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Thursday, May 10, 2012

After the school year is done will you have leftovers or legacies?



With two weeks left in school, I was sitting at my desk planning the other day and as I considered my options it struck me that each school year is a lot like a family reunion. It is a unique gathering of people who will never be together again quite this way. There are nosebleeds and stories. There is laughter and sometimes disagreement. There are lots of memories.

But after the year is over (or the reunion), what remains?

There are two things: leftovers and legacies.

iStock Photo

Leftovers
Leftovers will keep a week or so - or- if you freeze them (like me) you can make them last several months.

I remember after my second Chemistry at Georgia Tech that I went to the beach and looked at the back of the shampoo bottle in the shower and realized I could draw every chemical mentioned on the back of the bottle. I could even do it a whole quarter later, but now, in my forties, I remember that I could do it, but it is but a faint shadow of a memory. Because I'm not in a field that requires chemistry, that knowledge was a leftover. With time, it was gone.It served its purpose to sustain me for another day or so, but now it is out of my fridge and out of my life.

Legacies
Legacies often come from the stories you tell or the experiences you have at family reunions - and in school.

My headmaster from high school, Graham Lowe (and his wife Betty) are retiring this weekend from their current school with over 100 years of education between them. When he was my Headmaster at Westwood, he got very upset that some kids weren't realizing that very small things could change the whole course of their lives and wanted to get the message through. So, he scheduled 3 assemblies on consecutive days for first thing in the morning and the entire high school watched the movie Cool Hand Luke.

In this movie, the main character, played by Paul Newman, goes to prison initially for busting parking meters. He cannot adapt to prison life and the entire movie is one event after another that extends his stay in prison that finally ends in his death on an escape attempt. He makes a very small but bad choice that lands him under the control of very small people as shown in the famous "what we have here is  a failure to communicate" scene after Luke's first escape attempt.


I can clearly remember Coach Lowe telling us at the end.
"You think that little things don't matter but they do. Small choices you make, like the dumb drunk busting of parking meters at the beginning of this movie, can have lifelong consequences. I want you to never forget that." 

This experience was a legacy. I remember clearly in college evaluating some choices and I decided to stay away from some situations because I remembered Cool Hand Luke. I remembered what Coach Lowe said to me. I still do -- 25+ years later. It wasn't just the movie, it was that he lectured and drilled that point into our heads.

I also remember Coach Lowe clearly telling us that he saw in some of us a choice and that some would make good choices and go on to greatness and that some would go on to prison. It is incredible, but now, out of those tiny 20 or 30 something kids in each class we have published authors, the first double amputee to ever complete an iron man, and some really amazing people (oh and one blogger. ;-) but we also have one or two that did, in fact, end up in prison.

What will you leave the last few weeks of school?
So, as I ponder if I'll do one more lesson or activity and what I'll do, I find myself literally on my knees about a particular class praying about what to do to get through to them. This is my last chance to teach them and I see in them greatness, but I also see in many of them that they are and may make very small choices that will make a very big difference in their lives that may not turn out well for them.

So, I was talking to my dear friend Azalee, the AP Calculus teacher and it came out like this:
"I'm struggling with, do I teach them something cool and leave them with leftovers that they'll forget or do I really put together a message and leave a legacy in their minds to carry with them the rest of their lives."

I'll throw my lovely lesson plans out the window and do something to help them see. I don't know if we'll be watching Cool Hand Luke yet or not but it is a distinct possibility. I've already taught them a lot and could teach a very long time. In the end, I want to give them something that in their time of decision making that they can fall back on. Time is short and I can't waste a second.

I'm about to end my tenth year of teaching. It gives perspective but it also shows me one thing: that time is short and these kids will never pass this way again in exactly this way. I HAVE to use every second with them.

Although I enjoy the summer, I love teaching. I'd rather teach than be on summer vacation although I know I need to it recover and heal, I am most happy when I go into my room and there is a group of lively, rambunctious, full of life teenagers there to teach.
I put this on my computer when struggling
with exhaustion to remind me who I want to be.
Leave inspirational notes to help stay
focused on who you are.


(I'm also quite happy when I go into a room of teachers because most of you feel the same way I do and I feel like you're kindred spirits and want to help you be encouraged and hopeful. I want to help you understand that you are incredibly important and that you are doing a VITAL job for the future of humanity itself. I want you to know that many of the mainstream writers today in education don't have a clue about you, today's students, or know you very well at all. You must remember your noble calling because goodness knows, the world isn't going to remind you of it. Your work is important - do it well.)


So, let me ask you this. When this year is said and done, have you left a legacy at all? If not, use the time you have to put the experiences and stories in their minds to help them remember how to live their lives well and make good choices. The world will thank you.

See also:
Finding your beautiful moment the last week of school

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