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Ya Never Know: Morning Minutes, May 26, 2016


I suspect this will seem an odd post to many of you, for it is certainly different from what I normally post, but I felt compelled to share the above image to tell a story and make a point.

In what now seems like a lifetime ago, I began my teaching career at Royal Middle School in Royal City, Washington. It was there where I first learned the truth about the importance of mistakes in learning, there where I first began to adopt my do-learn-do better mantra that now guides my daily approach to teaching. And though much time has passed and many lessons have been learned, it seems lessons from Royal still remain. And I was soberly reminded of this yesterday when the above notice came to my attention.

My initial response was incredulity, surely Nathan, a former student, was playing a prank, especially when I recalled the Nathan of my early days in Royal. This can’t be real. Then my next response was pride. If this is not a joke, then I am SO PROUD of Nathan for pursuing public office. But then, my pride turned to humility and shame as I more fully recalled my experiences with Nathan, for back then, had someone told me that Nathan Pack would be running for county commissioner some day, I would have told them, he might not even make it through middle school. Boy was I wrong. Dead wrong.

You see, Nathan was a rather challenging young chap, who kept me and the rest of RMS on our toes for three years. He certainly was not a model student–either academically or behaviorally. In truth, he was a huge pain. HUGE. But to his credit, and to our surprise, he was a less-huge pain by the time we sent him off to high school. Four years later, he graduated from Royal High School and made his way into the world. Fast forward to today, Nathan owns his own business and frequently travels the world–he sent me a message of a Carpe Diem sign in a store window from Thailand saying that he and his wife (also a former student) both exclaimed, “Syrie !”upon seeing it, and he just had to share. And now, Nathan is running for public office. I am so proud of Nathan, and I am so sorry that I was wrong. I am so sorry for thinking, for ever projecting upon him the idea that he would not make it in the world. How dare I? But I, as he, was young, and I have since learned, and as evidenced by the image above, I am still learning. Always learning.

So what? What’s the broader implication of this lesson? This. As adults we wield a terrible power over kids. We wield it as parents. We wield it as voters and policy makers. And we certainly wield it as educators. And while educators do not hold all the power, they hold much of it, for we co-exist in an arena with kids where we generally separate them into winners and losers, especially when we regard and sell the idea that success in our system is the predictor of success later in life.

Thus, when kids like Nathan fail to comply and conform, we in turn fail them, which for many then casts the die, and they play out the roles that we script for them. But for others, others like Nathan, they reject the script and succeed in spite of our predictive, prescriptive system. And that should give us pause. It has made me pause and again reconsider the purpose of education and what really matters. And in this paused moment, I find myself less certain that participial phrases matter. I mean really matter. Maybe all we need to do is place phrases in Latin above our classroom clocks. And while I am neither crazy nor naive enough to believe that this will be sufficient for all, I am beginning to believe that for some it might be everything. And that is not to suggest that two antiquated, foreign words in my classroom somehow led to Nathan’s success in the world. It is to suggest that maybe we don’t know as much as we think. Thank you, Nathan, for the lesson in humility, the reminder that we shouldn’t be too quick to label success and failure, for with kids–as with Nathan–ya never know. Seize the day, sir; seize the day. Pack for President!

Happy Thursday, all.


5 Replies to “Ya Never Know: Morning Minutes, May 26, 2016”

  • Love it!! It’s crazy how life has played out. Proud of you Nathan…’ve come a long way since our days on Daisy Street.
    Pack Attack for commissioner!!

  • I think you are absolutely right when you said, “As adults we wield a terrible power over kids.” For me, all of my education has been based on a give-respect-before-you-get-it kind of of basis. So, for me, your word – or any other teacher for that matter – is law. I know it’s a “terrible power,” but I feel like you exercise it with restraint. For that I am grateful. We have been challenged this year, but you made it manageable. You DEFINITELY have become a more mature teacher than you said you were years ago with Nathan. So, in general, I want to say thanks.

  • Teachers do have a huge influence in students lives and both teacher and students learn from each other. I tell my family of teachers, Monte, Sherry and William(Connell) and the other many teachers that I know, touching just one student can make a big difference. And I do appreciate all the work that goes into teaching. Students learn from teachers but so do teachers learn from students.

  • Nailed it Syrie! I too share these feelings and am so proud of where Nathan has worked so hard to get and how you do “just never know!” Fond memories of Royal Middle School have been swirling around in my head all day-thanks for the blog and way to go Nathan-your 7th grade English teacher is cheering you on!

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