It Doesn’t Cost Anything To Be Kind

It doesn’t cost anything to be kind is a motto my father modeled for me in his dealings with people throughout my life.

‘Wonder’ book cover via

That could be in my dealing with the FedEx worker who needed a light for his cigarette, and we ended up chatting about the degree he just earned and his exploring the possibility of changing careers and becoming a teacher.

Maybe it’s the cup of coffee and the two-hour conversation about my current struggles this year at my job I have with my 84-year-old neighbor whose husband recently passed away.

It could be in my chatting up the convenience store clerk who sells me smokes or in my interacting and making jokes with the gas station employees near my job. Or even just having a pleasant, affable tone with the waitress at the diner.

Kids or adults; rich or poor; black, white, Latino, or something else – does not matter what the distinction is – all humans deserve and require one element, and only one element, to connect with them; that is, dignity. All desire to be respected and valued, not diminished or marginalized.

It’s far too easy to take a condescending tone or put someone down just because you can. I saw enough of that from a select few snobs at Fairfield U. I see plenty of that in my current position with teachers ill-equipped – and, in some case, unqualified – to deal with the next-generation student. So, bridging the gap between groups begins with respect on both sides and an acknowledgment that discussing differences does not divide, but instead brings us closer together. For then we are understanding, not classifying or singling out.

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ICYMI: We’re Getting Old

ICYMI: We’re Getting Old, originally posted on March 7, 2018, is my realization that I’m not 21 anymore. I simply can’t chase the sun like I used to. And I don’t want to. Life is changing all around me – marriage, pets, other people’s kids, your own kids, homeownership, ADULTING.

And I’m okay with that.

Most of it, at least.

Throwback Thursday: I Do Not Like Biographies; However,

Throwback Thursday: I Do Not Like Biographies; However, originally posted on July 3, 2017, explains my fiction reading preferences. Yet, an opportunity one of my students offered me changed my reservations about reading nonfiction, in particular biographies.

I guess you do need a change of pace every once in a while. 

I do not like biographies.

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


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

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: What Every Kid Wants

ICYMI: What Every Kid Wants, originally posted on February 24, 2018, demands that teachers step down from their pedestals and realize that all kids want an opportunity and a teacher willing to give it to them.

So, teachers, get with the program and give your students the opportunities they deserve. Every kid deserves a quality education. So, if you’re not willing to give it to them, go push pencils somewhere else.

Anything less is unacceptable.

For you.

But more so for the kids and their futures.

Throwback Thursday: The Value of Companionship

Throwback Thursday: The Value of Companionship, originally posted on November 20, 2017, examines how my conception of friendship and its value to me has changed over the years.

It’s amazing what discussing this theme with your eighth graders in regards to ‘Of Mice and Men’ will inspire in you. 

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men remains one of my favorite texts to teach, for in less than 110 pages it offers hundreds of pages of depth. Whether it be examining the historical context – Great Depression/Dust Bowl – or the plight of people of color – see Crooks – or even the ranch as its own independent society, the text offers months of interesting discussions and learning opportunities – months unfortunately no one has.

Alas, there’s never enough time to discuss good literature.

‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck via

Through Chapter 3, now, we have arrived at the venerable Slim and his inability to understand Lennie and George’s relationship. In Chapter 2, meanwhile, we witnessed the callous Carlson’s pushing to shoot Candy’s dog.

What’s the connection?

Companionship – its importance and the inability of many of the ranch workers to understand it. So, it got me thinking about companionship in my own life…

My wife, obviously my ultimate companion and partner in crime – my everything, my always, my forever – has made an honest man out of me in our almost a decade together (that’s a scary thought, in itself).

With her I’ve overcome personal tragedies, written books, learned how to detach myself from work, and discovered that I do not always have to have a solution to a problem – I just have to listen (take notes, guys).

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We’re Getting Old

Gone are the weekday hangovers where you’re hiding behind a computer screen or pulling a Costanza and sleeping under the desk, just counting down the seconds till the acceptable time to jet out of work hits. Or in my case, standing before my students with sunglasses on getting pegged with questions of anonymous origin like dodgeballs in the dark.

‘Old School’ photo via IMDB

Those were the days when I could shake off late nights and still have the energy and motivation to provide my students with the best English education one can offer. Not anymore. Now, I just wear sunglasses because my eyes have become overly sensitive to bright lights, which segues perfectly into the Fairfield Alumni event I attended last night. As I caught up with ’08, ’09, and ’10 grads, a theme of the night quickly revealed itself: WE’RE GETTING OLD.

I don’t know if it was that we were vigilantly monitoring our alcohol consumption despite today likely being a work-from-home day. Or maybe it was that we were talking about being or becoming homeowners, having kids, or even getting a dog. Maybe it was that we were there interacting as professionals, not because we wanted the open bar. And we actually discussed ways to improve the alumni’s connection with the University – I mean real discussion, not pithy, frivolous nonsense. People were thinking and engaging, not just throwing pleasantries at each other and uh-huhing the night away.

My, my how the times have changed.

In a good way.

That’s what a friend and I were discussing last week. Your priorities change. Your habits change. And your body’s ability to bounce back changes. When you don’t, when you keep chasing that sunlight on the regular, you end up looking like Rip Torn – sunken, glassy, spiritless eyes and sagging, dog-faced jowels and all – when you’re in your 30s. And I don’t want that. Or to feel like I’m in the washer machine for three days because the hangovers get longer and longer the older I get.

And I am getting older, I can’t avoid that reality. Just the other day my wife and I were talking about our calendars, and I mentioned that I was going to go to dinner for Chris’s birthday in May. Chris is the boy I mentored from 8th grade until his high school graduation – and whom I still informally advise (See “Your Deeds Are Your Monuments” for more on that). She asked me how old he was turning. I said 20. “Wow!” she cried, and at first I said, “What?” Then, I realized. He’s a man. Just like my former students who are 21. Just like my high school students who I was only five or six years older than when I first started teaching; they’re 25/26 now.

That’s where I am in life now. Looking for a new job and looking at my future as my wife and I prepare to move into a bigger place with a true second bedroom – deep breath – for what will eventually become a child’s room (G0d-willing). Either that or we’ll have that broke-ass Sinbad move in and film House Guest 2.

And I feel comfortable, maybe not comfortable to have a kid, but still comfortable. And we have time for the kids. This is usually the point where I’d chafe from too much adulting and have a flight reaction and need to go run wild for a weekend to feel young again. But I don’t really have that urge anymore. I guess it means I’m slowing down in my old age and finally maturing. Because we all grow up, even the ones of us who feel too young to grow up (see ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up‘).

Quoting a Pope

I’m not big on quoting Popes or really even organized religion. However, reading through some Jesuit literature, I found this quote interesting:

Today, students do not listen seriously to teachers but to witnesses; and if they do listen to teacher, it is because they are witnesses.

If Pope Paul VI, who served from 1963 until his death in 1978, could realize this then, why are some schools so slow to pull their teachers down from the heavens?

Think about it.

Throwback Thursday: Oh Captain! My Captain!

Throwback Thursday: Oh Captain! My Captain!, originally posted on May 28, 2017, makes a quick connection between my youth and my adulthood. The common factor: ‘Dead Poets Society,’ or the go-to video the English teacher in high school put on when he didn’t want to teach/was too hungover to teach. 

Really, though, teachers should not miss their chance to have a ‘Dead Poets Society’ moment with their students. That’s the kind of stuff that matters. 

I’ve mentioned before that after Robin Williams’s passing, I watched Dead Poets Society with my wife and let out a good cry. That viewing allowed me to rediscover my protagonist and ultimately inspired the prologue of Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up.

I recently had my DPS moment with my seventh grade students. When we started discussing Walt Whitman and I mentioned “Oh Captain! My Captain!” a handful of my students astutely commented that they recognized the poem from Williams’ portrayal of John Keating.

After showing them a clip from the film (not the entire movie, for everyone knows it’s the cliche substitute/hungover English teacher go-to), they begged and pleaded to stand on their desks and belt out the poem.

So, with Whitman’s poem on the SmartBoard, we all rose up onto our chairs (not desks, for I was too worried about one breaking and impaling a student). Boy, did that classroom roar that day with youthful exuberance, with passion, with pride, with meaning. It would have been a great picture/video opportunity if I believed it appropriate to do as apparently many other teachers do.

Students across all of my classes (6, 7, & 9) have exhibited unexpected skill along with an equally as surprising dedication to producing quality poems well-above their grades. While I do not believe in chronicling my interactions with my students in multimedia, as their champion, as their most ardent supporters, I will be sharing an anonymous student poem each week to commend their efforts.

When the student makes good on his/her promise, this is the validation of what the teacher does.


Throwback Thursday: Real Talk about the Word

Throwback Thursday: Real Talk about the Word, originally posted on June 10, 2017, examines the continued use of racial slurs – in particular, the N-word – in response to the Bill Maher controversy. Black History Month is the perfect time to throw it back to this particular story. 

The question of the use of racial slurs is particularly confounding in an era where victims are fighting back against their oppressors. However, it appears as if a double standard exists that props up an us v. them paradigm. For true equality to be achieved, though, all involved must understand that there can only be us – not different standards for different people. 

Also, keep in mind for all of the uproar over Maher’s comments, the public quickly forgot all of the claims of racism made against him and by the end of the month, the story fell by the wayside. It’s amazing how short of memories people have for some people but not for others. 

I’ve said the N-word before. I’m not proud of it, but I was callow and young and stupid then.

I can blame my homogeneous white neighborhood I grew up in, the public/private schools and even the college I attended. Hell, I can even blame some of my elders and their old-world prejudices.

But none of that makes it right.

That was before I had ever come to know a person of color, have a conversation with a person of color, or understand a person of color. Now, though, I understood why that word must go.


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