Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Memories and Thanks

The N.Y. Times ran a story today about adults using facebook to reconnect with teachers that had a positive impact on their lives.
It was a very nice story about those extraordinary teachers who had a "following", Mr. Holland type teachers. But the truth is every teacher has an impact on their students whether they or the student is aware. It can be as simple creating a classroom environment where a child feels safe to try something new. Or the teacher who makes all the problems of home go away by the gentle smile she gives. Or how about the teacher who encourages and reassures a student that they can do something when everything around them says they can't. These are subtle influences that are hard for students recognize and even harder to articulate. Yet these influences have the capacity to change the way a student thinks and learns for their entire life. Imagine if you can 180 straight days of someone sending you the message that they believe in you, even when you make mistakes or misbehave. That's powerful!

As an early childhood teacher I always wonder what type of impact I had on my students' lives. By the time they are asked the question of which teacher had the greatest impact I am long gone from their memory except as perhaps a warm feeling of "we had so much fun" in your class. Those intangibles that early childhood teachers develop: inquisitiveness, sense of accomplishment, joy at discovering a new skill, are buried beneath the high school plays, sporting events and awards nights of teenage years. And yet, without that foundation to build on students would have a difficult time benefiting from all that education has to offer.

Recently I heard that my 8th grade science teacher was retiring after 40 some years of teaching. Once I got over my initial shock that she was still teaching, I realized that she is one of those teachers, although not early childhood, that had an intangible effect on the adult that I have become. She has greatly influenced the teacher I have become - and I NEVER TOLD HER.

Of all people, teachers should have the greatest motivation to reach out to those who shaped their education and careers. Yet, sadly, we too are consumed with the daily obligations that provide excuses for not doing something. So I decided to do just that - reach out and let her know what an impact she had on this one student. I wrote her a letter thanking her for what she taught me, put it in a retirement card and mailed it. No, I won't be creating a facebook group dedicated to her, but I think she'll forgive me. This week I got a wonderful letter back expressing her gratitude for my words of kindness. Imagine that. She was thanking me, for something I should have done 35 years ago. Maybe it has more meaning after transcending so many years and life events.

My challenge to each of you is to reach back in your memory as far as you can and find that one (or more) teacher who helped shape your attitudes, ethics, values - the intangibles, and send them a few words of thanks. Social network sites and the internet make it easier to locate people from our past. Take the time, make the effort. You will be so rewarded in return. I know I have been. Now, anyone know where I can find Mr. Dazer....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Umping With Two Thumbs

Last night I attended a girls’ softball game to watch a neighborhood girl play and her parents coach. Softball and baseball games occur nightly in my neighborhood. Everyone is involved. It is a fun way to spend spring and summer evenings. If my own son is not playing, you can be sure one of the other kids on the block has a game that night. Last night once again, I witnessed something I have seen more and more of this year. I don’t remember seeing it before this year: umpires text messaging while they officiate a game.

I admit, I text message. Sometimes even under the table at a meeting. BUT, the outcome of that meeting does not depend on my 100% attention. At first I witnessed the outfield umpire coming to the sidelines during every change of “at bat” and texting away until the last warm up pitch was thrown. Actually, I couldn’t help but notice since I was sitting along first base line and he would come to within several feet of me to do it. But as I have been watching closer, I noticed that the outfield umps will pull their phone out of their pocket to check incoming messages while the game is being played! I question how close they are paying attention to the game when the big concern seems to be carrying on a conversation. Was that blown call because he/she (yes, I’ve seen both genders do this) was daydreaming about where everyone is hanging out that night and who will be there? I imagine it is to a certain degree. Last night, an outraged parent yelled to the umpire to put her phone away. There seemed to be an awful lot of controversial calls that went against her daughter’s team for the remainder of the game.

If I could have a minute before each game to talk with the umps, this is what I would say. I would not state the obvious - that you are being paid, no matter how much or how little, to do a job and that is where you should devote your attention. What I would like to remind these umpires is this: “You are not much older than the kids playing the game. In fact just a few years ago, it was you rounding the bases and sliding into second. I’m sure you wanted a fair call back then. What you didn’t want was an umpire who was hurriedly shoving their phone into a pocket to get over and make, or possibly miss making the call. You wanted someone whose eye was on the ball the entire time, not just at the crack of the bat. Please remember that our sons and daughters believe their lives rest on the call you make.” Dramatic, yes – but isn’t that what being a preteen is all about?