Throwback Thursday: Won’t You Stand By Me

Originally posted on September 18, 2016, “Won’t You Stand By Me” ponders what happens to our friends as we grow up.

Friends, especially good ones, are so hard to come by nowadays. It’s a concept more fascist than friendly at Balaam where a few Mussolinis order around the subjugated majority who swear their lives to the illusionary hierarchy of popularity.

The above quote from Chapter 3 of my unpublished manuscript Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up presents the clique system that dominates a fictional high school. This system, in my experience as a student and as a teacher, still exists although it dissolved towards the end of senior year once the realization set in that everyone’s different and that’s okay – funny how Fairfield University, my alma mater was so very similar. The undertone of the quote, though, is that some pursue acceptance more than genuine friendship.

I learned that lesson early on in my quest for friends in elementary and middle school. At the time, I didn’t realize you can have so many friends you have no friends. A paradox, it intimates that knowing people doesn’t constitute an actual friendship with them much in the same way that knowing information doesn’t mean you understand it. Friends and acquaintances aren’t not synonyms.

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From Sixth Grade to Cornell

“From Sixth Grade to Cornell” is dedicated to the student who believed in me before I even believed in myself as a sixth grade English teacher. They simply don’t make kids like that anymore.

As I mentioned in the July 6, 2017, “Throwback Thursday: The Speech I Actually Gave,” writing letters to particular graduates has become a tradition over the years – dating back to when I got married and missed the 2015 Thornton-Donovan School commencement.

In July 10th’s “The Make Good Son,” I wrote that “this student…supersedes most of – if not all – my success stories.” His adoptive brother on his way to Cornell University in the fall and the focus of this particular piece is the exception.

These two students supersede ALL of my other success stories:

Hey, comma, dude, so what am I going to do without you? Starting a composition with a question is so childish, a transgression for which I probably chided some of your sixth grade – now graduated senior – peers all those years ago, but I have not been able to dispel the question from my head.

Over the past six years, you have been someone who has made my day better when I’m feeling more G-Man than Bubesi. From your eternal smile to your quirky sense of humor, you have an unparalleled passion for living and exploring and learning – none of which you must ever lose.

As a teacher I pride myself on being the enabler of dreams, the one who empowers kids to discover their passion and to pursue it vigorously. Yet, every once in a while, there is a student who affects his teacher in such a profound way that he allows him to dream. That, obviously, is you.

I never anticipated being a middle school English teacher, certainly not a sixth grade English teacher. And, frankly, teaching grammar in a zesty way scared me, especially since any teacher I had ever had made it as bland as boiled cabbage.

However, for whatever reason, you believed in me, probably more than I believed in myself at the time. Even when you were screwing around or not getting the top grades in the class, I recognized in you a drive that far exceeded the pursuit of a number. You pursued knowledge because you actually were interested, not because you wanted to butter my roll or pad your GPA. And that has always impressed me about you.

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Throwback Thursday: Practicing What Constructive Criticism Preaches

Originally posted on August 12, 2016, in “Practicing What Constructive Criticism Preaches” I call myself out for not following my own advice to my students. 

I’ve always espoused the values of constructive criticism to my students. Yet, as introspective and self-evaluating as we are, we sometimes miss what should be evident – whether it be sight errors that our eyes correct as we scroll over them or plot holes filled in, in the same way.

Sometimes, we need someone else. As a writer, it’s a challenge to find a reader, someone who’s not only willing to give you his/her time but also to provide authentic criticism. Too often is it where someone fawns over you instead of allowing you to see your shortcomings.

Still, knowing this, I set out to research how to write a query letter. I read through one after the other after the other before I felt comfortable taking a stab at it. And I did. Or at least I thought. Yet, they were all terrible. So, what did I do? Obviously work out the kinks, right?

More like yeah right!

No, I sent them along to agents who obviously gave me the big pass. Dismayed, I blamed the industry, blaming everyone but myself for impeding the great and powerful writer extraordinaire Andrew Chapin and his journey to achieve his life’s dream.

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The Make Good Son

“The Make Good Son” is dedicated to the student who for five years kept me up at night worrying if he was going to blow an opportunity few inner city kids ever have. Yet, despite all of the setbacks, false starts, and one-step-forward; two-steps-back, he became the first in his family to graduate from high school.

As I mentioned in the July 6, 2017, “Throwback Thursday: The Speech I Actually Gave,” writing letters to particular graduates has become a tradition over the years – dating back to when I got married and missed the 2015 Thornt0n-Donovan School commencement.This student, though, supersedes most – if not all – of my success stories because he wasn’t expected to do it. And he did it in spite of all of his detractors, including himself.

You’ve made good on the promise I always knew you had from the moment I started working with you. Sure, it wasn’t easy. There were a lot of missteps along the way and maybe even more excuses – plenty of arguments and strong words and everything else too – but as many times as you’ve made me bang my head against a wall, I never once stopped believing in you. And I never will.

You have a heart bigger than any student I’ve ever taught. As tough as you pretend to be sometimes, you’re kindhearted and compassionate. These are the qualities that make you a human and endear you to others. It’s why so many people have always tried to help you even when you didn’t always give them a reason to do so. They knew how good of a person you were before you did.

Never before have I had a student who is so loyal that he asks me if I need his help when a parent is raising his voice and thumping his chest at me. Be careful, though. There are some who deserve your loyalty; there are others who will take advantage of it and bring you down with them in whatever hole they’re hiding. Watch out for this pitfall. Trust me.

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Throwback Thursday: The Speech I Actually Gave

Originally posted on August 5, 2016, “Throwback Thursday: The Speech I Actually Gave” recalls last year’s graduation where I celebrated the type of student I respect the most – the student who knows what to do when he does not get a 100.

This is actually the second speech I was supposed to give at graduation (see “The Speech I Never Gave). Furthermore, all this discussion about speeches serves as a precursor to the next installment in what has become a tradition over the years – my writing of letters to graduates who have profoundly affected me as a teacher.

Commencement – photo courtesy of Dr. Benoit Van Lesberghe

There were plenty of “smarter” kids who were doing worse. I always appreciate the kids who are willing to work harder even if their chances of getting a top score are negligible more than the ones who lay it up for low 80s.

Good job doesn’t cut it anymore and neither do average grades; instead, success awaits those who are willing to bust their humps for it. And this guy will, that much I know.

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I Do Not Like Biographies; However,

I do not like biographies.

Simply put, I don’t care enough about famous people to want to know their life stories.

Period.

However, I’ve found myself drawn to nonfiction recently, namely a return a Bill O’Reilly’s Killing series and a biography on Brett Favre by the esteemed Jeff Pearlman.

A biography on Brett Favre?

I know, I just said I do not like biographies, but I made an exception for Pearlman’s book, as I received the book as a gift from his nephew, a student whom I teach.

Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Not one to ever turn down a gift, I opened up to the cover page where I saw an inscription:

Mr. Chapin, give my nephew good grades.

With a smile and a turn of the page, I was reminded of the almost magical realism of Brett Favre. From the aloofness to the sophomoric humor to the cannon arm, the book brought me back to my childhood where I marveled at this bright-eyed, 20-something-year-old guy winning the Super Bowl in my grandparents’ basement.

While I still do not believe that most celebrities of varying degrees are worth reading about, Mr. Pearlman gained a fan in me. I will be a regular consumer of his work and will begin Sweetness as soon as possible. However, as I told my student in an email I sent thanking him:

I remain a bigger fan of his nephew, the youth who thought enough about his teacher to bring him an unsolicited gift – not to kiss up or improve his standing in class, just because.

And that means a lot to me.

Check the What’s Andrew Reading (under the About tab) or simply follow the link for insight into my tastes, as well as reading recommendations for you and your kids. While on the subject my April 10 post “Reading is Cool” applies as well.

ICYMI: Toasting the Staff

“ICYMI: Toasting the Staff,” originally posted on June 20, 2017, lauds the exhaustive efforts of the student journalists at Thornton-Donovan School. Never in the seven years I have advised The Overlook Journal have I supervised such a dedicated staff.

Congratulations on a job well done, plaudits I seldom give.

Throwback Thursday: I Will Carry You

Originally posted on June 5, 2016, “I Will Carry You” recalls when I had foot surgery and had to rely on my wife for survival (that might be just a bit dramatic). Honestly, for the hyper-independent me, someone constantly go go go, losing my mobility proved as challenging a mental test as a physical one.

What it really impressed upon me besides that I’m an antsy busy body, though, is how blessed I am to have my wife. She drove my car back from Long Island with me in shotgun. AND WE SURVIVED! She didn’t cut her fingers off. We ate well (which, of course, my mother worried about). And the house didn’t burn down.

I tell myself it every day, but I really am a lucky guy.