Saturday, September 6, 2008

I once met a man....

I once met a man
who baked cookies for breakfast
with chocolate chips inside.
The people I knew thought that
this was strange but I didn't think
it strange at all, because I couldn't
help wonder that if this man
made cookies for breakfast,
what else could he do with his mind.
Standing still,
this man was making music,
a voice that went unnoticed
except to a very few.
It wasn't the kind of music you're thinking of
as far as I could tell.
It was that soft slow waltz.
It was that quarter note of a life deferred.
His music, it comes from a chord,
a note,
a rhythm
that he wants to record.
Stolen, some may claim,
from the outer reaches of the atmosphere,
kept hidden on the pages until more lines unfold.
He doesn't exactly know how one note leads to another
as he sits staring onto the page.
Sometimes for minutes or even hours
until some voice inside,
whether in dreams when he is sleeping
or the sound of the song when he is awake,
tells him the time is ripe for reaping.
And this same man had unopened letters in his pocket
with a red rubber band wrapped around.
The people I knew thought that this was strange,
but I didn't think it strange at all because I couldn't help wonder
that if this man had unopened letters in his pocket,
what other dreams of his were deferred.
And who's to say that this man who no one knew,
standing there, making music,
wasn't looking out his window
noticing and wondering all that he sees.
Could it be mine of some other face.....
......less in the crowd
haunted by the former days
of when our words were buried
hidden between the fragments on the blue-inked page.
And this man,
standing still
making music
singing out that whole note
no longer had his dreams denied
while we lingered there
waiting for the sunny day that never came
filling in the blanks that were cut and pasted to our soul
wishing for the bell to ring
to chase the dreams that others hold.
Our dreams postponed....

The sea of our denial...

Holding our heads up high
we look straight ahead
rather than beside.
We do not wish to see
or hear the faces in the crowd,
"hey, mister, are you for integration?"
as it echoes in the distance.
We choose instead to walk on by,
the one in rags,
the one with a smile
we do not see;
letting the wind
take them away.
Far away from our denial.
Have we forgotten how to live?
How to be?
No longer simplified as we wipe away our tear
of the homeless,
the aged,
the crippled,
the poor.
Have we wiped away the tear inside?
Succumbing to our fear inside?
Fooling no one, least of all ourselves,
as we pass on by,
mother or father,
sister or brother,
son or daughter.
We walk on by pretending not to see,
pretending not to hear the voice of segregation,
"But the real estate value will go up with the Judge's decision."
The Promised Land it was echoed long ago,
yet, the promised land for who?
History we have known.
History we have seen
and the picture on the wall
is no painting for the ones
living in the shadows
of this sea of denial.
And in my dreams
And in my sleep,
I awake to the fragments torn from the beaches of my life.
And when the ocean waves rifle to shore
I wonder if we, this time,
will once again turn our backs
and forget the ones we left behind
or will we choose instead,
to build a bridge for everyone to climb.
And I,
alone in the darkness
in search of the comfort I wish to find,
still can hear the salt water at night
crying out to the pebbles washed ashore
willing them to fight.
Crying out to the pebbles left behind
and I wonder if these rough edges
will ever be polished into more.

One note, one song, one life...

I sat in the back of the room listening to Donald Murray share his poetry and fiction about war. As I closed my eyes, I listened to his voice and couldn't help wonder about the contrast of his experience with mine.

Though, generations apart, I had not seen the battle through his eyes, I could somehow come to know the common ground that makes all lives and moments matter. I couldn't help think about the times, the few times that my father had shared about the years that he, too, faced the onslaught of war in the battle at Reva Ridge. These men, our fathers and grandfathers, with courage, faced the storm and in their way allowed the moments of our lives to continue.
This memory led to another as the poetry echoed out into the hall, when, as a teenager, I ventured to the darkened attic one rainy afternoon to unearth the artifacts contained within the wooden chest to find a life worth telling.
Letters written by a woman who would become my mother as she professed her wisdom and love to the man who would become my father. And somehow in this sacred place, in this house that was my home, I felt I had invaded a private moment not meant to be shared, not meant to be remembered, except between the two.
Inside this wooden chest, I picked up the Bronze Star and held it in my hands. As I reflect back on that moment, I realize that my father's life, when weaved into the fabric of my own, becomes that note, which in turn, becomes a song, one life that truly matters.

Friday, September 5, 2008

In the round....

All this week I have been involved in what I call round table shared training sessions with groups of teachers at 8 individual schools. It has been an opportunity for collective minds to come together-at varying levels of knowledge-and embark on refining or learning a new skill set. The purpose of the meeting was agenda-ized prior to the gathering with an intended outcome at the end of the session. However, I, as the presenter, didn't stand in front of the classroom with a power point presentation or my stack of overhead transparencies at the ready to filter through slide by slide as the participants passively pretended to be "listening". Instead, I sat at the table and as each one entered the room, I stood reaching out my hand telling them my name, and then, in turn, asking them to return the favor. In addition, I informally assessed their knowledge base as it related to the focused purpose. Then, as the material was presented, we had numerous opportunities to dialogue in the round, each of us drawing from our experience, our knowledge base and creating a space where ideas were shape-shifted until common understanding was reached. We learned from one another and the newest players allowed us to see possible angles with fresh eyes. Until next time, continue to create endless possibility-Teach

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Revising our endings:the sweet, sweet sound of words resonating from the front porch steps....

As I work side-by-side with teachers, engage in conversations with children about what they are thinking, or talk with my counterparts at the district level, I do so through the eyes of my history. This includes my history as a student, teacher, reading specialist and literacy coach; this includes my history living and teaching in various regions of the country; and this includes my history working with individuals who changed my thinking, supported my practices, and challenged me by introducing new perspectives on the way the world worked.
All these experiences have allowed me to revise my endings. And some, if I am lucky, take me back home again to that pocket of the world called the Northeast Kingdom where the sweet, sweet sound of words resonate from the front porch steps.

It has been said that you can never go home again, yet, I found myself at the beginning of each new school year, recreating that walk to the public library, skimming through the shelves for the latest find, and then sitting on the “front porch steps” reading aloud to each new group of students or sharing a few lines from my favorite poem with my colleagues. This awakens the rhythm of my teaching and allows us all to celebrate the forgotten art in a world of science.
I grew up in the pocket of the world known as the Northeast Kingdom. It was about twenty minutes give or take from the Canadian border and a couple hours drive to Montreal. It wasn’t uncommon for us to drive there on the weekends to experience the various cultural aspects this Canadian city had to offer; to take in a hockey game in the dead of winter; or walk along the cobbled streets in Vieux-MontrĂ©al.

On those weekends when we remained at home, my mom would walk the seven of us to the end of Prospect Street, down North Avenue until we reached Main. At the corner we would walk across the bridge and on up the steps to the Public Library. Along the way, she entertained us by weaving stories that were found amongst the pages of her mind.

Once inside I would search the stacks for the one book that called my name and with my new found treasure in my hand, we made our way back home again, finding comfort in knowing that when I was safely tucked into the top bunk, the words of the story would resonate freely in my dreams.

One of my favorite stories was called The Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. If you are one of those folks just out of the gate and are not familiar with this classic tale, I challenge you to walk on down to the local library and ask the lady or gentleman behind the counter for a copy. I promise if you go deep enough, your life will be forever changed.

However, I realize that some of you may be too busy to even venture away from your classroom, so until you can breathe a little easier, I will tell you why I think this story is a metaphor for teaching and learning, but first I need to tell you a little bit about my friend Peter.

All of his life, Peter and his siblings were told to never, ever go under the fence into Mr. McGregor’s garden. They were told that the world was a dangerous place and that their father had been the one to go and he never returned.

Well, Peter wasn’t convinced that the world was dangerous. He, out of all the siblings was inquisitive, curious and mischievous at times. Frankly, his ideas about the world didn’t jive with mama. So one morning Peter did what he was told not to do. He went under the fence.

That’s right.
He went under the fence;
didn’t like what his mama was having for lunch
and the carrots;
the carrots growing in the garden next door;
they looked so delicious.

He was having a grand old time in the lettuce patch not paying attention to what was going on around, and that proved to be Peter’s biggest mistake: not paying attention. You see, my friend Peter soon had the blunt end of Mr. McGregor’s rake to worry about, but on that hot July summer day luck ruled in his favor. He saw the shadow before it landed on his backside, and Pete, he high-tailed it out of there.

I’d like to tell you that the story ends there, but it doesn’t. The chase was on and Mr. McGregor had some near misses. Peter, he ran from hiding place to hiding place with Mr. McGregor not far behind. Well, to make this story come full circle, he finally was able to make his way back home again. And his mama, she waited for him on the front porch steps. Then, as only a mama can do, she wrapped her arms around her mischievous son and tucked him safely into the top bunk hoping that the lessons learned would resonate freely in his dreams.

For starters, there will always be the Peter Rabbits of the world and they will find their way into our classrooms. These children will be inquisitive, curious and at times, mischievous. They may not know how to behave or do things that they are told not to do: at first. Just as mama had warned Peter about Mr. McGregor’s garden, they, too, may be blind to your ideas. However, if you wait on the front porch steps, do so with a cupful of wisdom and a whole lot of patience, and you just might find that the lessons you teach will eventually stick.

So I guess what I am trying to say is whenever you feel as if you are moments away from the blunt end of Mr. McGregor’s rake, remember mama sitting on the front porch steps waiting to listen to the stories found within the pages of your mind. And if you must, revise those endings with the children so when you sleep you will hear the sweet, sweet sound of words resonating in your dreams.

One foot in front of the other....

As with any talk show program, there are issues or topics that draw me in, and then others, not so much. Not to long ago as all of you were busy waiting in your classrooms for the buses to arrive; or preparing for the next day with the children, I spent the afternoon at home. It was the annual Pay it Forward installment of Oprah's talk show and as I watched and listened, it dawned on me that the little things each of you do on a daily basis is paying it forward. How lucky your students are to have you. In my travels talking and visiting classrooms, it never fails when someone doesn't say: "Teach, I have the best class this year." And then, you begin to share a short vignette of your life with children; those stories that matter and what my friend Heather has coined, "shout-outs".
Oprah put it once again into perspective for me as she shared a story of a man in his seventies who went to a local school and asked a first grade teacher to teach him to read. And she did. As a young boy, he dropped out of school so that he could be the financial support for his 8 siblings. Thus, he never learned how to read the words on the page. I watched as he sat along these little ones and read to them and as each day came to a close he became a better reader. Imagine that. Then one day he was presented with a box filled with books-he had tears streaming down his face-I had tears streaming down mine. It was one of those “WOW” moments.

My challenge to you this school year is for each of us to look for similar “WOW” moments: with our colleagues; with the children we teach; and with our administrators. And on those days when there seems to be no smile, all I ask is that you put one foot in front of the other. If you must, find someone who can give you a shoulder to cry on. But remember, if the shoulder you choose is mine, I will make you laugh out loud.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Those varmints...

I have carried this piece of writing with me for quite some time. It is from my father who is 85 years old. He considers himself quite the hunter. In the past, this type of escapade got him into some trouble. Long before he captured these squirrels he would collect peanuts and feed them. I remember once when that was the PC thing to do around our house and the squirrels actually fed right out of my hand. However, the saying "every good deed goes unpunished" is not necessarily true to form when speaking of squirrels. After one squirrel feeding fest, my father discovered that they had stored their wares inside the air conditioner of my mother's car. It had to be replaced. As you can see from the vignette below, the execution varied just a tad. At least he learns from past failures....

“The other morning we thought we heard varmints in the attic but a trap didn't catch anything and the peanuts I left scattered around were untouched. Finally came to the conclusion that the noise came from the roof. I haven't seen a squirrel around all last year and so far this year but all of a sudden Polly saw one in the front yard on Monday so I bought a new trap and once again became the great white hunter. Caught 5 the last three days so there are some around. Anyway Orleans now has 5 less and Brownington has 5 more. (I think) I don't think I'm catching the same one 5 times -- may have to start painting tails!"

Slow down, give yourself time, and breathe....

I have been on the road all week choosing to drive two hours in the morning and then after the day is done, I drive the two hours back home again. I am reminded that something greater than myself is in control. Take for example on the ride back home I want to control the person in front of me who is piddling along, talking on the cell phone, or highlighting their eyebrows various shades of purple. They seem oblivious to the world outside their car window and continue to impede the road of their hazard. If you happened to be the fly buzzing around the interior this afternoon, it might have played out in this way: "What the .... do you think you are doing you sorry excuse. Get out of my way. Quit painting those eyebrows of yours and instead go to the surgeon for some botox. And one more thing......." as the violin plays on and on.
At the twenty miles to go until I am home marker is when patience is needed. The route I take is inundated with traffic light after traffic light and it doesn't end until I reach my home. One would think that traveling 20 miles on a normal afternoon would take at the very least 20-30 minutes. However, on most days this is not the case. On average it is close to an hour (and sometimes longer) before I grace of halls of my 'stead
This is the conclusion I have reached: I think that I need to practice what I preach, teach. I think I need to slow down. take the time and breathe. On those days when I do find the time, it is amazing all the practice I get to do. When I say practice, I mean drafting. I rehearse inside my head, and later, when the stillness of the night hits, the core thoughts are written on the page. Amazing huh! Not so much. Just living in the ordinary....

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A ripple in the water: chocolate sundaes, banana splits, and root beer floats...

Recently, the image of my Aunt Esther came to mind when I was thinking about “launching the writing workshop” and creating a culture where authentic writing engagements are valued, nurtured and sustained. That is the way my mind works. Some things don’t need to be questioned, it just is and that is enough.

When I was a kid visiting my cousins, my Aunt Esther would take the 15 of us down by the river to the HOPEFLOAT ICE CREAM SHOP where, on those hot summer nights, the lines backed up all the way to the highway. However, what was in store for us was well worth the wait. My Aunt made her way up the line talking to everyone and everybody as we ran to the edge of the river, throwing stones and watching as they rippled across the water.

In the meantime, the line dwindled down and we raced back to the open window and placed our order. Inevitably, there was a variety of favorites among us all: chocolate sundaes, banana splits and root beer floats.

This image developed further when a picture came to my mind of fifteen sprouting’ nieces and nephews crowded around that one picnic table getting all messy and such until we couldn’t eat no more. We didn’t need to worry though, because my Aunt Esther never ordered anything for herself because when we were full, she took her plastic spoon and dived right in. And we let her. It was our way of showing our appreciation for doling out all that cash. It was our way of celebrating our lives as an extended family, and though, I didn’t know it at the time, one of those small moments that would one day find itself on the page. .

As happens in life, the cousins, we grew older. And my Aunt Esther, she did as well. And through the years when the chance gathering happened, it never failed that one or more of us would mention that moment and visually we would find our way back to the HOPEFLOAT ICE CREAM SHOP when Aunt Esther showed us her passion for living even if it was demonstrating the simple act of eating chocolate sundaes, banana splits and slurping root beer floats.

Looking back I realize that life is filled with those ordinary acts of celebration. Those small moments that we remember and even though not known at the time, have the possibility to bring a smile to our face, a tear to our eye or even better, later allowing further possibility to unfold by writing it down on the page.

With that said, we are the HOPE BUILDERS. We are the ones who must believe this “launching venture” with the writer’s notebook as the means is not a passing phase, but one that is worth doing. However, if I may, use the paraphrased words of one superintendent in another context: “We must do more than believe, we must have faith,” We must through demonstration and by example, make the notebook itself live.

The other day, I met with teachers about “launching…,” and as a collective group, we began taking the first step in changing our school culture with the simple act of gathering and celebrating our lives with the sharing of our own notebooks.

If walls could sing.
If walls could talk.
Our school house rocked and resonated with story.

It wasn’t all rhythmic or brilliant and some of us sang off key, however, hope was able to float when later; the PE teacher came up to me after and told me about how she shared stories with the children about her two cats: Tucker and Scottie. Later, when I met with the special area team, I extended her thinking by saying: “Coach, what if in addition to telling the story, you pulled out your writer’s notebook and read a few lines from the page. If all you do,” I continued, “is that one simple act throughout the week, imagine the possibility of being the catalyst to change the culture. With that one simple act, followed by others, imagine the potential it would provide for those who happened to witness this seemingly ordinary act of sharing and, by doing so; you have the means to turn it into something far from ordinary.”

I could have hammered the showing of the evidence within the special area lesson plan, but I didn’t. Instead, I realized I needed to start small just as I want our students to think in small moments; they too, needed a context in which to build. If I acted too quickly, I could foresee the potential to create something good and make it bad; I could see the potential of making it an exercise of having to rather than a transformative process of wanting to. Those simple acts of conversation with faculty not seemingly connected to instruction in the usual way are the threads needed if we are to weave all the stories within a school and within a district.

I told you that sometimes it wasn’t all brilliant and wonderful because there will be choppy waters ahead. Sometimes it will seem as if that boat don’t float. Sometimes the oar will crack and as you make your way closer to the waterfall, don’t bail out: remember that hope is alive in those unexpected places; in those unexpected faces.

Writing is hard work and I have a lifetime of filled pages to attest to that fact. Ninety percent of what I produce is messy like the chocolate sundaes and banana splits of my past. Ninety percent of the time, I’m not perfect, don’t get it right and the writing within the notebook is choppy. Writing is a mucky enterprise, however, I have to say, the other ten percent is well worth the wait if it returns me to memories like the ones held within the HOPEFLOAT ICE CREAM SHOP.

Still, that ninety percent of ordinary has to be written so I can go to the place where the magic happens. So I can find the threads of possibility within those ten percent spirit lines; those magical ten percent spirit lines that seem so small they are invisible: those magical ten percent spirit lines that don’t allow me to see them until I re-envision possibility and the memories they hold. I find them by “mucking my way” through the messiness of chocolate sundaes and banana splits until I realize that it is the root beer float, layered with promise, that I have been searching for all along.

And as I open up my notebook, sit down beside me so that together, we can create a shared endeavor of sitting on the river’s edge in back of the HOPEFLOAT ICE CREAM SHOP watching the ripple in the water, so once again, we may choose to sail to other shores.

My notebook is a lifetime labor of love and yours can be as well.

What is your story....?

In April of this year, my Aunt Esther died and I was able to return then to say good-bye. When I went back to Vermont the first of August, my mom thought it was important to have something from the house where my Aunt Esther was living and the same house where my mom grew up. A tangible memory of sorts of not only my Aunt Esther, but as a child, where I spent a considerable amount of time. Originally I didn't feel I needed anything. I thought that my memories were enough. However, when I picked up the rectangle mirror that is ornately framed, I thought differently. On the very bottom is an old photograph of the door leading into the house on 26 Pleasant Street. It will be placed in the home I currently reside and any future homes that I create to symbolize our collective history. An image that contains a story beyond measure. A history that my mother shared with her four sisters long before I was born; a history of my grandmother sitting in the parlor reading and drinking her tea before going up to bed; and of my grandfather, who was a man I never met, but learned about his life through the stories my mother told; and finally, the history of my Aunt Esther, who will be remembered not only for the special bond she had with each of her nieces and nephews, but more than that, we all knew that we were loved and cared for. This priceless memento will be one small spark to remember my larger personal story.
As happens in life, we grow older and the memories grow older as well. The distance that separates us as family only seems to bring us together when we are saying good-bye. In our moments of disconnect, we are connected, and when we leave, we do so with trepidation, wondering if the next time we meet will be in life or in death.

Long ago, on my visits to 26 Pleasant Street, Auntie E would be waiting for us on the front porch, a space that she dearly loved. Then, one by one, she would take us in her arms for that warm embrace; and before sending us to the backyard to play; she would pinch our cheeks really, really hard and tell us how much she loved us. I hated this so and yet, with regret, I find myself wanting to turn the pages of my life back.

Today, we find ourselves hugging each other tighter; stronger than before, no longer running to the backyard to play, instead, staying behind and lingering in the embrace of the all too familiar.

My sisters, brothers, cousins and I, we have our own lives now, following a path designed for each of us, yet, no matter how different we have become, the ties that bind us together is one of family, and this is what connects us in this life.

I wonder if my Auntie E somehow knew that getting us together would mean that she wouldn’t be there; that a reason for the gathering meant that we would be celebrating this life without her: a story to remember and the gifts she gave each of us in turn…..

You don't have to be mean to hold people accountable...

Every once in awhile someone says something that sticks, those golden moments that resonate for days afterward and I found that I have to write them down in my notebook immediately so that I can read them later. Actually, the real reason I have to write them down is so that I can remember. More often than not, my rememberer is broken down.

By the way, my notebook is of the ordinary variety and I usually have it available at all times. One never knows when the opportunity to "steal" words passes by and when not placed on the page, something is lost in translation.

And that is what I did recently at a meeting. I wrote them down. I was awestruck, not necessarily from the words themselves, though this surely had an effect, but even more than that, from whom the words were spoken. In my long tenure in the educational field, I believe only one other person of this stature had spoken such a sentiment before.

It was a training session for building principals as the focus curricular wise was unveiled. It was the second time in twenty five years I actually witnessed an individual in this position stay throughout a presentation, participant in the discussion as a part of the group, rather than apart from or leave midstream for "other important business" to attend to. It spoke volumes.
So, back to the title, when the Superintendent spoke these words, "you don't have to be mean to hold people accountable" I immediately thought of all the times that the opposite unfolded and then I wondered what transformative possibilities might occur if everyone took these words to heart. Something we all need to think about and our words, followed by action, will go along way in making the world a better place. One more construct to think about in the days ahead. Until next time, remember, don't be mean...Teach

And what will you do differently today...?

Sometimes in the race against time we don’t recognize the importance of the journey along the way because we are focused on the brand new sneakers on our feet; the pavement below the rubber; or the tape right before the finish line. I choose to argue that it isn’t the one through the tape first that is the victor, but the ones along the way who take fleeting moments of time to hear the wind whistle on their backs; the ones who look up to see the soaring eagle fly in circles in the sky; and the ones who stop to breathe along the way to wander off the path for a time to sit on a rock and listen to the “sound the river makes”.

If given time we also will find ourselves at the threshold of the finish line, and instead of racing with all our breath, we will be able to create those moments that take our breath away. In the end, I believe, we will all be the better for it, because we were given the chance to create memories that will provide for each of us the opportunity to think deeper, wonder more and understand better, because then and only then will we have the wisdom, the experience, and the know how to build bridges as well as mend hearts.

Monday, September 1, 2008

And who are you...


I am…
…a wrinkled shirt, tucked beneath the layers of winter weather sweaters in the bottom drawer of my hand-me-down dresser, removed and worn on those days that I choose to be free.

I am…
… a 72 Pontiac Station Wagon, color of brown, reflecting in the sunsets of my past and driving towards those sunrises of my future.

I am…
…a maple tree in the Green Mountain forest
… the dried sand in the Sonaran desert.
… the limber branch on the birch pines high atop the Sierra mountain range
… and a token on the seat of a subway train on Chicago’s west side.

I am…
… a rock in the middle of the Willoughby listening to the sound the river makes.

I am…
…the eyes of the coyote chasing wild rabbits in the desert at night.

I am also…
…the feel of the wind on my back high atop the mountain
…and the voice of the homeless asking for change on the city streets.

I am all of these
yet none of these
all at the same time.

Create moments that take your breath away...

Dance backwards in the rain; bake cookies for breakfast; laugh out loud; throw gossip out the window; sing a silly song in the lunch line; share your story; understand that even dandelions need a chance; read aloud to children everyday; cry when watching Oprah; learn how to play the harmonica; tip-tap across the hardwood floor; skip rocks across the Willoughby; “listen to the sound the river makes”; listen to the wind whistle; play stickball; find your own voice; help a child find theirs; color outside the lines; paint the sky a color never seen before; wear socks that don’t match; be in the moment; be yourself; celebrate small victories; see with new eyes; understand that child who is misunderstood; slow down; give yourself time and finish.

What kind of work have you done besides teaching...?

The other day, I was sitting on the couch watching television when I heard a loud thump on the front porch steps. To say the least, it startled me. Gazing through the blinds, I saw a van moving slowly up the hill outside of my house. My first thought was to call 911 until I saw a man carrying plastic bags with what initially looked like books in his hands. He was booking it across the lawn of my neighbor, stopped and then, swiftly hovered it to the steps as it slammed against the screen door. Then, he ran back to the van for another pick up. This prompted me to get up off the couch to open the front door. On the steps was a yellow plastic bag and looking closer, I realized it contained telephone books. Smiling to myself it brought me back to a time when I, too, had the pleasure (if you could call it that) of delivering telephone books to residents living in Tucson, Arizona.

I was young and needed some extra income (I was pulling in $600.00 a month). It proved to be a one time gig but it did put food on the table. (I forgot. Never did have a table. Kitchen was to small in my studio apartment and that wasn't part of the 10-piece rental furniture agreement.) I was taking a Sign Language course at Pima Community College and one of my classmates and I decided that this might be a way to make some extra cash. She had the truck and I, the muscle. The deal looked sweet. They didn't pay you by the hour, but by the number of phone books you were able to deliver. On paper and in theory we decided that a killing could be made with what they were offering to pay us. We waited in line in front of the warehouse as someone with a clipboard came by and we signed our names. And then, I loaded up the telephone books in the flat bed truck and went on our way. Anyway, Ellen (I think that was her name.) and I spent the better part of the day in the hottest part of the summer going door to door dropping off these plastic bags containing telephone books. She was driving and I, the runner, threw these bags on the front porch steps in a neighborhood unfamiliar to the both of us. To say the least, it took longer than expected and due to the fact that we got lost a few times the monies that came our way wasn't fruitful. I think I got something like $45.00 and she went in the hole because she had to pay a baby-sitter. Thinking about all of this sparked the question: what kind of work have I done in my lifetime besides teaching:
  1. TV Guide Delivery- Back in the day, newspapers weren't the only thing that got delivered door to door. It was our older sister that convinced my brother and I to earn some change. She promised us a notepad-Man, were we taken for a ride. The TV guides came in a brown package once a week by mail and we then separated our stack and busily got on our bicycles and rode to our neighbors, our handy notepad keeping track of who paid and who still owed us money. Let's just say that we didn't get rich off this venture.
  2. Street Cleaner-Long before they had truck sweepers to do the deed, in the small town where I grew up, my two brothers and I, with brooms in hand, swept the streets of a small town in Vermont. I sometimes wonder if people thought we were part of a small town chain gang paying our dues.
  3. Youth Conversation Corps- A summer work camp. (No. Again not what you were thinking.) Spent four weeks doing the summer restoring trails around Mount Pisgah and Mt. Hor.
  4. Lumber puller- After dropping out of college for the first time (Yes, there were several times) led me to work in "yard" pulling lumber off the conveyor belt after it was graded.
  5. Truck Washer- Loved this job and the greatest tan. Spent the summer washing 18 wheelers. Drove a few around the lumber yard as well.
  6. Dishwasher- The incentive here was after the dishes were done, I got to have Sunday Brunch at the Colonial Inn-what a perk. Best meal in town
  7. Stock Boy, Cashier, and Customer Service- I made $4. 25 an hour at Zayre Department Store in the early 80's and thought I was living in green. All relative. Worked 30-40 hours a week during my sophomore, junior and senior year in college. Definitely wasn't a fashion statement for I wore the same brown tie, the one in which my dad tied because I didn't have a clue of how to tie one, and the bright orange vest. YAHOO!!!!
  8. Pre-School Assistant- Boston bound for the summer living at the New England Conservatory of Music (rent free-family connection) and working mornings in Natick. To this day, love the city of Boston and sometimes have fleeting moments of wanting to live there.
  9. Recreation Department Assistant Manager-This town took care of their kids. A place for them to go during the summer to play organized sports, participate in swimming events and activities for the adults as well.
  10. Liquor Store Clerk-Realized that people drink and drink hard.
  11. Telephone directory delivery hauler
  12. Busboy- Lasted three days, never got paid and realized after being trained by the waiter, that filling water from glasses that didn't need it wasn't going to be my career path. Holiday Inn still owes me $50.14. I consider it giving back. The one who hired me felt sorry for me for rent needed to be paid. To say the least, five days later, I was on the road to somewhere.

So Teach, you may ask.... what is the point of this rambling?

First, we all take steps in order to follow our dreams and for some of us it means doing whatever it takes to get there. Second, it sometimes means doing a job that may not necessarily be the one you hoped for, but we do it nonetheless so we can reach the dreams in the long term. Third, it keeps you grounded. Realizing that it may not be your end, but one more beginning in a long line of roads ahead. And finally, as in the case of the telephone books, sometime theories, once played out, aren't necessarily what reality dictates. Until the next time, continue to find your spirit lines....Teach

Finding your spirit lines in a field of dreams...

As a new beginning, I thought it fitting to post the piece of writing that ended up being the title for this blog. Enjoy!

Finding Your Spirit Lines in a Field of Dreams

I remember when the movie first came out. I was living in Arizona at the time and had never thought Iowa could be so beautiful. I still remember when James Earl Jones, in the character of Terrance Mann, spoke these words:

Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $2o per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirt sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”[1]

Another character in the movie, Moonlight Graham, played by Burt Lancaster, was true to life. Archibald Wright Graham was a highly successful minor league player for the Charlotte Hornets of the North Carolina Baseball League.
In the summer of 1905, Moonlight Graham was on the roster of the New York Giants: for five minutes. Five minutes in right field when the Dodgers three quick infield outs ended the game. He never did get up to bat in the major leagues. Instead, Archibald Wright Graham left baseball for good to pursue his dream of becoming a medical doctor.

When I packed my bags during the summer of 1995 and headed east towards my dreams, I happened to drive through the State of Iowa and was amazed at how beautiful this part of the country never seen before was. About 25 miles west of Dubuque on the outskirts of Dyersville, is this field of dreams. If you happen to one day experience what I did years before, remember to bring along your glove or sit and dream on the bleachers for awhile.

As I visit classrooms, sit at the ‘supper table’ listening to the stories that are told, or stop in the hallway to share short ‘vignettes’ that make me laugh, I can’t help but realize that teachers are the catalyst for the dreams of our children, and this my friends is the greatest of responsibilities.

In everything they do, in everything they say, teachers shape the destiny of others. And whether it is a good day or a not so good one, there are others around to lift the spirit. However, I choose to argue that this is not enough. We must discover the spirit lines of our children so that the dreams we hold can be within their reach as well.

As you continue your own personal and professional journey, I want to share one final thought. Another line in the movie reminded me of what teachers are entrusted to do. Kevin Costner, in the lead role of Ray Kinsella, commented that for many, a five minute Major League baseball career would be considered a tragedy.

With that said, Doc Graham answered, “Son, if I’d only got to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”[2]

If I could have creative license, I would change the quote just to bit to read: “Friends, if you only got to be a teacher for five minutes, now, that would be a tragedy.”

[1] Robinson (Director). (1998) Field of Dreams [Motion Picture].United States: Universal Studios.
[2] Robinson (Director). (1998) Field of Dreams [Motion Picture].United States: Universal Studios.