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In sickness and in health

I must admit I am not much of a religious person in the belief that the world will come to an end soon at the hands of some worldwide plague.

I do however know one thing. If the world were to come to an end from an apocalyptic plague, it won’t be in the form of some religious aftermath.

It will be from the millions of children who come to school, sent by their parents, carrying the plague themselves.

For the last 8 days I have been extremely sick. I still went to work and tried to make it through each day but I felt like I was going to pass out at any given moment. Somehow the combination cocktail of the Ebola virus and the plague the students brought to the school beat me down.

Do you know what happens in a school when an administrator or teacher is sick?

All fighting among students stops.

The students become loving and caring individuals toward each other.

Disciplinary referrals suddenly go to zero.

They sing in harmonious unison.

And the students turn their attention and torment toward the poor sick educator.

Do you know what it’s like getting ten million questions fired at you from multiple sources, at once while you are sick? They demand that you calculate Pi (to the last digit without a calculator) and prepare them for a debate with Mensa International all while demanding the answers for the meaning of life.

Torture.

And they love it.

I just hope I get better soon because experiencing that ring of torture (where happy children are dancing and singing in unison over my grave) would be the absolute worst way to die.

Catch me if you can

I will be turning 43 years old this year.

One more year gone and another year wiser.

Of the many duties we administrators are charged with, the one that probably takes up the majority of our time and energy is to maintain discipline among the student body and keep the climate of the school pleasant, inviting, and nurturing.

In all my years in education and on this earth, what never ceases to amaze me is how kids assume that adults never had a childhood and a wealth of experiences to draw upon.

They really do believe that every little prank or infraction they can muster is something they just invented at that moment or dreamed up the night before. They just refuse to believe that these same things that get them in trouble are things we did over 30 years ago, and sometimes did them better.

They also wonder why we catch them so quickly.

Take for example the elementary school student who cuts class. Now unlike high school, elementary school students tend to remain in one of three locations throughout the day: Class, lunch, and P.E. Any other times, before and after school on the playground, they are being watched and supervised by many eyes that catch the precise moment when they are about to spring their act on an unsuspecting victim.

When an elementary student is missing, they are usually found within minutes and when that happens, they look at the administrator as if to say “How did you know I was here?”

Sometimes I think they believe they are invisible.

These same students are the ones who run away when they get caught.

Where do they think they are going to go? Do they really believe we will never see them again?

I don’t even chase them anymore. I just show up at their “hiding spot” and watch them look perplexed from wondering how they were found so quickly.

Reminds me of the time I got caught cutting class…once. I really thought I was never going to get caught.

Which is why I was hiding in the bathroom across the hall from my class.

I also chose the perfect day to cut class.

The day I was caught, was the very day my dad was to be a guest speaker for the very same class I was cutting.

That was back in 1984.

Even though the kids don’t know it now, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I don’t think the kids can come up with something I haven’t seen (or done) before years ago.

Like I said, we were doing this same stuff over 30 years ago.

The rare moments that keep you going…

Often times in an educator’s career we talk about the rare moments that keep us coming back to work each year.

Those rare moments where through all the struggles, hardships, joys, and pains make it all worthwhile.

How many times have you been there at the precise moment in a student’s life where the light bulb of learning “turned on?” If you were there, did you notice it at that very moment?

I can count only three moments in my 16 years in education, but the most recent is probably the one I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

Let me explain.

Due to factors out of my control, above my pay grade, and for another discussion, I have to teach classes as well as complete my administrative duties each day. This year, I am teaching in a primary special education classroom though the bulk of my experience is in high school classrooms.

Earlier this year I received a student, lets call him Marc, from the early childhood special education class. He transitioned to my primary special education class in the first grade, at six years old. He rarely spoke, knew few words, was an emerging reader, and couldn’t write anything other than tracing letters and words given to him. I began to try to teach him though his struggles made him apprehensive and defensive toward any new learning. He often refused to try to speak or write, choosing to just cling to me and follow me wherever I went in the classroom or school.

Soon Marc decided to say a few words to me and eventually we began to talk albeit only a few words each day. I would read to him and sometimes Marc would try to repeat the words back to me. I also made words on lined paper and Marc would trace them and sometimes say the word if I said it first.

Though he wasn’t much of a conversationalist, Marc spoke to me every morning with the most adorable smile and heartfelt greeting with a sunny grin and hug to match.

One day Marc and I were “reading” a book, Marc repeating the words I was saying softly while looking at the pictures. My attention became distracted by another student and I looked away but before I knew it, my attention snapped back to Marc because I suddenly realized that he was still reading on his own. I looked at him in the eyes, his eyes wide with joy, and he yelled out: “I’m reading!”

Right at that precise moment I could see that the learning light within him turned on.

We as educators often describe moments where our students are learning and what happens in that moment. But how many of us can pinpoint the exact moment where the learning begins? How many of us can say: “I saw it the moment it happened?” Those moments are extremely rare, and our profession allows us the privilege of being there to experience it during those special times they occur. They should be cherished and respected.

Well, to continue, Marc kept on reading and reading and reading. When he finished one book, he ran to get another one and read some more. Once he completed that book, he ran to get another one. This went on for quite some time that morning. It actually was a pleasure to see and I tried hard to fight back the tears of joy that I hadn’t realized were streaming down my face from seeing the delight in Marc’s eyes and soul because he was reading for the first time in his life.

Later in the day he also began to write…on his own. No tracing, no prompting, and with no assistance from me.

For the remainder of the day, I couldn’t give Marc enough work to do. He just kept asking for more and more work. He was so proud of himself and I couldn’t be happier. If I tried to go help another student, he ran and tugged on my shirt to give him more work or show me what he had just completed or just read.

Needless to say this was on of the proudest moments of my life not to mention my career. Though the life part of this statement is far more important.

For the next few weeks, I saw Marc make leaps and bounds in his learning and the happier he got with the increase of what he could do made my heart fill with happiness. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t wait to see Marc the next day. Even his classmates became inspired to do more because they saw what he could do and remembered where he started. The others said: “If he can do it and learn, then so can I!”

Now, I wish I could give you a happy ending to this story and say that moving toward the end of the year Marc has surpassed his grade level and grown tremendously. However, unfortunately his mother decided to move and transfer him to another school.

I miss him dearly.

We only have few opportunities as educators or even as human beings to touch and inspire the lives of others. Though I was Marc’s teacher, I do believe I was the one being taught. Marc showed me that through it all, good and bad, day in and day out, everyone has a special gift and can learn more than they realize as long as they have someone who believes in them. At those moments we think we are ready to give up and quit, life shows you that our efforts are very much worthwhile though they may not come up as quickly as we would want them to.

I hope I have the opportunity to teach Marc again (or be taught by him again).

If not, I will cherish the moments I was with him and appreciate that as an educator and as a man I was able to be there the moment a young man began to realize he could learn.

Because at that moment, at 6 years old, his potential was endless: his growth pointed upward toward infinity.

Good luck Marc. May our paths cross again one day and you realize your true potential and success.

I have a hug and a smile waiting for you on that glorious day!