Sunday, June 5, 2022

SNAPSHOTS

 

Long before the advent of cell phones, with their come-as-standard HD cameras, previous generations ran around with small cameras. Back then, we inserted cylinders of film into the rear of a Kodak camera, clicked the door shut, then slid the film forward to be ready to take that first picture. If my memory serves me, the camera film came in 12, 24, and 36 exposures which had to be mailed to a picture developer or taken to a one-hour photo shop. Then we waited. Perhaps an hour or even a week. We waited to see if our snapshots of moments in our lives would live forever in a permanent photograph.

Now we possess the means to capture those moments instantaneously. We can see them immediately, edit them, add effects, or even delete the unwanted. Perhaps someone wasn't smiling, another person had his eyes closed, or maybe the picture wasn't capturing the moment as we wanted to remember it. We stick a thin half-inch memory disk into the cell phone, so we can possess an insurmountable number of pictures. We have so many pictures that our moments seem to blur into a never-ending collage in which many of the moments lose their meaning in an impersonal collection of snapshots.

As I have grown older, I have discovered that I possess more pictures than I can view in a day. They are scattered everywhere: on my phone, in Google Photos, in my albums at CVS photo, and even on photo paper mounted in scrapbooks, placed in frames, and stuck with Mavalus tape to the dry-erase board in the back of my classroom.

Mavalus tape. I am fighting autocorrect's desire to change "Mavalus" to "marvelous." I added the word to my dictionary because something about Mavalus tape makes it worth my extra effort. Betsy, my down-the-hall teacher pal, told me about this incredible tape that must have been created with teachers in mind. Principals and custodians nag teachers about using tape on walls as it pulls off paint when you attempt to remove a poster or picture. Mavalus tape has a unique bonding material that leaves little if no residue. Glorious and literally marvelous!

At the beginning of the school year, I shared a year-long theme with the seniors sitting in my classes. Last summer, I came across this marketing campaign called Live a Great Story. I wrote about it in my blog back in August. I brought the massive Live a Great Story flag to school, where I mounted it across the back dry-erase board. Throughout the year, we listened to other people's stories, reflected on our own, and considered how every day is simply another part of a bigger story we are writing ourselves. 

Many diverse stories filled the spaces of the board. Some people were at the beginning of a chapter while others presented a closing chapter. As August moved into the fall, November became winter, and April gave way to spring, I would place snapshots of the entire class, groups of people involved in sports or service projects, couples smiling at dances, and individuals in their own unique moments. Everyone discovered themselves there, individuals as part of a larger familial community.


Last Friday, I was valiantly attempting to clean out my room. I saved taking down the Live a Great Story board and its snapshots for as long as possible. I listened to the Goo Goo Dolls as I pulled each snapshot off the board, looked at it, and placed it either in the discard pile or the save-for-later pile. Removing each one was difficult as I possess fond memories of each picture I had attached to the board with the Mavalus tape throughout the past nine months. 

I swiped my hand across the board to feel for residue from the tape. There was none. The board was smooth and clean. I chuckled because many of my students would make fun of me for looking for deeper meaning as I stared at an empty board with no sticky remains from the pictures that once adorned it. 

In one sense, I am glad that the Mavalus tape worked so well and did not ruin the board. Conversely, I find comfort that memories are not like this. We can literally take the snapshots off our walls, inadvertently delete them from our phones, and declutter by putting them in our discard piles. However, people in our lives always leave bits and pieces of themselves behind which will continue to remain even as we find more snapshots to place atop them. 

I never finished cleaning my room Friday, but I did manage to fold the black Live a Great Story flag to use again next year. 

Congratulations to the CCHS Class of 2022!



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Sunday, April 24, 2022

CARROTS


I was not really hungry at all. I had to eat quickly for a Friday with a no-planning period and a 30-minute Friday lunch while prepping for my two remaining classes. The warmed-in-a-microwave Papa John cheesy breadsticks from last Monday and softball-sized orange were both good. I was swallowing the last of the cold coffee in my Kindness mug when the sound of enthusiastic chaos began making its way to my door.

Paxton and John were the first to arrive. They had these broad smiles on their faces, the devious smiles that would have instilled teacher trepidation and tension at the beginning of the year when I barely knew these kids. Now, though? Either one of their friends said something idiotic at lunch, or another friend got in trouble again. Even though I feigned indifference over their juvenile adventures, I needed to know deep down. The anticipation was eating away at me.

Paxton chuckled as he reached behind his back. "Here, White Rabbit." He tossed a big plastic bag of carrots right in the middle of my desk.

My eyes watered at the hilarity of all of this. I grasped the arms of my chair to keep myself from falling onto the floor in laughter. I am seldom at a loss for words, but my laughter prevented me from saying anything as all three of us just kept laughing and laughing while the rest of the class continued to come into the room. I finally cleared my throat to say, "Thanks, Pax. This really made my day. I needed this."

They both regaled me of how the crew gathered up the carrots from the cafeteria lunch to stuff them in a plastic bag they would drop on my desk. More students continued to enter the room as they did this, discovering the carrots and laughing. I wanted to call it a day right then, like a mic drop, a perfect way to end a chaotic week.

Context, though. Moments like this need context.


My classes had been reading Matthew Quick's Boy21 for a week. Not everyone is a great reader; not everyone has the patience to invest time and energy into the characters in a book. As a teacher, I never know how a class will respond to a book we will read or a project we will undertake.

The book's narrator is Finley, a quiet senior whose basketball coach has asked to befriend a new student named Russell, who has moved from California to Boston after losing his parents to a senseless murder. Finley is the only white player on the basketball team, so his teammates jokingly call him "White Rabbit." Kids sometimes like to play around with their friends and teammates, so Finley is initially fine when the cafeteria students dump uneaten carrots on his tray during lunch while saying, "Here you go, White Rabbit." Unfortunately, this act becomes a joke that borders on torment. 

Quick takes the reader on a journey of three people: Finley, Russ, and Finley's girlfriend Erin, who learn to cope with life's painful struggles. Together the three learn the importance of connection and the necessity of having people who understand and honestly care about one another in our lives.

As I said earlier, the bag of carrots was a perfect way to end the week. I could have packed up, turned the lights, and then headed home. But my class just had to read the book, and they insisted on going outside to the sunny courtyard to do so. It was hot, the kids tend to be crazy, and the courtyard lacks the control I need for a class. I usually absolutely hate making little trips like this. 

"Let's go. Bring your books and be quiet in the halls."

We sat on the courtyard steps in the bright afternoon sunlight with the ambient noise of the water fountain around us. We took turns reading the next few chapters. We did our "Did you notice..." or "I wonder why..." discussion starters. Different people sat on different levels of the stairs, some squinted in the sunlight while some covered their eyes with the book, but all of us shared thoughts about Finley, Russ, and Erin. Time wound down, and everyone seemed to want to read one more chapter before making the long walk back to the room.

So why did I laugh when the carrots landed on my desk? Why did I say that the bag of carrots made my day? Why did I so willingly take a trip outside with a class when I never do that? I have been pondering this for a while.

I keep seeing posts on Twitter and Facebook about teachers leaving the profession to find something else to do or to begin their retirement. I keep wondering how much longer I can do this. My neck and arm are so sore from reading papers and typing on the computer that I have taken to wearing a brace once again this spring. I am tired of a non-stop schedule of classes and activities that always transforms into a sprint at the end of the year, one which takes me weeks to recover. I am tired of finding it harder to enjoy life once the school day ends. I get it, though. I chose to teach, and I will never regret it. 

Unfortunately, I appear to have grown accustomed to doubt. I wonder if what I do makes any kind of impact anymore. I wonder if anyone ever listens anymore. I wonder if I am past my prime and am awaiting a resurgence of energy that may never come. I wonder if my body can actually hold together much longer as I empty the latest bottle of Tylenol. I wonder if my doubt will ever overwhelm the good moments, and I wonder what I will do when that time comes.

So why did the bag of carrots mean so much?

God occasionally speaks to us through the actions of others. He lets us know when our path is correct and when it may be time to rest. Through others, He tells us when we still have a purpose and that our influence on the world may be one that the world continues to need. And sometimes, God tells us through a random bag of carrots that everything will be okay.

So, yeah. "Thanks for the carrots. These really made my day."

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I will continue to add special products related to my books, blog, and podcast.