German Exchange – June 17, 2009

Monday June 15th found us in Strasbourg, France. It is a unique town on the Rhine River and has alternated between France and Germany for centuries. Again we had the chance to ride the trains into France. It was a short hop and didn’t take much time at all. When we got there we proceeded to the European Parliament Building. It was an extremely impressive sight. It is a circular building with great architecture. Students had the chance to take a tour with a group from Germany and Finland. We had a great tour guide that shared a great deal about the workings of the Union. The amount of connection between 27 different countries and with 23 languages was amazing. They had had election in the last few days, results were still coming in. It is strong alliance and has been a way for Europe to unite and work towards similar goals. The most notable are trade issues and environmental issues that effect everyone in Europe. While the policies may differ from country to country there is a real commitment to the environment. The recycling programs in Germany alone are country wide and have a strong support of the people. I then think of Aurora and that Waste Management makes me pay to recycle and I have a strong idea why we lag in this area. As I walked home this evening I saw several yellow trash bags on the curb of recyclables and know that the rubbish for two weeks is very little compared to my weekly pick up at home.

After the Parliament Building we walked into the town center and visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Words or pictures do not do this building justice. It is an awe inspiring sight. It takes your breath away to see the grandeur of the building. We went inside and had the opportunity to see one of the most accurate astronomical clocks in the world. I also had the joy of climbing to the top of the towers. Have I mentioned that I am afraid of heights? 445 stairs later I am up about 100 meters. That is roughly the height of a 20 story building. I made it and there is a chuckling French man who can verify that I made it to the top. The student thought I might die on the way up but I lived. My name is in the book at the top. I even have pictures to prove it.

Frau Dovas-Hudson has done an amazing job preparing these kids for this trip. Their presentations have been well received and they have been greeted with warm responses. I had the pleasure of watching two students have an entire conversation with someone entirely in German. They struggled with some words but were prepared to speak and understand their counterparts. Frau Dovas-Hudson has such a passion for this program that it is fun to watch her work and to see the kids respond. She is to be commended for this program and for keeping it alive when so many other important programs are falling by the wayside because of things like budgets and lack of support. This is a strong program and should continue well into the future. Today’s picture is of the students in front of a sculpture at the European Parliament building:

Baseball & Vespers

I am not Catholic but I coach baseball at a Catholic high school. I have discovered many traditions that I like from the athletes and the school but there is one that I have shared with them. Vespers is traditional nightly prayers or devotions around sunset. I have always had a form of vespers in coaching. It is the evening field clean up and preparation. It is this time that often most frantic and players and coaches are scrambling to get things put up and away. For the longest time, I was like most coaches and got things picked up and put up in preparation for the next day. In the last 10 years, I have discovered a new completion to practice.

As the basic cleanup comes to a close I jump on the tractor and begin to drag the field. I have come to the conclusion that this is the best part of the day and it represents closure to the day in a spiritual way. I take time to take all of the roughed up infield and with a simple tool I make it smooth and prepare it for the next day. This is a great metaphor for what I do while dragging the field. I relax and evaluate the day and practice. I calm down from anything that may have roughed up the day and make it smooth. I also prepare for the next day and practice with all of the knowledge from today which sets the agenda for tomorrow.

My players over the years have asked why I do the dragging myself and I have to admit that it is for selfish reasons. When I am finished I bring to a close today and tuck everything away and hope to learn from today for tomorrow. I reflect on the good and the bad and sort things out. I transition from baseball coach back into teacher, husband, father, and friend during this time. I cherish my nightly vespers and I have sympathy for anyone that doesn’t have an opportunity like this

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