Throwback Thursday: The Last Boy Scout

Throwback Thursday: The Last Boy Scout, originally posted on August 7, 2017, reflects fondly on my time in Boy Scouts. This piece also serves as the perfect segue into Father’s Day weekend. 

Why?

Besides all of the lessons I learned and the leadership qualities I gained and the growing up I had to do because of Boy Scouts, I now see how special those years were to me and my father together.

Because Boy Scouts was our thing. And that means something as schedules get busier and busier and time continues to dwindle. Make time for the memories and appreciate the moments. It all matters even if you don’t realize it at the time. You will eventually. 

Happy Father’s Day to all, in particular my Dad. Thanks for getting up early to drive me and other people’s kids upstate, for coming to basketball and baseball games and having to tolerate people who probably sucked, for putting up with the growing pains, and for showing me how to be not just a man, but more importantly a human. 

In elementary school, I remember friends nudging me to join Cub Scouts. They had weekly meetings, they made fires and played with knives and went camping and did community service. It seemed like the cool thing to do. Kids even wore their uniforms in school sometimes.

Addressing the crowd after receiving my Eagle award.

Then, in fifth grade, we moved up and became Boy Scouts. I remember crossing over that bridge and thinking I had made it to the promised land where all seemed to grow – the kids, their facial hair, the hikes, the knives, the adventures. And, of course, they all brought the nudey magazines, otherwise known as “bass masters,” to summer camp, so that was a plus too.

I was really on a high, strutting my stuff around these older guys that were talking about moves and sensations I could not even fathom at 11 years old. What this one did with this girl by the lake, what the other one did in the wagon, how this feels and that feels. It was a baptism by fire, a coming of age, the corrupting of youth, a rites of passage, a loss of innocence – whatever you want to call it – as I absorbed more dirty jokes about females, the LGBTQ community that wasn’t called it back then, and every culture, ethnicity, and religion you can think of. I was just happy that they let me hang around them and didn’t bully me. Because when you’re younger and they’re older, the greater the likelihood of that happening. Not that it’s right.

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ICYMI: Get to Reading

ICYMI: Get to Reading, originally posted on May 11, 2018, calls ALL to do just that: GET TO READING.

Why?

Because that’s what the big boys and girls do.

There’s that.

And, also, it’s the best way to grow one’s vocabulary and syntax.

Trust yourselves and your imaginations. You’ll find the possibilities are boundless when you do.

‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas via Goodreads.com

Words for My Seniors

When Thornton-Donovan School’s librarian and yearbook moderator asked me to write this year’s Words for My Seniors, I initially thought it was a burden. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was an honor to provide some useful guidance to the Class of 2018. I also needed to leave both my silent and vocal resentments of the school at the door and realize that had nothing to do with the kids. They deserve better, so here is the original, uncut version: 

This song by Khalid came on the radio when I was driving up to Thornton-Donovan School at my usual seven a.m. start. And the chorus really took me: “Yeah, we’re just young, dumb, and broke…But we still got love to give.” I thought at the time that there was something profound in its simplicity, for it so adequately describes high schoolers.

Looking at Khalid’s use of “dumb,” I believe his diction conveys that kids are ignorant of their world at first. That’s to be expected, though. As I always tell my students, they sometimes do stupid things like copy a peer’s homework or not put the requisite effort into an assignment or even say something inappropriate for attention. And that’s completely fine; it’s a product of growing up. This process of making mistakes and learning from them is how we turn knowledge into understanding inside and outside of the classroom, assuming they have the proper guidance at home and at school. After all, it is our eternal fallibility that humanizes us.

Quite cliché it would be if I instructed the graduating class not to fear failure because, to use a sports analogy, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you do not take.” No, instead what I will say is don’t be afraid to communicate and seek assistance. There is a certain pride you might take in independently solving problems, but that is not always the reality. In the real world, whether that be in college or in your career, you must uncover solutions using your resources. Asking for help is not a crutch, but rather the means to satisfy the requirements of a challenging task. Work together with those whose skills are superior to yours, those who have useful and applicable knowledge to impart on you. If you do not evolve, you will become extinct figuratively – struggle/fail, literally. It’s as simple as that.

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The Graduation Speech

I lauded Sheryl Sandberg for her speech at the Tsinghua School of Economics & Management commencement in Beijing on June 27, 2015 in “The Graduation Speech You Wish You Had.” It provided such candid wisdom without being a political stump speech or personal edification exercise.

However, as a set up for my graduates with whom I share my letter from the school’s yearbook this coming Friday, I give you this spoken-word piece from Baz Luhrmann. Originally written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune in June 1997, this pretty much sums up what life is all about.

If you’re willing to take the time to take a step back and experience it.

ICYMI: My Philosophy of Education Simplified

ICYMI: My Philosophy of Education Simplified is my most recent explanation for why I do what I do.

In short, I seek to develop units of study that challenge students to confront the BIG questions of life, formulate opinions, substantiate them with appropriate evidence and explanation, and take pride in the final product.

Because, after all, we are evaluated on our work, for it represents us.

And any teacher who tells you otherwise is negligent, incompetent, and/or an indifferent paycheck collector.

Be Humbled

Be Humbled, a little different than what Kendrick Lamar raps, is just my reminding myself how easy it is to get a little nutty. That is, especially when it feels like the world as you know it has become a vice-grip that’s closing tighter and tighter around you with each passing day.

The point is, be humbled by your stress, let it out, and persevere. It’s in our nature to do so. 

Below is part of my freak out I was laughing about with my wife followed by all I have to be thankful for:

We’re surrounded by everything we own.

There’s shit everywhere (since we’re moving June 14th)!

I have to cut, clean, and pound out the chicken.

And do the dishes, so I can shave in the kitchen sink

Without a mirror

Because our bathtub is clogged and backs up when you use the bathroom sink,

Which had leaked for a month and he just fixed and

Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

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ICYMI: Gun Violence: A Teen’s Voice is Heard

Originally posted on April 6, 2018, “Gun Violence: A Teen’s Voice is Heard” offers the perspective of Editor-in-Chief of Thornton-Donovan School’s student newspaper Overlook Journal on the Parkland tragedy, as well as the gun violence epidemic currently ravaging our country.

Since I was hired at Thornton-Donovan, in my position as Middle School English teacher and Overlook Journal moderator, I have sought to build a culture that seeks truth and promotes impartiality. The recent series on gun control and school safety that began with this introductory piece highlights this civic consciousness.

I want my students to be agents of positive change; unfortunately, though, it appears as if support for change has faded three months after Parkland, according a recent Reuters poll. My hope is that moderate thought prevails and compromise on such a polarizing issue can be achieved for the sake of the children.

Image courtesy of ‘Newsday’

Throwback Thursday: Your Deeds Are Your Monuments

Throwback Thursday: Your Deeds Are Your Monuments, originally posted on October 6, 2017, expresses how proud I am of a student who has endured and overcome more than most. 

Since his birthday is tomorrow, I figured this would be a fitting throwback for him.

Happy birthday, young man. 

I’ve always told my students I’m not their friend or buddy, so do not confuse me with someone they can pal around with. And I’m not interested in their social lives or weekend plans or who’s dating whom so long as it doesn’t affect their academic lives or physical/mental health. That’s the stuff of high school gossip  some educators definitely whisper about – those people need to get a life.

Anyway, there is a line that exists between teachers and students for a reason, a distinction that further separates child from adult. However, kids eventually grow up. Then, what do you do?

They move on, you continue to do your job with a new set of kids and a new one after them and so on. And as a teacher you hope they make the right decisions and see future success; that’s it, right? Well, yes and no. In my position as the middle [and sometimes high] school English teacher at Thornton-Donovan School in New Rochelle, I occasionally have the unique opportunity to watch a child progress from 6th grade all the way through 12th grade. That tidbit provides some context for the work I did with a young man originally from the Bronx whom I started working with when he was in eighth grade. He became the first member of his family to graduate from high school last June (see “The Make Good Son” for more on him).

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Throwback Sunday: Mother’s Day Is

Throwback Sunday: Mother’s Day is, originally posted on May 14, 2017, wishes all the mothers out there a happy and healthy Mother’s Day. You gave us life, you took care of us, and you made us into the people we are today.

And for that, we should be thankful. 

Mother’s Day is breakfast at the diner at 8:30 in the morning (like everyone else). Except it doesn’t matter you’re following the herd in this instance.

Why?

Because as cliche as Mother’s Day brunch is, it’s equally and appropriately perfect (and the perfect excuse for eggs benedict).

You’re catching up, not rushing through it on the way to work or some miscellaneous social function/obligation. You have time, the most precious commodity, and you can take a breath for a second.

It’s as simple as that.

My lovely mother with some drunk idiot via Dennis Tommasulo.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who give their time, their vitality, their love, and most importantly their values to their children; all those women who sacrificed and still do for their children; and all those mothers women no longer with us that children miss today.

Put your feet up, enjoy your family, and remember what and who’s important.