Friday, August 29, 2008

Immersed in the flow


It's Friday afternoon, about a half an hour before my middle school students show up, and this is the first time all week my mind has been in some semblance of repose.

No bones about it, being a teacher is mentally hard work. Early on, I've been inundated with forms to fill out, protocols to follow, for everything from assemblies to medical emergencies, new teacher meetings, departmental meetings, training seminars, software uploads, materials to order... ugh. Thank goodness for some internal survival mechanism that keeps me afloat through all this flurry. I reach a certain apogee of stress, and then it's as if a dam is released and I am calm, yet alert through the storm. This trait makes me the go-to guy in the clutch.

My first day was surprisingly relaxed. I could hardly sleep the night before, stomach butterflies and racing thoughts. I got to sleep around 1 a.m. and woke at 5. My classes at the high school went off well. My first hour class I've got two students with the same first and last names. That's a first! And my third hour class has 32 students. Luckily, I've got 33 desks.

These first two weeks are about building a sense of community/class/family pride and rapport. Rules and routines are being established now. I try to be nice and not-too-demanding, stricter than normal, but not going off half-cocked. So far, discipline has not been an issue at all. I've got a few squirrelly sorts at the middle school, but they got in line with just a little encouragement.

It's hard to believe that all the hard work and financial and personal sacrifices the past three years have reached a culmination. I'm a public school teacher now! Of course, I was this spring, too, on a part-time basis (and was surprised to still receive paychecks all summer). And I don't have my own classroom yet at the high school. But this sense of arrival, of reaching a long-sought goal, has me both pleased and perplexed.

This always happens. Once a goal is attained there's a letdown. For me, the journey is always more enjoyable than the destination. And knowing that I've arrived, that what I'm doing now is what I'll most likely be doing in 10 years, leaves me a little sad and confused. But I'm here, teaching, improving lives, doing good and loving it. There's so much work ahead. The job is the journey. No two days are the same.

Week One of the 2008-09 school year is almost in the books. First assignments have been turned in and graded. Unit plans are being refined and honed. The posters are up. The pencils sharpened. Gradebooks (both paper and electronic) are filled with names. Boxes of chalk are in drawers, waiting to be used. Books are on the shelves. A din of voices echoes down the hallways. The school year is underway and 111 trusting young souls depend on me to guide them successfully through the world of words.

Wish us all the best of luck. We'll need it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The REAL simple life

Quotes from Akira Kurosawa’s movie, Dreams, in the segment called “Village of the Watermills”

A tourist with a camera is visiting the village, which is beautiful, adorned with blooming flowers and a series of watermill wheels spinning in a fast-rushing braided shallow streams. Narrow footbridges cross the streams, connecting to narrow islands with craggy trees claiming footholds. An old man works on a wheel. He is wearing a straw hat and his white beard is scraggly. A young man, a tourist, approaches…

Tourist: There’s no electricity here?

Old man: Don’t need it. People get too used to convenience. They think convenience is better. They throw out what’s truly good.

Tourist: But what about lights?

Old man: We’ve got candles and linseed oil.

Tourist: But night’s so dark.

Old man: Yes. That’s what night is supposed to be. Why should night be as bright as day? I wouldn’t like nights so bright you couldn’t see the stars.

Tourist: You have paddies. But no tractors to cultivate them?

Old man: Don’t need them. We’ve got cows, and horses.

Tourist: What do you use for fuel?

Old man: Firewood mostly. We don’t feel right, chopping down trees, but enough fall down by themselves. We cut them up and use them as firewood. And if you make charcoal from the wood, just a few trees can give you as much heat as a whole forest. Yes, and cow dung make good fuel, too.

Tourist looks over to see mill turning. Looks up to see tall tree branches swaying in the wind.

Old man: We try to live the way man used to. That’s the natural way of life. People today have forgotten they’re really just a part of nature. Yet, they destroy the nature on which our lives depend. They always think they can make something better. Especially scientists. They may be smart, but most don’t understand the heart of nature. They only invent things that in the end make people unhappy. Yet they’re so proud of their inventions. What’s worse, most people are, too. They view them as if they were miracles. They worship them. They don’t know it, but they’re losing nature. They don’t see that they’re going to perish. The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water, and the trees and grass that produce them. Everything is being dirtied, polluted forever. Dirty air, dirty water, dirtying the hearts of men.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Jonny loves trains!

I remember once telling Esther, "Wouldn't it be funny if our child loves trains?" during her pregnancy as we tried to talk over the screech of the train sirens in downtown DeKalb. Here it is three years later and our son is totally infatuated with Thomas the Train Engine.

Good thing Jonny can't read and burst the surprise. My next weekend with the boy (Aug. 15-17) we're going to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL, to see the Great Discovery Tour Day Out With Thomas.

Check out this link for a short video about the event:

Jonny absolutely loves Thomas, and has memorized all of the characters on the island of Sodor. I like Thomas too. The style of these programs is more relaxing than most video fare geared towards kids. And I was surprised to hear the familiar voices of (recently-deceased) George Carlin and (still kicking) Alec Baldwin.

I can't wait to see the look in his eyes when Jonny sees a real-life Thomas the Train Engine. And since he is on the cusp of the age of cognizance, he may remember this event later in life too. I sure hope so.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The extended version of disc golf video

Here is the complete 5 minute video of "Rex and Ru's" disc golf round at Sunny Hill Disc Golf Course, Streamwood, IL, on July 11, 2008. Enjoy the music and narration.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Officially moved

I write this from the Gail Borden library in Elgin, my first session on the computers here. My laptop got a virus (or something) in March and screwed up my modem. That's one problem on a long list of things that need to be taken care of before the school year begins in... 3 weeks!

So far, I love my new place. I've never had such a big bedroom, and when I turn out the lights at night, it gets dark in there. No street lights or other house lights can be seen from its 8 windows. I've never known this luxury. All my permanent addresses have been well-lit at night.

But I can tell previous inhabitants felt threatened by this darkness. All the doors have multiple locks on them, and bright floodlights are at the corners of the house. I'm not used to locking so many doors.

Esther and Jonny stayed the weekend. My parents came for dinner Saturday night and Todd, who was visiting another friend in Elgin, joined me for disc golf and Tennis Sunday morning. Jonny loves his room and running around the relative spaciousness of the house.

Funny moment: He wanted to go down in the basement and led me down the dark steps. I told him when I was his age I was scared of the basement because I thought monsters lived down there. He stopped on the steps, refusing to go further. "Don't worry," I told him. "Basement monsters are like the nice monsters in Monsters, Inc." He calmed down, but still didn't venture down the stairs.

He also got a kick out of hiding in his closet, which has two doors that close in together, and then bursting out to surprise me.

I still have to finish my paper on Portnoy's Complaint. Its completion was delayed by the move and procrastination. But at least I've got all my sources together and organized, and an outline ready. All I need to do is write the darn thing.

The trip out west with my dad is canceled. We both haven't the time or resources. This is a bummer, but at least I can spend the next three weeks in relative calm preparing lessons and getting to know my new environs.