My mother asked for something funny on the blog. This actually happened…

Enjoy, Mom…

Teaching health classes can be interesting. We talk about a great deal of personal “stuff” and this marking period is all about human sexuality. Today’s topic: What is sex? What is contraception?

Our discussion was all about preventing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. We use an abstinence-plus model, so our discussion will eventually lead to a discussion of a variety of contraceptive methods. The students were categorizing a list of behaviors as to whether they believed each behavior was “sex” or “not sex.” The last three behaviors on the list were vaginal penetration, anal penetration, and oral penetration, each worded that way for a purpose beyond discussing here.

It is important for the story to know that I teach this class in another teacher’s classroom. Sometimes he stays in the room, but most of the time he leaves. Occasionally, he will forget something and come back to get it. He always apologizes or makes a comment about whatever we are talking about. Today was the best collision of his comments and our content as he never looked at the board to see what we were talking about.

Me: Is vaginal penetration sex?

Class: (Crickets)

The door opened and Mr. HaHa walked in.

Mr. HaHa: I’m sorry. I’ll be in and out fast.

Me: Hmmm, interesting.

Class: (Giggling)

Mr. HaHa: I must be the butt of some joke right now.

Me: Not yet, maybe in a minute…

Class: (Louder giggling)

Me: Is anal penetration sex?

Mr. HaHa: Oh, gosh.

Class: (Roaring)

Say what you will, this was funny. I know there are many attitudes about what should be taught in a health class with respect to these very personal behaviors, but this lesson had the right amount of levity to keep everything from getting too serious.

There you go, Mom…

Being a joke is not something that I handle very well. That being said, I have no idea why I would sign on to coach a sport that I have limited tactical understanding of. That sport is volleyball and I am coaching my school’s junior varsity for the first time. It’s also the first time I’ve ever coached girls. It’s been a crazy few weeks, but I’m starting to find my groove as I have learned a couple of things about volleyball and coaching in general.

1. Sports are sports and once you understand a few basic principles for each sport, there are only complications. The KISS principle works for coaching as well as it does for most of life. For volleyball, “read, move, and hit the ball into the air.” Volleyball Einsteins might question my elementary approach to the game, but since I don’t know what I don’t know, I must rely on keeping the game simple. I want the girls to become better players and that is more about improving their self-efficacy (the belief that they can create success) than it is about some crazy formation that has the team running all over the court and me wondering if they are in the right rotation.

We practice skills much more than we do strategy, although, I do have a bit of a basketball background, and I see zone defense principles as being applicable to our strategy. In hoops, a zone defense allows a player to guard a space. Different zones take different spaces away from an offensive team, but a player should always be ready to move wherever they are most needed. Volleyball is no different, players must cover an area. The trick is getting them into the area and the less offensive movement that is inflicted on a team, the less they have to worry about the transition from offense to defense.

I don’t know, I’m just saying…

2. Players have to play. My job is to prepare the students with the skills to be successful and give them a plan that fosters their success. Ultimately, though, the game is up to them. My goal as a volleyball coach is continuing to get the girls to believe that they can make the necessary plays. I really want to win, but a wise fellow told me that his experience with girls volleyball was that it was more about the experience than the winning and losing. His advice allowed me to continue to believe that keeping our practices simple is important. We spend very little time powering through skills or strategies that are not working. Instead, I have short periods of time that allow the girls to be mentally focused, but the drills stop before boredom sets in and any mentally drift allows for physical errors that might negatively affect their confidence.

Again, I want to focus on their believing that they are creating success.

3. Hustle is as hustlers do…I apologize for the cheap Forrest Gump rip-off, but every sport is based on hustle. Hustle is moving at the speed that is appropriate for the play. Being on time is the most important thing an athlete can do. It’s more than just being to practice on time. It’s getting to the ready position on time, contacting the ball at the right time, cheering on a teammate at the right time. Being on time is what hustle is. I joke with a colleague that I’m trying to turn my volleyball team into a pickup basketball team. We are trying to scramble to spots, get our feet into solid position, and sending the ball to a spot where the next hitter can make a play (unless it’s the third ball, duh, as we don’t want the other team to hit it). I chose to talk about playground basketball because it’s a game of hustle, hustlers win and winners get to keep playing. Not only that because often playground basketball teams are made on the fly and a player better know how to play any position and guard every spot. The general understanding of the game is a real plus for any player wanting a long run on a blacktop.

Maybe I’m overstretching my coaching analogy or just acting from ignorance, but over the last two weeks, the girls are starting to move more. We are starting to expect players to get to spots and even starting skills work 30-minutes before the “real” practice starts. I “freaking” love that.

These are a few thoughts from a guy who has little volleyball coaching experience, but this I know, self-efficacy is an important component of success. I mean, I wrote a dissertation on self-efficacy… Finding what works for the talent that a coach has is way more important than the tactical knowledge that a coach has. The relationship that the coach has with his/her players is probably more important than that. Meshing all of that together into a simple plan that promotes success is the lofty goal for getting a team to reach its potential. I think the girls on our team are on the right track and I believe that my continued understanding of volleyball can only help them get better as long as the new knowledge doesn’t create coaching clutter.

Simple…

We won our second match today. We’ve dropped four or five, so our record is not what some would consider successful. Yet we are sticking together and working hard in practice. We are getting more competitive in the games we lose and getting more consistent with our hustle so that we play better in most points. What more could I ask for? The girls are creating an atmosphere that makes me want to come back each day. It’s been fun so far and even though tomorrow is an off day at school, we will be working on our footwork and maybe even housing some Munchkins…

img_1433There are things that we commit to and regret. Maybe it’s a party in the neighborhood. Could it be trying to publish a novel? What about running a marathon? Well, I’m all in for all three, plenty of commitments and a wealth of regret to go around. About a year ago, I set my sights on running a marathon in my fiftieth year. I started out training well for an old guy who had let fitness kind of get away. It’s a funny thing about getting older, some aspects of life get harder. Running has never been the easiest thing for me, but I have managed to finish ten marathons and one ultra. None were particularly fast and I thought those days were over. Then, I had some blood work, got some numbers I never thought I’d have, and the idea of running a marathon was reborn.

Let me say my health is fine. My numbers were associated with too big a gut and a lifestyle that was slipping into that barley, hops, and mash routine. I also found little time to exercise because I began coaching. The only real time to go for a run was in the morning before school and that is great until winter. Even driving over to the YMCA is tougher because it’s so much easier to just sleep. After all, how important is it to run anyway? I noticed my clothes were getting bigger, my ties looser, and my attitude about me becoming worse. I decided that I would run a marathon at my YMCA.

There is a track at the Y and it says 16-laps per mile. That’s 419.2 laps for a marathon. Funny, I’m just realizing the .2, which is a stupid joke people who run marathons like to throw around, “Twenty-six is easy, it’s the .2 that’s hard.” I told you, stupid because I don’t think there is anything easy about going out for twenty-six miles and change. In all the races I did, there were moments of pain, moments of doubt, serious questioning of my sanity, and the realization that I had not trained enough. I always got hurt or justified that I could make up the miles on another day. My times in all the other races probably reflect my lack of commitment to following a training program to the letter of the law.

Whatever…

Besides the coaching, life tended to get in my way. Fifty has been much more difficult than forty. I have wrestled with bulging weight, too much alcohol, an unhealthy diet, and a level of confidence that’s more New Orleans than Mount Everest. I would not say that any of the issues were serious problems, but in my final analysis, each has contributed to a pretty blah year. Once my baseball season ended, I began training again and I had a moment of clarity that sometimes comes from nowhere. I need to get my act together for many reasons, physical, mental, and social. Where did I turn for help? The internet of course. I began binging YouTube videos like they were peanut M&Ms. My go to was Chase Jarvis Live. He does a show where he asks leaders from a variety of areas about their techniques, attitudes, and processes around being creative. I’ve learned a great deal about perspective from the people on his show and they have had a serious effect on how I approach writing, but the moment was, “Why aren’t you putting their lessons to use in your daily life also?” There are too many things to get into with this blog post, but Tim Ferriss, Jason Silva, Steven Kotler, Jamie Wheal, and a host of others dropped nuggets of information on me that took me places my mind had not been in such a long time. I was learning about experimenting with different nutritional aspects on micro levels. I was re-introduced to “flow,” which I knew as “being in the zone.” I started making changes to my nutrition (intermittent fasting, vegetables, cutting carbs) and the weight began to drop (ten pounds in eight weeks). I also began thinking in ways that promoted an easier way of being. I found that when I was exercising or even just hanging out that I could easily calm an over chatty brain. I felt different, but I was still in the awkward-new-skill-way where everything had to be planned and nothing felt natural.

Then I had a couple of evenings that I’d like to forget. Nothing tragic or illegal, but I’ll simply say that in my evolving minimalist attitude, I had to ask myself, “What value does alcohol bring to my life?” Don’t get me wrong, a cold beer or a neat glass of whiskey is amazing, but my ideas of drinking had become too much about bonding. I could go on about how that was symbolic of how I was feeling in other areas of my life, but after my own foul balls with the bottle and hearing of my neighbor dropping into (and thankfully out of) a coma due to alcohol poisoning, I made the choice to give up drinking. Over the last six weeks, I haven’t be 100% dry, but I don’t go seeking a beer and I politely refuse when I’m offered one at a pool or party. Since mid July, I’ve had 8-beers. That’s a big difference from a “nightly pop or two.” It’s weird not drinking and I must say it’s hard. Not because I crave alcohol, but because it is such of an important part of socializing for so many people. Anyway, it’s not something I’m looking for and I feel mostly better because of the change.

So, did you run or not?…

I did. I ran the race today. Just me and the miles on the track. There were other people training. There were exercise classes below on the gym floor. None of them knew what I was doing. It was great. The only problem was that my training had been as weak as ever. Maybe even weaker. My long run should have been in the low twenties a few weeks ago. That was when I was wrestling with the decision to quit drinking, so the training was kind of eh then. In fact, last Saturday I ran ten miles, my longest since 2007. Today, the first ten miles were a breeze. At eleven, I could feel tightness in my legs. By thirteen, I had introduced a survival technique of walking and running (1 lap walking, 4 laps running). Fifteen was the wall. I felt like quitting and sticking with my plan to run the whole thing in September. I texted my daughter and a friend, they both sent positivity that kept me going. The last hour sucked as nearly every step was a push as to whether my quads were going to cramp or allow me to move freely.

Finally, after six-hours and five minutes, my worst time ever, I was done. I didn’t cry like I did after my first marathon. So far, I haven’t had to go down the stairs backward. I didn’t see any actors from The Wire like I did in Baltimore. What I did was beat back some personal demons and prove to myself that all the excuse making and reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms was killing me. I ran for charity, raising a couple hundred bucks for the Y, but the payout to my psyche was just as important for me. I needed this and while some may suggest that this was not that big of a deal, it meant everything to me.

Everyone, go do something big for yourself…

Back when I first moved to Williamsburg (VA not NY), my father was a policeman. Right around the time he started the job, William and Mary was hosting a concert of the renowned band, The Grateful Dead. Keep in mind that this was somewhere around 1974-75 and the love happy Sixties had given way to the reckless Seventies. As far as my father was concerned, The Grateful Dead were the most degenerate dudes around. He still tells a story about that Jerry guy that I’ll let rest with Mr. Garcia and allow to linger in my father’s mind. Because of my father’s visceral feelings about the haze-inducing jam band, I was forced to learn about the Dead on the sly. I knew the popular songs, but as far as being a Dead Head, I was nothing close. I was a casual fan.

I don’t remember the band ever playing William and Mary again, but they made their way to Hampton from time to time. For some reason, I never went. Let’s call it respect for my father. Maybe it was fear, but I never did make it to a concert. Years passed, I did what I thought grown ups did…got married… and then did what about fifty percent of grown-ups do, got divorced. I spent a few years solo and capped it off with a jaunt to Bonnaroo. Rat Dog was playing with Bob Weir and I bailed on that show for some other side stage band. I’m not sure why I blew that show-off, but by then, I had started to appreciate the Dead more. Many of the people that I ran around with in those single years were versed in the ways of the band and I started to take an interest actually paying attention to the Grateful Dead.

My son and daughter developed an interest in the Dead and I became more interested in the band at my kids’ insistence. I’m still no expert in the Dead’s history, but I won a gentleman’s wager with my brother in law about the past memberships in other bands of Bob Weir. Still, though, I had never seen the band in person. Not with Jerry Garcia, not with Bruce Hornsby, and certainly not with John Mayer.

That all changed this past Sunday… Sorry, Dad… I had a mostly good time.

First, a little background. Since I teach and have summer’s off, each summer with my step children has had a theme. Painting, reading, math, naps, the Y, and camp have all been themes of our summers. They are a little older now, so I made my own theme this summer and I called it the Phish summer. While working on a school project last week, the first day of summer vacation, I put Phish on Pandora and got lost in the music. While driving, Jam Nation was on the radio and Phish helped me pass the miles. The summer of Phish and by proximity in terms of musical flavor, the Grateful Dead, was born.

My kids had been holding tickets for the show in Camden for many weeks. On Sunday morning, I decided to buy a ticket last minute and then surprise them at the BB&T. Everything went according to plan, although parking was a bit of a hassle. Twenty-seven dollars for a cheeseburger and beer is an abomination…thanks, GUY, you should rethink your branding and gouging strategy. Love your TV show…

The night was perfect, not hot, not humid, sunny and breezy. There was a weirdness about being at the show, but I was totally open to the night. People were walking around with their big blankets, their super expensive margaritas, and an impatience for some whacky tobacky that I’m pretty sure most had already taken in. We got settled on the main vertical path on the lawn which looked like a fairway on the PGA where they let the spectators cross, no grass. Finally, the show started and I was blown away.

An older guy than me jumped to his feet, hit the dirt track, and began some sort of Grateful Dead inspired Tai Chi. He moved through the different movements in time with the music and on several occasions nearly morphed into a break dancer in tie dye. He was in a trance and stole all of the attention of those of us sitting under the blue #3 as opposed to the BIG #3 on the wall. The amazing thing about this guy was that he captivated the crowd more that than tattooed blondie next to him. Her curvaceous sway held no dominion over the scintillating blur that was the Dali dancer. He foretold of the weirdness that would come.

I made a decision that was based on large part finances and hopefully, a larger part, maturity, that I was going to enjoy this show in the comforts of sobriety. The notes were crisper, the songs fresh, John Mayer was awesome, and I was able to take in the freak show that was spinning around me with a fertile infatuation. I became so involved in what was happening that I could feel the music and watch everything going on in my little Dead world with razor sharp precision. There was one woman who was bitching the whole time. There was one guy who was the drug dealer for his group. There were easily fifteen bull ring nose piercings, countless shoes without a match, and one father who was getting ready to be dragged back into reality.

The details of family drama don’t amount to anything good when they are spilled in a modest blog, but let’s just say that I used my belief in independence and people taking charge of themselves to make the greatest dad proclamation ever, “I don’t give a %#!k, you guys figure it out.” As adults, I counted on my children to solve their problem before the intermission was over. I had arrived alone and thought that since I live in the opposite direction of my children, that I would be going home alone as well. More on that later, but I was left to solve the problem due to my stately presence, I suppose, and just as the sun when down, the sky lit up.

Within the crowd, it was almost as if a swarm of lightning bugs had taken flight. I never knew so many people had prescriptions to medicinal marijuana, but for some strange reason, they were all convalescing on the lawn under that relaxing tunes of The Grateful Dead. The lady in front of me who had been herking and jerking through spasms remembered from her days at Studio 54 offered me a hit on her joint. I passed, not my thing. The drug dealer guy partook and then offered her some of his. It looked to be more than just organic and she wisely went Nancy Reagan and said, “No.”

About this time, the Dead went into a drum thing. There are songs that will stop me and have me doing nothing. Star Witness by Neko Case and Brother’s in Arms by Dire Straits are a couple. During the drum thing, I totally forgot where I was. Awe is about all I can say. There was no more watching the mind-altered zombies walking around. I couldn’t hear the people on their phones yelling, “I can’t see you!” As Russ Coale said in True Detective, “I was mainlining truths from the universe.” I’m not kidding, everything kind of stopped for me in the moment. I was glad to be there, to have been abject in the sibling drama, to be seeing the Dead for the first time without any guilt for betraying my father.

Melodramatic? Perhaps. That was my moment, though. The over priced ticket, the bloodsucking parking, the cardboard burger with image-busting impact, and even the family drama went away in that ten or fifteen minutes. We left soon after, to beat the traffic. Enlightened, I noticed a group of people outside the fence dancing. It was something right out of a Kubrick film, sort scary, sort of pity-inducing, but overall really cool. These folks came for the music, not the show, not the wallet-draining treats, just the music. Thinking of them, and really the whole night, made the drive to take my son home cool. I didn’t leave my daughter there. She left with her friend at the intermission. (Drama inducing…)

In fact, the calm allowed me to rationally handle traffic on I-76. It gave me the courage to say, “I don’t think so” when the GPS tried to send me back to the I-76 quagmire. Nearly three hours after leaving Camden, I was home. Normally, it would have taken me about fifty minutes to get home, but the construction and jaunt to Amish country tacked on a few extra minutes. I never knew those guys drove in the dark. So many reflectors… In the wee hours, my dog and I settled in on the couch and that was it for my first (and probably only) Dead and Company show.

I know I’m not as experienced as some, but this did everything nature needed it to do for me.

The time sure has passed on this marathon training program. In fact, the projected date for this ludicrous endeavor has long passed.

I didn’t run the marathon.

Boo, you suck, you asked for donations and never did the race, you suck, boo!!!

Well, all of that is mostly true (I sound like a president of something…). Here’s the story, it’s not sad, but it is true.

Life got in the way.

Back in February when I last posted, basketball season was ending and I was sort of geared up for the final push to the “Just Me” marathon (400 and something laps on the track at my local YMCA). For a couple of weeks after the season ended, I basked in the free time and made use of the afternoons to run. Then one day I had a minor meltdown where the arrogance of wisdom met head on with the ignorance of adolescence. On that day, I barked at some baseball players in my school about attitude, commitment, and effort. From my lofty perch of life’s experience, I laughed at their absolute belief in their lack of class effort and how that translated to their prediction for the upcoming season. Early that evening, I went for a run on the track. Coincidently, the baseball team came out to practice on the football field as the snow had melted there.

Hang with me…

I’ve learned over the years to be careful about certain questions from my bosses. The most alarm sound of them all is, “Hey, I’ve got a question for you?” The day after my meltdown and track encounter, the athletic director was in my office posing that very question. I answered, “Uh-oh, that didn’t sound good.” We laughed and he proceeded to ask if I would like to coach BASEBALL. One of the coaches was quitting and the team needed someone to “ride the bus.” After talking to my real boss, Mrs. H., I said, “yes,” and so would begin my quick descent into baseball mode. Fortunately, I ended up doing more than riding the bus and the players and I saw each other in a different light. The season ended up great from that standpoint, but not so successful with the record.

During the basketball season, I sort of managed to keep my running going. Baseball killed that. I thought baseball was so much harder to coach than basketball. I don’t know if it was the time, the wind, the sun, or the standing, but I was dog tired after practice and games. My running stopped and here I am nearly four months passed my last training post. During that time, I lost my endurance, gained seven pounds, discovered Miller High Life (I had the time and they had the beer…), and started to feel really sluggish. All the while, I kept thinking that I needed to run this “race” because I said that I would.

It’s funny how little things can spur some motivation. 231 on the scale is an attention getter. An old blogger resurfacing with those cool Monday posts is another. YouTube can help. Even my AD brought a bit of motivation to my lethargy. So here’s how my “resurrection” began. I was working my way through YouTube. I did Brilliant Ideas and Chase Jarvis. I guess the folks at YouTube thought I would be interested in Bullet Journaling because they kept sending me videos about BOJOs. For kicks and giggles, I watched one and thought it was pretty cool. A couple of days later, I was drawing in a journal and trying to figure out how to use it to make the lifestyle changes that needed to be made. In the journal, I’m trying to focus on creating enjoyment, power, and endurance. The things that I put in my journal should be promoting those ideals. Out of that journal, I began getting better at scheduling my workouts. Even so, I’ve been hit or miss about the running.

Because it hurts, man…

The AD came to me with another proposition, volleyball? I signed on to be an assistant coach and with baseball over, I went to my first open gym. It was awesome! My fear, though, is that this is just something else to jam up my exercise schedule. Back to the BOJO and a few scribbles here and there made the three lifestyle priorities work together. The exercise began to ramp up…

Then YouTube dropped another vegetable on my plate, “Intermittent Fasting.” The idea is that there are big chunks of time where a person fasts and an eating window where the person eats normally. Today is my first day. I’ve committed myself to a month of at least fourteen-hour fasting. Although, I’m waiting until Monday to really start, so I can truly enjoy breakfast with my daughter tomorrow. However, today I rocked out a sixteen hour fast and can see the benefits to doing so. I survived the hunger pangs and never felt tired, even with a workout in the middle of the hunger alarms.

Okay, that gets me to today. I decided to hit the Y and lift weights. That turned into lifting weights and then getting on the track for an hour. Truth be told, I ran one lap and then walked one lap. The intensity was lacking, but I was more interested in seeing if I could stick to a goal. The 1:1 gave me the opportunity to get my legs going without the horrible feeling of over doing it. I got it done despite being asked about my ex-wife (twelve years people…), no music of my own, and the over enthusiastic cueing from the group exercise teacher down on the basketball court. That’s really the time when it sucks to be a visual learner. “Shhh, I’ve got it, bend my knees…”

I like to think that I’m motivated on my own. I guess YouTube, BOJOs, and my athletic director suggest that I am influenced by extrinsic factors, too. I have to give a welcome back to an amazing poet and all around good person from coppercranes.worpress.com. It’s hard to know why things make an influence on you, but I can say about “Ms. Crane’s” work that it is always thought provoking and moving. Better yet, she’s an encourager and while I only know her through the blogging world, I’m glad to have come across her site and wisdom.

So, now it all comes together. If it were a simple math equation, it might look like this: YouTube+BOJO+Volleyball+good poetry+frustration over lethargy=back to training, baby!

More to come!

At this point, writing about the 2016 election seems trivial. All that can be said is that Americans have more than a few issues. It seems that the motivation of those aspiring to political office is to treat their duty as a personal referendum or as some sort of fantasy game that need only be reset to start over. Their failure to see the larger impact of their decisions has pushed people apart in ways that allow partisanship to exclude common sense.

But this national fiasco is far greater than the recently passed reality television show election and it rests firmly with the limited thinking that the American public bestows on its responsibility to participate in the election process. We have become less diverse ideologically which makes it easy for the politicians to obstruct, think only of their particular plank, or act as puppets for the money pit bosses that pull their strings. Since the public cannot agree on common decencies for all people, we are easily segregated into target groups and manipulated by whatever special interest the politicians feed off.

I have no allegiance to either in the two-party system and while I am disappointed in the final outcome of our latest election, I can’t say that I am surprised. While neither candidate ever convinced me that he/she stood for anything other than bashing the other candidate, I ultimately hoped my vote would help improve the conditions of our state and local representation. Believing in either presidential candidate was a waste of my time, both were equally insulting. Certainly one was common in ways that echoed some of history’s worst sounds. For me, the other was equally insulting in a more professional way. Still, I found her party to be more aligned with issues I felt important. Hopefully, the “pivot” will happen and the new guy will believe in Americans not in whatever he ran on.

Ah, whatever. The system is amok because our people are amok. Decency has left our attitudes and we seem to not value equality. It’s a shame because we have so much potential.

But only if we learn to compromise and understand we are all in this thing together…

Cliche, I know…

pexels-photo-94327

Trigger Warning: There is a bad word in this…

The time had come for me to take a unit test in a sixth grade Language Arts class. This was a big test for me because I thought I might have a chance to move to the back table with the coolest kids. Little did I know back then, but one would someday have a cool job working in a lighthouse up in Maine. Anyway, the test included a reading and then some comprehension questions. One of the tasks in the test was to make an outline about clouds.

I think I was already starting to dislike school. Maybe that sounds crazy since my whole career has been as a teacher, but it’s learning that I love, not school. On the outlining part of the test, I could not remember where the Roman numerals went and where the capital letters were supposed to go. My teacher kept sending the test back with directions for me to fix the outlines and I kept sending it back wrong. I’m sure that I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about the outlines. I didn’t care about the clouds. I only really cared about sitting with those guys in the back of the room. Finally, Mrs. K. gave in and let me move on to the next level. She also kept me in my desk near the front of the room.

Really?

I’ve thought about that day many times over the course of my career as a teacher. I thought about it a lot while I was working on my doctorate in education. During those Monday night classes where we debated that state of education in the context of creating change, I began to believe that we are missing the boat on education. As we are forced to squeeze more from students in the name of achievement and accountability and as we continue to force canned instructional programs on students for the sake of standardization and efficiency, we are losing the essence of learning. To learn is to have interest. To learn is to be passionate about something new. Learning is more than a college prep course, scripted instructional programs, or a one dimensional program focusing on some motivation inspired by industrial interests.

Recently, two former students talked to me about school in those terms. The first is a current high school junior who wants to be a physical therapist. She is working in an experiential program that has her paired with professionals in the field. She lit up when she talked about her opportunities to get practical experience before going to college. She also shared her disappointment at not being able to take fitness classes, because of all the other “academic” stuff she had to do. She felt like being in an environment where she was exercising and learning about how the body worked was more suited for her goals than learning about history. Names, dates, and the struggle for power…

I agree with her in principle. Core academic subjects are important, but how many of our students will use the content knowledge that is required in those courses? We miss the opportunity to link the content to life skills in meaningful and practical ways. For example, how often are students asked to write goals. While schools spend a great deal of time talking about students following their goals, we give them very little opportunity to follow them. Goal setting will continue to be nothing more than an academic exercise until students are allowed to pursue those goals and demonstrate commitment to achieving them. For my student, the traditional academic requirements are not necessarily meeting her needs. Too bad…

The second student graduated last year (2015) and I was fortunate to teach him for all four years in high school. When I asked him as a freshman if he was thinking about going to college he said, “I don’t have no time for fuckin’ college.” Instead of shutting him down for his language or telling him he would be closing doors if he didn’t go to college, I just said, “Cool,” and left it alone. He worked hard in my classes, helped other students succeed, took care of large family at home, and lived a social life straight out of Dazed and Confused. Today, he is landscaping and not regretting his decision at all. He does what he needs to do without giving in to the singleminded focus of college as the only path to success.

I love my job as an educator. Some would say that being a gym teacher is not really teaching (Try it, I dare you…). Health is an academic subject, but this is not about me trying to justify whether Health and Physical Education are important parts of a student’s learning. What this is about is whether we have the students’ best interests in mind or do we have the best interest of education in mind? I wonder about instructional programs that are based on shaky research practices. I fear that coercion is the tool that gets used to motivate students rather than finding positive ways of helping students find intrinsic motivators. Maybe the current model of success set for students and schools is unattainable because the logic of continuous improvement is flawed and I write cynically, schools are not allowed to succeed by politicians and the media (uh-oh…Am I running for office? Never.) Can we ever be satisfied when the goals are always changing? When will we be good enough? Remember, I love my job. Helping students learn to love learning is about the most satisfying thing there is for me as a teacher.

Please don’t confuse my criticisms of my profession as an indictment of my school. We are evolving into a building that values persistence, embraces innovation, and understands that an education can take many forms. There is an energy in my school that is shifting and it’s very exciting.

As for outlines, I’m not sure I ever made another outline after sixth grade. Check that, Mr. Yates’s history class in seventh grade was one serious outline. At least I only had to copy his outlines for notes. It obviously worked for him, but I can’t say the roller-overheads about the colonies or Thomas Hooker made more of a difference in my learning than if I had been allowed to format my own notes. Despite, or maybe because of, I like studying history. Names, dates, and the struggle for power… Clouds, though? When they are big and heavy it’s likely to rain or snow. That’s all I need to know.

 

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The root words for “nostalgia” come from Ancient Greece: Nostos = returning home, algos = pain (Hmmm???)

I get a good laugh when people talk about the past with the reverence of “simpler times.” Today, I was reading a story on Google News about the closing of the Queen Anne Dari-Snack in Williamsburg, Virginia and I was nearly plunged into a state of delusional reminiscence. As a kid, my family would go to Queen Anne for dinner. The burgers were huge and if I’m remembering correctly came with mayo. After the first round there, I learned to order it “my way,” which to this day is cheese, ketchup, and mustard. (no plants, please…). The fries were a perfect mix of crispness, grease, and salt that were served in bags that held the heat without letting the fries get soggy. A cold soda, most likely Dr. Pepper, served as the wash for a really good meal. The style of the Queen Anne was old school. Orders were taken at the window and customers milled around the parking lot or waited in their cars until their numbers were called. People used to say that it was how food was ordered in the “good ole days.”

The “good ole days?” When were those? The 1950s? There was nothing simple about then. A quick check of the headlines on the front page of the New York Times from 7/29/1955 yielded the following simple affairs of the time:

Bulgaria shot down an airliner.

Democrats were seeking the ouster of the Secretary of the Air Force.

Republicans were concerned with our defenses at home and abroad and the ramifications of travel to the “Iron Curtain.”

Joe McCarthy was either being civic or crazy depending on your level of acceptance of bullying and fear mongering.

Air conditioning was being considered for the subway in New York City.

None of those were too simple. They certainly were not cheeseburgers (with ketchup and mustard), fries, and a soft drink. The thing about nostalgia is that it is a falsehood. We look to the past to escape the present. We think that the past was better, but my instinct feels like we have selective memory of what the past held. Problems have always existed and their nature has always been human. I know this seems negative, but we are violent and manipulative. We also understand peace and the importance of thought, but looking back throughout the history (at least in the way it is recorded), we don’t seem to think about simplifying life.

I think simplicity is often associated with efficiency. If I can do something with great ease, then it must be simple. I no longer have an abacus, card catalog, or high-fi system. I have a smart phone, which is undoubtably a complex technology. I don’t think it was easy to figure out how to install air conditioners in the NYC subway back in 1955. Simple living is hard today. Where does my food come from? What cable plan to I choose? Am I on wi-fi? Is my password too weak? At the same time, though, my car works well. I don’t have to stand in line for anything. Music is everywhere I go and I’m composing this without a feather, pen, or correcting tape. In fact, this essay will go out to the world with a few simple keystrokes. People (a few anyway) will read it wherever they are without having to buy a magazine or go to a library to find the essay in some dusty anthology. Of course it would have been checked out when they finally found the book on the shelf.

So what’s the point? The Queen Anne Dari-Shack was a slice of time. It represented longevity, not the simple times of the past. Those simple times never existed and if they did, to truly appreciate what the times were would cause a lot of pain for those accept the reality of then. We must live in out present and use the past to inform how we go about our business, but we must enjoy the times where we are. Now is the most important time of any person’s life. Stay present and be in this moment.

Do you think Pierce’s is still good? I hear they have seating now. I remember when…

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Bill Nunn, aka Radio Raheem, died today. If there is one character who symbolizes what is going on right now with police and African Americans, it is Radio Raheem. The riot scene in “Do the Right Thing” speaks to the tragedy of today with nearly the same impact as dashboard cameras and helicopter audio commentary. The movie shows the prejudices, brutality, disrespect for people and property, and the consequences of justice and hubris run amok. It’s all there, commentary of the times in 1989. It’s a shame that the message is the same twenty seven years later.

I love “Do the Right Thing,” especially when Buggin’ Out makes fun of Clifton for wearing a Larry Bird jersey. When I watch the movie, I don’t see issues of race. I know, that sounds hard, but I see a failure of people to recognize the importance of us all. I see a failure of people to see outside of skin color, a failure of people to believe beyond their religious or political affiliation, a failure of people to breathe beyond their economic assignment. Each a dumb reason to have contempt for anyone else and each an element contributing to the tragedies that too frequently happening across the country (the world). There are too many Radio Raheems today and it’s about time we started paying attention to the way we treat each other.

Let’s hope, “Left-Hand Hate is KOed by Love,” as Radio Raheem said.

RIP Bill Nunn…

 

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