On April 29, 2014, it came as a surprise to
run into catch a glimpse of a former O-State education professor while in Syracuse’s very own The Blue Tusk. She was a teacher in a Central New York school district, and it is hard to determine if they ran her out of town or she voluntarily high-tailed it. Regardless, the incorporation of material — specifically books — she was disliked. She was no John Keating despite her audacity and bravery could me met with applause. I remember a story she told our class. It was an anecdote of her running into a former student of hers…
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There really is no recollection of the first day of Mr. Kane’s seventh grade English class. However, at some point, the saxophone playing jazz master probably called us cats. At the top of many quizzes and in-class assignments, instead of designating a spot that read the standard:
Paw Print: ___________________
Because were all cool cats. And that’s how you make a first impression.
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When entering college, there was a desire to keep my environmental mentality, but there was a strong desire to teach. The adviser at at orientation told me that the combination of the two majors was unfeasible. The woman asked, Do you enjoy biology? My reply was, Yes, and biology became my second major. Little did the nervous pre-college teenager know that she should have put him in ecology. After failing Calculus twice and sleeping through Evolution, my boredom reached its peak. My true adviser was fake-upset at my breaking up with him — this should have been my improv clue — but he wished me well and said that my return to the world of science was welcome any time.
English, despite being the opposite end of the spectrum proved to be the wiser choice. The subject was claimed to be a second favorite, but that was my delusion. It was truly my first. Otherwise, this post would not have been written.
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This was the first and only time I’ve gotten 100 in a class for each quarter and on the final. Many people did. There is uncertainty if this his generosity proved anything. There were moments to get bonus points collected like coins in a popular video game, or tickets won at an arcade, to be added on to papers and projects whenever the moment seemed applicable.
Our weekly quizzes were filled with prefixes and suffixes. Despite Latin not being offered until the following year, there is truly no way to understand a language than to break words apart. In similar to dissections for biology (those frogs emitted the worst smell), we learned about the making of a language. Some felt these were easy grades, which they were, but there could have been less than half that actually.
Another weekly treat was reading Dave Barry’s syndicated column, which was featured in the local Stars magazine that is still inserted in with the Sunday paper. Kane also took essays and stories from Barry’s books, and we read them aloud in class. I don’t recall one day where we did not laugh in class. The exception was probably days where he had a substitute fill in for him.
Along with Barry, we read Bradbury and Twain and other short stories. As for books for class, we read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, but that’s all I can remember off the top of my head. The rest of the books the class read were responsibilities that sat on our shoulders. We had to present book talks each month.
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She had run into a former student of hers on the street. It’s unclear — I cannot recall this properly — but I’m almost certain they locked eyes. I’m almost certain she asked if he had recognized her. I’m almost certain that he said he had, and added his displeasure. He was purposely not going to acknowledge her.
The look on my professor’s face was calm, collected. She expressed her being bothered by the situation, but she did not seem affected.
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The book talks were not bad. We could not read any Goosebumps or any teen/young adult series, and this stands out in my memory. However, my father is a smart guy and encouraged me to tap into classics. No one else was going to tackle The Pearl, Animal Farm, The Yearling, The Old Man and the Sea, and And Then There Were None. The latter, as previously mentioned, was probably my favorite book talk ever; when you read the nasty little nursery rhyme to kick the presentation off, you have everyone’s wide-eyed attention. Your peer-filled audience gives you attention when one little Indian gets the axe… literally.
I was also into Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and Dean Koontz as well. The murder mystery was not a surprise to my knowledge.
Another monthly activity was story writing. We would get the pictures from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Each picture would come with a title and a caption. From what was given to us, we’d have to write a play or a short story. In my spare time, I’d write little stories myself, so this was not a big deal to me. Actually it was, because this allowed me to take writing a little more seriously. My creativity would be graded.
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There was always a notion that the woman could be unhinged. She almost made me upset in class. She made some of the females cry in class, and there was word that she made my fellow students squirt tears in front of the classes they were student teaching in. Our professor was there to observe. She was also there to bash and break her apprentices — for lack of a better word — down.
She also invited a Central New York teacher, a middle school and seventh grade English teacher, to speak to us SUCO students. She sat in the back of the room. As tears welled in my eyes due to this gentleman’s passion for teaching, his love for students, and his compassion to help them succeed — he had everyone’s attention, and the room was silent — my peripheral vision caught our professor frowning and shaking her head.
With my last job in the New York State Senate, working as a communication and constituent representative, it turned out — as fate should have it — this invited speaker and now-retired educator happened to be good friends with the Senator I worked for. I see him, the educator, on a regular basis at a local coffee shop. He writes as well.
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A friend of mine, Maria, gave me this book a handful of years ago. She wrote a quick message in the front, telling me to stay creative or to keep writing or to keep following my passions. The book is currently packed away with the rest of my books in the basement, and otherwise I would quote her on here. She’s a talented person herself, and her artistry includes and is not limited to illustration and photography (Maria B. Photography).
The photo and caption inspired stories allowed me to embrace and tap into a creative side that was wished to have. It was recognized, and accessing it and trying it out was to be the next step. This book of illustrations was a path and a key to unlock that door of possibility and passion that rested in my person.
The stories would only have to be a couple pages long. While searching through old papers, my mom had taken the opportunity to save some of my gems from the school years, I came across a couple of the stories. The stories are not award winners by any means, and I found myself criticizing my 12/13-year-old-self, but this wasn’t malicious criticizing. A fear of being too hard on my future kids had been considered, there is no desire to be an overbearing or bad parent, but it wouldn’t be as bad as the requirements that the school systems have been implementing. That’s a whole other story that isn’t going to be touched with a pole of a certain length; don’t poke the bear.
As Stephen King based a Nightmares & Dreamscapes story on the “The House on Maple Street,” this book would be reflected upon when starting my own novel-in-progress (collecting dust) on the train to New York City. The other half of the inspiration to writing this potential book is King’s It. When it is written, it will be, it has three names attached to it for dedication. There will not be saying the names of these people despite one of them being obvious.
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There were quite a few fellow students who opted out of teaching late in our college years.
Our professor was notorious for her book-buying compulsiveness. If it wasn’t for that, for her desire to incorporate touchy books into our classroom — this was more appropriate than a high school classroom — I would not have had a clue about the authors I had met at a literature conference a couple years ago. If it wasn’t for her pushing, her nagging as it seemed, my skin may have not thicken a little bit. I had no direction after college — English major.
I’ve always anticipated running into her, and it was expected to happen at Barnes & Noble. However, it happened at a pub. I never expected to roll my eyes if and when our paths were to cross. The eyes did not roll on April 29th. I wanted to give her a hug and thank her. Despite a slight desire to pick up teaching again, her roughing me up proved well. However, my acting was delayed, playing out quickly and in slow motion at once.
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It’s going to be exciting passing this habit and creativity to whatever demons that I spawn. No, my kids are not going to be demons… I hope.
In similar fashion to my father, who is the other reader of the family (it’s easy to buy him gifts), an avid reader of poetry believe it or not, I’m going to encourage my kids to read and read and read. It’s a gateway to creating our own worlds, embracing the art of storytelling. It was already obvious that we — the friends of the neighborhood — created our own world and defeated monsters and bad guys with one-pump air rifles, but it’s even more amazing how we get lost in stories and we don’t consciously recognize it until after the book is over. Even with movies and television shows, we cannot wait for the next installment or episode.
The monster stories are for another time. However, referring to the cover photo of Allsburg’s book above, this is my personal belief of a perfect metaphor for our childhood, my friends and I. Mark’s post has generated my reflecting more than I normally do.
There has been a reconsideration to get back into teaching. It’s always been in the back of my head, and there is the belief that I’d be great at it. However, this — should it come into reality — would be down the road.
As for now…. It’s time to write.
I play with words and invisible objects.
A mind, a pen and a piece paper have the best relationship ever.
"Remember this--if you shut your mouth, you have your choice."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald