Wednesday, March 28, 2018

There's more than one Dr. J.



I am standing like a deer in headlights in the English Department room; I am excited, scared, and nervous at the thought of beginning my teaching career in just two days.  I am talking to my department head and a couple of other first year teachers when another young person comes bounding into the room.  She literally is bouncing around the room picking up a couple of books and some supplies.  I immediately can feel her positive energy as she stops to introduce herself. 

"Hi, I'm Maryellen.  I'm one of the English teachers in the department."  She is friendly, energetic--and oh, did I mention nine months pregnant?!  Our department head says, "What are you doing here?  You should be having your baby."  Mary Ellen exclaims, "I know--I'm trying to!  I just did an aerobic workout on my Reebok step--trying to move things along.  I thought I would come in and pick up a few things for my maternity leave."  

I think my mouth hit the floor in shock--as I processed Mary Ellen's words.  She was ready to have a baby--and here she was calm, cool, collected, well maybe, actually more like energetic, enthusiastic, and excited!  She wished us rookie teachers good luck, said she'd stay in touch, and no joke--literally ran out of the room.  I thought, wow, can I borrow some of that energy?

Maryellen had her baby girl Jordi a few days later.  Mary Ellen would return to teach in January after her maternity leave was over.  In the meantime, I barely was keeping my head above water in my first semester of teaching.  Maryellen occasionally would check in with us newbie teachers, but of course she was taking care of her newborn at home.  When she did return months later, she became a lifeline, a mentor, and most importantly, a lifelong friend to me.  

It is critical for rookie teachers to have veteran teachers to throw them a life preserver--heck, life preservers--because we know there are many a day that rookie teachers are struggling.  Mary Ellen was that person for me.  I was so grateful to her as she shared many of her lesson plans with me, cheered me on when I had a classroom victory, and made me laugh at myself when I made mistakes.  She reminded me that none of us should take ourselves so seriously.  We all make errors--but we aren't those errors.

Reflecting back on my first two years of teaching, I learned invaluable lessons from Mary Ellen that I still embrace and embody in my teaching and parenting today. Oh and from here on out, I will refer to her as M.E. (I began calling her M.E. probably more out of desperation because when I needed to share a teaching story to say Mary Ellen was too long to get out in one breath).

*Teacher/student connection:  M.E. treated (and still does) her students with empathy, compassion, tough love, and humor.  She commands their respect and offers it right back to them.  She challenges them to think, to feel, and to take action in their lives--and they do. 

*Sense of humor:  She makes her students laugh and she makes her colleagues and friends laugh.  M.E. knows that laughter really is the best therapy.  

*Storytelling:  M.E. fosters a love for reading and writing in her students through her own personal story telling--M.E. has a talent for sharing a good story--she can invoke tears and/or side-splitting laughter as she delivers a story that usually offers an antidote.

*Food.  She feeds her students.  I quickly learned from M.E. that if our students are hungry, they won't be able to access the schoolwork we are asking them to learn.  She has helped many a student access resources necessary for survival.  She has helped students earn their high school diplomas or G.E.D. She has helped students obtain scholarships in which to provide them with the opportunity for a higher education.

*Her family.  A couple of years later, Maryellen gave birth to her daughter Meghan.  Her commitment to motherhood is another way she has become a role model for me.  She would blend her family in with her teaching by using family stories to provide personal examples within the English classroom.  She also would bring her daughters to school events where she could support her students while teaching her daughters valuable lessons.

She has worked both in suburban and urban school districts.  She recently earned her PhD and now is affectionately called by her students Dr. J.  

I am so grateful that after 20 years, M.E. and I stay in touch.  We adore one another's families.  We offer each other collegiate support.  We still tell each other stories and we still laugh a lot.   M.E. and I share a favorite poet--the beloved Maya Angelou.  It is only fitting that I end this blog with this quote as it beautifully reminds me of Maryellen.

"It's the fire of my eyes and the flash of my teeth, the swing in my waist and the joy in my feet.  I'm a woman phenomenally." Maya Angelou





Tuesday, February 20, 2018

When the student becomes the doctor: How my (former) student became my father's eye doctor


Flashback with me 15+ years:  One of my high school sophomores named Jeff asks me if our whole English class can walk down to the auditorium so he can sing and play an original song on the piano  for his creative writing assignment.  And we do.  And he is fantastic performing for his fellow 20 classmates and me.  What he wrote and sang, my memory fails me--but I do remember loving his creativity, enthusiasm, self-confidence and his willingness to take a risk. 

Reflecting back to 15 years ago, Jeff was an intelligent, personable, fun, goofy, and insightful student.  He also had high emotional and social intelligence.  I had the honor of teaching him for two out of four of his high school years.  He was one of those teenagers who I knew would be successful with his life because he had a free spirit determination about himself. 

At the time, I had just moved back to Massachusetts from New Hampshire.  I was newly hired at Westborough High School after teaching for five year in New Hampshire.  Jeff and his classmates were caring, supportive, and energetic with me as a new teacher to WHS.  They were open to my nontraditional ways of teaching traditional material.  There are particular classes a teacher remembers throughout her career and Jeff and his class were one of those classes.

Flash forward to two years ago: I'm visiting my dad at the nursing home where he  now lives.  I'm talking to a woman named Suzanne, her husband Michael, and Suzanne's father Morty who is a resident at the nursing home.  My dad and Morty share a table for meals in the dining room.  Long story short, Suzanne and I put two and two together and realize that her son Jeff was my student years ago.  She says, Oh I didn't recognize your last name--Stoker.  I knew you as Eldredge.  She then added, did you know Jeffrey and his friends went to your wedding ceremony (back in 2003)?  I did recall and remember thinking how thoughtful and special Jeff and his classmates were to see me get married.

Present day:  So what is Jeff up to now?  He is an optometrist at his parents' practice in Westborough.  And I am so grateful to Jeff and his parents, because recently when my father started having problems with one of his eyes we decided to go see Jeff.  While I was sitting in the office waiting with my dad for his appointment, I could hear the receptionist talking with Dr. Cohn.  I couldn't help but smile--the boy who played the piano in front of his classmates, the boy who would ask an insightful question as well as a goofy one--was now an eye doctor--and was about to examine my dad's eyes and take care of my father.

Because my father has Parkinson's disease, I needed to accompany him into the actual appointment and in this case, I had to help hold my father's head (due to the dyskinesia he experiences from his disease).  Who knew an eye exam could be an awesome experience, but it was for my dad and me.  To have Jeff, a former student, examine my dad and offer his professional expertise and opinion when 15+ years earlier I was teaching Jeff, was, yet, another wonderful reason why I am so passionate about teaching-- the wonderful teacher/student connections that form.

During the appointment, Jeff was very respectful, gentle, and funny with my dad. He preserved my dad's dignity as I know it must have been very hard for Jeff to look steadily into my dad's eye as my dad's head moved.  When all was said and done, Jeff was able to rule out anything too serious.  However, he did recommend that we see a specialist to clean my dad's cataract.  He said this specialist would have the best chance of a successful procedure with Dad.  Dad had the procedure last week and thankfully is doing great.

As I probably have said before, we teachers rarely have the opportunity to witness how our students turned out as adults.  And fortunately, not only was I able to see how Jeff turned out; I was given the gift of him taking care of my father.





Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Text of Courage


A few days ago, one of my favorite former students sent me the above text.  (Yes, teachers do have favorite students.  And if you ask me if you are/were a favorite of mine, I, of course will say, yes! ;)

I love these inspirational touchstones because they embody the phrase "big things come in little packages" and words matter.    A wonderful family friend gave me my first one years ago.  It said "Breathe."  I would keep it in my pocket and whenever I was feeling anxious, I would hold the stone and remember to breathe as a way to calm myself down and keep myself in the moment.

Years ago, I decided to collect the stones and pass them out to students when a student was in need of a kind and/or inspirational word.  And although I know how much my breathe touchstone means to me, I wasn't sure what impact the small rocks would have on others' lives.

One of the first stones I gave away was to Lucas.  I never had Lucas as a student, but he was a student in the class two doors down from my classroom.  Lucas would always say hello to me as he walked by; he was the type of person who had an infectious personality--students and teachers so enjoyed being around him.  He was passionate, enthusiastic, smart, intense and fun.

One day Lucas came to see me.  He was upset over a personal issue.  We talked for a bit and I grabbed my bucket of stones and asked him to pick one randomly.  I knew it wouldn't be the answer to his problems, but I told him it might help in a small way.  The first stone he chose was patience. Well in typical Lucas fashion, he showed his gratitude by giving me a big hug and went on his way. 

The following week, Lucas came by and told his ELL teacher Jackie and me that he got a tattoo of the word on the stone.  He proceeded to pull up his shirt in the middle of the hallway and there across his chest was the word patience.  Both Jackie and I yelled at the same time, Pull your shirt down!  Looking back, the scene of these two older women yelling at this student to pull down his shirt must have been quite comical.  Lucas then whipped out his phone and showed us a picture of the tattoo on his phone.  (that was more appropriate, I say with a laugh!).  When Lucas was passionate about something, he was all in.  And to be honest he wasn't the most patient person, but he wanted to be--so much so that he literally had it embedded in him.


Later on in the school year, he came back for another stone and chose wisdom. (He did not tattoo this word.)  When he graduated from high school, we were all sorry to see him go.  We had learned as much from him as he had learned from us.  The following school year, in between classes a student whom I did not know came into my classroom. He introduced himself and said Lucas had encouraged him to come see me.  The student said Lucas told him I was someone to talk to and to ask for a stone.  All I could do was smile internally--that was so Lucas--to look out for his friends in an act of compassion. 

Tragically, almost a year ago, Lucas passed away.  Needless to say, we are all still grieving.  To lose such a young person who was filled with such love is heartbreaking and devastating.  This year, I have his younger sister Lydia as a student.  Recently, she shared that her family was going through Lucas's things and found the touchstones he had chosen.  She and I had an emotional moment together as the pain of not having Lucas was/is palpable.  Seeing the stones reinforces that words do matter--as they connect us in so many ways.  I now keep stones and quote cards available to pass out to students--and I lovingly think of Lucas.

***

So when my former student texted me the picture of the stone last week, I began to further think about the word courage.  Every day, we teachers bear witness to great acts of courage by our students and by our colleagues. Some of these acts may appear small to others, but we know they can be monumental for our students and us.

Some examples:

*a student raising her/his hand
*a student getting to school
*a student sharing that she is struggling because her mother was diagnosed with cancer
*a student who has cancer
*a student who tries out for a varsity sport
*a student who stands up to a peer who is bullying
*a student asking out their love interest on a date
*a student overcoming an injury
*a student sharing her parent is an alcoholic and she is scared

*a teacher who is willing to share something personal to model vulnerability for his/her students
*a teacher who is willing to make a mistake
*a teacher who is able to laugh at himself/herself
*a teacher who is sick and still keeps on going

This list of courageous acts goes on and on...and I encourage you to add your courageous acts in the comment section.

FDR said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear."  I thank Lucas, former students, current students, and colleagues--for constantly showing me what courage looks like.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Life is brutiful: Vulnerability, Love, and Connection Part I



In her TED Talk, "Lessons I learned in the mental hospital", author Glennon Doyle says that "life is brutiful"--both brutal and beautiful on any given day.  This statement couldn't be more true when I reflect on my life as a teacher working with my students.  Here is one example with more to come in future blogs.

This weekend two of my former students celebrated their five year wedding anniversary and their 16 year anniversary since they met as high school students in our poetry club.  Actually they were the founders of the poetry club.  Both of them were budding poets and held a deep appreciation of the art.  They were looking for an opportunity to belong in our school community--a place where they could celebrate their passion for poetry and meet other students who shared their sentiment.

Emily and Jeremy are wonderful human beings who as teenagers had "old souls" that I respected.  I remember the first week of Emily's freshman year; she came after school to ask me about helping her to start a poetry club; she also shared some of her poetry. Emily was so insightful and mature that I thought she was one of my upperclassmen!  Her willingness to be vulnerable by sharing some of her personal art took such courage.

So we started WHS's chapter of the "Dead Poet's Society", often meeting weekly to write, discuss, and process what was going on in their student poet lives.  Jeremy was a year ahead of Emily and was an artist as well.  Our club soon grew with other students interested in a safe space to connect.  Over the months of meetings, I could see Emily and Jeremy had a mutual respect and admiration for one another.  It did not surprise me when later they started dating.

Flash forward a couple of years, and I shared a most vulnerable and emotional moment with Emily and her mother Priscilla. My mother suddenly passed away in September 2003.  I was also newly pregnant.  As one can imagine, I was heartbroken over the loss of my mother, nauseous from morning sickness, and overwhelmed that it was the start of the school year.  I was beyond touched at my mother's wake when I saw Emily and Priscilla (a now retired Westbrough teacher and a mentor of mine) walking through the line to offer their support...it was a brutiful moment of vulnerability and connection...based on a loving trust, loyalty, and gratitude for one another as educators and students--and even more so, in this moment as fellow humans.
***

Like all of us, Emily and Jeremy are living their brutiful life journey; five years ago they asked me to participate in their wedding ceremony by reading a couple of poems. It was so fitting given the memory of how we all connected in our poetry club years before.  I was honored especially because as teachers we often do not see former students--let alone over a decade later.  So to bear witness to Emily and Jeremy's love over the years has been a gift for which I am beyond grateful.

Reflecting on the gracious teacher/student relationship I had with Emily and Jeremy and now mutual friendship reminds me that often in education we can get caught up in grades, state testing, and rigorous expectations.  However, if we look at the bigger picture, we will really see how important vulnerability, connection, love and belonging are--as it is in those moments that ultimately we learn.






Monday, September 4, 2017

The 1900's: Don't Stop Believin'



Recently my nine year old daughter said to me during a family conversation, “Well you did grow up in the 1900’s, Mom.”  Ha!  I almost fell over laughing because she is right! But when I think of the 1900's, I think of the early 1900's when my grandmother was born or when Laura Ingalls Wilder published Little House on the Prairie. (I wonder if one of Laura's students commented about her growing up in the 1800's!)  I think flappers, prairie skirts, bobs and buns. I think jazz and blues. I certainly don't think of myself growing up in the 1900's. Then last week during a class conversation with my students, I asked when Journey's song "Don't Stop Believin'" was released. A student answered in a serious tone, "The song was definitely released during the 1900s." There we go again! (The answer is 1981.) So I was born in the 70’s, experienced my childhood in the 80’s and graduated high school and college in the 1990's.  Oh damn, I guess I did grow up in the 1900’s!  

In 2017, I often reflect on my youthfulness as I began teaching in the mid-90s.  I was only three years older than my seniors and only seven years older than my freshmen.  I had students who had siblings who were older than I was.  Heck, I had one student whose boyfriend was older than I was. Today I have former students who now have their own families, and although I haven’t taught a former student’s child yet, I have taught their nieces and nephews.  


I share this information because I do believe in some ways a lot has changed in the past twenty years of teaching. For example, I no longer write on a chalkboard to articulate information.  I use the info projector, googleclassroom, an app called Remind 101, etc.  I no longer try to use the updated vernacular. "Dab" or "Lit" are currently popular words and they do not roll off my tongue like "wicked awesome" or "cool" used to. Recently a colleague jokingly called me out when I told my students to tape their broadcast interviews. She whispered, "I think you mean, record your interviews."  Oh yes, VCR tapes are long gone!  I have my middle school Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet album on my whiteboard tray in my classroom to remind me I was a teenager once too.  One of my students asked if that was the dad of the Bon Jovi who is still performing today.  "No!" I shouted, "He is the same Bon Jovi!"

As we know, generational studies show the current generation of teenagers are influenced heavily by technology, namely their cell phones and social media. We know that students can access information within seconds that sometimes took us (people of the 1900's) days and weeks to research. We know depression, anxiety, loneliness and suicide are on the rise. And yet, the stigma of mental illness is arguably decreasing. Those of us who lived during the 1900's may not fully be able to relate and connect to the seeming necessity of technology which can create a generation gap; however, I would contend that whether you are 20, 30, 40, 50, or 60 ,we can relate and connect to one another's feelings. We all know what it feels like to be lonely, happy, sad, frustrated, elated, etc. We remember what it was like to win a high school basketball game, what it was like to break up with a significant other. We know what it was like to earn an A on an English paper or fail a physics test. We know what it was like to rebel against our parents and share a connection with our best friends. And it is those feelings in which we can build empathy and support for one another bridging our generation gap. And of course, music, food, and dance span generations--all of my students could sing the lyrics to "Don't Stop Believin'" even though it was from the 1900's.

Last week I started my 22nd year of teaching, and I am excited. I may have spent the first part of my life in the 1900's, but I'm definitely grateful to be in 2017 teaching my millennials about how we are more alike than we are different.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Craig Janney, Bon Jovi, and Wonder Woman--Oh My!



What I always enjoyed about my favorite school teachers was when they shared a little bit about their lives beyond their classrooms.  For me it was important to connect with my teachers especially if I was going to take academic risks in their class.  Yes, I had intrinsic motivation AND I performed better if I had a working relationship with my teachers.  For example, I needed to trust my physics teacher in order to feel comfortable asking him for extra help (actually a lot of extra help--hence, why I'm an English teacher and not a physics teacher--haha).  Or if I wanted to share with my English teacher a piece of personal writing, it helped to know she used the writing process as well when she was writing.

So it helped me when my teachers shared their own stories as teachers or a little bit about themselves. For example, my junior English teacher shared stories about the trials and tribulations of her teenage sons. My freshman English teacher made up stories that she was really a witch who lived in a cemetery (yes, a bit creepy--but definitely humorous and creative).  My junior social studies teacher told us about his sports stories from his high school days.  And our Spanish teacher told us stories about the boy she fell in love with in her younger years when she was a high school exchange student in Peru.  Yes, decades later, I remember their stories and more importantly the relationships I forged with them, which allowed me to be a student who was willing to be vulnerable, courageous, fun, funny, and love learning.  One big factor for why I was successful was because my teachers modeled their humanness for me in my learning.  It wasn't just about an equation or a thesis statement.  It was about learning how to be curious and interested in learning through story telling, sharing, and connection.

So now years later as as a high school English teacher myself, I do choose to share certain stories about being a student years ago, or I share a little bit about my interests and hobbies and certainly a bit about my children.

Years ago I created a corner of my white board with artifacts that represent my past and present.  A lot of the artifacts represent my high school years:  1987-1991.  And you'll note there aren't any textbooks, tests, formulas, etc.  Although I was a "good" student in high school who did value my academics, my priorities were sports, music, and friends.

a. So my #23 Craig Janney Bruins shirt represents the following:  First, the crush I had on Craig Janney while I was in high school.  I loved and still love the Bruins, and in high school while so many of my friends had crushes on #8 Cam Neely, I adored Craig Janney.  Yes, he was cute AND he was an amazing center.  I loved watching him set up Neely for a goal.  I loved that he wasn't a fighter like the other players.  I loved that he was a smart player.  I observed how he played and tried to incorporate his work ethic and intelligence when I played field hockey, basketball, and softball.

My friends and I would take the train into the Boston Garden all the time to go to games (tickets were cheaper than today and we would buy the obstructed view seats.  We would then move to empty seats.) So one day we found out that Janney was going to be at the Bruins' Wives Benefit Carnival at the Garden.  I wanted to go in the worst way, but I had to work at Star Market grocery store that afternoon.  I asked my manager if I could come in late or switch my shift.  She said no and if I came in late to not come in at all.  I said, okay and I quit on the spot.  My parents were not initially pleased by my decision (although I argued with my mother that she used to skip college classes to watch the Celtics and Bruins play).  I did not regret my decision as I got to meet Craig Janney in person.  And yet, I know quitting a job on the spot in high school is definitely an example of the impulsivity that teenagers exhibit at this time in their lives.  I hang the jersey in my classroom as a reminder that my students will make impulsive decisions and they will be okay.  We sometimes make questionable decisions, but that does not mean we are mistakes.  And the jersey reminds my students that yes, their teacher was in high school once.

b.  My Slippery When Wet Bon Jovi album represents some of my musical taste in high school and a reminder that I had a collection of  records and cassette tapes before itunes and Spotify.  What makes me laugh is that I have had more than one student ask me if "that" Bon Jovi was the father or grandfather of the Bon Jovi he/she listens to.  I say, No, that Bon Jovi is the same Bon Jovi! And music is so integral to students' identities at this age as it serves as tools for communication, therapy, and connection.

c.  The Wonder Woman magnet I actually added this year.  At the end of the school year, I saw Wonder Woman--TWICE!  I loved the movie.  Gal Gadot was fantastic as Wonder Woman.  Growing up, I watched the Wonder Woman series with Linda Carter.  I played Wonder Woman when my brother and I played with the neighborhood kids. And then to see this movie in which we get her origin story and her displaying her powers of compassion, strength, and intelligence was incredible.

So my personal corner is a constant reminder of my experiences, thoughts, and feelings when I was a teenager as well as a source for my students to remember their teacher was in high school.  And although we are decades apart in age, they are reminded that our generation gap isn't so big.

P.S.  Yes, that is a New Kids on the Block program that I bought when I went to their concert in 1991.  AND yes, I'm going to their concert tomorrow night at Fenway Park. ;)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Coach Ellis: Family

This blog is in honor of my dear friend and colleague Mark Ellis.  Often unsung heroes go unrecognized in public education and I want to recognize Mark for the inspirational educator he is.  He is a peer mentor to so many of us as he exudes what it is to be a quality high school teacher.  The beloved poet Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Mark makes fellow teachers and students feel like they can accomplish anything that they set out to do.   


Coach Ellis:  FAMILY

Two weeks ago marked the sixth annual Mr. WHS fundraiser at Westborough High School.  And as usual it was a wonderful community event that was extremely successful.

I remember six years ago when Mark approached me about working with him on a school fundraiser idea he had.  He wanted to raise money for the HUDDLE athletic software program for WHS football; he also wanted to offer some financial support to the Westborough Food Pantry.

I thought to myself, Sure, what are we talking ? A car wash?  A bake sale?  And then Mark said, What about bringing our own Mr. WHS fundraiser to WHS?  This event would be similar to the ones that surrounding towns were holding.  I thought, producing a Mr. WHS fundraiser is not a one hour or one day commitment.  This is a multiple months  commitment.  But then again, Mark doesn't do anything on a small scale.  When he commits, he goes all in.  And for those of you who have worked with Mark, you know that he is a teacher with whom you want to collaborate.  When working with Mark, you know you will work hard, do your best, and have a good time in the process.

As one former Mr. WHS contestant recently shared with me:  "Coach Ellis not only helped start an amazing event for the Westborough community, but also gave the Mr. WHS participants a unique experience.  Rehearsal was something our group looked forward to because of the atmosphere Coach Ellis provided."

***

Mark and I have worked together for over 17 years at WHS; he is a Physical Education/Wellness teacher and I am an English/Journalism teacher.  We connected years ago when I wrote a poem for the WHS varsity football team Mark coached for years.  I had a bunch of his football players in my classes and he and I would communicate frequently to ensure his players/my students were accessing the curriculum. Not only did Mark want his players to do well academically, he wanted them to succeed on and off the field.

"As a teacher he made it very clear that he cared deeply about his students, which made him a very approachable faculty member.  His classes were always upbeat and catered to all levels of competitiveness, which is my reason for enjoying them so much," remarked one of his students.

***

And so began an awesome four year run of directing and producing Mr. WHS with Mark, his wife Karrah, and several other WHS teachers (shout out to Celluch, Reed, and Cullen).  Mark has an amazing way of bringing people together from all walks of life and creating a healthy, functional family of choice.  He demands your full effort and skills in working with him, because he knows the awesome responsibility it is to mentor teenagers.  He knows how critical it is to balance expectations and boundaries with a sense of humor, compassion, and empathy.  He knows because he has been teaching and coaching teenagers for two decades.

Another former Mr. WHS student commented:  "Mr. Ellis became much more than a coach or a professor.  He helped bring together high school students from all different backgrounds and organizations, into an incredible and universally loved program. He was a mentor and someone who would support anyone should they need it, and ultimately created an incredible experience for WHS."

A few weeks before the show, we would hold evening rehearsals after sports practices.  Mark and Karrah would bring their children Jarrett (age 5 at the time) and Emma (three at the time).  I would bring my son Seamus (who was 7 at the time) and my daughter Molly (who was three at the time).  All four children would play together and learn the dance moves that the teenagers were learning for Mr. WHS.  Our students loved getting to know our children; and they were role models for our kids.  And the idea of family was emphasized as there was a mutual exchange and understanding of respect, trust, integrity, humility, and sportsmanship.

At the end of each Mr. WHS practice, Mark would bring closure through a group cheer.  I knew he would do it at the end of his sports practices.  So it was pretty cool to witness and to experience Mark yell in the WHS auditorium, "Bring it in. On three:  FAMILY." And then the group of teenagers in unison would yell FAMILY!  The school spirit Mark would generate was contagious.

***
Mark believes in all kids...on any given day you can see students from all walks of life giving him a high five in the hallway saying, "Hey, Coach!"  He dedicates time during his P.E. classes to creating solid relationships with his students--and as you know--P.E. teachers have a lot of students in their classes--way more than the average classroom teacher.  He teaches the Advanced Placement students and he teaches the Adaptive P.E. students; Mark believe in equity for all students.

Mark also believes that students have the capabilities to be leaders.  Years ago he created a student athlete leadership two-day workshop that has serviced hundreds of students from surrounding towns. The leadership workshop wasn't about how to become a captain of your sports team--it was about becoming a leader even if you weren't captain of your sports team.

Working with Mark has been an honor and a privilege.  I am a better teacher because of Mark.  He also has become what I call my work brother.  Our families respect and adore one another.  And here I go back to the importance of human connection--that is why we are here--to be better and to do better for ourselves, our families, and for our students.  The service we provide our students is invaluable in supporting their success--Mark is one of the teachers who provides this invaluable service to our teenagers.

Unfortunately, next school year Mark won't be teaching at WHS.  For those of you who have developed wonderful relationships with colleagues, you know how hard it is to say good-bye.  For me writing is one way I express myself. So, Coach--one last time at WHS--"Bring it in.  FAMILY on three. One...two...three..FAMILY!"