I wish Jack could have known your boys. What a happiness he missed!

This is something I read and loved – “Forgive quickly, kiss slowly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret something that makes you smile.”

I finished the book you gave me – there was a part I underlined. I will copy it when I get it back…

I loved being the mom to so many different and wonderful children. That was my life.

When I was a mom of a big family, I never seemed to have the time to think about making memories for my children.

When I think back on what my mom has given me, it is the in between times that mean the most. It certainly isn’t the birthday presents or family vacations or other big-ticket items that many people probably think of as constituting important family memories. It is the soft things that are the most important; the late night conversations, the books and book talks, the letters, the questions about family, the requests for original tunes, the stories. It is certainly the unconditional love that we expect from our mothers, that we may even take for granted. I think I am blessed more than most. My mom has given me something that only a few people can boast. 

She is my best friend.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


The other day I finished Elie Weisel’s Night. It is his personal story of the Holocaust. In Night he recounts his life as a young Jew from Hungary being sent with his family to almost certain death in the concentration camps, first Auchwitz then to Buchenwald. I had heard of this wonderful book, of course, but had never taken the time to read it. So many books, so little time…

While this is a hard book to read, it is simply one of the most important books around. His writing style is sparse, blunt, real, stark. But the events that he described could not have been written with many adjectives. There really was no need.

The book begins with Elie’s wonderful love of family and community, his search for God and his careful meditation, prayer and truth seeking. It ends with him losing faith in humanity and his faith in God. He had to endure the loss of his mother and sisters upon entering the camps. The deaths of countless other Jews even as his father slowly declines and Elie becomes his father’s caregiver. He chronicled the constant physical and psychological torture including the understanding that, even after being humiliated, starved, frozen and beaten they all would eventually probably die.

One of the most excruciating aspects of Elie’s story is how his relationship with his father, Shlomo, slowly becomes reversed. How, instead of relying on his father for hope and comfort, Elie must watch as his father is beaten and humiliated and finally succumbs to illness brought on by their opressors, the Nazis.

We are given to understand at the end of the book that Elie has completely lost his faith in God. A kapo, a prisoner who received better treatment for his cooperation with the Nazis and who oversaw the other prisoners, told Elie, “Everyone lives and dies for himself, alone.” More and more often Elie asks himself where God is, how a God of love and mercy could let his people be treated this way. Yet imbedded in this narrative are many wonderful acts of selflessness and beauty that a believer would point to and say this is the presence of God. In the sound of the dying violinist who played with his last bit of strength in the shed of men and boys freezing to death, in the face of the incredibly beautiful boy who was to be hung because he was associated with resistors, in the simple gift of a crust of bread to a dying prisoner. God was there.

Night made me recall vividly my experiences in Rwanda, the home of a very modern genocide. Rwanda’s trouble was no less sad than the Holocaust. Both were needless, cruel, stoppable. Several people, including my own family asked me when I returned, “Where was God?” I am pulling now from my Rwanda blog to make this connection…

“If there was a God how could he have let this happen?” “How can you still believe in God?” These were also my questions. I am no authority on God. But I have read some remarkable things about Rwanda by people who are much more in touch with the answer to these questions than me. The book The Bishop of Rwanda by John Rucyahana helped me to understand in a way that nothing else has. Bishop John started Sonrise School and has done brilliant work toward reconciliation in Rwanda. I have to quote him at length in answering these tough but thoughtful questions…

Where was God when million innocent people were butchered? Where was God when priests and pastors helped massacre the people in their churches?

I’ll tell you where God was. He was alongside the victims lying on the cold stone floor of the cathedral. He was comforting a dying child. He was crying at the altar. But he was also saving lives. Many were saved by miracles. God does not flee when evil takes over a nation. He speaks to those who are still listening, He eases the pain of the suffering, and He saves those who can be saved… God has always used the broken, and he is using this broken nation to manifest his grace and power. He is taking the brokenness cause by evil and using it for a greater purpose – a great reconciliation in a nation that the world had not only given up on, but had given over to the devil, and its own evil… I know what it is to forgive through the tears. Like many people in Rwanda I have to forgive in order to live…

The pain of Rwanda is not just in the survival of brutal acts or in those who lost someone dear to them. It is in the killers as well… It does not matter that the government pushed them to do it. It does not matter that the devil reigned for a time in their hearts and minds. The guilt came and the pain stayed. That is why I have seen so many prisoners burst into tears after they have repented and been forgiven by the very people who suffered at their hands…

I have seen people forgive those who killed their loved ones. I’ve watched survivors and perpetrators cry together and hug each other through their tears. Something like that requires the presence of God. I could never go to a single prison to preach without the power of God. Without God I would hate such killers with all my heart. But with God I can truly say that I love them. (p. xv and xvi)

John’s family suffered terribly at the hands of the extremists, yet he forgives and he preaches forgiveness. He wants to show the world the power that comes through forgiveness. Where is God? He is with John Rucyahana.

And he is with Elie as he refuses to let the world forget the Holocaust, continues to fight for peace throughout the middle east and raise consciousness with his speeches and essays. I have not read the books, which follow Night (I must), but it is clear that Elie did find his faith again. In a commencement speech at DePaul University Chicago in 1997, he included these remarks.

I will tell you a story. Martin Buber was a great philosopher, some of you have studied him, probably in philosophy classes. He was one of the very first to believe in ecumenism, which means he always joined all the groups that brought Christians and Jews together. He was a religious existentialist, and the story is that once he came to address such a group of theologians. There were Jewish theologians and Christian theologians there. And he said to them, "My good friends, what is the difference between you and me? Both of us, all of us believe, because we are religious, in the coming of the Messiah. You believe that the Messiah came, went back, and that you are waiting for Him for the second coming. We Jews believe He hasn't come yet, but He will come. In other words, we are waiting. You for the second coming, we for the first coming. Let's wait together."

Where is God? He is with Jimmy Carter and Bill Gates and Nicholas Kristoff and all those who raise their voices against injustice. I pray that He is with Barack Obama as we head into this new, uncertain era where we need peace and understanding as much as ever.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Beautiful People

The summer before last I took a life changing trip to Rwanda. I wrote about it in earlier posts and it is on my other blog,
This little chunk was written while we were on the plane on the way there. I was exhausted but not too sleepy to write. I missed my beautiful Heidi already and was anxious about the experiences ahead. Little did I know...

When I read over this piece it makes me think of the wonderful differences among people. No two alike. Not even twins.

Heidi. I am so weary from lack of sleep. It’s Saturday 5:00 PM. No sleep since Thursday night/Friday morning. I guess it’s 11:00 AM your time. Every time I look at my watch I think of you. I wonder what you are doing – what you might be dreaming of. We are still on the plane but we must be getting close by now.

In the airport in Belgium I know that you would have enjoyed watching all the people. Seeing thousands of faces (Charlotte, New York City, Brussels) always makes me marvel at how wonderfully unique we are. No two people are alike. Incredible. God. When I look into all of these beautiful faces I miss your face. Sometimes I’ll see someone from behind with hair that looks like yours or who walks like you or I’ll hear a snatch of laughter that sounds like you. Then you come swimming back to me. And I am grateful. Seated at the gate in Brussels we were with everyone going to Rwanda. Beautiful people. Exotic to me. So many have a look similar to Immaculee. Dark, beautiful smiles. I know that you would recognize their beauty. The God in them.

On the plane a little one has had a hard flight. She has cried a lot and whined a lot. Some of the grown ups around her can hardly stand it. You can see it on their faces. Her beautiful mom just hugs her and sings to her and rocks her. And it makes me think of you because you would recognize the beauty in the mom’s kindness, in their love for each other. You hear music in babies’ cries. The God in them.

A Rwandan child with lovely elaborate braids is asleep on the fold down table. Peaceful. Serene. Two Belgian guys are walking down the aisle. Older guys. One stops for a moment and takes in the breathtaking beauty of this innocent little scene. One nudges the other drawing his attention. They both stare at her. Just for a few seconds and then move on. You would have appreciated that little moment. That Godness.

In the airport all announcements were in French, English and some other language (German?). The people who work there are so adept at subtly seeking your language before talking to you. I think French is the default language but they switch over so fast. Incredible to me.

I think of you when I read words put together well or when I hear laughter, when I hear a baby cry or see an old man’s wrinkled smile. Because you would appreciate these things too. I see the world partly through your eyes. And my life is better because of it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

For Jack

When we got to the hospital, my dad was in a coma. I heard the news before I left home that day, making my way to the Chicago hospital where he lay dying. I reached his room around 9:30. My mom and most of my brothers and sisters were already there and even some nieces and nephews, most of whom were too young to understand what was going on, that their grandpa was dying. I knew that he was going soon. It was inevitable. Soon.

In my mind I knew that a quick end would be better for him and for my mom and for all of us who loved him. In my heart I wanted to see him just one last time, to look into his eyes and make contact, to tell him just once more how much he meant to me. To tell him once again that I loved him. I hadn’t said that often enough.

As I pushed open the door of the hospital room, my family’s sadness hit me like a wave. I cried. The man I knew as my dad was no longer there, or if he was, he was so deep inside that communication wasn’t possible. I cried – more for myself than him. I cried. He was no longer in pain, no more aware of the body that had betrayed him after just a little more than 64 years. He’d never hear me say that I loved him ever again. I never told him that enough. I cried for all those times I never told him. I cried the selfish tears of one who realizes too late the power of words never spoken. I cried at the realization of how fleeting life is. I cried for opportunities lost, for conversations cut short, for him never seeing the family that Heidi would have some day.

I sat by his bed and my tears fell into the sheets. I stroked his soft brown hair, something I had never done before. I looked into his eyes that were open, but didn’t look back.

Memories emerged as they still do, all these years later. Images of my childhood and young adulthood. Pictures of my parents as the younger, energetic couple they were when I was a kid. I remembered.

My two older brothers and me wrestling with my dad on his warm Saturday morning bed. He was the biggest, strongest man in the world. If he could take us on, he could beat an army. Shrieks of laugher as one of the “Three Stooges” fell out of bed.

“You snore like a lion!”

“I’ve never heard myself snore.”

“How could you?”

My father driving the boat with my little brother Danny skiing behind. “Hang on, Danny!” Dan couldn’t have more than five or six that summer he learned to ski. He had the most incredible mixture of fear and joy on his face. That old yellow boat rode low in the water. My dad’s back and arms were hairy and freckled. Dan, whose nose was covered in summertime freckles did hang on. For miles. My dad beamed with pride. I was a little jealous.

My dad drove the boat like a crazy man at times. We loved it if someone else was skiing. We were a little afraid when we were the ones behind the boat. The sun sparkled on those Lake Michigan waves and the sun was hot on our feet on the beach. My dad’s sunglasses were horn-rimmed. The hair on his arms was golden, I remember. His hair was wavy when it was long. His hair was brown and never really turned gray. His eyes were pale, watery blue.

One summer when I was about 11 my father and I built a porch on that old summerhouse. It was pretty amazing. We used scraps of wood and some used windows he had scavenged somewhere. He could have asked my brothers to help. It would have made the project go much faster. But that didn’t bother us. He was on vacation and he was spending it with me building a porch on that old wet basement. We took plenty of breaks and drank cold root beer on those sweltering summer days. I pretended it was real beer like he used to drink.  He made me feel like a man doing a man's work.

That porch looked a little rough. None of the lines were straight and the angles were far from ninety degrees but it was functional and when we painted it, the little walled off porch didn’t look half bad. It was my dad’s vacation project and I was proud that he had spent so much time with me. I should have told him how I felt about that time; how happy I was and how much I enjoyed laughing with him and watching him measure and draw lines with the flat red carpenter’s pencil. I should have told him that it was the best part of that summer for me. But I never did. Maybe when he thought back on that time, he remembered it the way I did and wished that he had told me how much it meant to him.

When I was in junior high, my family gave my dad a beat up Model A Ford for his birthday. We thought that restoring that it would make another nice project for him. He seemed pleased with the car and began restoring it right away. We hauled it to the summerhouse and stored it in the garage. That old timey garage was too small to hold a real car anyway. It had a wooden floor and I was always a bit afraid that the car would fall through. It never did.

I remember going with my dad to pick up an engine that someone had rebuilt. He paid the man $35 for it. My dad pinched the bills as he plucked them from his wallet. He always did that to make sure that there weren’t any bills stuck together. He never did get around to completely finishing the Model A project. We kept it for a few years but he did finally get it to run. I don’t think I ever saw him more pleased than when he finally got it going. It sputtered, backfired and shook as he drove it around the block. I can still see him in a grungy old t-shirt, gray-blue smoke billowing out the back, that big old Irish grin on his ruddy face, looking like the cat that ate the canary.

One time I went on a business trip with my father when I was a junior in high school. It was during my spring break. My dad did a lot of driving for his job. He was really good at it. He was a representative for a big steel mill in northwest Indiana, Inland Steel Company. He made lot of calls to deal with concerns about the steel. When I was younger I thought my dad drove for a living. In a way I guess he did. He had the most amazing sense of direction. He rarely looked at a map and seemed to feel his way around new places. He was one of those guys who never asked for directions, even if it was probably just the right thing to do. A matter of pride I suppose.

We were on a dusty Indiana country road in LaPort County when my dad recognized the area. I’m not sure why we were country roading, surely there was a more direct way home. Maybe he just wanted to spend more time with me. I like to think that’s what it was. I was bored from riding in the car all day. But it had been fun – just the two of us. He took me out to lunch at some greasy spoon out in the country. I felt very adult, very special. As we left the restaurant, he put some dinner mints in his pocket for my brothers. He often did that.

I perked up a little and looked away from my book when I saw him becoming enthusiastic. “Somewhere around here,” he mumbled as we drove by farmhouses in the hazy Indiana evening. “There!” he said with excitement. “I knew I’d been here before. That’s where my father was born. This is the farm where he grew up!”

I didn’t realize at the time just how important that moment was. I didn’t know all these years later that I would remember that sunset, that dusty road, his ruddy face and wind blown hair. It was one of the few times he ever talked about his family. But he did talk that evening. It was as if a door to some part of him had been opened. He told me about his grandfather who was killed on that farm, kicked in the head by a mule. He told me about going there when he was a kid. He hadn’t been that way for so many years that he couldn’t even remember. There was a light in his eyes, a sparkle. I wish I had tapped into his energy more, asked him more questions.

My father dropped me off at college my freshman year. I was exited about leaving home. And more than a little scared. One of my best friends from high school was living in the same dorm. So was my girlfriend. It was the independence I had dreamed of. But I was frightened as well. I grew up in a big family. Seven kids. There was always someone to hang around with, someone to tease. I was used to being surrounded by siblings and my boys from the neighborhood. It was scary to think of living hours away from home. To talk to my mom and my little brother it would be long distance.  Long distance.

We talked about the old days on the four-hour trip. It’s funny how there could even be “old days” when you’re 18 and starting out on your own. I sensed that he was sad at seeing me leave home. I would be back of course. I planned on working in his steel mill the next summer, but this was the first real step toward my being on my own. He helped me move my few possessions to the sweaty dormitory room.

“You’ve got your meal ticket, right?”

“Sure,” I said, starting to get choked up.

“You’ve got some spending money?”

“A little. I don’t need much.” I was trying to act brave but on the inside I was falling apart. I was missing my dad already.

“Here.” He pinched out two twenties. “Don’t tell your mother I gave you this.” It was funny. My mom was by far the more generous one. “And call us if you need anything. Anything at all. Person-to-person for yourself and we’ll call you back.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I wasn’t going to cry in front of him. It was hard.

“C’mon, Bub,” he said. Then he hugged me. Tight. He wasn’t a very hugging guy. I didn’t ever remember him hugging me. Maybe that’s why it meant so much. Maybe that’s why I still remember it. I walked him back to his car. When his car turned the corner I cried.

A few months before he was diagnosed with cancer, my mom and dad visited the first grade classroom at R. Earle Davis Elementary in Cayce, SC where I taught. He was very sick and didn’t know it yet. His hips were sore and his appetite was down. He was looking thin but his color was good. “Just feeling my age,” he said, almost apologetically.

I can see him now, sitting in one of the tiny first grade chairs with the children gathered around my mom and him asking questions. “What kind of naughty things did Mr. O’Keefe do when he was little?”

“Mr. O’Keefe was a pretty good little boy,” my dad answered. “He’s a good son.” There were times I had not been such a good son, such a good little boy.  I knew. By then we had grown to love each other in the quiet way that grown-ups do. In the way that fathers and sons do when they can forget the arguments and the angst, the disobedience and the lack of respect.

I am so thankful that he forgave me for my teenage transgressions. When I think of him in that little tiny chair, I am so proud of him. He had just retired from the mill and looking ahead to a long and happy retirement.

At Christmastime we knew that my dad had cancer. We knew that he didn’t have much more time with us. We knew that the end would not be pleasant. He came home from the hospital for Christmas. It might have been because my sister Ruthie would be there and that she was a doctor and could deal with the IV that he had to keep in the whole time. Or his doctor might just have had the good sense to see that what this man needed most was his last few days at home surrounded by his family. We played cards. We laughed precious laughs. We exchanged gifts. We looked into each other’s eyes.

He and I watched a movie together in his bedroom. Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And we laughed. My big brother Pat was asleep in my dad’s leather easy chair. He was snoring lightly.  I was on the floor at the foot of the bed. My dad was in his bed, the IV on a pole next to the bed. We laughed. I’m glad that it was just the two of us awake. For a while, reality was suspended and we gave ourselves up to the movie. When it was over reality came crashing back over us. We didn’t have much time left.

That night I told my dad that I loved him. It was probably the first time since I was a little kid. I said that I was sorry for the ugly way I had treated him when I was younger and that he had to know how I felt. He said he was sorry for some things too. I think it was then that we admitted to ourselves that the end was close.

The evening before my dad went into the final coma I spoke with him on the phone. We talked of all the tests he had to have and he joked weakly about the awful hospital food. He had no appetite. My mom told me that he wasn’t eating. He sounded tired. The last thing I said to him before we hung up the phone was, “I really love you, Dad.”

“You too, Bub.”

I still picture him on that rickety old porch, a glass of wine in his hand. I remember sneaking into the house as a teenager and walking up the stairs in the dead of night. My father in his leather easy chair, asleep, snoring like a lion. Now when I look at my hands I see my father’s hands and in the mirror my father’s eyes. I am so blessed to have known this big, gentle man. I hope that some of his goodness has been passed down to me.

He died with relative peace and dignity. His pain was blessedly short. Most of his family was at his side. He never gave up. He was a strong man.

My dad was a simple guy. I think he had realistic expectations for us. Though he never said them quite this way, I think they were these: Do the best you can with what you have. Be honest. Earn your pay. Be as happy as you can be. I hope that I have lived up to his expectations.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why Teach?

I am the luckiest guy I know. Seriously. For one thing I absolutely love what I do for a living. I teach little kids. This is my 30th year teaching. Anyone who knows me has heard me say how much I love it. My students' parents read it in my newsletters every few weeks. My student teachers hear it all the time. (This will be my 24th student teacher this semester!) My students know I feel that way. My principal/lead teacher. My faculty. They all know.

Years ago I got my principal's liscense. I never used it. The closer I got to the possibility of BEING a principal, the less I knew I would like to do that for a living. I have great respect for effective principals. I know the world needs more of them. It just wasn't me.

A few years back my wife Heidi, a colleague of hers at USC (Loise Jennings) and I wrote a book called Looking Closely, Listening Carefully. In chapter 5 I wrote a letter to teachers. I don't think it was brilliant work, just sort of a personal look back on some of the great things about teaching, a little philosophy, things that have worked for me over the years. Here is a tiny chunk of that chapter. While it is written primarily for teachers and prospective teachers, there may be something in there for you

Why Teach?

If you are a teacher, you are not in this business for the money or the prestige. Contrary to public sentiment, you are not a teacher for the vacations. You didn’t choose to become a teacher for fame or glory (although there is certainly glory in knowing that you helped someone find their voice as a writer, or dried someone’s tears, or shed some light onto the reading process for parents trying to help their children to learn to read).

It takes a certain kind of person to become a good teacher. You are selfless. You are a learner. You do the single most important job there is. Yet, beyond your family, classroom and school, you are probably underappreciated.

People far removed from teaching and learning for their own personal, political or economic agendas make important decisions about instruction. You deal with that and you make the best out of situations that are far from perfect (or sometimes even remotely logical).

You deal with the personal problems and concerns of your students but also, in a very real way, the problems of our nation and the world. Who among us didn’t help a group of young people, other people’s children, try to deal with and make sense of the events of 9/11/01?

Because we teach children, we affect the future. Every life we touch in our classrooms touches the lives of countless others in an echo that runs into the future further than we could ever know.

Someone taught Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy how to read and write. You and I are teaching someone right now who might find the cure for AIDS or who might help negotiate a peaceful settlement in a war or who might grow up to be a volunteer in a homeless shelter or a nurturing parent. The world is indeed a better place because of what you do. Never lose sight of your contributions.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Years Resolutions

When I was younger I used to go crazy with my resolutions list.  I had categories, right?  Health, Spiritual, Work, Relationships, etc.  Heidi thought I was  a little nuts.  Probably I was.  Then I went the other way.  For years I thought resolutions at the New Year were silly.  Why not have May 24 resolutions?  Why not June 21?  I put it all behind me in favor of a one-day-at-a-time view of resolutions.  That works too, right?  No time like the present.  Every day starts anew.  That kind of thing.

This morning I was reading the people page of the newspaper (hey, I'm on vacation).  There was a list of celebrities (many of which I have honestly never heard of) and their resolutions.

Fergie (singer, right?) wants to eat healthier - "eat more raw".  Makes sense.  Carmen Electra (model?  actress? singer?) wants to have more fun.  That sounds like a worthwhile goal.  Sencer Pratt (???) wants to stop eating pizza every day.  That can't be good for you.  Brittney Spears (OK, I have heard of her) wants to stop worrying so much.  Definintely a good idea.  Coolio (rapper?) wants to live off of other people as the economy is so bad.  Logical.

So, once again, I thought I'd give it a try.  It turned out to be sort of a stream of consciousness list of things to do more and things to do less.  They are in no special order and there is lots overlap.  It was cathartic.

*Pray more
*Trust more
*Love more
*Care more
*Laugh more
*Cherish the time with my boys - they won't be boys for long
*Whine less
*Waste less
*Want less
*Read more
*Write more
*Play more guitar
*Learn more
*Act less like a know-it-all
*Talk less
*Listen more
*Follow the commandments
*Make more friends
*Appreciate the friends I have
*Stay in touch better with old friends
*Seek to understand - not judge
*Be more curious
*Laugh more
*Cry more
*Feel more
*Be more careful about the feelings of others
*Eat more good
*Eat less crap
*Change what I can
*Stop beating myself up for things I can't change
*Take things more lightly, but...
*Stand up and fight for what I know is right
*Work harder
*Relax more completely
*Be in the woods more
*Pet my dog more
*Tell my students I love them more often
*Cherish the time with my folks, my siblings, my nieces and nephews
*Forgive more
*Apologize more
*Count my blessings more
*Share my blessings more

I still am very much of the view that we are the masters of our own destiny, that just making a list won't change things.  But it is a nice place to begin, a nice way to think about change.  

Happy New Year.