Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Highway 30 Through Iowa

Last week I created my own Spring Break and took two days off to spend with my wife who does have a break. We took off early on Thursday morning and traveled to Chicago on a shopping and resting expedition. We had a very nice time, with the exception of VERY loud neighbors at the hotel.

We took a slightly different way home than we have on our other trips and ended up on Highway 30 in Iowa. I started teaching in a town called Lost Nation and another town called Calamus for two different school districts. Calamus is right on Highway 30 and Lost Nation is 14 miles North. While driving through Clinton, I remembered taking coaching authorization classes with a friend and all the laughs we had during those classes. I have 'retired' from coaching, but those memories were so warm and inviting.

Then we drove through DeWitt and I remembered driving there to play racquetball and a lot of fun times there. As we raced down the highway toward the location of my first jobs, the memories were overwhelming and sweet. I told my wife tons of stories about things I remembered...some not so pleasant memories, like the principal who said he didn't care what the concert was like, but it had better not last longer than 60 minutes.

What was most overwhelming though was the sweet and wonderful memories fourteen miles north in Lost Nation. When I moved there, I had NO idea what it was like to be a teacher and I think I had the absolute best place to learn. I was just twenty-two when I moved to town and immediately, I felt like I was part of a family. It seemed most of the families in town had children my age, in addition to school-aged children, so I was taken in on many occasions and was nurtured along the way. The kids would often hug me and the parents thought that was great. I had an amazing accompanist who always gently steered me in the right direction. I remember only getting two angry parent phone call, one had to do with show choir outfits....although the tone was all wrong, the parent was right. The other one was just a crazy swear festival and I learned a valuable lesson....if someone swears, hang up.

Along with the sweet memories came some very disturbing memories. Losing a kid my first year to a drunk driver and losing another one my second year when he took his own life. These two things became the scaffolding of much of my career as a teacher. I spend a LOT of my day trying to help kids with problem solving situations and trying to get grades and choices on the right track. I want to do everything I can to try to keep kids from making destructive decisions, though I know I can only do so much. The two tragedies in that town make me feel forever bound to that group of kids. I am fortunate to have been in contact with several of them after I moved on. Sadly the school closed the year I left and consolidated.

So, this got me to thinking.....What if new teacher induction was more like this? A warm embrace from the community and nudges in the right direction along the way?? No one yelled at me (with the two exceptions above). I wasn't on any 'intensive assistance' plan, but I surely made about every mistake in the world as a new teacher (well, not every mistake, but enough). What I had was a community of people who worked really hard at molding me into a better teacher through their love and gentle nudges. I think they taught me much more than I taught them. I will be forever grateful to those people for helping make me who I am today.

It seems a basic flaw in this plan is that parents aren't always how they were back then. There is growing animosity toward teachers. However, I maintain we are all on the same team and we have the same goal for kids. Right? I know my goals a pure and honest and with the best interest of the student in mind....I think parents have the same goal. We need to find a way to work together and maybe gently nudge each other back on the right path.

Thanks to the people of Lost Nation for the love and the kindness....Twenty-five years later I think of you all fondly.

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