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Thoughts on education and life that don't fit into 140 characters
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It’s taken me a long time to start this post. I’ve not blogged in a VERY long time. There are a lot of reasons, but they are really excuses. And just like I was told as a kid, excuses are like rear ends- every body has one and they all stink. Truthfully, I feel like I’m coming out of a funk a bit and that may be what is bringing me back to writing. I probably should have been doing it all along, but even the therapeutic benefits of writing weren’t enough to get me here. Nevertheless, I am here, writing again.
To help you understand why I’ve been gone so long, I have to share some personal bits from last year. Last year may have been the most difficult year in my professional career. That’s not really true. The word “may” leaves open the possibility there may have been a harder one. Last year was without a doubt the hardest year. It was a year of turmoil and of change, two things that I don’t generally seek out. Our superintendent resigned, as did our assistant superintendent, and our director of assessment took a job in another district. Our district eliminated our technology specialists positions causing a long-time friend to leave the district, a friend who had actually lured me to this district 15 years ago. My building principal, someone I had been an administrator with for 10 years, took a position in another district. Succinctly put, many of us felt unsure of where things were headed and had no idea who would be leading.
Once my building principal took another job, I was then again disappointed when the district chose another person to lead our building. It was a difficult time, and I’m sure as hard as things were for me, they were harder for my wife and kids at the time. I am confident that we have moved beyond that, and I am enjoying a great relationship with my new principal. Our new superintendent has implemented a few new ideas that match my philosophical beliefs, so he has been an easy person to follow and respect. Honestly, I have a new-found sense of renewal this year, and I’m sure my attitude and performance are improved from last year. It was a tough time- but it’s in the rear view mirror. I’ve often told my son as he practiced swimming, that the discomfort he felt when he was pushing really hard, that was when he was experiencing true growth. I’m not sure I ever want to experience so much “growth” at once again. I hope that I was able to provide a life-lesson for him on how to deal with disappointment and turmoil. Maybe we are all better for it.
Speaking of my son, that may touch on another reason why I’ve been hesitant to write again. My son is now 3 weeks into his senior year. I know that this year will be filled with many “last times” as the weeks rapidly click by. I know that in roughly two months, his high school swimming career will be over. I’ve tried not to think about how my time with him is running out. I know he is ready to move to the next step in life, and I am confident his mother and I have done all we can to prepare him- and I think we’ve done well. That doesn’t make this next step in life any easier. As an administrator, I’ve often worried or felt guilt that I’ve taken time from my own kids to spend with other people’s kids. Jimmy Casas and I recently had a brief conversation about that. I pray that my kids have never felt like Dad wasn’t present for them. I just know that I need to appreciate every moment of this year with my son. I hope that he has an amazing senior year and that someday when he has his own kids, he will be able to comprehend the love I have for him. With that being said, I close this long-avoided blog with this quote about time:
Waste your money and you’re only out of money, but waste your time and you’ve lost a part of your life.
With the 10th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 attack, I felt compelled to pen a few lines about my thoughts related to that day. I”ll be honest, I don’t know how much of the news stories, documentaries, and witness accounts I’ll be able to watch. It is interesting to me, but disturbing, and I honestly tend to just get a little overwhelmed with all of the coverage. It’s like picking at a scab that never quite heals over; it doesn’t consume my thoughts, but it’s still there.
Like most, I remember exactly where I was when I found out. I was on my plan period that morning as a science teacher at Lafayette High School in St. Joseph, MO. I saw on Yahoo that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and walked across the hall to tell my colleague, Butch James. I figured it was some random accident, and went about my business. I flipped on the television in my room just to see some of the updates and footage. Not much later, I looked up at the TV to see that a 2nd plane had hit. I walked over to Butch and told him that he may want to turn the TV on in his room, that something must be up with the 2nd plane hitting. I remember the rest of the day pretty much as a blur, trying to have some semblance of class, but with all of us pretty much glued to the television coverage that I left on in my classroom.
I talked to my wife that morning to just make sure things were ok with her. She said that my son (now 15) came walking in to her from watching Good Morning America and said, “Mom, a plane just flew into that building”. I’m not sure how good his memory of the event is now, or if the memory has almost been created because of the number of times we’ve relived that morning. I remember people were slightly panicked, and I know that evening we sat in line at a gas station because everyone wanted to fill their tanks up to make sure they had gas. The unknown was literally staring us in the face. Uncertainty was the overwhelming emotion most of us had.
I don’t have a lot of specific memories of the days that followed, but lots of general ones. I know I had a feeling of wanting to do something, probably wanting in some way to fight back. I had served in the Army National Guard from 1989-98 and it was all I could do to not go to a recruting office and rejoin. I remember the skies were so quiet. A few days later, I was on a ladder working on a storm window at our house, and I heard a plane flying over. It literally scared me for a moment. I then saw it was a C-130 from our nearby Air Guard base. To this day, the sound of them flying over is a comfort and a reminder of the men and women who protect us daily. I remember going to a Chiefs football game not long after 9/11, the first one after the attack. The security was so amped up, and the there was a nervous feeling in the air. I remember the flyover and the national anthem and the feelings of patriotism that day. I remember that it was silly, but something as simple as attending a football game in a big crowd was our way of saying “we won’t live in fear”.
I know I was fortunate. I didn’t know anyone who was personally affected by the attack. The closest I can claim is that I know someone who was in the Pentagon when the plane hit and that I played Little League baseball with someone who would have been in the tower, but was late for work that day. I know the world really did change that day. My kids have never known just walking up at the last minute to get on a flight or telling someone goodbye at the gate. My good friends tell the story of driving to the airport late one Friday night with an overnight bag and driving up and saying “where is the next flight going?” Wouldn’t happen after 9/11.
Just as I was nearly 10 years ago, I will be at a Chiefs football game this Sunday. I look forward to a patriotic scene once again. My life wasn’t affected as much as it was for others by the events of 9/11, but I know it will never actually be quite the same for any of us. I pray that inspite of the political infighting that goes on in our country, we will never need something like this to draw us together again.
As I write this, the CHS Class of 2011 has been gone from our halls for a little over a week. I’ve spent countless hours with many of you. Conversely, with some of you, I’ve rarely had the occasion for us to have a coversation. One of the parts of my job that has been hard for me to reconcile is that sometimes, a kid makes it through four years here and we never connect. The student that mostly likely slips by me like this is the one who has average to slightly above average grades, might not be in very many extra-curriclular activities, and isn’t a student who gets sent to the office on a regular basis. Based upon sheer numbers and time, we just never cross paths much. That being said, here are a few pieces of advice I’d like to pass along to the Class of 2011, to the ones that I never had the opportunity to speak with a lot, and also to the ones that I spoke to a lot, but maybe they weren’t in the listening mode. Apologies to those who have heard these words repeated in the past four years. I hope that some of these words are taken to heart:
1) The two most important decisions you will make as far as happiness in life are your choice of career and your choice of who you spend your life with. Those choices can be sources of great happiness, or they can literally suck the joy out of life for you. Choose wisely.
2) Related to #1, education and training do one important thing for you: they give you options. If you are qualified to do many different jobs, you have more options to leave a job if it is not one that makes you happy in life. A high school diploma gives you more opportunities than being a drop out. A bachelors degree gives you more. Technical training gives you more. Take every opportunity to give yourself more options.
3) Find a way to serve others. This can be in your career, your church, your community; there are many ways to achieve this. Living a life where you give back to others has many benefits to you. Not the least of them, you make this a better place to live. Don’t hesitate to take up a cause you feel strongly about. Share your gifts with others, even if it is something small. Your heart will feel better knowing you have given to others.
4) Be open to change. This one isn’t easy. Change isn’t always fun, but it’s a symptom of growth. Be willing to try new things. Expand your horizons by trying something different. You may be surprised how much you learn about yourself.
5) Live without regret. Regret is a wasted emotion. Regret can be caused by something you’ve done (comission) or something you’ve let go undone (omission). Do your best to make sure that down the road, you don’t look back and say, “I wish I would have . . .” That is a truly tragic feeling, work to exclude it from your lives.
6) Don’t be afraid of Plan B. You may have your life all mapped out as you leave high school. Your interests may change. When I started college I was pre-med, and I was going to be an orthopedic surgeon. I decided I didn’t want to go to school that long, so I took a different career path. Ironically, I completed my last schooling at the age of 40, and I’m really at peace with the path I’ve taken. Plan B might be superior to Plan A in many ways.
7) Finally, ignore everything on this list. The most important piece of advice I can give you is this: find what works for you. Don’t be locked into someone else’s plan for you. Steal the ideas that work for you, discard the ones that don’t- that’s what great coaches do, they steal the good stuff, leave the other behind. Approach your life that way. If something you pick up here resonates with you, use it. If it’s all “jibber-jabber”, toss it in the trash. You know yourself better than anyone else. To paraphrase from Dr. Seuss, nobody is more youer than you.
Best wishes as you head out into the world. I’m hopeful that we’ve helped by giving you the right scaffolding to build amazing and extraordinary lives. Make the world the place you want it to be. YOU CAN DO THIS!