Tag Archives: teaching

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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Keep the Prayers Coming

I really enjoyed our online novena last week.  It was nice to know that I was being prayed for and to pray for others, not just my own intentions.  It was also especially gratifying to spread devotion to St. Rita.

cajetan

St. Cajetan (Gaetano) the Theatine, patron of the unemployed and job-seekers.

Things started to move on the job front, if only slightly.  You have to understand that I’ve never been in this position.  I resigned from my job and I am 100% positive this was the right decision.  I know God is asking me to trust Him right now.  I know He will lead me somewhere better.  Tonight I had a meeting with the principal of a phenomenal school.  We spoke openly and honestly and it certainly looks like there might be a job for me there.  Next school year.

So that leaves me with next month…

It will be interesting for sure.  I will probably have to take non-teaching work in the meantime which is not something I was looking for.  So for the sake of humor I will now walk through a few possible scenarios.

 

TSA

Everyone’s favorite government agency is ALWAYS hiring.  Lucky for me I have a MAJOR airport five miles from my house.  The up side?  I love airports.  The down side?  I hate putting my hands on other guys’ legs.  True, I could have some fun with the X-ray machines imagining things that aren’t really there and then calling them in.  Also, I understand that people in these kinds of jobs are generally not altogether there.  With a pinch of ingenuity and a pulse I could be a real standout.  Unfortunately I don’t look good in blue.

RETAIL

nordstrom

Actual Nordstrom where I worked years ago.  Or not.  They all look alike.

When I was in college I worked in a Nordstrom department store.  My customer service skills are top notch.  It also helped that I worked for the only retail outlet on the planet where they say the customer is always right and then actually mean it.  I remember one time I took a return.  It was a $1000 leather jacket that had not been purchased in a Nordstrom.  We know this because we had never sold that jacket.  Furthermore it was 20 years old, frayed, and had a dead rat in the breast pocket.  Apparently Mr. Nordstrom believed it was better to have a satisfied customer in the store with cash in his hand than to upset the delicate flower.  I remembered those words as the customer was quickly exiting the store with a thousands bucks in hand laughing at the security camera.

FAST FOOD

This could work.  I like to eat fast food.  By that logic, though, I should work in a liquor store.  Let’s come back to this one…

TELEVISION

You know I used to work as a writer and producer in this exciting medium.  If I was any good I’d have been the breakout star of 2005.  Still, there are several large media outlets in my neck of the woods.  Unfortunately not only can I not get the Texas drawl down but I can’t seem to shake my Jersey accent.  I’d be a bigger fish out of water than that large fish a friend of mine caught.  Wow that was a really bad literary device.

PUBLIC SAFETY

fire

See… I couldn’t get this huge if I tried.

I’d consider the FBI if I weren’t too old.  I’d consider a police force but my back injuries would probably rule me out.  I’d consider the fire department.  Let’s think about this one.  1) Every fireman I know is ridiculously huge – like GI Joe proportions only taller.  Yes Grady, even you.  There isn’t enough protein in the world to make this frame that size.  2) Having lived through a multiple-fatal house fire as a child the psychological trauma of running into a burning building would make it impossible for me to do my job.  3) I can only imagine the first time an alarm rings and I have to shimmy down the pole.  I would think of a TV segment I produced for a news program in New York.  It was about a new workout called “the stripper workout”.  Seriously.  The mental image of our aging anchor dancing around a pole would make me incontinent with laughter and I would fall through the hole in the floor breaking multiple bones.  Thus I would be rendered incapable of fighting fires that day.

So there you have it.  Looks like I’ll have to get creative.  I’m open to suggestions so let’s hear ’em.  Or you could just continue to pray for me.  Otherwise I’m going to get real familiar with Wendy Williams and Kelly Ripa.  That’s a fate worse than death.

A Memory of Dad

This afternoon I was having a moment of great fun with my students.  Some of you aren’t shocked.  One of the reasons I know teaching is in some way my vocation is by how easy it is for me.  I mean that as in it never seems like work.  I love my kids and every day brings truly great joy and really fun times.

In this particular class I was talking with the kids, going around the room.  The lesson was on coming to understand the conscience as the seat of judgment.  I mentioned my Dad as having among the best judgment of anyone I’ve known.  This is significant because I had just told them that the grace of God made present in the sacraments enhances our ability to judge effectively.  “Dad went to mass every day, kids,” I said.  [I’ve got to get back to that.]

Something strange happened.  While I was talking about him I began to feel like he was in the classroom with us.  That’s not too unusual for me.  I’ve always believed in the strong presence of those we’ve lost still in our lives.  But I began to wonder a few things.  He never saw me teach.  Actually very few of my friends have.  It’s a shame, really.  I’m pretty freakin’ awesome at it.  But it’s strange for me because I remember how he taught.  He was not a teacher.  In fact, he didn’t suffer most teachers well.  The man was a genius though he lacked the patience to express what he knew to those of us who were not on his level.  I still fear numbers because of how he corrected my math homework as a kid.  “What the hell did you write all those extra numbers on the page for?” he’d ask.  “Well, um, Daddy, Sister said that’s how you carried the, um, extra num” — “Can’t do it in your head?!”  In truth it was funny and I certainly learned a few things like how to frustrate him when I wanted a laugh.  Sitting at the piano one day I asked if he wanted me to teach him how to play.  The conversation ended with “What’s the matter, can’t play both hands together?!”  Of course I said it in a much more innocent tone than you’re imagining.

But Dad always admired those who could do things well, especially if he could not.  He was never envious, just impressed with good work and, especially, with good performances.  Don’t you know I taught one of my best classes ever this afternoon.  I wanted him to see how good I was and wondered if he’d be impressed.

I mentioned a “memory” in the title and almost forgot to write about it.  Driving home from work, still thinking about Dad, my mind wandered to an incident from years ago.  I was 23 years-old, laid up with a bad back and the accompanying paralyzing sciatica.  I spent weeks on the couch in Mom and Dad’s living room, awake all night and asleep all day thanks to the painkillers I was taking.  Some days, I’d be awake for a few hours in the early afternoon, though, and these were the worst times because everyone was out and I had no company.  I had dozed off one day, kind of depressed about a lot of things.  When I opened my eyes I saw my father sitting on the couch next to the chair I was on.  He never sat in that room for anything.  He had noticed me sleeping and had decided I needed him nearby.  He had even gotten us each a dish of ice cream.  He must have known that would wake me up.  You see, he was also looking for company.  There was a game show on the History Channel and he had no one to watch it with – or at least no one who would give him a challenge.  I felt better for a while.  We sat together and shouted out answers about WWII at the screen.  I think I even “won”.  Who can’t carry the one now, old man?!

I don’t know why that memory has always stuck with me.  But I’m glad it has and I’m very glad I thought of it today and I wanted to share it because maybe it will make you glad as well.

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.

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.