“So, He’s A Teacher?”

I was going to begin this post with the following phrase: “I am no longer a high school teacher” but that is not true.

I will always be a high school teacher. I am simply not teaching high school for the foreseeable future and, though I may never teach a high school class again, I will always and forever consider myself a high school teacher. I guess that’s what teaching for over 20 years does to someone. That kind of tenure creates identity and my identity as a high school teacher feels solidly fixed.

What is true, though, about this year as I embark on my amazing new job as Vice President of the Jesuit Secondary Association, is that I am not currently teaching high school students. I am not heading back into the classroom this autumn.

This is a change.

For the last 22 falls, I’ve been up during the night before school, tossing-and-turning over the details of the day to come, running through the checklist of what has been done, what needs to be done and what can wait to be done. I have taught every year of my career, even the last 12 when I served as an administrator.

It’s okay to not be teaching. Really, it is. I will miss it, to be sure, but I am not in a deep depression about it.

But there is one thing I should admit. For over half of those teaching years, I’ve been lucky enough to introduce my students to the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany and, on reflection, I think I’ve been engaged in the book for six of the last seven years of my career. In many of those years, I read the book (or almost all the book) aloud to the students, asking them to follow along in a classroom set I kept in the back of the room.

A Prayer for Owen Meany

I am sad about not teaching Owen this year. That’s true. I love the book. It is absolutely my favorite novel of all that I have read and I have read more than a few. I will miss teaching it, very, very much.

Of course, I can read it myself at any time. I can pick it up any day I wish and live for a while in the world John Irving created. And I know that I will. But reading a book is not sharing a book.

I will miss the sharing.

In the novel, the upper crust, upper-class grandmother of Johnny Wheelwright, one of the novel’s two protagonists is given opportunity to remark on what she thinks of educators: ” ‘So he’s a teacher?’ my grandmother asked. This was borderline acceptable to Harriet Wheelwright.” 

I will always be a teacher and the vocation is far more than “borderline acceptable” to me.

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Teachers Are Leaders Quote And Comment Of The Week: August 18 – 24, 2014

Weekly during the 2014-2015 school year, And There Came A Day will begin the week with a quote and quick thought about Ignatian education.

Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who do speak. Thus you will better know when to speak and when to be silent.
~ St. Ignatius Loyola

What a hard thing this is to do, especially in the first week of school when teachers feel the pressures of starting well, but it’s so very important to listen to what students need.

Good teachers listen.

Good leaders listen.

It’s the right way to start.

St. Ignatius Loyola

St. Ignatius Loyola

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Robin Williams’ Death

I have nothing profound to say concerning the death of Robin Williams. I enjoyed him in his films, especially in Good Morning, Vietnam and The World According to Garp.

I, like many, many others watched Mork and Mindy (I even remembered it was a spinoff of Happy Days … how many folks remember that? I didn’t, and I cannot believe I am admitting this, but I had forgotten that Mork was once a Denver Broncos cheerleader!

Photo from the Denver Post. Original caption: Mork from Ork, a popular TV alien from outer space, cavorts in Mile High Stadium in a Pony Express costume before the Denver Bronco-New England Patriot football game Sunday afternoon. Mork, played by Robin Williams, wasn’t spaced out — he was taking part in the filming of the Nov. 25 episode in which he wants to join the all-female cheerleading squad. Mork lives in Boulder in the TV show. (John Sunderland, The Denver Post)

Photo from the Denver Post. Original caption: Mork from Ork, a popular TV alien from outer space, cavorts in Mile High Stadium in a Pony Express costume before the Denver Bronco-New England Patriot football game Sunday afternoon. Mork, played by Robin Williams, wasn’t spaced out — he was taking part in the filming of the Nov. 25 episode in which he wants to join the all-female cheerleading squad. Mork lives in Boulder in the TV show. (John Sunderland, The Denver Post)

Of all the remembrances of Robin Williams today, the one I was really struck by details his friendship with Christopher Reeve. Yes, that Christopher Reeve. The two met as acting students at Julliard. The Daily Beast has a great story about it HERE.

The loss of Robin Williams is tragic, to be sure. All life lost to violence, self inflicted or otherwise, is. I pray his family can find peace with his death. I pray those caught up in any cycle of violence get help.

I saw a comedy concert of his once and Robin Williams could be cutting and vile, but he could also be sweet and simple. I will remember him as this:

 

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Thanks, Dad… I Still Stay To Move The Chairs

It rarely occurs to me, at the end of a gathering at church, a meeting at school or a conference break out session to leave the whatever room I have been in before all the chairs are picked up and put away. I often grab the chairs near me, the table at which I’ve been sitting, throw away the trash, recycle the recyclables.

It feels very built-in. Pre-programmed and I know from where the impulse comes. It’s more a nurture thing than a nurture thing. It comes from my parents.

It comes from my dad.

Mom and Dad would take my sisters and me to all kinds of church functions when we were kids and, inevitably, after each one, we’d have to wait for them to clean the place up and to pick up the chairs. As I got older – big enough to handle a chair or two on my own – I began to pitch in. Over thirty-five years later, I haven’t found a reason to stop.

My Dad died three years ago today (You can see other thought about him HERE, HERE and HERE). I think about him daily and I could blog paragraph after paragraph about the lessons I learned from him – a few bad, most good, some a little bit of both – and thought to do that today. But somehow, in some simple way, staying to move the chairs, long after everyone else had made the gate sums up who my father was.

Dad always stayed to move the chairs.

I love you, Dad.

I love you, Dad.

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Goodbye, Regis Jesuit or It Was 20 Years Ago Today

It wasn’t 20 years ago today, but it was close.

Leaving Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland where I had taught for two years right out of college for my alma mater in Colorado was a pretty easy decision. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my years teaching there. I very much did. But home called. Loudly.

2012-01-09 22.16.38

In my classroom at Bishop McNamara… this was the spring of 1994 and I already had secured the interview at Regis Jesuit.

I was hired at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, CO in the spring of 1994 and started work there that August.

I was interviewed by the English Department Chair who, in 1988 when I was a senior at Regis Jesuit, moderated the yearbook. He would later become one of my most trusted colleagues.

I was hired by an assistant principal who, in 1985 when I was a sophomore, taught me Algebra II (sorry I was such a terrible math student). He would later become my principal.

I would teach alongside the very people who inspired me to go into education in the first place and calling them by their first names was a hurdle I thought I would never, ever clear.

In 1995, The Magister, my best friend for now and forever, was hired to teach Latin. He would become godfather to my children, best man at my wedding and brother I never had.

I can hardly enumerate all the friends I made during my two decades at Regis Jesuit. Trying would be pointless.

Some of the memories carved with them, however, are easy to list: “Open Mic” nights at a rotating series of apartments and starter homes, marriages, dinners out, movies, quick vacations and work trips, The Facultones cover band, disciplinary boards, Raiderfest, moderating Student Council and laughing all the while, arguing about whether life exists on other planets following going out to see Contact (“you’d have to be the dumbest person on the planet to believe there’s no life anywhere but here!”), Raiders Roost, dealing with the deaths of parents, the new life of children, opening a new division of the school, frustrations with the work, joys in the work, prefecting dances and Homecomings and games, trips with students, liturgies, retreats, “making policy,” that trip to St. Louis, drafting documents, writing curriculum, doing investigations of students, catching kids cutting school, “are you saying, when this is all over, I will be apologizing to you for accusing you of drinking?”, committee work, Formation Team, hirings and firings, the ups and downs of teaching, pranking one another mercilessly, bitching about “the administration,” joining the administration and being bitched about, late nights and early mornings at work, a Socratic Seminar on The Scarlet Letter I will never, ever forget, teaching A Prayer for Owen Meany and, of course, the students, the thousands of students…

Always the students. What an impossible blessing it is to work with teenagers. So many students will remain with me and so many have taught me more than I could ever have taught them.

A selfie with the Girls Division Class of 2014 at my last graduation.

A selfie with the Girls Division Class of 2014 at my last graduation.

Teaching in a Jesuit school has been one of the biggest gifts of my life.

I am thankful for the love, for the opportunities, for the community, for the friendships.

I am forever changed by it.

How do I know? How can I say it? God has blessed me so abundantly in these past decades.

I would have two children during my years at Regis Jesuit and gain a bonus son through marriage.

Sous Chef, HJ jr and Stretch.

Sous Chef, HJ jr and Stretch.

In 2007, I would marry a brilliant and lovely ex-lawyer who dazzled her students with her knowledge and dazzled me with that and, well, everything else.

The Cinnamon Girl.

The Cinnamon Girl.

I have been teacher, Department Chair, Dean, Assistant Principal, Acting Principal, Choir Moderator, Service Director… titles and roles and responsibilities that allowed me to grow and change and learn.

I have been the luckiest of people because I have been a teacher.

And, today, it ends.

I am moving on to a role I greet with eager anticipation: I will serve as one of the Vice Presidents of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association. I am humbled to assume the position and excited to begin the work.

But, today, I look back and consider the years at RJ and am so very happy to have been a part of it.  So blessed. And so ready for the next step.

John Irving wrote in A Prayer for Owen Meany “If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”

I love high school eduation. I love Jesuit education. I love this mission.

Because of this 20 year history, because I have a wonderful family and the most amazingly supportive wife a man could ever have, I look back and then, quickly, ahead with faith and courage.

 

 

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A Giant Retires – Dr. Bernie Bouillette Departs JSEA

There are those people who cross our professional lives who make such an impact on us that it is difficult to consider what we would be without their counsel, their care and their kindness.

I’ve been blessed with a number of such people during my time in Catholic high school education in general and in Jesuit education in particular and each has my deep respect and my undying gratitude.

On July 31, one such person is retiring from his long-held position with the Jesuit Secondary Education Association.

You can read JSEA’s tribute to Dr. Bernie Bouillette HERE. To read this is to understand, at least in part, what a giant he has been in Jesuit education.

For my part, of  Bernie I can say many things:

  • He is massively smart, wickedly funny and decidedly expert in his field.
  • His wisdom has shaped many schools and many careers, including my own.
  • His advice is always clear, spot-on and needed.
  • He is the most charming person I have ever encountered.
  • He is a born entertainer and raconteur.
  • He possesses a wealth of compassion.
  • He is just as talented a teacher of adults as I am sure he was of children.
  • He is going to be greatly missed in his role.

It is no exaggeration to say that Bernie influenced my career in ways he’ll likely never know. The Magister and I often sat, in our youth, thinking about his impact on us and how different our careers in Jesuit education would have been without his presence in our lives. “What would Bernie do” was a question – is a question – we often ask ourselves.

Our careers would not have been”different.” That’s not the right word. Bereft is more like it.

I would be lucky to call such a man “mentor” and won’t pretend our dealings were as close as that term might imply. What I will say is that I am humbled to have spent time with him, honored to have learned from him and so happy for him as he sails into his retirement.

Bernie, you’re a giant in more ways than one and your work will be missed. Greatly.

I hope a phone call or email (or two hundred of those) won’t be unwelcome…

Bernie Bouillette

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – A Movie Review

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_p

photo from hollywoodreporter.com

We’re living in a world reboots, re-imagining and recycled ideas. We might as well face it. When a good and original movie comes along (see Edge of Tomorrow my review HERE), it’s difficult for it to find a foothold amid sequels and continuations and branded properties. I know that I am part of the problem as I am eagerly looking forward to any number of sequels (see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Star Wars Episode VII, Avengers: Age of Ultron, et al) and am ready to watch the latest adaptation of Batman (see Gotham) on television. Like anyone else, I eat this stuff up.

I know that’s why I was looking forward to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I really enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes (re-watching it in anticipation of seeing the sequel reminded my how fun it was) and I had heard only good things about Dawn.

I wasn’t disappointed. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a very good, if not entirely original summer movie. Clearly it’s not original because it’s a sequel to a re-imaging of a film series (as detailed above, that’s not necessarily a bad thing) however, it’s also not original because… it’s just not that original. More on that later.

First, the real stars of the movie are, of course, the motion capture actors who play the apes. Andy Serkis is well-known for his work as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, and he deserves the notoriety. His Caesar, the protagonist of the movie and a holdover from Rise, is a fully realized character. Serkis involves the audience in Caesar’s story right away. From the mesmerizing opening shot – a pull back from Caesar’s expressive eyes – to the end shot, the apes are as real and, perhaps, more fully developed than the humans in the movie. Serkis’ Caesar anchors the story. His movements are arresting, his performance award worthy. If Caesar doesn’t work, none of the movie does. And Caesar works. Overtime.

The other ape characters, though they have less focus and screen time, are equally impressive. Tony Kebbel’s Koba holds his own with Caesar. He, too, was in the first movie and the filmmakers do something smart with him and with all the ape characters – they find a way to mark him or color him to delineate him from the other apes. I never lost track of Koba when he was on-screen and he gets two fantastic moments. First, as has been illustrated by the previews for the movie, Koba takes a ride through fire on a horse. Firing twin machine guns. It’s a pure, geek-out, summer fun moment. Second, there is a truly hilarious scene of Koba playing on the expectations most humans have of apes which I won’t spoil here. You’ll know it when you see it.

All of the apes are just stunning to watch and there is never a moment I didn’t believe that they are totally real. In fact, I was amazed by how much these pixel-created characters were able to make me feel emotionally. Completely differently from a Pixar movie or an animated movie where the audience is buying into a fantasy world that is constructed out of whole cloth, Dawn takes place in a version of the “real” world. This makes the feat of developing emotional resonance all the more impressive.  

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a fun summer movie. It’s been wildly well reviewed (91% on rottentomatoes.com as I write this). It’s a good way to spend a couple of hours and I look forward to the third installment (see, I am a sucker for a sequel) rumored to be called simply Planet of the Apes. But there’s really nothing in terms of plot happening in this film that audiences haven’t seen many, many times over. The plot is not particularly complex nor incredibly well executed. Though the movie treats the audience as if they are at least as smart as the apes – something I appreciate – the human characters and pieces of the story come off rather flat. The humans are stereotypes. In truth, the apes are, too, but it’s easier to forgive in the amazing apes than it is in the ho-hum humans.

I like the cast. Jason Clarke is on the cusp of something big (Indiana Jones re-boot anyone?). He is very solid and a great lead. He carries whatever gravitas the human part of this story is able to generate. Keri Russell is a welcome addition and she manages to make an impression in her limited scenes.  And the ever reliable Gary Oldman is on hand to provide some dramatic tension, but we really don’t get to see him flex any acting muscles. It’s a pretty one-note performance, but that’s not on him. That’s on the script.  It is only in their interactions with the apes that the human characters are at all engaging. I found myself in the scenes without the apes missing the apes. Without the apes, this movie doesn’t work, and that’s fine, because, after all, it does have apes.

But, here’s the deal: this summer has been pretty brutal for movies. They just haven’t been that good. I think we’re willing to give Dawn more of the benefit of the doubt than it deserves. We’re willing to say it’s excellent when it’s likely just very good.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES receives three and a half plate-glass windows out of a possible five.

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