The week leading to my third start was rainy and filled with more evening responsibilities that interrupted my throwing program, but, like in previous weeks, I was able to have a very special catch with a very special person.
(The other day, I went back into the archives of passages that I wrote to the teachers at my school. I found this piece from 2009. This brought back a lot of memories, and also, with them, the reminder to savor every single moment. That little boy sitting on Santa’s lap is twenty years old. I genuinely miss those wonderful moments from long ago…)
Each year I get a terrific honor. I’m Santa Claus at our annual church fair. For the better part of Friday evening, and on Saturday morning, I am Santa. I’ve been doing this for a long time – since my kids were little.
When my kids were little and they talked to Santa, they didn’t know that the Santa they were talking to was me. It was a very special time – priceless might be the word for it. I savor in those great memories.
It’s not quite forty degrees here in New Jersey. It’s cold. Hand stinging cold. It’s the cold that makes your nose and ears hurt.
Did I mention it’s April? I think the fact that it’s actually spring makes the temperature outside that much colder.
At least the sun is out, though the day will remain in the low-40’s.
Yet, even with the (close to) frigid temperatures, I am excited, very excited, unbearably excited, to get outside this afternoon. Today is the Opening Day of our softball season.
I just love to play ball.
…sometimes a picture really is worth 1,000 (well, a lot more than that) words.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I shared direct feedback, in the actual words of students, regarding the characteristics that compelled them to nominate individual teachers for a Teacher of the Week program that I experimented with about ten years ago.
It is my contention that we can learn the most about what matters in the classroom by taking the time to listen to students – and by valuing their feedback. Students live in the world of today. Their time is now. What takes place in the classroom on a daily basis impacts them directly. Students know what good teachers look like. We just have to take the time to listen.
This post is the second in a three part series that shares comments that came directly from middle school students in regard to the teachers they nominated for a “Teacher of the Week” program many years ago.
In the first installment, I shared comments, drawn randomly, about a plethora of teachers. I only printed one comment for each teacher, and, for the sake of length, stopped at twenty.
Following that exercise, I decided to categorize all of the comments from the students into categories. People tend to not be all that creative when completing forms, and the kids in the school were no exception. Many of the comment cards echoes similar sentiments. “Mr. Jones is helpful;” “Mrs. Mattingly is kind; “Miss Wyckoff is helpful.”
Yet, on occasion, some of the students provided some deep thought and in-depth comments on the cards. While these were categorized in my overall study of all the comments, the comments below also stood out as somewhat different from the rest.
For this installment, I will list, in the students’ own words, the most memorable comments that were left for their teachers. These speak to the ways teachers touch children’s lives in unique and special ways. On rare occasions, for clarity, I added clarifying details to the child’s comments. Finally, careful readers might note that certain teachers received numerous nominations below. This speaks to the varied ways that these teachers made special connections with their students. While the names have been changed, I was diligent in keeping the modified names consistent. Mrs. Violet, for example, was a beloved teacher. This characteristic shows when one searches through all of this data. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that students writing about Mrs. Violet (and others) took extra time to write more clearly and share their most personal thoughts. Individuals go out of their way and give extra effort for the people they care most about.
Upcoming, next week, will be the third installment where I summarize all of the comments left from all of the students. I will close this three part series by drawing conclusions based upon the totality of this original and unedited data.
For now, though, once more, let’s hear from the kids:
“I am nominating Ms. Brown because she asks me what is wrong when I am sad.”
“I am nominating Mr. Tytell for always giving us study guides for our test and helping review.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she’s the best. She strives to make me safe. She succeds (sic). I love her. She makes me feel very, very special.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she is always in a good mood and is very nice.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Violet because when we have a project she breaks it down so its easier instead of just saying, “Ok you have a project and its due 3-30-06.”
“I am nominating Mr. Apple because he is always funny but still keeps the class smart.”
“I am nominating Mr. Alda because he really helped me with my dance steps and made me feel very secure with my dance. He’s a great teacher and everyone really likes him.”
“I am nominating Mr. Brook because he helped stop bullying with his outstanding performance. (Note – This teacher developed and presented an anti-bullying assembly for the students that was better received by the students and staff than one from a national speaker.)
“I am nominating Miss Woodside because she not only is a fantastic teacher, but helps us with GEPA (state tests) and has much insight on our recent assemblies. She is very easy to talk to and assists with my problems. I love you Miss Woodside.”
“I am nominating Miss Woodside because she makes sure I understand everything. If I need help I go to her. When we have assemblies I can talk to her about it. She is very helpful with my problems.”
“I am nominating Mr. Konijn because he’s always so enthusiastic about his students learning. He’ll never give up on me or anyone else.”
“I am nominating Mr. Stokes because he always sits with us during lunch. He’s the perfect man for (his subject). He’s funny and awesome.”
“I am nominating Mr. Caldwell because he gives us more freedom than other teachers.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she helps me when I need help and compliments me when my work is good.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Williams because she gives you tips to do better.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Harrington because we bonded (on a class trip) and she’s now one of my alltime favorite teachers. No matter how hard something is to understand she’ll never give up on you.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she is respectful, and full of happiness (sic.).”
“I am nominating Mr. Konijn because his class is something I look forward to every day.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she helped me with my problems. She makes me feel very safe.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Holtz because she makes me smile all day long.”
“I am nominating Mr. Stokes because he knows how to keep everyone on their toes.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she has made me feel good and appreciated by calling home to recognize my great work.”
“I am nominating Ms. Brown because she actually treats us like we’re responsible enough to handle stuff like adults. Plus she respects the fact that there’s more to life then school and doesn’t deluge us with homework. I love Ms. Brown.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Audi because she helped me with all of my problems. She ‘s like my best friend!
“I am nominating Miss Woodside because she treats me like a person, not just a student.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Williams because she helped me improve my listening, comprehension, and speaking skills. She is a fantastic teacher. She makes sure you are happy and smart when you leave her room.”
And, finally, for this post at least,
“I am nominating Mrs. George because she was a great teacher by explaining something when I didn’t understand and is always offering to come for extra help and I just wanted to thank her some how.”
In conclusion, I believe that these passages, which were somewhat unique and different from the plethora of nomination forms I received at the time, speak a great deal about what matters to children in a school.
As we shall examine in the next (and final) installment, there are some powerful conclusions we can draw from all of this this feedback and these honest words from the students.
(Last week, I returned home from a rigorous backpacking adventure with eight Boy Scouts and three adult leaders at Philmont Scout Reservation in the mountains of New Mexico. Philmont provides the ultimate in scouting experiences. The challenges are many. The mountains are high. The dangers and life experiences are real. A crew is put out on a trail and expected to backpack, camp, cook, and hike over a trek of many miles (this year we went over 90 miles)in about 11 days.
At Philmont, boys become men as they battle self-doubt and overcome challenges they never even imagined. The leaders also grow in profound ways as they encounter heir own challenges leading a group of scouts and facing their own physical limitations and apprehensions . It is said that one doesn’t return from Philmont the same as when he left. I think that is true.
I wrote the first draft of the following passage in 2013 after my first Philmont experience. My youngest son and I decided to go back in 2016 to once again face the hills and delight in the wilderness and mountains and to confront the hardships and difficulties that are at the heart of every Philmont experience. I will be crafting subsequent blog posts about our most recent experiences in those majestic mountains…
For now, though, the following is a reflection from my first experience at Philmont. )
Let me begin that by saying that although I hiked over 81 miles in tough terrain, on steep hills, in valleys, over mountains, and along canyon walls, for hours upon hours each day, all with a fifty pound pack on my back… I am not really a hiker.
And, although I set-up a tent daily, and slept in the tent (only to have to take it down, package it and carry it for hours on end, and repeat the process for eleven nights)…I am not truly a camper.
I lived in the outdoors for an extended period…but I am not an outdoorsman.
Experiencing Philmont gave me an opportunity to step way out of my comfort zone. I’m glad I did it. I was especially fortunate to experience this challenge with all three of my sons.
One of my sons is already in college. Another will head off next year. These are the times our lives when we can make time to be together. Part of the magic of Philmont was experiencing it with my children. It was a moment in time that we might never replicate again.
I loved many aspects of this summer adventure; most of all leading and providing this fantastic opportunity to a group of boys, including my sons. But, I am in no rush to ever go back.
Will I camp again? Yes. Will I hike again? Yes. Will I ever go on an extended trip like that again? Probably not…unless the troop needs me. (I hope they don’t ever need me…) (Note – they needed me – that was another reason we went back in 2016.)
But, it was an experience – and a great experience at that. I am proud that I did it. I am proud that my crew did it. We prepared them well. The scouts had the necessary focus, dedication, perseverance, and toughness to get through it. They were a true team of young men – all who supported and encouraged each other.
And let me say, from someone who enjoys running stupid distances (I am a marathoner after all), this wasn’t easy. Philmont pushed me to my physical limits. It would be difficult to call what I did a “vacation,” but it was amazing.
I learned a lot out there in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. One of the most important lessons I learned about was something I already knew, but didn’t truly understand because I had never really lived it before.
I learned the true value of appreciating what we have.
Truly appreciating what we have.
I learned to appreciate my bed. I never realized how much I love my pillows. I learned to cherish clean clothes. I never knew how wonderful a change of clothes could be. (Clothes are heavy. Two weeks of clothes are extremely heavy. No hiker carries that much clothing. This means there are days (on end) when we wore the same clothes including the same underwear. It’s not particularly fun.
I learned to appreciate soap more than one might imagine.
I learned to do without a lot of life’s conveniences. We were in the back woods. Except for what we carried, there were none of the conveniences from home. We lived on, off, and with the land.
We were provided with food. There were scheduled food pick-ups which gave us the sustenance we’d need for a period of time before the next food pick-up. We had to then carry the food we would consume. We would also need to carry our own water.
Water is heavy. Lots of water is very heavy. You just can’t carry a lot of water (along with everything else). Most people carried no more than three or four liters of water at any time. Sometimes this water had to last for quite a while.
At one point, about nine days into our trek, we had a particularly long day of hiking. This also happened to be one of the hottest days we encountered. Our day began at a trail camp (that’s a camp with no staff…we just set up our camp site and were on our own). There was no clean running water at that site. The water we had had to last us all night and all of the next day. In preparation for this, we filled up as much as we could at the previous camp site.
As that ninth day raged on, and we drank, we all started to become dangerously short of water. Some boys were down to less than half a liter. It was hot, we had a lot of hiking to complete (at least two more hours), and there were no camps with any water in our path. In an emergency, we had micro-pure tablets that would allow us to purify unclean water from streams or other non-potable sources, but this was a process that would take at least thirty minutes for each liter of water. Alas! The map also didn’t seem to indicate any upcoming streams or lakes on our trail. Water was in short supply and there seemed little chance, in the immediacy, of getting more.
Let me pause to take a step back – on most days, we would hike for about 20 to 30 minutes before taking short (less than five minutes) water breaks. These short breaks were necessary- especially when attempting to hike for an entire day. These breaks became treasured respites. They were opportunities to rest the body (while standing), to wipe one’s brow, to re-adjust the albatrosses on our backs, and to enjoy the taste of clean water. In order to drink, someone would grab our water bottle for us since they were strapped to our packs and were most often unreachable on our backs. This teamwork made for a strong bond of friendship and understanding. The sharing of water exemplified true teamwork and solidarity. We were in this together and we helped one another.
I love iced tea. I love Pepsi. I love all sorts of flavored drinks. Yet, nothing ever tasted better than water at those breaks. The water wasn’t cold, in fact, most often it was lukewarm, but it was refreshing. It was our sustenance. And it was treasured.
On the particular day that we were hiking, as water became in shorter supply, it became my particular focus. I knew the boys would need water, soon, or we could find ourselves in plenty of trouble.
Of all the things in our lives, water became the most important.
Because of the situation we were in, our values changed. Because of a true need, the thing we wanted the most was something that we take for granted almost every single day of our lives. Water. Not cold water with an ice cube. Water. Plan water.
We needed something to drink.
The situation changed our perspective. The possible danger we faced made us appreciate something that we might never have really ever thought about before. The situation made us value one the most basic of life’s elements.
In those moments, we did not think about who had the most expensive tent or the best hiking boots. The adults didn’t think about our jobs or salaries. The boys didn’t think about the colleges they wished to attend or their high school grades. SAT scores mattered not at all. None of talked about the best cars or the coolest new computer game. In the big picture of life, those things didn’t matter.
We needed to find water.
This need made our focus shift. We knew that we might have to share the limited resources we had. We were all willing to do that. We learned that friendship and trust are some of the most valuable gifts we can share. Generosity too. It is great to be generous when one has abundance; it is greater to be give when one’s supply of a most basic element for survival is dwindling..
Now the story, of course, has a happy ending. About thirty minutes later, we came upon a small stream. We took a long break there to shed our packs, fill our bottles, use the purification tablets, and create water that was potable. We were able to fill our bottles with enough drinkable water to get us to the next clean water supply later that day.
Over the course of the two weeks, there were a number of times we overcame some difficult struggles and found true relief…this was but one of them.
But as we waited, and hoped, for water, I began to gain a better appreciation for the simpler things in life. I began to really consider other things that I always valued, but didn’t always consider – and truly don’t always appreciate.
I thought of the special relationships that I have with my sons. I thought of the love I share with my wonderful wife. I considered my parents and my entire family. I appreciated my job, even with the stresses and worries that come with positions of responsibility. None of the negative aspects in life mattered.
When one has the opportunity to begin to appreciate, all of life, somehow, becomes good. It’s a strange and wonderful and magical reality. Appreciation brings with it many gifts. This is but one of them.
In short, I learned to truly consider and appreciate all of the little things: support, kindness, companionship, friendship, and love. Because of my need for water, I learned to see beyond the mundane realities of modern life.
The need for water allowed me to learn the true meaning of appreciation.
I hope it’s a lesson I never forget.
During my youth, the word “hero” meant one thing to me – a professional baseball player.
My first hero was Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles. I loved Nettles. He was a hard-nosed power hitting third baseman. Nettles led the American league in home runs in 1976. In 1977 and 1978, he earned the Gold Glove for his stellar defense at third base.
A few weeks ago, I took out my old set of 1977 Topps baseball cards. I wanted to find a card to use for a photograph for a blog post. I have been having fun creating unique pictures to use with this blog.
This afternoon, I finally got around to putting the card I had picked back into the plastic sheet where it had been housed for many years.
The baseball card I had chosen for the photograph, and was holding, was a card of Thurman Munson. Thurman was, of course, the Yankees All-Star catcher.
Last fall, as my son and I were having some fun watching football, I was struck by the following commercial:
It is an extremely powerful commercial – one that strikes and resonates within the heart.
And it is so true. 100%.
And not just for cars.
Or crash dummies.
But for everyone. Always. Especially in a job where we deal with children.