Celebrating Life — Graduating College!

Well, I do have to say that it has been over eight months that I have written about something and I do have to say, the old cliche “new year new me” really seems quite right as of now. So much to talk about that I do not even know where to start!! Okay, so I remember that my piece premiered at Drexel University in December.

And … oh yes, thats right: I finished student teaching at Goshen Center School. So, let me pick up right there.

I was in first grade. I do have to say, I absolutely hated it. I felt robbed of my creativity because the cooperating teacher and the curriculum was all about “we need to do this because we are assessed on this” and “we have no time for this because that needs to get done.” The students were getting challenged way too much to the point that they were forgetting what it is like to be children. And the worst part about it is that EVERYONE was on the status quo train. And to think that I would even dare call Lucy Calkins “Lucy CULTkins” because that was what the reading and writing curriculum [the whole district used] was: A cult. If you spoke out against it, you were blackballed.

Moving on, as I left factory-producing Goshen Center School, I was hired at the end of that month to teach special education in the Waterbury Public Schools as a self-contained teacher for 3-year olds at Bucks Hill Annex. I do have to say that while I loved those children and enjoyed going to work every day, I did learn a few lessons about a couple things that I believe I need to state for the record.

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  1. Women handle conflict differently than men do.

I can’t tell you how awful it was to hear grown women in that building “talk smack” to each other AND when they were not around each other. It really was horrible. How ironic that we taught the children how to respect one another, yet these people would not practice what they were preaching. There was one instance, in particular, that punctuates my point.

I finish preparing my classroom for the half day, and I walk in the staff room to see two women arguing with each other. One woman was saying how “depressed her co-workers were” and that “all they do is complain about their trials and tribulations about their love life.” Hearing this as I was about to sit down and eat, I opened my mouth and said to the woman “Okay, let me just say that you have your degree in English as well as Early Childhood Education. Right?” She replied “Yes, what does that have to do with my business that you are intruding in?” So I replied: “As someone with an English degree, you do realize the only two things in life that philosophically matter is love and all its infinites, and death and dying. What more can you possibly suggest matters in life? And I am not talking about paying your fucking car taxes or rent. I am talking about what other philosophical things matter in life other than love and death?” Then, she got up and walked away.

My point being, is that women are different in how they handle conflict. They always want to walk away from their problems and never want to face confrontation, and then they put on a pouting face when they don’t “win” the argument. Now, my comment I made to this woman teacher was not about man -vs- woman and I was not trying to insinuate that I “won” the argument. My comment was meant to see how the woman would have reacted. And she reacted the way I thought: She walked right out. Now, if I said that to a guy, he would probably have just looked at me and said “you are a fucking douchebag” and then ten minutes later would probably ask me if I wanted to go to the bar with him to grab drinks.

In proving my point comes a lesson I learned: Don’t trust anyone. The amount of tattling on other people was sick to see and the fact that no one had the balls to call out the childish behavior at the expense of making other peoples’ lives miserable is disheartening. This creates a dangerous culture of deception and exploitation in others trust. However, I can put my head down at night knowing that I stayed out of the gossip and I just did my job and went home each day. And as the only male teacher in the building, it made my job harder because the women would look to me as their “venting machine” because they probably realized I was not part of the “hen house.”

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2. NAEYC Really Sucks

The National Association for Education of Young Children is awful. It reminds me of Hitler and how he would always tell his people “You need to do this, not this.” It was similar to: “Do as I say and not as I do.” NAEYC and its supporters need to realize that you neglect a child when you DON’T say “no” to them. Children need teacher-directed instruction because they are in school to learn, not do whatever they want. Sure, children should have choice. However, children should not be able to run around like animals, and teachers should not have to “use a calm body” when trying to reason with the child. It should be “stop running and get in the room now or else you will lose trucks.” My mantra is:

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If a child can understand his wants, he can understand your directives.

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There are many different public school preschools in Connecticut that are thriving without NAEYC accreditation. Just talk to me for more about the dangerous climate and culture NAEYC creates. I am not going to say more than this because big brother might be reading what I write. Then again, who really gives a crap!

Now, during the year, the issue of school consolidation came up and yes I found myself on the front battlegrounds with some great grassroots organizers that were pushing back on the state government thinking that regionalization was a good thing. Even better news was that I got some state-wide press for it.

Anyway, fast forward to June, and I had an incredible summer. I launched my consulting work and taught some great facilities and workers – including training new lifeguards. I went to Florida with my girlfriend and then went with her to the Cape to see my cousins. All-in-all, it was enjoyable.

During the summer, I interviewed in many school districts, and Manchester Public Schools offered me a position. Without hesitation, I said yes. And I am glad I said yes. I am in Manchester Preschool Center and have been working since new faculty orientation started on August 22. I met my new paraprofessional, noon aide and family advocate. My classroom is almost set up, but there is still some work to do before my students start next Monday. Here are some pictures of the first day I got my keys to the classroom:

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And here is the progress as of today:

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I started my home visits with my families today, and the fact that I can visit the homes of my families is an incredible experience and a great way to make families feel more comfortable. Tomorrow is another day of setting up my classroom, and more home visits. I will be sure to keep you all posted.

However, the main focus for me is that I graduated college in December and received my diploma at graduation in June!!

And I truly believe there are things that happen for a reason.  When each event occurs rarely is one aware of the specific reason for the situation to unfold the way it does.  However, during the last four years I have become a little more aware of such moments, but only in the belief that there is a reason behind them.  I do not know what they ultimately mean, but I am aware that at some point I will come to fully understand why they occurred. I do not mean to pull you along a metaphysical journey, nor one of spiritual belief.  That’s far too personal for me to EVER blog about. What I will do, if you, the reader, will indulge me, is to take you back to the fall of 2014 when I began college at Southern Connecticut State University, where a young freshman percussion player would eventually be the reason why he is experiencing and getting the best in his life.

Before we use the wayback machine, permit me to explain a bit more. Lately, I have been blathering on about “knowing where you came from,” “understanding your past so you can live for the future,” respecting and honoring those who came before,” etc. I have gone on and on about such topics because for me they are what gives our lives substance, purpose and meaning. Without the past, we have no idea where the future will take us. Without the past, we have no foundation upon which to stand. Without the past, we are merely living for the moment with no support to lean upon should we ever need it. Without the past, our existence would be very empty. This summer I spent weeks on the road working with clients at aquatic facilities in areas from lifeguarding certification and re-certification classes, to in-service workshops and presentations. It is part of my consulting work I do in the summer. This is my second year doing this. Each workshop and training I do brings with it a chance to delve deeper into the “why” and the “how.” I have been teaching the “what” for so long that it is merely the vehicle I use in which to understand the word “more.” With each workshop, the material passes through a new filter in my mind.  The filter is new because life experiences change how you view things. My music professor Dr. Chevan likes to say it this way:

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“Sometimes, somebody will say the same thing that they said for years, but there is a new wrinkle that is ever so slight and it make me go A-HA!”

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These past eight months, including this summer, and including my graduation, was a major “A-Ha!” moment for me, and why I chose to write about this. While everything that I did and happened to me these past eight months continues to evolve and grow, some big ticket items remain in place.

One of those is the “attitude session.” Sure, some stories have changed but remember, the stories have always been just the vehicles used to teach each lesson. This summer I was in the middle of “attitude” when I suddenly expanded upon a particular lesson that I was teaching to a group of seasoned lifeguards in Tolland.  The lesson was about how there are four things you can do in an unpleasant situation. And it was the first thing in the list that sparked a new story for me — “#1: Change it.” (Enter the wayback machine with me as we journey back to 2014 … my freshman year in college):

  • 2014 – 

A cocky undergraduate student (me) who decided to break all the rules and still be in university band [for my music degree], is one of two people left on the stage after a full band walk-off.  My opponent: A freshman clarinet player. She was just as cocky as I was and I would be damned if I let her get to me!  … but she did… so I suppose I was damned.  Well, two words describe how I felt: “Oh Well.” I do not remember much about her though. I am sure she has her own tales to tell, but my memories of college and time have long since faded with only snapshot images of moments that hold special meaning for me.

What I do recall is the spring of 2014 and her audition for a lead part in the band.  I do not recall the actual situation, but I recall her getting the position.

  • 2015 – 

My friends from Chase Hall dorm (Rob, Evan, Devon, Dom, Eric and their friends) and I grew apart. Some dropped out, and others moved to other dorms and met other circles of friends.  At some point mid-fall, one of my friends from Chase Hall dorm freshman year called me and asked when I planned to make arrangements to see him. I told him I was busy. In short, he said he thought I was being distant and that I needed to get past that and make plans to see him–it was amazing how much he cared about reconnecting! So I did, and he drove up despite not having spoken to any of our friends from Chase Hall. I took him to our band concert so he could watch the performance, and when we finished the song “Blue Shades,” I had been reduced to tears because we were amazing. Our band was big and powerful, and I was shocked and simultaneously amazed at how impressive were on that piece. And there was that clarinet player; she was standing front and center for the solo part of the piece.

  • 2016 and 2017 –

There were more members of the band! I also made 3 new friends that year (Well, really in 2015 … Marcelin, Alex and Shawn). The clarinet player was back in the band. This, of course, meant nothing to me. I was happy she was being successful and I hoped she was enjoying it as much as I did. That was about it. The band sounded incredible especially when rehearsing “American Salute” by Morton Gould during the semester. But a question lingered in my mind for the next year: How did the band get so big so fast when it was vying for more members for so many, many years?

  • 2018

I call it “building power and class.” I got to present at a conference for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Board of Regents with two education professors – one from Central Connecticut State University and one from my university. As I finished my presentation in one of the big lecture rooms that was overflown, I saw the clarinet player. She was talking about changing how people welcome freshman college students. She talked about how when she was a freshman she did not feel very welcomed. She talked about the “suitcase thing” and how it was not any big deal but that because it welcomed the incoming freshmen in such a positive way.

And then it hit me … she did exactly what I said earlier about the lesson I taught in Tolland:

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“There are four things you can do in an unpleasant situation. #1 – Change It.”

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And she did just that. And I then realized that she had the same personality as me and I came to change my ATTITUDE. This simple, no nonsense, “fix the immediate problem” idea began a snowball effect that I am quite sure she had no idea would occur.

Fast forward to now …

The summer has ended and my lifeguards and clients I worked with during the course of the summer is hungry; perhaps they are ravenous for something new such as going to either finish strong at their facility or work to find work for the year. And after working as a lifeguard for 8 years at Woodtick Recreation Area in Wolcott and teaching swimming lessons all through college, I knew enough to be completely and totally petrified at the prospect of being an aquatic consultant for town aquatic facilities.  Fortunately, I also learned that one makes small changes and takes their time molding a something into their vision (a vision that changes as much as my consulting “why” changes workshop to workshop). The first thing I instituted was “the suitcase thing.”

And that change is due to a young clarinet player turned leader who turned out to be better than me as a lot of things. And I now move forward knowing not to be intimidated by others because they might be the change that you are looking for.  A momentary blip on the radar screen of reason allowed me to connect all the dots for the first time this summer. If this clarinet player had not done what she did, I would not be where I am today. You are now a part of my life story.

And so, I come full circle in bringing everything that happened in the past eight months to a close: Everything happens for a reason. We may not know the reason at the time ,but if we are patient, one day the reason will be revealed.

I am looking forward to a new year making memories with new staff members and new students, and seeing where this little thing called “life” takes me. And to all my friends I made during my college time whether or not we still hang out every day or not, just know that you still have a place in my heart.

Congratulations to everyone who graduated and I hope you all get the life you always wanted. I am so proud of myself for how much I grew as a person, and there is so much more out there in this world for me to learn and grow. I am ready for each new day and what it has in store for me. One milestone and chapter has ended in my life story, and another chapter begins.

Time for me to go to bed. I have work in the morning!!

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