A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Adam Lee dreams of becoming a soldier. On our field trip to DC, immediately after I took over his math class in April, the group I was chaperoning followed Adam's lead to the Wall, a memorial to people who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Here, we stopped for a photo opportunity in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the backdrop of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

As we marched from the side of the Mall where we visited the Native American Museum, the African Art Museum, and cut through the Hirshorn Statue Gallery, it never occurred to me that Adam was a student at risk, since he had given no indication to me that Math had become such a hated subject. A few weeks later, I called home to tell his mother, who initially told me that she could not understand English, that Adam was failing and I was highly concerned that, unless he came for help every day after school, he would fail his state testing. I closed: "I'm calling to ask what I can do to help, but also need to know what Adam will do to help himself." Her response, in perfect English, was that Adam would be there.

That I was blissfully unaware that Adam was one of the nearly 50% of my students who had failed the state test as 5th graders probably was probably a good thing. Mr. Farmer, who hired me, had told me that Adam was in my smart class, which led to a Pygmalian effect, i.e., high expectations leading to striking results, even as the data was telling me otherwise.

Crash Test Darlings

The most difficult classes make me better. Recently, I dubbed my 4th period class my Crash Test Dummies, which brought immediate gasps from shocked students, until I explained how engineers use data from crash tests to make automobiles safer, and told my most difficult class how much I loved having a class like theirs because all their off-task behaviors helped me correct weaknesses in my classroom procedures. Since I referred to "My CTD's" in a child's year book, whose mother had called the Principal to complain about an email that I sent her with my observation that I had noticed her child rolling around the floor with another girl during a review for the final exam, in the spirit of Odysseus, on whom I am modeling the protagonist of the book I am writing, An Odyssey, my bathroom Athena whispered in my ear that it might be more prudent to refer to classes like these, with the more politically correct label, "Crash Test Darlings."

As I began a new day, a day after signing out with Dr. P, who advised me, "you should go," after I explained that I would not be going to my grandma's 100th birthday party until I knew for sure that I had a job, and per county regulations, he explained the hiring process, which effectively tied his hands until after July 14th, I awoke with the decision to attend the party, and the admonition, "we must walk by faith and not by sight." His recommendation was that I spend the next three weeks taking a vacation.

Considering the offbeat way that I was considered for the long term sub position which provided the double edge sword by which I could either disqualify myself or get results, a lesson I taught on solids, liquids, and gasses, my tagline, "gas, always funny," and my punchline, "there's something in the air," perhaps a certain amount of irrationality and risk-taking might be appropriate in making this life-altering decision. The rational thing to do would be to pay my bills, and seeing just how far in the red I am operating, allow my stomach-turning current cash position to determine my destiny, but just as midway through life's journey, Dante read the sign as he descended into Hell, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," and made the bold decision to allow Virgil to be his guide regardless, today, I will trust in an implied message, and rely on Delphic data my Crash Test Darlings produced, which demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that I had came out on the right side of a high-risk situation.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

An Odyssey

My favorite character is Odysseus of Ithaca. Thirty years ago, as a wide-eyed student in Jesse Mann's Moral Development course, surrounded by National Champion Hoyas basketball players, in the company of students with summer homes in the Hamptons, from the back of the room, a virtual nobody, I made a bold proclamation: There are no heroes, only heroism. Odysseus embodies the same no hero concept that I have wrestled with since navigating past the Scylla and Charybdis that was Williamsburg Junior High School in Arlington, Virginia. After 30 years of love and strife and character development, in response to Jesse Mann's prompt, "That's really interesting, please explain?" I am finally ready to brew a narrative that can be poured into a cup, enjoyed like any good cup of Joe, and reflected upon. That I have only just begun to put pen to paper is of little consequence, since to the tune of "For Those About to Rock" by AC/DC, I can hear my muse calling out to me in perfect harmony, "are you ready?"
For far too many children, to step into a post No Child Left Behind Classroom is to understand the meaning of Dante's most famous line: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Dante, one of Homer's most prolific poetic descendants, deconstructed the false notion of no hope, giving flesh to the concept, consider the source, holding up for ridicule and scorn a parade of dramatic foils who pridefully made bold proclamations from various circles of Hell. After a 10 years odyssey in education, having heard loud and clear the message that I had been banished to the hinterlands because of overweening pride, having boasted ostentatiously about poking the Cyclops in the eye, I get a feeling that the winds have changed, that I have been forgiven of my trespasses, and I will soon be allowed a safe passage, and a home in education in a local middle school.