Until I See You Again

SAFOOMA Golf Tournament, 2011 – Photo credit to Joseph Pijanowski

When I look at this picture, it’s so far away – nearly nine years ago. Everyone in it still has some paunch – only a couple years removed from college – more hair too, no grays. Just starting out in the adult world, we’re all so bright-eyed, so exuberant, so full of life.

As distant as the picture from 2011 seems, it’s yet so close at the same time. Like the beginning of The Sand Lot where you see a picture you haven’t seen in a long, long time, and you reminisce fondly, reminisce about friends then, friends now, and all the memories.

The memories you didn’t realize you were making at the time until you had forgotten you had made them rush to you, taking you back to that time in the past when life was as simple as 30-racks of Bud Light, a round of golf, a bus driver who has to pull the bus over multiple times for wildly offensive language, questions of who’s sleeping in the golf cart or who’s getting kicked out of the bar or who wet the bed – not questions of when the funeral will be held, what’s the soonest flight you can catch, and where will you stay. These are the new memories that meld with the old, these that now flow through you like the wind blowing through Hingham town as you’re waiting outside a church – not a funeral home, an entire church – to wake your old friend.

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The Stories He Told

My family lost someone very special to us the day before Thanksgiving this year.

It was unexpected even though 82 years is a hell of a life to live out entirely on your own terms. Still, the acute pain of sudden loss stings differently than the dull pain of a more prolonged sickness; selfishly, the latter gives you more time to prepare.

Shocked despite death being nothing new, I always considered him ageless – whether it be for his lighthearted character or his ever-lurking smile or his eyes that always held some sort of secret or surprise. No matter how old I became, I always saw the same spindly, yet larger-than-life figure in some 80s shorts and a never buttoned shirt, aviator-style glasses and cigarette hanging from his mouth – working the lawn, cleaning out the gutters, rumbling around in his truck, waving as you went by.

He wasn’t perfect – none of us ever are – but he cared deeply and made those around him happy even if they didn’t acknowledge it. And how many can truly make that claim?

Exactly.

In celebration of someone I never thought would be gone, I wrote this poem that can never do justice to a true renaissance man. A member of our family, whether you realized it or not, you gave all of us so much. Now, I give you my sorrowful appreciation and thanks:

The Stories He Told

He would regale us with stories of the farm.

Of his father training hunting dogs.

Or of him getting up early to milk the cows.

He would regale us with tales of football glory,

In high school, in college,

Semi-professional,

On the field.

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YA, All Day, Every Day

While I still haven’t published a YA book, I certainly can read them. If ever in need of something new to read for your own kids or students, be sure to check out “What’s Andrew Reading?” Tab.

While not all of the texts are YA – there’s some adult fiction and nonfiction on there too – you’ll notice a diverse mix of protagonists truly representative of our society today. You’ll also notice the issues they’re struggling with – gender, sexuality, race, origin – are far more contemporary than your standard us v. them The Outsiders plot line.

That is not to say there’s anything wrong with The Outsiders, which every child should have read by the time they’re going into eighth grade – still can’t beat that Dallas Winston. Instead, just know that there is so much more out there now.

Here’s another tip: Promote reading!!!!!

As parents, guardians and teachers, kids will actually take to reading if we actually practice what we preach. This simple act will positively and profoundly affect the next generation. As hard as it might be to believe, kids are impressionable and look to adults for guidance – whether we realize it or not.

Go figure.

Here’s some books I have been reading recently:

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Teaching Pride

My students laughed one day when I told them that giving them a spelling test on three letter words that most of them would get a 100 on would not help them in any way become better students.

I was only partially kidding.

My point was that it was in their best interests to be pushed academically to do their best work – to reach or exceed grade-level standards – as opposed to inflate their grades by assessing them on below-grade-level tasks. Some of them groaned because it would’ve been easier and I get that reaction because they’re kids and they want to take the easy way, cutting all the corners to do the least amount of work.

Rest assured, kids, there are plenty of adults out there like this too.

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The Kids – A Poem

I wrote this piece earlier in the year as a position poem sample for my students. The assignment called for students to pick an issue that mattered to them and draft a free-verse piece that shed light on the issue. The parameters of the assignment were broad-by-design. I wanted students to give life to an issue, challenge a powerful system, call for change, examine their feelings – really just take a position on ANYTHING that mattered to them.

To quote Daniel Hill, author of White Awake, and removing his religious beliefs and his theistic lens, Hill posits that “young people who navigate this world on a daily basis” serve as the “greatest subject matter experts on race, justice, and identity” (179). And I couldn’t agree more that our youth have so much to teach adults if we are willing to listen – I’ll be expanding on this topic in a coming blog, so check back for that.

In the poem below, I’m trying to challenge the misconception that many kids nowadays are all the same – lazy and apathetic – when, really, they just need a chance to grow up.

Sometimes, I feel like the Catcher in Rye

The one who can’t save all the kids,

All the kids who fall over the cliff.


Sometimes, I feel like a gnat,

Buzzing in and out of their ears,

Neither seen nor ever really heard.


Sometimes, I used to tell myself 

The kids don’t want to be saved,

And maybe they don’t want the help.

But it’s a lot easier to tell yourself that

Than to get up and give them your best

Until they too uncover their own very best. 

And they will, trust me, they will,

For an education is a gift always appreciating

An education is a future infinitely. 


An education is a skeleton key

That unlocks as many doors

And one is willing to turn.


So, give them time, our hope, our dreams,  

The next generation are they

And everything in between.


For they will come to conclude 

What you have never not known:

That they’re worth fighting for

That they’re worth fighting for

That you are worth fighting for – 


Believe it or not, 

It’s true.

My White Privilege Conversation

I stood in front of my students at the beginning of the school year. We were about to start our first unit built around Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The unit was going to require many mature and sensitive discussions about race, both in the text and in our own lives.

To paraphrase, “I’m white,” I said unabashedly, raising my hand. Some of the looks I got ranged from This guy is nuts to WTF?!?! Some were just blank.

Still, I continued, “I cannot claim to have been the object of racial scorn or prejudice. I cannot claim to know what it feels like to be considered different or a minority or to be judged based on my skin color or culture or religion. But I will always listen and try to understand, try to be empathetic, as we work together to challenge systems that have been unfair to people of color for far too long.”

Would I have started out a discussion like this my first year teaching in Bridgeport, CT, or even when I was a more established teacher at a private, international school in Westchester, NY? The answer is no.

Why?

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The Wisdom

Below is the PowerPoint I showed my students on their final day of 8th grade ELA:

Find your motivation for yourself. 

Realize that there are others in this world besides you and make your community better starting with yourself. 

Be humble & and recognize that you haven’t achieved anything until you actually achieve it. 

Talk is cheap – let your work speak for itself. People who take care of their business don’t need to broadcast their greatness to the world. 

Help others around you – it’s a lot easier to work together than it is to work against one another. 

Be kind – my father always told me it doesn’t cost anything to be kind. 

Ask for help – everyone eventually needs it. 

Avoid excuses – eventually, nobody cares why something didn’t get done, only that you didn’t get it done. 

For those who want to lie: 1. It always catches up to you; 2. It makes you look awful when you get caught; 3. The longer your story is, the less believable it is. 

Recognize that your words and actions truly do matter moving forward, so think about your future and your family and how your decisions will affect your own life, and no one else’s. 

And finally, proofread your work!!!!!!

The Longest Shortest Year

This year was the longest shortest year of my life. Sounds paradoxical, but it’s true. In my nearly 10 years as an educator, I haven’t worked this hard at grading student work, developing curricula, keeping a consistent dialogue with families, or even monitoring and following up with students regularly since my first year or two as a teacher.

This year, I was challenged to be better than I’d ever been. I received constructive criticism for the first time since my time in Bridgeport nearly a decade ago. And honestly, I didn’t know how to take it, at first. Not that I couldn’t handle it – I’m my harshest critic – but what did I do with it or rather where did I even start when it came to fixing some of the highlighted issues?

My lowest point came within the first month or two when I broke down at like 5:45 in the morning, lamenting to my wife if I had made the right decision to leave a place where I had established a reputation, had built a foundation.

Even if I was miserable for the past few years there, at least I had the respect of my students.

Was this new situation better? The kids weren’t responding, weren’t listening, weren’t respectful of my position or what I was trying to teach them. I had spent the summer revising my units of study, making them academically rigorous – or at least that’s what I thought I was doing until they fell flat to start the school year out. I was failing, flailing in every direction trying to find something that worked, yet nothing I did seemed to resonate. I could not help but think that maybe all the years I had spent in a cushy private school had made me soft. Maybe I just was not cut out to be an educator in an urban setting anymore.

Leading up to that moment, I actually wasn’t. I needed to adapt in order to survive. The more I thought about what was missing – higher quality work, preparedness for class, and the requisite pride needed to produce one’s best – the more I realized I needed to adjust my instruction and slow down. My students were not where they needed to be academically or in regards to their maturity. That, though, did not mean they would not get there if I developed my lessons in a way that built my students up with them.

Then, it clicked and the feedback I was receiving from both my in-class observations and unit-planning meetings started to make sense. It became clear what I had to do. Stop trying to do so much in each lesson; instead have a clear focus of how the exercises prepare them for the culminating assessment and contribute to the skills you want the students to take away.

That was really the beginning of the work. Except it now had purpose. And I began to see the results in the classroom as the quality of work increased along with student engagement across the board. Kids were excited to come to class to see what we would learn about next – or maybe what crazy musing I would utter next – and I was believing more and more that I had made the right decision to be their teacher.

While I know there is so much more for me to do in the classroom and far more challenges that lay ahead, I am in a good place professionally.

For the first time in a long time.

I’m Back!

After what has been a LONG year with more late nights than I’ve had in a while as an educator, I’m back!

Over the past year, I was challenged to think about the needs of every single student, challenged to bring content to life, challenged to assess in myriad ways – challenged to be a better teacher overall. The adjustment certainly tested me, but because of it I am in a good place professionally for the first time in far too long.

That’s exactly why I took the year off from writing: to rediscover my passions and to recommit myself to them. With a clear head and fresh eyes, I look forward to the boundless possibilities ahead.

Check back for a new blog each Monday & regular updates on the projects I’m working on in between!

What’s Andrew Reading Update

While I have not been reading as often as I would like, I am ANXIOUSLY awaiting the arrival of Angie Thomas’s new novel ‘On the Come Up‘.

In the meantime, if you need any YA and adult book recommendations, check out the What’s Andrew Reading tab that I’m committing myself to updating on a more regular basis.

If I’m not going to be working on my fiction and blogging as regularly as I have in the past, the least I can do is share what I’m reading.

Also, be sure to check back weekly as I intend to start sharing some of the work I’m writing with my students. Although I’m not writing with them on a daily basis as the reality is they need my help, by the end of the year I would like to say that I am able to write with them for an entire Do Now.