Being John Keating

You know the old adage, “it never rains, but it pours?”  Well that is me with posts tonight.  I wrote this for an assignment in my graduate class and wanted to post it on here so all the wonderful people I mentioned in it would know just what they have done for me.

The assignment asked us to think about the teachers that have inspired us, the classroom moments that made a difference, and the movies about inspiring teachers we love.  Because seriously, if you work in education, you have to watch every teacher movie ever made and cry at the end of Mr. Holland’s Opus when they play his symphony.  It’s a rule.  We then had to write a scene from a movie about us as an educator.  If this wasn’t enough soul-searching, we then had to write what we wished three former students would say about us at our retirement.  Yes, I sort of took some liberties when writing and yes, I was a bit teary when I finished.  Okay, I was A LOT teary.

So this is for you, my present and former students, my colleagues, and my teachers.  Thanks for all the lessons.

This was a difficult assignment for me in many ways.  One practical way was that my mind immediately went into script writing mode, thinking about setting, molding characters, and what message I wanted to send.  Then I took a deep breath and stepped back.  I started to think about the classrooms I have been in, the students I have made a difference for and the ones who made me different when our time together was over.  I thought about the teachers like Dr. Burke, my Chemistry teacher, who never gave up on me, even when I had given up on myself.  He never ran screaming from the room when he asked,
“What don’t you understand about _____?”, and I answered, “All of it.”  I thought about the Carol’s, two teachers I worked with my first year in the classroom, who taught me so many lessons like the ones Sonia Nieto and Jeffrey Kottler shared.  They showed me that the lessons in the books were only part of the puzzle, how to get those lessons to fit into life for kids was the important thing.

My movie scene?  It would look like the movies Crash and Babel, where all the characters are intertwined and connected in some way.  It would show the girl who I helped write a college admissions essay and how we tailored it to her love of cheerleading, creating a recipe for how being a cheerleader made her a perfect candidate for acceptance. My girl Cassie, who skipped half the day of school, but always made it back for English class with me and shared poetry written on the backs of Denny’s placemats.  The ninth graders, who put together a medieval feast as a culminating activity for a World History unit, complete with food, crowns or henins, entertainment, and a suit of armor.  Then invited the sixth graders who were learning about the middle ages, to come eat, drink, and be merry.  The kids who read Shakespeare in ninth grade English and decided it was more like a soap opera than anything, and proceeded to write a Shakespearean National Enquirer in one class and an Elizabethan Jerry Springer show in the other.  There would be the lumped together borderline group who had to be weaned off chocolate after my maternity leave by reading Lord of the Flies and appealing to their inner “ids”.  I couldn’t forget the sixth graders that I taught to meditate while learning about Buddhism and who asked the guest speaker on Judaism if her cat wore a yarmulke.  How could I not include my Masterminds, the scholastic bowl team of misfits who just needed something to be a part of and a coach who was happy to have them?  (And fed them pizza, one of the most important parts of a match, the pizza after.)  Who were so proud when we made it to playoffs for the first time ever, but weren’t sure how their peers would respond.  So I bragged for them, and when the basketball player laughed at our trophy, I asked him how many trophies his team had won.  My kids loved me for that because the answer was none.

The list goes on and on.  And in none of these scenes would it really be about the actual discipline based lesson.  It was always about who they were as a person, what they could accomplish, how far they could go if they really wanted to.

Lee Canter’s retirement exercise is a great one, but I’m lucky.  I know what they would say.  I see them every day out in the community.  They check out my groceries, rent me movies, play on my soccer teams, and eat the muffins I make for the Varsity baseball team.  They pull into my driveway and spend two hours sitting at my kitchen counter, then sit down to dinner.  I live the scenes you see in movies.

My three quotes are real ones.  One commented on me going back to graduate school, “You have always been someone I truly look up to and seeing you continue is amazing!! 🙂 You are a wonder woman!!!”

Another who flunked out of his first year of college came back to high school and told me, “You were right, I couldn’t slide by and I couldn’t depend on my dad to fix it for me.  I figured it out and have a plan now, but thanks for being honest and trying to show me the right choices to make.”

“Mrs. Colombo, this is the best book ever!” from a second grader while we were reading Andrew Lost on the Dog.

What do I want them to say when I retire?  I want them to say the things they say every day.  You inspire me, you were honest with me, and you gave me joy.


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