Why I Am Blessed to Teach: Three Vignettes from My Montessori Experience

Not long ago I took a job as a teacher.

That being said, I have been a teacher for well over a decade.  But, wishing to expand my portfolio and branch out, I accepted a position in a new school.  Now I can say that I have the following variety of teaching and/or administrative experience: large school, small school, co-ed, single-sex, diocesan, private-independent, mid-sized, teacher, vice principal, secondary, and elementary.  Why not toss Montessori into the mix?  It couldn’t hurt to learn a new way to teach and beside, my own children attend a Montessori school.  This could be both beneficial to my resume and fun!

That entire last paragraph could be rewritten thus:

But, having temporarily walked away from the insanity of working in “industrial” schools I had accepted my new life delivering blood samples and lab mice for a courier company.  One Sunday night the director of the school where my children are students texted to say: “Look, dude, I’m desperate.  Your daughter’s teacher quit.  I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t the girl’s fault.  Since it’s nearing the end of the year we’re scraping the barrel, pal.  Can you handle a dozen 1st-3rd grader’s?”  Also, she texted right after I had consumed a few gin and tonics so there’s that.

There is a line in Scripture that says “You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from an abundance of corn and new wine.” (Ps.4)  I don’t know who “they” are but I do believe Our Blessed Lord has infused me with a great love for teaching and for the children (and sometimes adults) I get to teach.  It’s twisted, really.  I don’t know many other people who get excited about working with children and teenagers and yet I can’t help myself.  And you know it must be real when it’s a greater love even than wine or an abundance of corn for that matter.  By the way, the New American Bible translation from 1970 sucks.

And since it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t share some of the scenes of this life with you; here now a brief sketch of this past Friday morning and my interactions with three particular students.

Student X, boy, 7 years-old

black bunny

Sure looks like a “Thunderclaw”, doesn’t he?

The morning was off to a smashing start.  One of the families had brought rabbits to school.  As in, they brought actual bunnies.  And the bunnies were to remain at school.  “We’re donating them!” the mom said lovingly.  “It’s a great way for the kids to learn about stuff and it’s very Montessori.”  Perhaps I don’t know enough about this Montessori method.  And “stuff?”  Yes, it’s a fabulous way for them to learn about reproduction.  Come to think of it, my son’s getting to be about that age.  This might be more straightforward then having “the talk” with him.  I’m getting rabbits for the house.  Anyway, one young man rushed me on my way in the door.  “Hey look!  It’s Thunderclaw!” he shouted as he tossed a black dwarf rabbit in my face.  “Ack!” I shouted in return as Thunderclaw almost took a mug full of black coffee to the face.  It’s a good thing I have the patience of a saint – St. Augustine, pre-conversion.

A little while later I found myself sitting at a table that was about two feet off the ground across from Student X.  We had just covered a lesson on honeybees.  X was diligently tracing a hexagon over and over onto a sheet of paper.  He had already composed five sentences about these insects (in cursive) and was now illustrating the hive.  Burning the heck out of a yellow colored pencil he put the pencil down momentarily in order to suck his thumb.  The teacher in me stepped aside and the dad moved in.  “Son, you don’t want to do that,” I said gently yet firmly.  “Um, yeah I do,” came his reply without glancing up.  He was still admiring his honeycomb.  “No, no you don’t.  Do you know what will happen?” I asked.  “Yeah, um, it calms me down.”  I had to fight with everything I had to stop from saying “So will a Xanax” but I managed instead “First, you answered a question I had not asked.  I asked what is likely to happen in the future.  You responded with what is happening now.”  Crickets.  “But I like it,” came X’s reply in the cutest high pitched voice.  “You’ll need braces, son.  It’ll mess your teeth up.”

I thought I had won the argument based on my stellar logic.  Unfortunately I was arguing with a kid.  “I’m already getting braces.  My dad told me so.”  Well, you can’t beat that reasoning, I suppose.  “Plus, um, plus…  Uh… Oh yeah, my orthodontist told me I was a very lucky boy and I would have to get headgear!”  “Sounds like your orthodontist is the lucky one,” I shot back.  I smiled at X and marveled at his certainty and confidence.  He, of course, picked up his pencil in the other hand because apparently he’s ambidextrous and continued his masterpiece.

Student Y, boy, 8 years-old

A short while later I had just stepped out of a tiny bathroom where I had gone to scroll through Instagram and generally catch my breath when Student Y ran up to me.  Where he came from I could not say.  The kid’s a ninja.  He’s about the size of a capuchin monkey and just about as wiry.  And I love this kid.  That’s why I almost didn’t mind when he practically pulled my 200 lb. frame down to the floor by trying to climb up my leg to tell me something.  “HEY!  Can I read to you?”  This is one of the most rewarding aspects of working with little children.  He’s just learned to read in the past year and is still inching toward a milestone they call the “reading explosion” or something like that.  I may have made that term up but the point is he’s teetering on the brink between sounding out some words and racing through a paragraph.  And he’s excited.  And he wants me to be the object of his new-found skill.

We sit on the reading carpet (invented by a Nazi, for no adult ever said “Yay! Let’s get down on the floor for this!”) and he proceeds to a thin, purple-covered book.  It’s a leveled reader.  It is not his level.  His is red.  The purples are for a different stage, like two stages above him.  But, I admire his pluck.  Go for it, kiddo.  The stories in these books all follow a phonetic theme.  Unfortunately that means they sometimes give the characters names that have never been used by real people.  This was the story of a terrier named Sollie.  Y struggles with this.  “Solo was a timid puppy.”  “No, son, not Solo, Sollie,” I correct him.  “Sally was a timid puppy,” he tries again.  “No, son, not Sally, Sollie.”  “Sully was a tim-”  “Oh for God’s sake.  Sully was the Miracle on the Hudson pilot and, you know what?  Yeah, let’s just go with Sully.”

He continues.  I come to learn that Sully was indeed a timid puppy.  His owner Shiela had to carry him around.  He wanted to be brave like his dad.  He liked to eat meat.  Except, Y read that as /mat/.  “Y,” I said gently yet firmly, “in English, when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking.”  Crickets.  “OK,” he said, “/meet/”.  Good.  This happened a few more times.  The theme here was vowel clusters.  Then Y came to this sentence.  “They went to the pier.”  He read this as /pyre/.  “Y,” I said, “that’s /peer/.”  “But did the first vowel not go walking that day?” he asked most sincerely.  “Damn English,” I thought to myself.

IMG_2322

When two vowels go walking, a terrier eats a toddler.

Finally Y reached the climax of the story.  “When Sollie ran down to the beach, a toddler held out her hand with some cookie pieces.  Sollie ate them.”  First, Y read that as “cookie /pi-cees/” and I did not correct him.  Second, I noticed that Y was looking most confused.  “Why would he eat them?  He must be a mean dog.”  “What are you talking about,” I asked.  It turns out Y thought Sully ate the toddler, that rat bastard.  I clarified the story for my young friend.  And then I laughed at the thought of a terrier eating a toddler who would obviously be three times his size.

Student Z, boy, 6 years-old

I have saved the best for last.  Student Z is a young man who has only recently joined our class.  He had previously been in the “younger division”.  He was starting to outgrow that classroom so I agreed (happily) to let him come over to my class.  I’m friends with his parents and he’s such an awesome kid.  When I’m at their house he’s bouncing off the walls, full of energy, typical little boy.  In school, he is studious, reserved, almost shy.  I can tell he is eager to please and to do a good job.  Z is on the cusp of getting the hang of reading.  And hats off to anyone who has ever taught another person to read.  It is NOT easy.  Sidenote: In complete seriousness, the lady who runs this school is truly gifted.  I watched her sit down with a child last week and, in the most loving and gentle way, teach that child, encourage that child, and celebrate that child’s accomplishment.  It is a gift.

Thunderclaw?!  Who named that bunny?  Crazy Horse?

I extricate myself from the reading carpet and head to a ledge that reminds me of a bar only without alcohol.  Z follows in tow holding onto one of the manipulatives we use in Montessori.  It is a wooden tray containing flash cards with three and four letter words.  Other than the wooden tray I’m not sure how this differs from other schools.  Our goal is to pull six cards and sound them out.  Then Z will write those words in his notebook.  “Z,” I say, “Let’s toss in a few four letter words!”  Then I laugh at what that sounded like to my own ears.  He was game.

First word: “puh… ahh… puh.  POP!”  He smiles broadly.  He got it.  “Great job, Z!  And that was super fast!  Let’s do another one.”

Next word: “luh… ahh… tuh.  LOT!”  Another huge smile.  “Yay!  Amazing!  Ready for the next one?”  He nods excitedly.

Third word: “juh… ahh… muh.”  Only this time I must stop him.  “Sorry, Z,” I say holding my hand up.  “Not every A sounds alike.”  He looks puzzled.  “Let’s try it again.”  I hold the card up.  “juh… ahh…”  “Nope,” I say.  “Um,” he asks, “How does this A sound?”  “I’m glad you asked, Z.”

“Juh…aeyh… muh.  Say it with me.”

And in that moment I realized I was teaching him New Jersey English.

IMG_2320

You gotta’ problem wid dat?  I’ll see you on Bloomfield Ave.

When his mom and dad start wondering why he’s suddenly started speaking like Joe Piscopo (or me for that matter) they need only look at my upbringing.  Garden State’s finest spreadin’ the Jerz.

Proud to be spreading my heritage in this sleepy Texas town, I turned from the bar with no booze, put the cards away, and clocked out for the day.

My work here is done.

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Closing the Goal

Today I entered Week 12 of the Body for Life Challenge.

This isn’t so significant in the sense that I’ve completed a few other fitness programs/challenges in the past few years with varying degrees of success.

First there was the Insanity Max:30 Challenge.  That one focused on cardio and the goal was weight loss.  I got super skinny but still looked fat.

Then there was the Body Beast Challenge.  That one focused on heavy weight lifting and bulking up.  I packed on muscled but still looked fat.

Then there was the La Leche del Sol Challenge where I had to use a mule to take daily shots of the illegal Mexican beauty secret of the stars.  That one focused on getting ripped but only for certain cameras in precise lighting.  I finished and looked like Austrian opera singer Maria Jeritza.

atlas

Too bad ol’ Chuck isn’t still considered a fitness icon.  Sure he’s got a “V shape” but he’s also wearing a diaper.

I was beginning to think I couldn’t win except that I did have a sense of accomplishment at finishing all of these programs.  And for a guy in my condition – no will power, loves to shovel food into his mouth, works 23 hours a day, and missing all of the DNA receptors that promote muscle building, fat loss, and scalp hair – that’s saying something.

I have a friend who patiently tried to give me training advice.  Believe me, it’s a compliment to say what I’m about to say.  He’s super ripped.  He’s also super dedicated and on a level I doubt I will ever see.  He works out every day.  He runs long distances three times a week.  When he’s not doing that he does resistance training using only his bodyweight.  We’re talking muscle-ups and hand stand push-ups.  Even if I had the will power I don’t think I could be successful like that.  I’ve come to the point of forcing myself to believe that maybe I’m just not meant to be “jacked”.

But something in me keeps persisting that I could get there given the right program before I’m dead.  And believe me if my loved ones are standing over my rotting corpse in a casket and saying “Damn he looks good” I’ll be happy with that.

So tonight I reach the final week.

I texted my buddy to tell him how excited I am and to ask for some prayers this week that I don’t give up with the finish line in sight.  I think he knows where I’m coming from.  Even for a guy like him there’s got to be some sense of how hard this is to accomplish.  I mean, even the best probably still remember a time when they were starting out when the goal seemed impossible.  Granted, for him that time was probably in infancy.  Dude, it’s called “baby fat”.  Babies are supposed to have it.  And again, I kid because I admire his dedication and the results he’s achieved and maintained.

I like to have something solid to back it up so I tell him a little statistic.  “I got the tape out and did some measurements,” I say.  “I started with 14″ biceps and tonight I’m measuring 16″.”  I honestly don’t know if that’s supposed to be impressive.  I also do not want to boast or come across as bragging.

He replied that this was bigger than his arm.  Now I know I measured wrong.  That couldn’t possibly be the case.  So I got the tape out again.  OK, this time I measured my arm at just shy of 16″.  But not much.

Holy cow!  Could it be that I might have finally found the right program?  This one (Body for Life) has been amazing.  It’s just the right mix of cardio and weight training.  My only regret as I stare in the mirror and see my transformation is that I didn’t do more.  Now I keep thinking “If I had just done 30 minutes of cardio instead of 20 on those days…” or “I could have lifted heavier and pushed myself more…”  “I would like him to see my gains (and losses),” I think to myself, so I put on the tightest white tee shirt and head over to church where he’s doing a Holy Hour.  This oughtta’ be fun.

We catch up afterwards in the parking lot.  In a way that only one guy can say to another, he compliments me.  “Dude, your calves were already bigger than mine.  Now you gotta’ have bigger arms too?!”  Believe me, my friend, you are definitely the motivation.  Still not sure my arms are any bigger than his (and sort of still feel like they’re not much bigger than when I started) but there’s a whole lot more definition, that’s for sure, and not just my arms either.

I’m happy with this.  Happy where I am.  Do I want way more?  Yeah.  I’m never satisfied with my results and I’m always harsher on myself than anyone else ever would be.

Will I do another 12 weeks?  Well, either that or 12 weeks of something else.

I’ll just keep collecting challenge tee shirts every three months until I finally reach my goal.

Then I’ll finally be able to say that I did it.

Until then, keep the prayers coming.  I’ve still got a week to go.

And take it from me, La Leche del Sol is crap.

Closing In on the Goal

It’s raining.  It’s raining pretty hard.

I like the rain normally.  But…

atlas

Sometimes when I train I wear a diaper as well.  If only Charles Atlas was still the standard of male jacked-ness.  I think I’d stand a chance.

The only thing about the rain I don’t like tonight is that it kept me from doing my cardio workout.  I lack a treadmill or elliptical machine so I either go for a run or do 25 minutes of jump rope in my driveway.  Driveway’s flooded and the streets are a mess.  Since I’m only four weeks out from recording my final results in the Body for Life Challenge that just means I’ll do the cardio first thing in the morning and then a lower body workout (leg day) in the afternoon.  If you read this, say a prayer for me please.  I’ve never been this close before to achieving a goal I really wanted this badly.  For eight weeks now I’ve put in the hardest physical work of my life.  I followed a really good diet to an almost-micro level.  I did every set, every rep, every major muscle group at the appointed time.  When it was cold in my garage and the steel plates were hard to grip, I gripped ’em.  When it warmed up and I put the garage door up to let in a breeze and I wound up giving my neighbors a show as I pumped iron without a shirt on, I, well wait, where was I?  Oh yeah, I swatted mosquitos trying to suck the blood out of my near-bulging veins.  When the idea of hitting the pavement to run 20 minute intense intervals sounded like a death march, I forced myself to go faster and faster hoping that this would actually start burning fat.

I’m 40 years-old and in phenomenal health for a man half my age (if I do say so myself).  But there’s something about being able to visualize those results…  You know what I’m saying.  My body fat percentage is dropping but not fast enough for me.  I’ve gained 7 pounds of muscle since I started and that’s great but not good enough for me.  I’m finally starting to see the kind of definition that would turn heads and that’s awesome but not good enough for me.  My former-one time-actually never in reality trainer who remains an acquaintance of mine despite the way I’ve abused him in print over the years told me yesterday that with this particular program the results from the last four weeks are expected to be as good as for the first eight weeks.  “You’ve no doubt gotten a lot stronger now and can force more out of yourself.  Lift heavier because you can!  Run faster, jump rope more intensely.  You can either quit now and be happy or you can double down and be really happy.”  It was cool to hear him say that he really believed I could do it.  But if that’s the case and I stick with it (as I fully intend to) I should be a chiseled man in a month.  As shallow as it sounds but for the reasons mentioned above, pray for this.  I’d like to be happy with my appearance once in my life.  And if not, well, they say it’s good to possess good health.  Yeah.  Great.  Whatever.  I want to be ripped.

Good night, folks.

Diary of a Hotshot Medical Courier

I am slowly getting back to finding the time to record my life for both of you to read.

I’ll start easy…

Tonight it rained.  Rain is great.  Except when your night job is picking up large boxes containing human specimens and you have to cart them to your car and then to the airport.  Then, rain sucks.

What kind of specimens, you ask?

Well…  The kind of work I do is referred to in the world of logistics as “hot shot courier” service.  Basically, a company or an individual needs something shipped yesterday.  They call one of about fifty companies who are clients of my boss.  My boss’ company is a small operation consisting of herself and four drivers.  She takes the orders from the client company.  Their conversations go something like this.

old car

In olden days, couriers came in packs of four and wore nifty motoring caps.

“Can you get someone out to X location for a pickup by 1600?”  That’s 4 PM.  For some reason in logistics we always use military time.

“Let me check what drivers I have available.”  She then calls me, for instance.  “Do you think you could be to X location in the next 25 minutes?  They have a pickup.  It’s ready now and it’s 3 boxes at 45 lbs. total”

To which I respond “I’m good to go,” as I grab a quick snack and a bottle of water, my binder containing all of my TSA forms and partially filled out airway bills, and double-check that the hand truck is in the back of the car.

I then race to the location, pick up the packages, and call it back in to her so she knows I’ve got them and this can be tracked.  Along the way she will have given me flight information.  Why’s that?  Well, my next step is to race them off to the airport (in this case a HUGE international airport with many cargo facilities) and “tender” the packages, making sure they get on the appropriate flights without a hitch.  The boxes generally contain human blood samples and the like and are almost always packed in dry ice.  That last bit means that the packages cannot be x-rayed so I had to pass a background check establishing me as a “known shipper”.  I also have to be able to quickly convert kilos to pounds as the dry ice is measured one way and the total weight another.  If an animal is already booked for travel on that flight he or she takes priority.  Animals and dry ice cannot both occupy the cargo hold as one isn’t making it out alive.  Hint: it’s not the ice.

Anyway, all of this is both fun and exciting.  I truly enjoy making these deliveries happen.  Sometimes it’s a delivery in reverse of the above where I pick something up at the airport and deliver it to a client.  Sometimes I get to drive long distances like up into Oklahoma or down to San Antonio.  Those jobs pay very well.  I like the mental challenge of placing myself in different places at different times in order to complete the job when needed.  I never realized how good of a logistical planner I was until I started doing this.  But then again, I could see it clearly during my day job when I noticed one day last week that I was simultaneously cognizant of 12 children between the ages of 7 and 8 who were all doing different tasks in different parts of the classroom and who all seemed to need my help at the same time.  I got this.

So the rain…  Yeah, carting these packages around in the rain is not as much fun as you’d think.  The boxes get wet, the paperwork gets wet, I get wet.

But we need the rain so I’m not complaining.

 

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

The “Average” Collector

My godson who lives in the Capital Region of New York State just published his very first blog post! I was honored that he asked me to look it over for him. It hardly needed any edits. I’m very excited for him (and a little proud too)!

For context he’s a numismatist and wrote this piece for the website of American Numismatic Association. I hope you enjoy and share.

The Myth of the “Average” Collector

Catching Up

The astute reader (and the other one too) will note that I have not posted in a long while.  So here’s an update.

When last we spoke I had taken a job through a friend of my wife delivering lab mice safely from the airport.  The job ramped up in the past week in terms of busyness despite the fact that the largest air carrier of animals (including lab mice) suspended all animal deliveries.  It seems they not only killed a few dogs but also sent one or two to the wrong locations.  When Fido lands in Tokyo instead of with his family in Rochester people tend to get upset.  In any event, I have been working from about noon until midnight and beyond the past week.

I started teaching again.  The small Montesorri school my children attend found themselves in need of a teacher.  For some reason they thought of me.  Desperation makes people do desperate things.  Every morning from 7:45-11:45 I drive my kids to school, enter the building, and then proceed to teach.  My daughter is now my student.  She rather enjoys this.  I get a kick out of it too.

I haven’t worked on my book in a while.  For some reason writing is hard for me these days.

I am four weeks from completing the Body for Life challenge.  I’ve seen some slight changes which is a good thing.  The jury is still out on whether I will achieve the chiseled look the program promises.  All in all, though, I have been fairly healthy and I can’t complain about that.

My former trainer ran into me and gave me a book.  “It reminds me of you,” he said.  The book is called Living with a Seal.  It’s about a multi-gazillionaire who wanted to get shredded as an answer to a mid-life crisis.  So far, it sounds like me except without the money.  My acquaintance assures me that the humorous way in which the author presents his training sessions reminds him of the stories I used to write about him and me.  Again, the difference is the money.  I was always positive that if I had the means to pay someone what it would take then I could reach my goals.  But cash does not replace motivation.  The funny thing is I’ve always been motivated.  I’ve just always lacked the means to figure out what needs to be done.  There’s a lot of “micro” stuff that someone in training has to pay attention to.  Eat this specific amount of this type of protein down to the gram.  Work out in this particular way (don’t deviate at all) at precisely 5AM after one cup of black coffee.  You get the picture.  The former trainer still looks great.  It was nice to see him again.

Amazon Prime has been offering some real doozies under their “classic TV” section.  On Saturday morning I watched three episodes of the 1988 incarnation of Family Feud with my kids.  I figured it was safe.  And who doesn’t like Ray Combs?  The first question he asked the contestants was “Name something people think they’re better at than they actually are.”  Like lightning one contestant hit the buzzer and yelled “sex!”  I’ve always tried to be honest with my kids.  My 8 year-old daughter turned to me and said “What’s sex?”  “I have an idea, kids…  Who wants to watch Mr. Ed!?”  “But what’s sex,” she said again?  “Sweetheart,” I replied, “Let’s watch a little more and see the other answers first.  And she never brought it up again.

So tomorrow morning, at the start of week 9 (out of 12), I will get up at 6, get my black coffee, not workout since I’ll have the best of intentions to do that in the afternoon, get back into bed, check the news, look over my checkbook, pet my sleeping Russell Terrier, get up, get dressed, get the kids to school, teach for four hours, drive medical deliveries around the metropolitan area, chat with my new friends at the airport, not pick up mice, squeeze in that workout between jobs, and get home far too late to eat dinner or kiss my wife and kids goodnight.  I didn’t want to be out of work but I wasn’t hoping to be chest-deep in it either.  It’s all good, though.  Easter is coming.

What Dad Taught Me

My father taught me many things in the almost 40 years we were simultaneously on this earth.

By far the most significant lesson was this. To come to daily mass is the greatest gift God has given and the greatest gift we can return to Him.

Thanks, Dad. It sometimes takes me a while to get it but I think I’ve got it.