Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remembering Their Service

"Who kept the faith and fought the fight; The glory theirs the duty ours."
   Wallace Bruce

     May has arrived yet again, and with it the opportunity for celebration.  The days are longer and the temperatures are on the rise. Evidence of natures beauty can be found everywhere. We honor our mother's  for their sacrifice, guidance and devotion. Parents and students attend commencement exercises on college campuses signaling endings and new beginnings.  High School students escort their "sweet hearts" to their junior and senior proms. Some young elementary school children of the Catholic faith make their First Communion, while others count down the days until the arrival of their summer vacation. Indeed there are many reasons for one to rejoice and find merriment throughout the month of May.
     While May is a month to rejoice it is equally important to realize that it is a time to remember. A time to remember and appreciate the fallen heroes of our armed forces. A time to remember the living members of the "greatest generation". A time to remember the retired veterans or those currently on active duty. Essentially it has become a month when we rembember everyone whose sacrifice and commitment to our military has led to the strengthening of our freedom and liberty.
     May, while a month that brings great joy is also a month that can bring melancholy or even sorrow as we observe Memorial Day. While originally intended to honor Civil War veterans (Decoration Day) who lost their lives on the battle field it eventually evolved into a day (Memorial Day) to honor our fallen heroes from all wars. While that still holds true today, the day of observance also allows the opportunity to show appreciation for the patriotism of the survivors and for those currently actively involved in so many peace keeping missions around the world.
     Honoring those who have committed part or most of lives to military service is something of which I hold great personal regard. Many members of my own family have valiantly served the United States of America, as members of her armed forces.  My grandfather earned a "purple heart" for his valor at Normandy during World War II. My uncle served during the Korean War. My cousin retired as a high ranking officer within the United States Air Force and my cousin's husband is a graduate of the West Point Military Academy.  Furthermore, my mother's nephew and brother both served in the United States Navy.  There are many branches on my family tree where there is evidence of strong patriotism and service to our country.
     As a middle school social studies educator of 19 years, I have always believed it is my responsibility to share with my students the reasons for the observance of Memorial Day and the importance of those people that we remember on Memorial Day. Our classroom has been the perfect forum in which to have discussions to honor the men and women of our military who have made such an important difference in shaping our nation's history. We have taken the time over the years to talk about members of our families and the roles that they have played and continue to play in our armed forces.  We have talked about the importance of military service, both from a historical and a modern day perspective. We have sought to understand the impact of their efforts upon our citizenship and we have explored how vastly different our nation would be if not for their committed service.
     I always leave that day with mixed emotions. I feel grateful for those who have sacrificed but sad for all that they have had to sacrifice.There is a tragic irony in considering the violence that those in our military must endure on the battlefield or elsewhere, so that we may live in peace.
    As May winds to a close its conclusion brings with it yet again the arrival of Memorial Day. While solemn in nature there are reasons to celebrate. While we honor the sacrifices of those men and women of our armed forces,we also take time to celebrate the peace that their service has provided.. The day brings with it the opportunity to renew many family traditions that have endured the test of time and spanned many generations.  One special tradition in our house is the Memorial Day parade sponsored by our local volunteer fire company. This parade that passes right by our house dates back to my childhood and is one that my wife, myself and my children have marched in on occasion over the years. Today we continue to commemorate the occasion with a breakfast celebration that includes family and friends. We enjoy the company of others as well as the festive atmosphere that the parade always brings. The afternoon features more opportunities to enjoy the company of our family and friends as we host our annual picnic.
     While I always enjoy the time I spend in the company of my family and friends I can't help but take the time yet again to consider the importance of the sacrifice of those who have served. The glory of this day belongs to them. The peaceful life that we enjoy today is largely a direct result of their sacrifices. The duty moving forward belongs to us, to protect and preserve the peace that they have earned, for us to enjoy.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Difference Makers

     Jon Anew sat in the park in the shadows of a large office building that he used to call home when the day to day 9-5 grind was all that mattered. Those days seem a lifetime ago now, as he has recently begun his leisurely years of retirement.  As usual the sun is shining down but is accompanied by a warm breeze that waifs over him as he enjoys his pastrami sandwich from Nico's Deli. The pace is slower now for sure but Jon longs for the camaraderie of his weekday power lunch partners who like him have also retired.  While content to have moved on to this new phase of his life, Jon can not help but feel a sense of loneliness that this new routine or lack there of has left him to face.  He watches the stay at home moms push their children on the swings and ponders what the afternoon has to offer. Will it be a nap or perhaps a game of Scrabble with his adoring bride of 50 years? Savoring the last bite of his sandwich, (because as usual Nico has proven to be the master of the Pastrami sandwich) he begins to clean up.
     As he is about to leave, a young well dressed man approaches and sits down at the table where Jon has been sitting. He extends a hand and introduces himself to Jon.  His name is Peter Scott and he recently has moved to the area. He has just begun working as a financial analyst at the corporate center that overlooks the park.   After the two exchange greetings, they settle down and engage in some humorous banter and superficial conversation.. The time passes quickly and  Peter abruptly announces that the hour has flown and it is time to return to the office.  Jon and  Peter shake hands, each one happy to have had the opportunity to enjoy each others company and engage in some much needed conversation. Both get up from the table and head off in separate directions, one with the chance to resume the fast pace of the day and the other happy to continue to just take life as it comes.
     Over the course of the next year Jon and Peter would eat lunch together every day without fail. They talk about their families, their new experiences in life, their favorite teams, and the changes that are taking place at the corporate center where Jon was once happily employed. Their relationship really was making a big difference in helping with the transitions that they were both experiencing in their lives. The distraction provided by their daily lunches was something that they both appreciated and looked forward to everyday.
     As the second year of their daily lunch meeting began, Peter learned that he would be leaving San Diego for Maine as his company was transferring him.  While  Jon was saddened to learn the news he understood the unpredictable nature of life and the responsibilities that raising a family brought with it and he wished Peter well. The two enjoyed their last lunch together as they had every other day and then shook hands one last time, as they went off in their own directions.  As Peter went his way and Jon went his, they both couldn't help but think about how much easier that year of transition  had been for both of them because of their relationship. At that moment they recognized and appreciated the huge difference that it had made in both of their lives.  Suddenly the rain begins to fall and the two disappear into the afternoon mist.

      Every September students all over the nation are faced with the daunting challenge of transitioning from one grade level to the next. We as educators are afforded the awesome opportunity to ease this transition while making connections and establishing relationships with them. This allows them to eventually settle in to their new learning communities.  It is important to remember that they arrive in our class rooms with a variety of needs,expectations and interests. Some will  walk in smiling, some will walk in frowning, some will walk in with the proverbial "chip on their shoulders".   It is imperative that we meet them where they are and  make a consistent effort to understand their individual currencies.  We need to recognize their insecurities. We need to work on reducing their anxieties. We need to establish a presence immediately that exudes passion and enthusiasm!  We need to reassure them that we are in this together and that together we will meet all challenges and ultimately conquer all challenges. We need to impress upon them that "we are better together". 1.
     As educators we spend a great deal of time with our students and invest a great deal of time in helping them to grow academically and socially. Throughout the course of 180 days we are afforded the opportunity to become "difference makers" in their lives. Our words, attitudes and actions will be monitored at close range and may be the subject of dinner conversations for many families.  Students will look forward to coming to our classrooms every day based on the climate that is created there and based on our engaging methods that we use to inspire and motivate.   For some of our students, our classrooms will be the only opportunity for structure and stability that they are afforded each and every day.  This is not something we can overlook when designing a student centered classroom where an important component of success is based on the relationships that are cultivated.
      We must consistently pay attention to cultivating our relationships with our students.  Time needs to be taken throughout the days weeks and months to find out what is going on in their lives,  both inside and outside of the classroom.  When students believe that their teachers care about them they are more compelled to invest themselves and make a positive contribution within the learning community. Conversely it is equally beneficial to the relationship to allow the students the opportunity to know us not just as educators but as people as well. As fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.  It is important that they understand that we fulfill a variety of roles in life. The modeling that we do as citizens will have a profound impact on their social development and eventually may influence how they contribute to society as well..
      The late Rita Pierson  in a "Ted Talk" prior to her passing, eloquently stated that  " Every Kid Needs a Champion".   In order to become that "champion" we have to begin to develop a relationship with that kid and be willing to accept first and foremost the "currencies of that kid".  Once we do that we can begin to establish their trust and respect and be on our way to championing who they are and who they ultimately may become.  Every student  who walks through our door has the potential to be that kid. The question is are we ready to be the person who makes the difference?

Footnotes:  1. "we are better together." Angela Moses