“The choices I didn’t make are almost as ruinous as the ones I did.”
What a lovely gift my good friend Linda gave me for Christmas. A Lowcountry Heart is a fine collection of the last bits of writing by Pat Conroy, who died in the spring of 2016. His friends and family gathered a few of his blog posts, speeches, and letters and put them together in a lovely tribute to this big-hearted, story-loving, low-country man. Since it’s Pat Conroy, and I can’t ever hope to match his words, I’ve just picked a few quotes to share with you.
“Though I’ve never met a teacher who was not happy in retirement, I rarely meet one who thinks that their teaching life was not a grand way to spend a human life.”
“Teaching remains a heroic act to me, and teachers live a necessary and all-important life. We are killing their spirit with unnecessary pressure and expectations that seem forced and destructive to me. Long ago I was one of them. I still regret I was forced to leave them. My entire body of work is because of men and women like them.”
“No one warned me that a teacher could fall so completely in love with his students that graduation seemed like the death of a small civilization.”
“…a novel is always a long dream that lives in me for years before I know where to go to hunt it out.”
“It is not long life I wish for—it is to complete what I have to say about the world I found around me from boyhood to old age.”
“It was at the writing desk that I would be made or broken. In every biography of every writer, that was the secret to our kingdom of words. No other measurement counted for anything at all.”
On the veracity of his memoirs:
”None of them will be true word-for-word…It’s some version of the truth, even though I’m telling you right now it’s probably not going to be yours.”
“If a story is not told, it’s the silence around the untold story that ends up killing people. The story can open a secret up to the light.”
He is generous in his praise for other authors and the act of reading widely. Aspiring writers should take note.
“A great book took me into worlds where I was never supposed to go. I met men whose lives I wished to make my own and men whom I would cheerfully kill. Great writers introduced me to women I wanted to marry and women who would make me run for my life.”
Conroy’s troubled early life, schooling, and profound sense of place provided all the material he needed to make a career as a novelist. Like many readers, I’m sad there won’t be any more books by him. I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of his books, but these are my favorites. Which ones have you liked best?
From Aaron Sorkin and “The West Wing”
This column for the Nevada Appeal is from five years ago when I saw school budgets erode when it came to things like class-size reduction, teacher salaries, counselors, and enrichment programs. At the same time, budgets grew (and grew!) for testing. Look around your state, your district, your school and tell me if anything has changed. Are we still spending more on testing than we are on teaching?
This column from two years ago may still ring true. How about if we just Hold Common Core to a Higher Standard?
I spent over thirty years teaching children to read, and as much as schools may have changed in that time, one thing has not–the importance of reading aloud to children. My career included twelve years as Reading Specialist, as well as years teaching kindergarten, first and third grades. I also worked in Special Education classrooms and at a private reading clinic. Now I volunteer in my granddaughter’s kindergarten class. Again and again I have witnessed the impact of reading aloud–or sadly, the lack of it–on children. Even at so-called “good” schools, in middle class neighborhoods. Children who have been read to early and often simply come to school more ready and eager to learn. Period.
Over the years I wrote many columns for the Nevada Appeal about literacy, learning, and how to raise readers. In this column from a few years ago I pose my belief in the form of a fable about two little girls, from the same neighborhood and similar family situations. You can use your own critical thinking skills to deduce the moral of the story after reading A tale of two Saras.
Throughout my career, I often quoted Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook. He is the wise read aloud guru. Even if you don’t believe me, you should believe him. His book makes an excellent gift at the next baby shower you attend. Just sayin’.
This was originally published in the Nevada Appeal on January 9, 2006. I’m re-posting it here in honor of kindergarten teachers and one very special girl who is starting kindergarten today, my granddaughter.
Although I’ve been an educator most of my life, I came to kindergarten rather late in my career. Perhaps it is for that reason I have noticed that kindergarten teachers are really quite different from other teachers. However, I haven’t been able to put my finger on precisely what that difference was. Until now.
You might be a kindergarten teacher if:
• You buy two pairs of running shoes a year and you don’t run.
• You put 10,000 steps a day on your pedometer without leaving your classroom.
• “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and the “Hokey Pokey” are part of your daily exercise routine.
• You wear seasonal clothing and jewelry that no “normal” adult would wear. An apron is part of your “professional attire.”
• You use hand sanitizer before and after every activity.
• You find yourself humming the days of the week song in the shower.
• You ask, “Did you flush?” and “Did you wash?” at least one hundred times a day.
• You wash your own hands 100 times a day.
• You thank God for whoever invented baby-wipes, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and Velcro shoes.
• A daily review of coughing, sneezing and nose-blowing etiquette is appropriate and necessary.
• You have to remind your students not to write on the carpet. Or each other.
• You have added “booger flicking” to the list of classroom misdemeanors.
• You’ve used one of those little toilets in the last week.
• You fall asleep at 8:30 every night.
• You show up for your manicure with tempera paint, Play-Doh, and glitter under your fingernails.
• You go to every grocery store in town looking for alphabet macaroni and get excited when you find alphabet cookies at Costco.
• You buy zip-lock baggies by the gross.
• It takes you three times longer to prepare a lesson than to teach it.
• Your carefully written—and rewritten—lesson plans bear only a slight resemblance to what actually happens in class.
• You can sing a song, recite a poem or name a picture book to teach every standard in the kindergarten curriculum.
• You spend part of nearly every weekend and vacation at school.
• Your average sentence length has shrunk to five words and you repeat every one of them—every one of them—at least three times.
• You easily decipher those cryptic personalized license plates.
• You’ve made your own peppermint- or gingerbread-scented Play-Doh.
• All twenty-nine of your students snap to attention when you say, “I like how Elliott is sitting.”
• All your pants have one or more of the following: paint stains, bleach spots, faded knees or dusty footprints from students putting their foot on your leg as you tie their shoes.
• Your first thought when the weatherman predicts rain is, “Oh, no. Indoor recess.”
• You recognize the irony in rewarding a large class for good attendance.
• You realize–too late–you didn’t learn how to say, “Don’t eat the glitter!” in your Spanish class.
• You stock up on Airborne, Echinacea and vitamin C every winter.
• You know it’s easier to go to work with a cold than to prepare for a substitute.
• You believe almost any art project is better with glitter.
• You’ve decided against Botox injections because then you couldn’t give “the teacher look.”
• When a student with limited English calls a book’s dust jacket a “sweater,” you understand the confusion and smile as you explain it.
• You know precisely how many days you have been in school. And how many days you have left.
• You’ve resorted to puppetry to hold your students’ attention.
• You spend at least as much time tying shoes as teaching the alphabet and it’s not even on the report card.
• You know what standards are covered by stringing colored macaroni on a necklace.
• You know kindergarteners need blocks, paint, Play-Doh, songs, stories, and patience. And outdoor recess.
• You are so accustomed to modeling good manners that you thank your dog for not barking. You even thank the police officer for your speeding ticket.
• A trip to a book store always begins and ends in the children’s section.
• You never go to the grocery store without buying at least one thing for school.
• During the course of your day, someone shows you— and you get to compliment them on–their new underwear.
• You work with the most spontaneous and deliciously unpredictable people in the world–five-year-olds.
• Little voices singing “Home Means Nevada” can make you cry.
• You consider it a privilege to be a child’s first teacher.
• You witness small miracles every day.