THE DAY I WANTED TO QUIT TEACHING

We were given the question at an in-service about the day that we wanted to quit teaching. Every teacher has them and we were asked to keep this private and think about how that might also apply to students and how they feel about school. But as with anything we are told to keep private, we immediately started to share with those around us. I listened to teachers talk about the day they were falsely accused of something that ranged from inappropriate behavior to a simple statement that misunderstood. Conversations also centered on treatment by fellow staff, administrators, and parents. By far, the most were about treatment by the kids and disrespect for the work we are doing and that we are doing our jobs to help them get ahead in life. I listened to all of my friends around and I did something I normally do not do, and that is I kept mine private.

After long and hard consideration I spent some time with the topic. I knew I was a little different and this seemed to highlight my differences. The day I wanted to quit teaching was the day I learned of the passing of one of my students. To this day I use the gentler term of “passing” and I try to not use the harsh words that mean the same thing. I have rarely said “died”, “suicide”, “car accident”, or “terminal disease.” Maybe I hope that by using the softer language the violent and unfairness will drain from the situations. In society, we tend to use much more violent language than we once did and I wonder if it is why we are so fast to violence and over-reaction to things around us. Language has an impact and I suspect I will always use the gentler language when referring to my students. It is difficult but if language can ease the pain a little it is worth it.

 

The first time I really had this happen was a student that should have never passed away. He was healthy, vibrant, and full of life. He suffered from a prolonged trip to the mountains and passed away on top of a mountain in the Colorado Rockies. I still believe it was so that he could be closer to the God he loved so much. There was no reason for his passing and yet I sat in a church across the street from the school he had just graduated from a few weeks earlier with many of his friends. There was no reason to go back into the classroom the next year. That is the day I wanted to quit teaching. I did not have the strength to sit in this church and tell his friends that it would be alright because I didn’t believe it myself. It wouldn’t be alright and it wasn’t fair. He should go to college, raise a family, and grow in the community that loved him. Why should I try to tell them anything different?
I went back the next year partially for financial needs and partially from the simple fact that I loved working with kids. The student was a theatre student and I had to spend the first part of the next year directing a play in the theatre every day. There were times when I sat in the back of the theatre in the dark, as the kids rehearsed, with tears of anger and sadness in my eyes. I never said anything to anyone about how I felt, even my wife of 20 years. With each day it became easier. But this was only the start of my frustration.
Over the next few years, we would lose students from suicide, tragic accidents, and illness. The most frustrating of the bunch was a young man with a degenerative muscle disease that put him in a wheelchair. We set up a computer workstation for him in my classroom and he discovered a love for design and computer drafting. He had a wonderful eye and eventually move on to the local technical school to study more in-depth. The teacher called me to ask about a student in a wheelchair taking his class and he was afraid that he couldn’t complete the work. I advocated for this young man and he became an inspiration for other students in the program. We always knew he was going to pass away young but that still didn’t ease the pain when he did.
I have truly examined my reasons for walking into class every day and no matter how I want to downplay it by saying I need a job or I like working with the kids, it goes much deeper. I go back into the room every day because it is where I should be and nowhere else would be the right fit. I need the joy, life, and desire to learn that I get from them. I do not believe that the kids are any worse than they have always been and I don’t believe that they don’t want to learn. I believe that every student that walks through the door wants and deserves something from us and often it is not in any textbook.
As I look retirement in the face soon I keep those kids in my heart and stories but I also keep in mind the story of a young man I met my first year teaching high school. I had a passing acquaintance with him and I remember vividly his graduation day. He was in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy that was advancing but he was not willing to accept defeat. We had seen him bound to his wheelchair all of his senior year. He had spent an entire semester working with students in a class and the teacher. He always said he couldn’t wait to “walk” at graduation. But nothing prepared everyone for when he got to the edge of the stage and the ramp, he stood up and walked haltingly across the stage to receive his diploma. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and the students had kept his secret and to this day anyone who was in the gym that day will never forget that graduation.  And, that is why there will never be a day when I truly think about quitting teaching and I hope I never do get to that point.

In My Room

There’s a world where I can go
And tell my secrets to

We grew up with the threat of being sent to our rooms. Even with the threat of our rooms, we used the time as a way to be angry, happy, lovesick, sad, hopeful, and all of the other emotions associated with being a kid. You had solitude, which was your parents’ goal, but it really brought your thoughts into focus. It was a time of reflections and redirections. I don’t recall any specific trip to my room but I vividly remember the dreams and ideas that came from those times. I remember wanting to be an astronaut, actor, singer, and the owner of my own place where people couldn’t tell me what to do anymore.

I remember signing sad songs, happy songs, and especially love songs in my room. All of my dreams were clear and exact in my room and there was no one to stand in the way. In my room, all things were possible and nothing was unattainable. Most importantly, in my room, the only limits were the ones I placed on myself and I had very few limits or restrictions.

In my room In this world I lock out
All my worries and my fears

I was safe in my room and nothing could reach me. Whatever troubles that may have happened during the day disappeared at the threshold of my room.  There were times when my room was a shared experience but I was still able to find solitude and sometimes my “room” was in different locations. There were times when the school library served this purpose. In college, the third-floor study rooms served as a great area of solitude and I remember spending time listening to my radio with an earplug. I hid in my own world and was a million miles from Greeley, Colorado. I found my time in college really started the transition out of my “room” to the world at large.

Do my dreaming and my scheming lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing laugh at yesterday

Now it’s dark and I’m alone
But I won’t be afraid

My ideas and inventions could save the world if only people would listen to them. Through all of my years, I still have a part of me that thinks he can save the world and has the answers to all the problems of the world. I love to share my crazy ideas and it has given me the reputation of someone who can come with a solution to many problems, (whether they need solving or not.) I loved the art of the “plan” and the joy of fulfilling the plan.

Recent generations have a different view of their rooms and the importance they can play. Many of my students talk about their rooms like it was a “command center” and view it is a connection to the world not isolation from the world. I sometimes wonder where they have solitude and if they ever enjoy the quiet. As a result many children never are alone and never have time to think or contemplate their world. They spend time connected to others in an electronic way and never realize who they are and tend to become what others think of them. Even though they are never alone I suspect they are lonelier because they do not embrace the personal connection with others, Going to school was often the connection that I needed to others and now as I look down at our commons, the bulk are on devices and even sharing things across their table instead of talking across their table.

I love my technology and I would miss it but I find myself increasingly frustrated by my connection to the technology instead of others. I am starting to find myself going to talk to people instead of sending an email. I miss having conversations and I feel sad for children who haven’t really had the experience of conversation. I laugh when I hear my Interns having these silly philosophical discussions but I know that it is the art of conversation that they are developing that far too few people embrace. I remember long conversations into the wee hours of the night over silly stuff but we developed the ability to engage in conversation and dialogue.

Do my crying and my sighing, laugh at yesterday

I hope that everyone has a place of solitude and reflection. My wife finds it in her quilt room and I find it on the back patio with our firepit. I wish for everyone the time to refresh and rejuvenate as we prepare for the next day. I wish for people to not lose the value of true “me time” and embrace the opportunities we have to take time “In My Room.”

In My Room

There’s a world where I can go

And tell my secrets to

In my room

In my room In this world I lock out

All my worries and my fears

In my room

In my room

Do my dreaming and my scheming lie awake and pray

Do my crying and my sighing laugh at yesterday

Now it’s dark and I’m alone

But I won’t be afraid

In my room

In my room

Songwriters: THORPE, BILLY

DOCUMENT CAMERAS – THE MODERN OPAQUE PROJECTOR

Mr. Price Owen, who was my History teacher, loved his opaque projector at Lakewood High School in the 1970s. I enjoyed it when he would put something on there and we would all squint and try to read the information from a book or document. My most vivid memory was that his room was chilly and we all wanted to sit next to the projector for warmth. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I realized that the stories he told and the documents he showed us were from his own life and time in the military. I also remember doing a county map of every county in Colorado using a single page from a document and making it into a poster. These are the memories that students carry with them into the world beyond school.

The new age of opaque projectors is a document camera and a projector. This combination is found in schools all over the country. How does this provide an opportunity for teachers to advance learning to new levels? I find an interesting twist to this because I believe the answer goes right back to Mr. Owen. He would bring things of his from World War II and showed us documents and books that were a direct connection to the History he was teaching us every day in class. It is one thing to read about these little pamphlets they gave soldiers to prepare them for foreign countries but it something completely different to see a real one. I ended up buying a replica of the pamphlet in Berlin a few years ago as a reminder.  Students often ask for connections to the real world during our teaching and this is the opportunity to bring it to them. The new modern ones can now do everything from creating a podcast to just take a picture to show books and documents to a whole class. In many classes, teachers are using them to do demonstrations from Art to Math and Engineering.

An opaque projector found in the November issue of Popular Mechanics in 1975 was $159. In 2016 dollars it would be $705 to buy one. I have seen teachers buy a document camera like the one shown and a small LED projector for under $200 and making strong connections with students. This may very well have been one of the best investments a teacher can make. It is engaging to have visuals and never underestimate the impact of visuals on a student. As I work with young teachers I go back to Mr. Owen in 1976 and I find the modern and new way to teach. It brings up a great phrase the “What was old is New.” It reminds me of what I heard during my time in Mr. Owen’s class, “Mr. Mills, I am trying to show you something important.” He will never know how true that statement was.