Sunday, November 11, 2012

As You Teach It.....

Editor's note: This was supposed to go to press last Wed which is why I am referring to Sunday as a school day. Sometimes it's hard ot find the right ending. I went through about six before picking this one.

            It was the spring of 1985. VH1 had just been launched. Hagar took over for David Lee Roth. Live Aid was just around the corner and I anxiously awaited the new live album from Styx, Caught in the Act. As I’d sit in Mrs. Clark’s World Lit class, I’d daydream while drawing my version of album covers all over my spiral tablets. I was particularily good at the Men at Work Cargo art work.
"It's a mistake...."

            Mrs. Clark was my favorite teacher at Union County High. It was not so much because I learned so much from her but I appreciated the way she treated me. She was funny and sarcastic but also kind and never hurtful to the students. This was the opposite of how her husband, Mr. Clark, ran the show. He loved to tease but it often went over the point of humiliation.   Mrs. Clark was one of those teachers who if she saw some flame inside of a student. Mrs. Clark would fan that flame into a force to be reckoned with.

            Mrs. Clark loved to assign book reports but would never let you select the book. She would pick it out to make sure it was something new. I remember trying to use one of my Conan books I was going though at the time and Mrs. Clark laughed. “Why would I grade you on something you already know all about? Reading is like a diet. You have to mix it up to get good results.”

            So it was after I read Robert Ludlum’s The Parsifal Mosaic when I became hooked on spy novels. I also realized Mrs. Clark’s statement might have been the smartest thing any educator ever told me during high school. I still live by this notion today and even teach my students this simple idea. I just wrapped up the Game of Thrones series so now I working my way through the Great Depression Circus story, Water for Elephants. I have some non-fiction by Bill Bryson next. 

            My reoccurring theme in this blog is how history repeats itself. Often my recollections revolve around the antics of Roni and Jude. Today is something a little different but after it happened, I understood this must be written down for me.

            About the time I was in Mrs. Clark’s World Lit, she introduced us to Shakespeare through his play, As You like It. It was not the painful experience I had anticipated this process to be. I even enjoyed a bit.

            I handled the play just fine. The issue came when Mrs. Clark had us memorize and recite passages from Shakespeare’s works. She assigned me to perform the “All the world’s a stage speech.  I never bothered to memorize past the first few lines and got a whopping score of 3.

            At the time, I recognized the relevance for me to learn this stuff yet I just put it off. This alwasy bothered me a bit because I felt like I had let Mrs. Clark down by my lack of effort for memorizing the speech.

            One time I was up during for a visit to Mom up at Young Harris. Mary had gone off to college so Mom was by herself. While I was up there, I decided to go by my old high school but never made it after talking with the neighbors. Apparently, Mrs. Clark had died of a heart attack shortly before my Dad had his. I had lost my chance to apologize.
Mr. Sidney & Mr. Richardson show off the winner in Jenkins Homecoming Door Contest

            Paul Sidney is my work colleague, fellow blogger, and friend. We have been working together and teaching Brit Lit for several years. We have gotten pretty good at it and have introduced Macbeth, the cast of Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar  to a new generation of kids. Every year, I crack up at how our students groan and hate reading the passages aloud. By the end, most of the kids are into the way of the Bard.

            Paul and I have just finished our segment on Macbeth and we are moving on to how Shakespeare lived. For our journal today, Paul had come up with using the “World’s a Stage” speech and relating it to our society today. The kids weren’t getting it.

            Something inside of me clicked and I read the passage aloud with drama and emphasis. Afterwards, Paul and I broke it down to relate this to our students’ worlds. As we’d go through each stage, I was transported back to being 15 year old Robby and began remembering all that info Mrs. Clark taught me during my junior year. It worked for me then and somehow that magic Mrs. Clark had with Shakespeare worked on our students.
Sorry for the language but it really does say it all.

            Afterschool, I made my daily trek back to my car up in the front parking lot. Usually, I am tired and ready to get the hell out of Dodge. Today was different. I felt good about the work Paul and I did. I was satisfied.

            I’ve lost my chance to have those moments with Martha Clark of Union County High School and to thank her. I wish I could let her know that because she took the time to open up my world, she not only changed my life but gave me the desire to change others through teaching. I’ll never get the chance to apologize for being so irresponsible for my assignment but I feel like I made up for it today.

Instead of just throwing out a bunch of words and phrase in my short term memory, I used a long forgotten lesson taught by Mrs. Clark. In a way, I didn’t teach my class today, Mrs. Clark did. I hope Mrs. Clark was able to see what I did with my students today and realize that she is still teaching what she loved 27 years later. I often write about how history repeats itself and today I found myself in the role of the mentor whom I have enormous respect for.

As a teacher, I hope that I impart a love of learning to my students. I think most of us are into education for partly that reason. I believe the other reason is more personal. Somewhere in that nightmare we called high school, an adult took the time to make a difference in our lives. As way of saying thank you, I think most teachers want to pass that influence on to their own students and hope they make that same difference.   
I find it ironic how Mr. and Mrs. Clark influenced me as a teacher. Mr. Clark taught me what not to do. My nature is to tease but he taught me the line which Mr. Clark crossed way too many time during his miserable math classes. Teasing is fine. Ridiculing a student is not. Mrs. Clark is on the postive side of the teacher influence spectrum. I am glad to hear her voice in the back of my head when I get a kid to pick up a graphic novel or anthing else besides The Hunger Games.
Thanks Mrs. Clark, for introducing me to Shakespeare.  Thanks for getting me to read outside of my comfort zone and introducing me to as much larger world. It’s an odd feeling to be a teacher now and to realize how some of the smallest lessons you taught me has become a larger part of how I do things. But I guess that is what a great teacher does.
Thanks for reading my blog.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Living up to a Promise of Magic & Surprises....

           My mother has always been on the go. She spends little time at home unless it’s she has to work the next day at Hospice. If she’s not at work, Mom is off seeing shows at the Lucas, trying new places to eat here and around Savannah, and going on long and interesting trips with He-who-shall-not-be-named.

            The Big Guy had a different approach. He worked hard so when he had time off, it was spent working around the house. If he wasn’t dragging me off into the woods to cut a load of firewood, Dad was tinkering/building stuff. As a result, thee house in Young Harris had a river rock raised deck, Mary had a gazebo, and we even had a waterfall. Granted this waterfall only worked after five o’ clock when the citizens of Young Harris started up their dishwashers and showers for the evening. The Big Guy figured out into how to tap the overflow area of the city water supply which ran right beside out house. I’ve priced these fountains at Home Depot which has forced to admit the genius in this plan.

            As I have gotten older, it has come to my attention how I am an amalgam of these two people. I love the idea of going out but when it comes down to execution, I just want to stick around the house in my DC comics pajama bottoms and my oversized long john short I got at Goodwill. I am a closet homebody and openly admit it.

            When I moved back to Savannah five years ago, I used to shrug off going out because I had “school tomorrow” or something “was due for my Master’s.” It became my go to phrase and I actually began to believe it. This all accelerated as I got sicker from not taking care of my kidney disease.

            Realizing that I had been like this for a very long time was just one of the many things I saw wrong with me as I began to pick of the pieces. I looked back at my first marriage with Satan’s Step daughter and recognized I never went out with her very much. Granted the destinations were always her choice but I began to see a pattern. I was becoming a recluse. All I needed was the millions of dollars, long beard and assorted jars of urine.

            That was the old Robby. The new Robby is always on the go. To quote an old Calvin & Hobbes book, the days are just packed. Mondays is Jude’s Karate as is Tuesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays alternate between Roni’s Horseback riding and Girl Scouts.

            The weekends are the best. We are all over the place. This time of year is my favorite in Savannah because of a festival every weekend. So far this year, we’ve gone to Picnic in the Park, the Greek Festival, and of course, Pirate Fest. Or social calendar is booked through Christmas at this point and I love it.
Fourth of July Road Trip to SC

            There is also a ritual that seems to happen every time the Richardson-Yanceys take to the streets. No matter how early of a start, we are always 30 mins late at least. At some point during loading up, one of the kids proceeds to hit a meltdown which launches either Kim or me into Def-con 5. There is usually an argument during the car ride about car temperature/music choice. (I refuse to listen to Pop music which appears to be the official soundtrack to eleven year old girls everywhere.) We arrive and have a blast which wipes away all the frustrations so Kim and I find ourselves doing the same thing the next week.

            There is also another part which has organically evolved and it’s become the best part. We’ll be sitting at whatever function we’re attending and the kids will be off in their own little world. Kim comes up to me, sometimes she squeezes my hand which is always the sign that she is very happy with me, “Thanks for bringing us, Honey. I have always wanted to do this. “

            My reply is always the same. “I know. This is awesome. I can’t believe I’ve never done this before bit I’ve always meant to but never seemed to get around to it.”
Not my best day but it was worth it so she could ride the Mountain.

            I never got around to it because, in my heart, I never really wanted to go anywhere. It’s not like that with Kim. I love spending time alone with her but I also enjoy going out and doing stuff. Looking back at the past, I realize it really does come down to who your travel companion is. Kim is so much fun to go out and do stuff with that I find myself seeking new opportunities.

Honeymoon in Ol' Mexico

            Recently Kim referred to herself as my good luck charm and it’s true. Over the past year, thanks to my lovely wife, I have had the opportunity to not just see two of my favorite authors but actually get to speak with them as well.   

            Last February, Kim worked her ass off to track down the hardest ticket to find during the Savannah Book Festival. Somehow she scored two tickets and we got to see Stephen King during the Festival’s Closing. It was amazing to listen to stories form a mind that has sparked my imagination not to mention cause a lack of sleep. The best moment came when I got to ask him a question during King’s Q&A session. It was a fanboy question but how many opportunities will I have to ask it again? Who made this happen? Kim did.

King is in the background signing. So cool!

            A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to see Neil Gaiman perform some storytelling as part of the Unchained tour. I wrote a previous blog about that amazing night and Mr. Gaiman even retweeted on his twitter account. I even had the opportunity to get my little sister the ultimate birthday present as seen right here. All of this happened courtesy of the former Ms. Wade.

Birthday wishes from Mr. Gaiman

            Now I have can add one more to the bucket list. This morning I not only went to the SCAD Film Festival to view Spider-Man in 3D but Stan Lee did a Q&A session. Once again all credit goes to Kim for making this happen.

            I know I am a real parent now because of something I did during the Q&A. All week, I have been going through a list of questions to ask Stan Lee. “Who’s your favorite character?””Did you not get something published you were very proud of?” “What was the wackiest product pitched to you regarding your creations?” I had a list of go to questions and then it happened as we all raised our hands to get noticed.

            Jude wanted to ask a Stan “The Man” Lee a question, How could I say no to that? Believe or not, Jude is very shy and quiet in front of large crowds and people he doesn’t know. So I rose my and when the microphone guy came over I sent him to Jude. To steal a line from my students, Jude acted like a BOSS! He was great. For one moment, the boy stole the show from Stan Lee which is saying something.

            I have never been prouder. I know we’ll have more moments where I get to swell with pride but today was extra special for me. For a second, Jude was very quiet and I was afraid he was going to back out. He didn’t which is one of the many reasons I was thrilled. Jude overcame a little stage fright to speak with one of his heroes. It was a cool moment because I wanted him to have that opportunity even at my own expense.

            I look forward in seeing that Roni and Jude will have to say about all the places and people we have seen. I am eager to learn the perspective they are coming from. We’ve only been at this for almost two years now. It’s going to be cool to see where this takes us next. But if I know my wife and I am learning, it’s not only going to be memorable but a lot of fun in the process. I’ve come to the realization in life that it’s not so much about going out and doing stuff but the company you keep. And I am keeping some great company these days.


            Thanks for reading my blog.