Thursday, May 24, 2012

Books and Vulnerability

Last week a friend of mine shared a Ted Talks video with me about vulnerability. I mostly laughed through it because what the speaker says is so true. After spending a few days thinking about the clip, I realized part of what makes books so inviting to me is that they allow me to be vulnerable in a safe place. I can relate to the characters and drop my guard in doing so. Authors who can do that for me are undoubtedly my favorite ones.

I've included the video here. It's well worth your 20 minutes to watch it. Brene Brown is such a great speaker, she'll grab your interest in the first seconds. Don't worry, her presentation is comedic because guess what? She makes herself vulnerable - in public. She a true bard and I envy her ability to be so.

Do books allow you to be vulnerable? If so, what are your favorite ones?
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Beautiful Saturday Morning

Today's post is simple. What do you do on a beautiful Saturday morning? And what kind of story can you make up about what your dog (or other animal) will do if you spend it cleaning?

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Price of Excellence

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day and marks the beginning of Teacher Appreciation Week.  I'm posting a short essay written by a young adult eleven years ago.   This piece, written by my son when he was a senior in high school, takes a very difference approach to what he observed as the price of teaching excellence.  I liked it so well that I still have the paper.  Chris has given me permission to post it today.

Chris Helscher is an Account Manager at Root Learning, a boutique management consulting firm specializing in strategy execution through people.  He is an avid hockey fan - playing and watching as much as possible.  In addition to his love for hockey, Chris has a passion for food.  Dining, eating and cooking are a significant part of his life.  Chris currently resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan - as a first time home owner - with his beautiful girlfriend, Rachel, cat, Aurora, and dog, Senor

Here's the piece, written on September 8, 2001.

It’s twelve o’clock again. The hunger always comes right about now. It never fails. Still, I sit here every day sifting through general chemistry quizzes, laughing at typical mistakes made by some young sophomore. If I could only consciously remember that I made the exact same mistake on the exact same quiz on whatever day I took it.

I look over at Felczan on the phone. He’s oblivious to my glance and completely enthralled by his wife telling him of the latest feats his son and daughter have accomplished at home. It’s the same conversation everyday, yet it’s approached with the same enthusiasm and joy each time, all the while never growing old. Soon Felczan will remark to his wife that he needs next Thursday off so he can “work out” with the academic team, knowing that her inevitable answer will be yes, although it’s a regrettable one. Even though all of Felczan’s coaching endeavors, whether it be the Academic Team, Jet, or Science Olympiad attract the same attention as his gives to his children, his toddlers do come first, if only by a smudge. It’s a close race, the winner known only by a carefully observant few, of which I am one. I take the time to notice and quietly appreciate.

I’ll never come to an understanding of how one man can care for people that he must teach as closely as he cares for his children that he chose to care for and watch over. This could be a factor of age, but I elect to think of it as a quality that one must strive for. Either way, it's a characteristic that few teachers I’ve encountered possess. 

In a dying art, this sort of commitment is reassuring. To see a man that is willing to put forth as many nights and weekends as it takes to ensure that each and every student in his AP Chemistry class understand the material well enough to pass that test is inspiring. Because of that, I’ve found myself on more than one occasion doing the work not for myself, but instead for Mr. Felczan.

I do this knowing that if I don’t understand my own class work, Mr. Felczan will sacrifice the time he had set aside for me to grade a few papers as his lab aid and sit down and teach me by myself. And he would care enough to make me understand the homework, too.
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Conversation with Henrietta - A Teacher Who Made A Difference

Imagine being a little kid who's blind.  Then you're sent to a state school, away from family and friends in order to be educated in a special way so that you can get along in the world.  What kind of teacher do you think would be important to a first, second, or third grader?  In continuing my salute to teachers, I have a guest blogger who was that little kid.  Charles Lester shares with us a recent conversation he had with his fourth grade teacher from the School for the Blind.  She made a difference to him in that setting.  

Chuck is now retired, but worked for 30 years in Human Resources at the United States Postal Service.  A philosophy graduate from the University of Dayton, Chuck has lots of stories and this is but one.  It's only fair to mention that 18 years ago Chuck told me a story.  I bought it and married the guy.  

How many times have we all heard the phrase,  “I had this one teacher and.”  Then, we are likely to be treated to a story about how this teacher, for better or ill, affected this person’s life.  I consider myself to be a lucky soul because I’ve had several teachers who have profoundly influenced my life.  The first in this long line of wonderful people was Henrietta Clash.

I first met her when I was a third grader at the School for the Blind. It was my first year there and every time we met, she always took time to ask how I was doing and if I was getting along with all of the new people in my life.  It seemed to me that she really wanted to know and it was important for her to actually find out.

Through good fortune, in my fourth and fifth grade years, I was placed in what was called, “The major work class” which was taught by none other than Henrietta Clash.  In that class, the third, fourth and fifth graders were all lumped together with one teacher.  The goal was to allow us to progress as a group as quickly as we could manage.  In some ways it utilized an old schoolhouse approach where we were allowed to learn from, and share with one another what each of us had discovered on our own.

In the two years I spent under the guidance of Ms. Clash, I learned to read extensively, how to prepare outlines, and how to deliver speeches.  And I was always given time to pursue my own curiosities.  When the school library acquired a Braille encyclopedia, Ms. Clash required us to pick a topic, research it and present an oral report to the class every week.  That opened a whole new world for me.  My personal interests at that time ran from the growing of cork trees to the construction of the modern battle ship.
But the greatest lesson Ms. Clash taught me was that learning was fun and that the desire to know and understand how our world worked had its own rewards.  She was truly adept at encouraging her students and when discipline was needed, she sternly but gently redirected any recalcitrant back to the ways of learning.  Order would be restored so the process of discovery could continue. 

Little did I know that those two years would prepare me, along with the prodding of my parents, to start what was known as “main streaming” in the sixth grade which at that time was more of an experimental program.      

Tilt the hourglass a little and forty-nine years later I was sitting at my computer thinking about those who had a transformative impact on my life.  My thoughts drifted back to those days with Henrietta Clash. 

Since I knew where she was living in her retirement, I reached for the phone, acquired the number and called her.

"Henrietta," I said, "this is Chuck Lester and I was a student of yours a long time ago."  To my surprise she recognized me right away and for the next hour we talked about where our paths had taken us since last we spoke.  We caught up on those whose lives we have shared in common.  We also lamented the passing of several people who were dear to both of us and on and on we went. Forty-nine years is a lot of ground to cover.

At one point in this lovely conversation, I stopped the process and shared with her in simple, clear terms what her presence in my life had meant to me and although, I had never picked up the phone to track her down before, I wanted to take a moment to tell her now.

There was a long pause on the other end of the line and then, with a little quiver in her voice, she responded by saying how much it means to an old retired teacher to hear from a long lost student that she did good work and that it was appreciated. 

Ms. Clash worked at the School for the Blind from 1942 until 1976.  For thirty-four years she made life just a little bit better for dozens and dozens of visually impaired individuals.  I am most proud to number myself among that group and today, I’m so glad that there are still those dedicated souls on the planet who have committed themselves to making a positive difference for all of us.  

Right then and there I promised myself that the next time I find myself holding a glass of Champaign, I’ll raise my glass and quietly salute Henrietta Clash and all those other unnamed people who have enriched the fabric of my life.  "Waiter, better bring several bottles, it's a long list!"    

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