Category Archives: Teaching/Education/School

Moving On

Both of my loyal readers know that I have been in pursuit of a particular dream for some time.

apple

Symbolic of my career.

When I’m not busy being Dad, writing, or trying to whip my broken body into shape; I work at a day job.  What’s funny is that this “day” job is a vocation for me.  It is, as I like to think of it, a pathway along the wider road of God’s plan for me.  For the past eleven years I have been a teacher in a Catholic high school (three of them, to be exact).  Initially I got into teaching because it was a job.  Somewhere along the line I realized I liked it.  Then I realized that I loved it.  Then I began to feel that I was good at it.  Finally I thought that I could be of use to God in a different way.  I got this crazy idea that I could be a pretty decent school administrator.

I went back to school and completed a second Master’s degree.  And then I went on the hunt.

And I got… nowhere.

I explained my frustration to my wife.  “It’s just that before this year, I had never interviewed for a job that I didn’t ultimately get.”  “That’s nothing,” she said, “I’ve never interviewed for a job.”  She pointed out to me that her first job out of college came about through a connection and she more or less advanced from there.

I put the dream aside, trying to convince myself of the words my best friend and brother, a guy I’ve known since our days in the college seminary.  He’s always told me “God’s timing is perfect.”  I used to laugh at him.  Most of the time, though, I’d think of how obnoxious a thing like that is to say to someone who’s trying his heart out and getting nowhere.  Yet somehow he knew.  I put the dream aside and figured I would get comfortable with something I already knew I loved.  I prepared myself to teach forever.

It’s funny to me how God does things like this.  It’s His time.  We’re just passing through it.  I even remarked to my current students that, on the whole, this has been the best group of high school juniors I have ever worked with.  I’ve always had it pretty easy and I’ve certainly had my stand-outs.  But these kids this year have been a real blessing.  They are kind, witty, caring, passionate.  I love each and every one of them.  God knew they’d be my last class as a teacher and He allowed me the grace of going out with the best.  Recently a few of them have met my beginning-of-year challenge.  “If you can find my blog, kids, you can read it.”  For those who are reading right now, first, isn’t this blog amazing?  You’ve never read anything this awesome.  It has changed your life.  Whatever, just lie and say yes.  Second, thanks for being the best.

Principal-Reserved-Parking-Sign-K-4049

I think I made it.

I’m really going to miss them when I start my new job in a month as an assistant principal.  Oh, had I forgotten to slip that detail into the story?  Sorry.  Yes, I’m losing my summers and gaining a whole lot of responsibility but it’s everything I’ve wanted and I couldn’t be happier.  Please pray for me that I do a good job.

And what did my current students ask of me as a memento of my time with them?

Apparently I should make them a “mix tape”.  Go figure.  I didn’t even know they would know what a mix tape is.  Perhaps I’ll take them up on the suggestion.  I haven’t made one of those in forever.

Of Broken Toes and Broken Dreams

“Ever have your spirit crushed, Mr. H.?” asked a student once.

OK, work with me.  It’s called a literary device.  Sure, no student ever said that but it’s possible that one could have.  More to the point I need to set up this next bit.

“Kid,” I said, “I’m a Mets fan.  Every year since 1986.”

See, wasn’t that cute?

In all honesty this past Thursday I had more than my spirit crushed in the form of a few small bones in the toes on my right foot.

At the Catholic high school where I teach I also assist in other ways.  One of those ways is to transform our very large gym (one of two, I might add) into a worship space for about 1200 people who gather once a month for mass.  I arrived early on the day in question.  It was just before 7AM.  I had really high hopes of starting a new workout that day too.  The thing is that my trainer clued me in to the secret of working out pre-breakfast.  Factor in a lengthy commute and my need to be there at an ungodly hour and the workout last out to a few extra minutes of sleep.

Boy am I excited about this workout, though.  After everything I’ve tried I’ve always felt that nothing has worked for me.  I have a vision in mind fueled by a desire for better heath vanity.  I now know that there are no easy fixes, that I should have done this when I was a teenager.  See, back then I had the time.  I had no social life thanks to a lack of friends or a personality, so I could have been pounding my societal aggression in the gym for hours on end.  Instead I was – come to think of it I really can’t account for my teenage years.  Must have blocked them.  I certainly wasn’t drinking, getting high, or dating like the cool kids.  But I squandered those years – years when I could have been setting myself up for success.  It’s hard, damn near impossible, to achieve the kind of success I want at my age.  The people I know who’ve done it can all maintain it.  That’s always easier to do when you reached it in the first place.  But when you’re married with kids and a job, not so easy to get started.

But this new program…  Having reached the conclusion that I need to be happy with whatever gains I see; I was really eager to jump into this.  I might only lose a few pounds, probably wouldn’t really put on any muscle but I’m OK with that because it’s better than nothing and if I achieve my potential I can’t be disappointed in what my potential actually was.

But it needs to start another day because I was tired that morning.

I walked into the gym to discover a group of kids even more eager than me already rolling out racks of chairs to set up on the gym floor.

“Kids, I love the energy!” I shouted as I put my coffee down.  You’ve got to praise them at every step.  It’s easy with these kids.  I love them like my own.  And like a proud dad I feel the urge to encourage them because they are so awesome.  And I mean that.  “But hang on a bit because we have to roll the floor mats out first.”

Then I proceeded to walk them over to the side of the bleachers where a giant machine on wheels resides.  “This baby here contains enough floor matting material to cover the whole gym so we don’t scuff up the floor with the chairs,” I said as I motioned for them to give me a hand wheeling it into place.  The thing weighs 1,000 pounds fully laden.

Did I mention they’re eager kids?

In their eagerness they pushed the rack really hard before I had a chance to get my foot out of the way.

Ever hear bones break?  It’s not a pleasant sound.

I looked down to see a hard graphite wheel rolling up onto my foot and then… staying there!

“Love you kids but get this thing OFF ME!!!” I shouted.

They pushed and after what seemed like an eternity it rolled off.  The other side.  Taking an additional pounding blow on another toe.

I tried to act tough.  Who complains about broken toes of all things.  I finished helping the kids and even taught a class before seeing the school nurse who instructed me to go home and elevate it.  It was in her office that I first removed my sock.  Oh God, it was so gross…

And because I knew I’d need to see a doctor, it turns out I do indeed have two broken toes and will be wearing a boot for the next month.

On the upside, I’ve been wanting to introduce a Bermuda-themed look into the school dress code for some time.  Think about it.  These kids already love me for my style.  It’s the most amazing thing.  Remember those teenage years I mentioned?  Yeah, they seem not to matter now because the teenagers of today look up to me.  Do you know how gratifying it is to have 500 teenage boys literally trying to copy everything you’re wearing?  I’m apparently a trendsetter.  Let’s see how they dig shorts with my tie and jacket…

But that workout will have to wait.

Just like another Mets World Series win.

I think God’s trying to tell me something.

Chuck, and Sue, and Me

Today I bid a fond farewell to another graduating class of seniors at the high school where I work.  All my teachers out there know the feeling.  After the amount of time you spend with you, you alternately feel as though it’s simply time and that you wish you had another four years with them.

That’s because you love them.

“But that title?” you ask.  What’s with the New York local news anchors?

I was asked last week to write a letter to one of our graduates.  The woman asking me to write was the mom of the young lady and she wanted to include letters of advice or memories or well wishing to her daughter from teachers she knew had been particularly admired by her daughter.  OK, 1) that’s powerful right there.  A mother shared her child’s education duties with me and here she is acknowledging that I hadn’t let her down.  There is no 2.  That’s humbling.

This young woman was a delight to teach.  She made the classroom a fun place to be for everyone.  She was polite, intelligent, caring, and passionate about her interests.  Among these activities was her work on the student-produced news magazine that aired once a week.  We shared many stories over my own television production work and I applauded her for hers.  This could explain why yours truly appeared on every single episode of the broadcast this year.  Hey, self-promotion…  It’s the way to go.

In the spirit of writing my letter to her, encouraging her to continue to pursue her dreams because I’m sure the Will of God lies somewhere in the imaginations that He’s given us; I began to remember why I wanted to work in TV.  I looked up a clip on Youtube of the two people who were a huge part of my life as a child.  Obviously my mom and dad are not on Youtube (yet) but Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons most definitely are.  They anchored the news together in New York for over three decades and most of that time I watched religiously.

Other kids would come home from school and watch cartoons.

I came home from school and did my homework quickly so I could watch Live at Five.

And then I clicked on a clip of Chuck talking about 40 years at WNBC.

And it hit me.

I can’t believe I hadn’t know this all along.

If you ever want to know where I developed my “style” both in dress and speech pattern when speaking in public, in writing scripts (like the things I say “spontaneously” to my class) and in how I can “anchor” down a conversation…  Well, just look at this clip.

Seriously, I used to wonder if they’d ever adopt a three-anchor format just so I could sit between Chuck and Sue.  I didn’t even care to read any stories, just to bask in their glory.

Instead I am happy to inspire others to make the most of their dreams, to teach and not to do, to be an anchor in the classroom and for the faith, to tell the story of Jesus Christ.

But so help me God, it this chick gets to meet Sue Simmons I will hunt her down.

Why Did They Have To Do That?

I was having a relatively good day.

OK, that’s a lie.  I woke up at 5:30 because I had to be to work early for a faculty meeting.  Any teacher reading this knows that’s a fate worse than death.  It’s always the same.  An hour of sitting in an uncomfortable theater (for a guy with a fused spine), crossing your legs back and forth, listening to speaker after speaker drone on and on about things that could have been put in an email and ignored.

And for this I get the privilege of waking up 30 minutes earlier.  Thank you, most munificent God.

At the end of most faculty meetings at my school a veteran teacher stands up — it’s always the same woman each month as long as I’ve been here — and presents the Faculty of the Month Award.

teacher sign

World class, all right…

At this point I am firmly tuned out, scrolling through my Twitter feed looking for videos of kittens climbing out of cardboard boxes and bursting into flames.  I find the cuteness to be calming and the incineration bizarre.

Imagine my shock when, after five years of teaching at this place and witnessing dozens of my colleagues receive this award (many of whom have taught here fewer years than I); to hear my name called.

What in the world?

Surely they had that wrong.  Clearly they haven’t figured out my game yet.  I come here to collect a check.

A friend (fellow teacher and previous award recipient) who also happens to be my trainer was sitting behind me and reached forward to pat me on the back.  I sat there motionless, absolutely embarrassed, to hear testimonials from three fellow teachers about some guy they think is wonderful.

Listening to the things they had to say I wondered who they were talking about.  Apparently I love my students, am always smiling, and have a popular Twitter feed.  I’ll grant them the Twitter feed.  I’m pretty good at that.

But why me?  Why today?

I instantly felt like crap that I was thinking these things instead of just being thankful to be recognized.  I’ll admit, I’m a terrible human being.  I should just be grateful and move on.  And I am grateful.  I just can’t figure it out.  I never wanted to teach.  In fact there are times when I wonder why God called me to this career.  I hate how demeaning the pay is (not at this school, just for teachers in general) and the constant feeling that maybe this is all I can do with my life.  That probably stems from my dad.  He always repeated the old “maxim” that those who can’t doteach.  I love my job and I do love my students.  So why do I feel this way?

Or maybe I was really wondering what took them so long to see it?  And of course then I began to feel like a real jerk, pondering about an award I was not owed.

Is this how one is supposed to feel when your colleagues recognize you?  I honestly don’t know since it’s never happened before.

What I do know is that just the day before the student council had awarded me a little trinket.  It was a plastic red apple on a base that read “Harvey: Best Dressed Teacher”.  And I know that that award meant the world to me because it came from my students, the people I actually work with every day.

And I suppose it’s truly nice to be recognized once in a while by adults.  I tried explaining to my wife how big a deal this award is.  It’s kind of how the school says “thank you, good job”.  We don’t get bonuses as teachers; there are no pay raises for good work, just a cost of living adjustment.  This is how they tell you you’re doing a good job.  I don’t think she bought it.

Here’s what I know.  I am most appreciative to whomever wrote those testimonials about me.  I was truly shocked.  And because it says I’m a good teacher I have to be a good teacher.  That means, put the award aside and get back to teaching.

See you first period.

The Moon, The Passion, and You

moon effect

Luna

Remember that student of mine I wrote about a few months back; the one who “discovered” my blog?  Well, she’s under the weather right now.  Say a prayer for her (and for all my kids).  In the meantime, I thought I’d write a post she could really get a laugh out of because she emailed me that she now has a lot of time to catch up on my blog.

So today at work I began with a question.  It’s Monday of Holy Week.  Our focus is on the impending celebration of the Lord’s Passion.

“Kids, today I want to talk with about the moon.”

“The what, Mr. H.?” they replied (in unison).

“The moon.  The stupid yellow ball in the sky at night?  What are you missing?  In fact, I have two stories about the moon and the Paschal Mystery,” I said, holding up two stacks of paper.  “I’ll let you pick.”  They chose the one in my right hand.

I then went on to share an article with them about the New American translation of the Bible and how the translators used a very poor rendering in English for a passage in Luke’s Gospel.  The passage said something about how “darkness covered the land from noon until three because of an eclipse of the sun.”  Then I shared how this is actually impossible.

You see, Jesus was crucified around the Passover which always takes place around a full moon (being the mid-point of a lunar month).  Full moons simply do not contribute to solar eclipses.  New moons do.

It would be more appropriate to have translated the line (as most other English translations do) “darkness covered the land because the sun failed.

I could see the light bulbs slowly going on over their heads.

“So, Mr. H., what was the other moon story about?” they asked.

“OK, let’s read this selection from Mark’s account of the Passion together,” I said.

“Now a young man followed him [Jesus] wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.” – Mk. 14: 51-52

Long pause.

“Oooooh,” said one.  “Moon.  I get it.”

Keeping It Even Realer

Lots of fun things happened today so let’s kick it off…

First up, a young woman who is a college senior majoring in both education and theology and is currently in my charge as a student-teacher, stepped up to the podium for the very first time!  Why is this exciting?  My friends, it’s almost like giving birth.  Except, in this birth, there is no pushing, blood, cord, or baby.  But, it’s a moment that makes me humble, proud, and grateful all at once.

When I started teaching over a decade ago, I had just come from the exciting world of television production.  Looking for something more rewarding and desiring to be on the poverty line the rest of my life, I applied for and was hired to teach theology at a large Catholic high school in New Jersey.  I was more surprised than anyone.  Armed with a master’s degree in systematics and a lifetime of living the Catholic faith I was ready to teach.  The only catch is that I was not ready to teach.  I had no idea what I was doing and I was literally shown to my classroom, given a set of books, and left to my own devices.  It took me a few years.  Still I always had a sense of how to treat people, even teenage students, so it wasn’t terrible.  There were moments I thought I’d quit because I truly believed that I sucked at this.  But it got better.  My wife has always been a huge source of encouragement in this regard.  Thanks, honey.

So my student-teacher, as she prepped to draw on the board, take roll, and do a whole host of “teacher-y” things reminded me of how much I love teaching.  She’s a little nervous.  That’s good.  It means she cares about what she’s doing.

I loved this day so much because of what I was able to do.  My presence allowed someone else to get the kind of support I hadn’t had.  I love teaching.  I love Catholic schools.  It is my life.  To see someone so young and promising just starting out and to know that I can be a part of that is just amazing.  Watching the students interact with her and knowing that they’re in good hands and that the future of our Catholic schools is bright is very rewarding.  It’s funny to me that anyone would seek mentoring from me of all people.

You know my trainer?  I may have mentioned him a few hundred times.  First, he gave me a day off so I’m enjoying it sort of.  I’m actually eager to be out running or dropping down for 50 push ups but I’ll take his advice that my body needs rest.  Still I don’t believe he ever takes a break.  The man’s a machine.  But my point in bring him up is that I was able to serve as a “mentor” to him once.  When he arrived at our school he already had a few years of teaching under his belt but I was asked to mentor him in his acclamation to our particular school.  I really felt bad because there was nothing he could learn from me and yet we had this work relationship where I always think he thought I was a boss of some kind.  No, my friend, we are colleagues.  In fact, over the past three years I’ve known him I’ve seen in him a phenomenal teacher whom I have been blessed to learn from.  Damn, he ripped, can run 2 minute miles AND is better at his job than me.

But the truth is that all of us can learn from one another.  I don’t know that he’s ever learned anything from me about teaching other than what not to do.  But today I felt proud of my emerging teacher.  Who knows, maybe she’ll be the best theology teacher ever!  Or maybe she’ll be in the right classroom at the right time somewhere down the road to inspire the right young man to consider the priesthood or to counsel the right young woman to choose life or maybe just to be the presence of Christ in the lives of those young people whom He wants to come to Him through her.

What a good day.  God be praised!

I still did 50 push ups this morning.  Don’t tell the trainer.

Who’s Watching You?

As a teacher, I know what it’s like to have to perform in front of an audience.  I do it several times a day, five days a week.  I have often compared my job to that of an actor on the Broadway stage.  And as a fan of theater I can tell you that when you see the same performance twice or even a third or fourth time (with the same cast) you notice different things.  Hopefully you notice the performance getting better in some way.  The pace changes based on the audience and time of day, jokes that bombed the first time out are retooled, etc.

It can be scary and it can be stressful.  Fortunately, I love my job so it isn’t really either of those things.  But when I first started teaching there were, I admit, sleepless nights here and there.  So tonight’s prompt reminds me of my career.  Here it is.

When you do something scary or stressful — bungee jumping, public speaking, etc. — do you prefer to be surrounded by friends or by strangers? Why?

I love having friends and family around me all the time so I would probably go with that option.  The moral support is always appreciated.  However, I am so comfortable doing things (like teaching) completely on my own that it doesn’t really bother me to be surrounded by strangers.  In fact, in many ways it’s preferable.  Let’s say I’m doing something at which I am absolutely no good.  Most athletic endeavors fall into this category.  Better, I think, to do them in the presence of no one in particular than to embarrass myself in front of my loved ones.

Those who witnessed me run my first 5K a month and a half ago can attest.  When I’m running I resemble an elephant hopped up on Percocet chasing a squirrel on a field of butter.

Speaking of painkillers, your truly had that tooth extracted earlier this evening.  Fun.  Not really.  But it wasn’t too bad.  The dentist did a good job of numbing me.  After a few moments I couldn’t feel the right side of my head.  Still, owing to the fact that large teeth and even longer roots run in my family, he had to bust out the big tools.  First he pulled the crown off.  That was an interesting sound.  Then he sawed, chipped, and drilled the rest of this molar from my gums.  At one point he actually used his free hand to brace my head against the chair for leverage while pulling my tooth with the other.

Suffice to say I spent most of the evening with gauze packed in my mouth feeling like I’d had a stroke.

Greco Holy Family

St. Joseph is one of these dudes.  El Greco doesn’t make it quite clear…

Before I leave you, please stop and say a prayer for my brother.  The hospice nurse informed my sister that his decline is now rapid and if we are to honor his wish to die at home we should bring him home.  My sister, normally a little more stoic when hearing medical news, cried.  Of course she did.  Whereas I never had much of a relationship with my brother — he is still my brother and I love him and want him to be at peace — this was her baby brother.  She saw him as a child, played with him, grew up with him.

I’ve already stated that his time on this earth is limited.  It may be a day or he may hold on for another week or two.  Please pray.  Here is a link to a prayer to St. Joseph, patron saint of a happy death and of the dying.