Saturday, August 20, 2016


Imagine you are walking in a shady, wooded area where a small pond rests in the heart of the beauty which surrounds you. Imagine that you pick up a small pebble, one that appears insignificant to the landscape. Imagine gently tossing the small pebble into the water with very little effort, creating a circular collection of ripples that expands outward, brushing the edges of the pond near you. 

A couple of weeks ago someone threw a pebble into my pond.

I like social media because it affords me an opportunity to remain connected to people with whom I have crossed paths throughout my life: childhood friends, college cohorts, work colleagues, family, and, as a teacher, former students.

Mike's Memorabilia
About two or three weeks ago a former student posted this picture on my Facebook page. Mike had been going through a collection of old memorabilia from his past. Clearly one of my students. He found this piece of paper, a little "attendance award" I gave to students who had perfect attendance in my class. I recall there were special perks the students received besides the little paper certificate, but I am the one who received the perk rippling back to me. In his post Mike said my "class is just about the only thing (he) never missed a day of ever." He shared that to help me "prepare for (my) 25th year of teaching." Thank you, Mike.

Mike was one of my students in my first class at my first official teaching position at Ralph L. Fike High School in Wilson, North Carolina, over 25 years ago.  I immediately began to look through Mike's Facebook page to see what he had been doing all this time. What stood out is his young son who looks remarkably like the high school student I remember from over two decades ago. Nothing is better for a teacher than to see a former student happy and successful in life.

The ripple Mike created continued for the next few weeks, leading up to the outset of my 26th year of teaching at my alma mater Central Catholic High School. Something unexpectedly joyous happens to teachers as we continue into our twilight years, occasionally looking back at the ripples in the pond.

Sabrina is another former student from my days at Fike High School. I remember Sabrina being an incredible track athlete at Fike. I do not remember all of the accolades she achieved in high school, but there were enough accomplishments to garner her a track scholarship to the University of North Carolina. Sabrina was so much more than a track standout. She was an incredibly passionate, hard-working student with a desire to leave a positive impact on so many people. 

As a teacher we do not always know where our students will end up later in life. Sabrina and I have remained in contact ever since she called me five years ago to tell me she was going to be on the CBS reality show Survivor. Imagine the joy I had watching a former student on a nationally-televised program.
Sabrina is a motivational speaker, a professional photographer, a co-founder of WEEN (Women Empowerment in Entertainment Network), and is now creating a web-series called The Department of...Ed, based on her experiences as a teacher in an inner-city school in Brooklyn, New York. From time to time Sabrina also gives me some much-needed personal advice about life and social issues; she is one of those valuable "tell it to you straight" people everyone should have.

Sabrina at The Department of...Ed
So now Sabrina is creating her own ripples in the pond as she speaks to young people around the country, helps young women become empowered entrepreneurs like her, and pays tribute to teachers who can become disenchanted with the system, surviving the best that they can with humor and compassion. One day I hope that Sabrina will see those ripples returning back to her shore. If I am right, she probably already has.

The Department of...Ed.
One of the greatest challenges of being a teacher is that to do it well, you have to make that personal investment in students, to care about them beyond the content of the classroom while preparing them for their future with the content of your class. I make that investment the best that I can and hope that a connection is there. 

This connection is at the heart of joy when I see former students achieve their dreams. Like Pablo and Santiago, two Venezuelan brothers who became American citizens while they were in my class, with Pablo joining his family bakery in Brooklyn and Santiago beginning law school. Like Kate, teaching young children about eating well while on her own path of studying diet and nutrition. Like Hunter and Joey, two young men who took similar paths into the military academies of West Point and the Naval Academy. Like all of those students I greet as they walk into my classroom then a year later watch as they cross the graduation stage and into their futures. It is difficult to let go as a teacher once I have made that connection, so it is a powerful experience to quietly watch those ripples every couple of years, maybe five or ten years from now, or, for me, a quarter of a century later.

Pablo @  Everybody Eats, INC.
Joey inducted by his grandfather
Such is the life of a teacher. We do our best to gently toss those pebbles in the ponds that are our classrooms with the hope that we can create ripples or even waves in the lives of our students. We choose those pebbles carefully, praying to make a deeper impression that will move students in positive directions throughout their lives. If we are lucky, those students, by our example, will toss their own pebbles into the lives of others, leading to ripples throughout a much larger pond.

photo by Alyson Hurley (mother of a former student btw)

Please take a look at Sabrina's preview of her web-series The Department of...Ed.


Sunday, August 7, 2016


The first known lighthouse was built by the early Egyptians in 285 B.C., standing at 440 feet tall for over 1,500 years and serving as a beacon to bring travelers at sea home to the port city of Alexandria, Egypt. Throughout the ensuing centuries, lighthouses continued to be used to provide seafarers safe travel until the late 20th century.

Electric beacons have replaced the traditional lighthouse, removing the need for the light keeper, the actual person who watched over the gas beacon and reflecting mirrors. Many of the lighthouses have been abandoned or revitalized as tourist attractions.

I can recall climbing to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, a state I called home for over twenty years. It should go without saying that the view is incredibly breathtaking. For me, it afforded an opportunity to be reflective on exactly where I was in life, of places where I had traversed stormy oceans or floated on calm seas while looking for a different shore on which to dock my boat, always hoping there was a friendly soul in the lighthouse to guide me and welcome me there.

I suppose this is one way to look at life. We are all on the oceans of the world, navigating the best we can, visiting fascinating places, making new friends, and hopefully charting our courses as we do so that our boats can return to ports we have visited in the past.

While I did not actually travel to a lighthouse this summer, I can say that I am grateful for recent experiences returning to "lighthouses" of the past while enjoying those of the present.

Back when I was a student at Central Catholic High School, I acquired my first job at Oglebay Park's Good Zoo where I worked cleaning up buildings, spinning cotton candy, and driving the train with some of the most memorable folk to ever pet a llama or wrap a hot dog. My good friend Jodi is moving from Maryland to South Carolina this summer and wanted to gather the "zoo crew" together for the first time in thirty years. So Sonja, Jill, Lynn, Jodi, and I gathered at Generations to reminisce about old times and to catch up on the past thirty years. This group was my heart and soul as I navigated some turbulent times as a teenage knucklehead. 

I travel to North Carolina to see my son Robert and his family a couple times a year, and this summer was no exception. While visiting with them, I try to catch up with old friends and colleagues from my time teaching at Ralph L. Fike High School. As much as I would like to see everyone, I have come to accept that I simply cannot do that and am satisfied visiting with as many of those friends during the summer as I can. This year I enjoyed enchiladas at El Tapitio with my dear friend Felissa, a wonderful teacher with whom I had taught twenty years. I also ate some great Southern breakfast biscuits with Susan and visited my friend J.L.'s new home as she explained how she was going to remodel the place.

Here in West Virginia, where I currently dock my boat, I enjoyed two weddings of friends and colleagues, Betsy and Jamie, who have become part of my safe harbor at CCHS in Wheeling. It was a wonderful experience to gather together with my current group of friends while still feeling the love and joy of those friends and family from my past.

Life is transient; the current is constantly changing. Jodi and I talked endlessly about her moving to South Carolina (way too soon after we had just rekindled our friendship after so many years apart). My friend and colleague at CCHS Heather has moved to Florida with her husband, leaving a void in many lives here. My niece's boyfriend Michael has moved down to Florida to begin his post-graduate career as an assistant college basketball coach. Students who are still near and dear in my heart are taking their own paths to their future, beginning college this fall. As much as I wish life could stay the same, I have come to accept the fluidity of relationships. 

I read a book a couple of years ago called The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Steadman because the cover and title captured my attention. Is it not enticing? There is a wonderful section in the book about the importance of "lighthouses" in our lives. 

"There are times when the ocean is not the ocean - not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most."

As we grow older, we discover how much our lives change over time, that the "oceans" we sail can become quite turbulent more often than not. It is during those times of distress, fear, and uncertainty that we tend to forget the lighthouses from which we have received guidance through the dark. It is during those times we need to remember the strength, the love, and the light that our friends and family, both past and present, have provided us. It is during those times that we need to remember that the lighthouses are still there and occasionally return to them.

I know this may sound corny, but I am grateful I had the opportunity to spend time with so many guiding lights throughout my life during one summer.

left to right: Sonja, Jill, (Lynn's husband) Rick. Lynn, Jodi, and I
My Zoo Crew Lighthouses 
upper left to right to bottom: Felissa, Kathy, and Kim
Some North Carolina Lighthouses
Emily and Robert with Justin and Kaylee
My North Carolina Lighthouses
My CCHS Lighthouses

Emily and Michael
My Family and TOPPER Lighthouse

Works Consulted

The Lighthouse Preservation Society. Lighthouse Preservation Society, n.d. Web. 07 
          Aug. 2016. 

"M.L. Stedman." Simon & Schuster. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2016. 

Stedman, M. L. The Light between the Oceans. Australia: Vintage, 2012. Print.