Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A teacher's life lesson in resiliency

Last month I invited a dear friend and former colleague John Dube to teach a lesson on resiliency to my senior students in my Psychology in Literature.  Want to know why?  Like John always says "I'll get back to that point in a minute."

I first met John over 20 years ago when we were told we were going to co teach together an American Studies course.  John is a social studies teacher and I am an English teacher.  I can only imagine what John--then already an experienced teacher with many more years teaching than I--thought of me as the rookie English teacher.

I was very impressed with John's passion for teaching his students, his knowledge of content, and his ability to manage his classroom.  In our few years that we co taught together, I learned a lot from him.  I learned more about American History than I had in my high school and college courses.  I learned to laugh at myself.  And I learned the importance of treating our students as young adults.

We definitely collaborated and cooperated together as we created and planned lessons, shared classroom time, and worked with our students.  Ideally in a co teaching situation, two teachers share one group of students (approx. 20-25 students).  But we were assigned almost 40 students to teach at the same time.  One thing that kept us sane with challenging classroom conditions was having a sense of humor and a creative approach. One of my favorite lessons we did was create a mock speakeasy as a culminating project for the 1920s and The Great Gatsby.

I also wondered how John was able to balance being a working parent.  He and his wife Eileen had twin boys Evan and Connor who were toddlers at the time.  They were the cutest boys; John would sometime bring them in after school and they would love to run around his classroom. I on the other hand would come home exhausted after school from teaching and coaching.  I couldn't imagine coming home to the second part of my day having to put in the love, patience, energy and time into parenting two children  (years later, I would indeed be able to with my own children, but John made it look easy at the time).

Flash forward:  Many years past and John and I reconnected on social media over Star Trek.  I know--those of you who know me would never associate me with Star Trek (maybe Star Wars, but not Star Trek).  However, my husband is a Star Trek fan and so is John.  John was making Star Trek models and sharing his work online, so I asked him to make my husband one for a Christmas present.

Okay, back to the lesson on resiliency.  I will first say that John traveled during his April break to my current school in Massachusetts to conduct his lesson.  For that alone, I am grateful to John.

He currently is teaching a class nicknamed "The Happiness Course" which is based in positive psychology.  My Psych in Lit. curriculum incorporates positive psychology throughout the course.  So a lesson resiliency would fit perfectly.

And like the quality veteran teacher that he is, John had my students engaged within seconds of starting the class.  He included a power point presentation that started off with a picture of his son Evan that had everyone smiling.  He took them through a series of activities and discussions about what resiliency is and what it looks like.  By the end of the class, John shared why he designed and now teaches this course to his students.

He showed a slide that had a link to a video of Evan's memorial service.

Tragically Evan died six years ago at the age of 19.  He was studying abroad in Scotland through his Bates College program.  He was doing a polar plunge with his friends; when he came out of the water he collapsed, couldn't be revived, and passed away.

As one can empathize, the insufferable pain of losing your 19 year old son is unbearable.  It is not the natural course of life, we parents are supposed to die before our children.  And as one can imagine, there was not one sound in my classroom as John shared that is why he teaches this Happiness course:  in memory of Evan.

John discussed openly, honestly, and emotionally his grief for the loss of Evan.  He shared that he knows every day he has to make a choice to get up because some days it is so hard to get out of bed mourning the loss of his son.  John encouraged the students to consider the importance of living in the present moment--to enjoy their lives to the fullest.  He made lots of suggestions of how to stay in an emotional place of gratitude in order to make it through the brutality of life--like losing your son.

As I said, my students were so affected by John's life lesson.  Below are some of the students' responses to John's lesson:

"I learned that resiliency is a topic that everyone should be taught about. His talking was very inspirational... One thing that stuck with me was he said you decided whether or not you get up in the morning."

"I learned that a definition of resiliency is the ability for somebody to bounce back or recover from a hard time. I think this was a really good lesson for me to have and I will definitely use what I learned in my daily life and in the future."

"One thing that I took away from the class lesson today was he told us to focus on the present instead of the future. I personally tell myself 'I can't wait for high school to be over' etc. etc, and I think that life will be perfect right after we graduate, which isn't the case! A lot of people put time limits on happiness and that is something I need to work on. As a second semester senior I need to live in the moment, and be prepared for the good times and the bad times that lay ahead! I really enjoyed today's lesson, and I think it was very inspirational. Resilience is a trait that needs to be focused more on, especially learning about it in high school, and I am very lucky to have this lesson before heading off to college. Thanks again for letting him teach today!"

I smiled at the previous line about "letting" John teach that day--it was an honor and a loving reminder for me just how precious and how short life is.  Having the opportunity to have John teach with me again for that class reminds me of the amazing relationships educators form with other educators.  We teach from our life experiences and from our hearts.

John now encourages his students and loved ones to commit random acts of kindness and compassion--these acts are how he honors Evan's life as Evan was a wonderful human being filled with love and life.

This past weekend was the sixth anniversary of Evan's death, John has asked people mark the anniversary with a random act of kindness in the spirit of Evan--and I will add in love and respect for John and his family.  I wholeheartedly know Evan's spirit lives on through John and all of the students he teaches.

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