I am the very proud principal of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC). And I have a confession to make.
I love so many things about my job: greeting students off the bus; giving them birthday cards (and a chocolate bar); supporting them in the mistakes they make; seeing them learn; laughing with them; watching them Grow...Emotionally...Spiritually...Academically.
And soooooo very much more.
Yet despite those things I love, there are things about my job that I do not love.
In fact, there are things about my job that I hate.
I hate Christmas.
There. I said it. That is my confession.
I hate Christmas not because I am a Grinch. Although I will certainly admit to Grinch-like tendencies.
But rather because Christmas proves to be the most difficult time of the year for students.
Year in and year out. For the 26 years I have taught.
The second hardest time of year for students? Three months later. When the sap runs. And eviction notices can be served.
I do not hate sugaring time. Not yet. It’s getting there, though.
But back to Christmas.
Students simply struggle at Christmas. A lot. Emotionally...Spiritually...Academically.
All students? No.
Most students? Maybe.
Some students? Yes.
But even if only some students struggle, I struggle. Emotionally….Spiritually.
That is an unfortunate symptom of caring, I guess. My teammates can attest. They do it, too.
Caring and struggling.
And despite knowing that proportional relationship is unhealthy for us, we still do it. We cannot help it.
And why the struggle for students?
Not enough presents? No.
Not being in school for a week or so? Maybe.
Being reminded? Yes.
That their mother is not in their life.
That their father is not in their life.
That their father and mother are in their life but not in a good way. Not a parenting way.
That it is hard to love people and not their decisions or their behavior.
That they do not have enough food.
That they do not have enough love.
That they do not have enough stuff. To keep up with the Joneses.
That they do not have reliable housing. Or transportation.
That they feel guilty for having too much food. Or love. Or a nice house. Or a car.
That they have a good life. Especially when their friends do not. Friends they love.
That guilt is powerful. And not a good motivator. Or a sustainable one.
That compassion is powerful.
That compassion can be confusing.
That alcohol ruined their family. Or ruined a friend.
That heroin ruined their family. Or ruined a friend.
That despite the claim marijuana is not addictive, they know it to be habitual.
That bad habits are hurtful. And distancing. And hurtful. And distancing.
That despite professed love, actions speak louder than words.
That self esteem bruises just as easily from words as the body does from violence.
That violence sucks. In words or in contact.
That neglect is abuse.
That abuse is abuse. It is not a grey area. Despite the offender’s opinion.
That anger is an epidemic.
That sex is supposed to be based in love. But often it is not. It is just not.
That their parents work hard, manage their money well, and cannot make ends meet.
There are many more than those. That I do not know.
But the students do. They know them all.
Is the above cliche? Written to provoke an emotion? A response from the reader?
No. Maybe. Possibly.
That list is real. For some students. But for every principal. And team. That cares.
And I do not know any that do not care.
Downer of a confession, eh?
Probably. Well, maybe not. I hope not.
Because there is hope.
At the HACTC. And all schools.
Students are supported there. At school. By good people. By educators. Who care for them.
And love them.
And encourage them.
And believe in them.
And give them the better reminders: they are Strong. Smart. Unique. Courageous. Gritty. Resilient.
And do not have to follow the behavior and/or choices of others; they can create their own way.
Well, maybe I do not hate Christmas as much as I thought. Or even at all. Hope can do that, I suppose.
Change your thinking in only three pages - in 767 words.
The struggles students face at Christmas will be handled. And neutralized. And used for good. For Growth.
By the students. By my team. By me. By all educators.
Merry Christmas, then. Merry Christmas.
I hardly fish anymore.
And I miss it.
Not just because I miss being near water or feeling the soft texture of the cork in my right hand, but rather when I don’t fish, I miss out on learning.
I didn’t fully realize the depth of that absence until the other day. When I was on the way back to work from the dentist.
Instead of taking the speediest path, I chose to drive the back road. The road that brought me aside the hayfields I spent too much time in haying as a kid. But not too much time in haying with my father.
If that makes sense.
The speediest path also took me past an old fishing hole.
Between the O’Hearn’s and the Lund’s trailer.
When I stopped and walked across the pavement to get to the hole, I noticed the age cracks in the road’s surface.
Had it really been that long since I had been here?
The fishing hole was as perfectly deep as it was when I was twelve: the brook feeding it running straight and consistent. Full from the October rain. And the early November rain.
The brook ran under the road through a culvert that Mr. Raymond put in while working for the Town. In 1983.
I remember because I watched him do it.With fly rod in hand. Impatiently waiting for the water to clear.
Later in life, Mr. Raymond’s son took my future wife to the prom.
Much later in life, Mr. Raymond’s granddaughter attended the school that I lead.
She is an amazing human.
Just like her father. And her grandfather.
Funny how all that works.
The rockscape in the fishing hole was still the same as when Mr. Raymond set the culvert.
So without a rod available, I simply reached under the most obvious rock, getting my shirt and tie wet in the process (I now have a job that requires both).
But no trout darted out. No trout were to be seen. Unlike when I was twelve.
Then I had a four weight Montague rod and was careful not to backcast into the road.
The experience as an eleven-year old of clipping a BMW from Quechee cured me of that nonsense.
But on that day, that twelve year-old day, I hooked a Brookie.
Flip cast. Under the ferns to the left. Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear.
That trout fought. And fought. And fought. And fought. Darting under the barb wire fence across the hole, almost cutting the lead.
And then it went home. Hard. Not to the East like Rainbows do, but to the west and under the most obvious. Refusing to budge.
Well, not without the tip of the rod bending in a ‘go-farther-and-I’ll-snap’ kind of way.
I did get the fish out, though. Eventually. And in the air. And then in my hands. Disappointed that it was not fifteen inches like the fight implied (or twenty).
But the disappointment did not last.
Again, I was twelve and being challenged in all sorts of ways, none that need exposition or extrapolation here.
But when that fish looked at me, its orange belly spots gleaming in the sun, my disappointment waned as did my intent of branching it through the gills and bringing it home to put it in the freezer.
It had given me its everything.
And that is when I learned about respect. And admiration.
I needed to learn both then.
So I put the eight inch fighter back in the water, moving it to get oxygen back in through its gills.
It was strange I did that because I had never released a trout before. They all ended up in the freezer. From there, some made it to the grill but most got freezer burned and tossed into the trash.
I am embarrassed to admit that. Knowing what I know now about giving everything, living, and fighting.
But that is the beauty of life I suppose.
And why I now miss fishing.
And also my twelve-year old self.
Despite his struggles.
But like then, I needed to be reminded, at forty-seven, of respect, admiration, giving everything, living, and fighting.
I am the very proud Principal of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC). And I am going to make a confession: I love all of my students. A lot.
But there is more.
I often find myself in the position of loving my students but not their behavior. Or their choices.
I’m okay with that, though. It’s part of the job. A hard part of the job.
And if you are not in education, you still know what I meant two sentences ago: loving people but not their behavior is simply hard. Ask the friend or parent or child of an addict; they’ll agree. For sure.
However, the focus of this confession is not really about that.
Rather, it is about the tension that sometimes exists between the love of a school administrator, the expected school rules that govern student behavior, and student learning and growth.
I feel this tension frequently but particularly at this time of year. The Fall. When students are late for school or miss school entirely...to hunt.
Yup. There it is.
There is the true heart of my confession: I love it when students break the rules but in doing so increase their learning. And their growth.
In missing school to hunt, students are technically ‘late’ or ‘unexcused’ in their absence. And the HACTC has a fairly strict attendance policy. A policy I am ultimately in charge of enacting. Or, I guess, enforcing.
But when a student hits the fateful twelve days of school missed and an attendance plan needs developing, I review the absences and tardies (three tardies equals one absence) and hope that some of those tardies and/or absences are due to being in the woods. Hunting.
Why that ‘hope?’
Because time in the woods teaches students more than being in class. Every time.
And that is a big statement considering the teachers and the curriculums at the HACTC are the best. Simply the best. Hands down.
But time in the woods - walking slowly, thinking deeply, sitting attentively, listening acutely, examining carefully, acting safely, and patiently waiting…and waiting…and waiting...to sometimes be disappointed...for years...teach more than any class. Or two. Or three.
And yes, as an extension of my confession, if there are tardies or absences due to hunting, I do not ‘excuse’ them per se, but certainly understand them. An understanding that plays out with grace in their attendance plan.
Am I a hunter and are my thoughts biased? Yes. And also no.
I have hunted. A lot. And not successfully if harvested number of deer are the determiner for ‘success’.
But success in hunting, as asserted previously, is defined by the experience, the time in the woods, the learning, and the growth. Not necessarily the harvest.
In that case, then, I guess I am a ‘successful’ hunter. And, of course, biased. So take that for what it is worth.
Certainly, though, my desire for kids to learn is also biased in that I know more learning can occur outside of school than in it.
The students at the HACTC that hunt have Respect. Respect for safety and also the animal they harvest.
I have seen that time and time again. In current students and also when they leave and become alumni.
What more could a principal ask for than that Respect? Not much. Not much at all.
So, my awesome students at the HACTC. Hunt if you want to. Respectfully. Safely. And I will work with you in regards to the ‘rules.’
Just as I do with many other student interests that break the rules and create that lovely, welcomed tension in my job that I know causes you to grow and learn.
#thisiswhatlearninglookslike #respect #engage #learn #work #serve #grow #missionstatement
Disclaimer: I can be a bit of a nostalgic fool.
For proof of that statement, look no farther than under the seat of my mountain bike.
‘Doug’ says the license plate hanging there: ‘Green Mountain State.’
I was nine years old when I got it. I saved ten box tops from Honeycomb Cereal and mailed those in along with a $1.25. The latter being earned from delivering eggs once a week to Lila Onsruth.
Lila paid my parents $1.00 for the eggs and me .25 cents for pedaling them to her house on my bright red Raleigh Chopper.
In hindsight, I should have appreciated Lila’s 25% tip a bit more. Not a sweeter woman has the world known. I hope my thoughts of her now, thirty-eight years later, make up that lack.
Bless you, Lila. Bless you.
It took me a long time to save up that $1.25.
I had to use Lila’s tips for more than a few things. The main being the replenishment of dry flies lost from not knowing how to roll cast.
There is most certainly a Sugar Maple or two at the trout hole on the White River - across from the old Kelton Complex - that is littered with Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ears.
Nonetheless, after a few months of not losing flies (and not buying Coca-Cola from Laro’s Country Store), I saved up enough to buy the license plate and watched the mail for weeks waiting for it to be delivered.
Mr. Martin, our mailman, after more than a few disappointing days of me standing at the mailbox in anticipation, shared in my excitement when it finally arrived.
He drove a white Jeep Wagoneer and stopped his day for fifteen minutes to not only celebrate with me the license plate’s arrival but to also help fasten it to my bike.
Zip-ties were not an accessible commodity then but by chance (or design) Mr. Martin did have some small hose clamps that connected the metal loops of the license plate to the frame of the banana seat on my bike.
Bless you Mr. Martin. Bless you.
And there it is.
Ever since that early July day in 1980, after the first cut of hay was in the barn, that license plate has found its way on every bike I have ever owned.
Raleigh Chopper. Kuwahara Apollo. Haro Freestyler. Haro Freesport. Haro Master. Torpado. Trek 520. Specialized Hardrock. Parkpre Scepter Comp, Jamis Dakar Sport, Ritchey NiTi, Trek 850, KHS Solo One, Trek 520, KHS Solo One SE, Salsa Mukluk 3, Salsa Mukluk GX1.
And I have been laughed at and ridiculed because of that license plate. I am now forty-seven after all. And it is a bit strange to see on the bike of a middle-aged man. But I have also been complimented. A lot.
Either way. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. It brings me back. To Lila. To Mr. Martin. And to a thousand (maybe ten thousand) smiles of rides forgotten and also some remembered.
That silly, young-boy’s license plate is simply a connection and a thread. To my childhood. To the innocence there. To the lack of stress. And responsibility. Things that still disappear quickly when I begin to make circles with my feet.
It connects me. From carrying eggs and fly rods to college texts, lesson plans, and my beautiful daughter.
And yes, it also connects me to worries, anxiety, and hard times. But such is life. Such is life.
What will I carry next? What will it connect me to in the future?
I look forward to finding out.
#circleswithmyfeet #salsacycles #vaultpedals #wtb
When I was eight years old, my grandfather told me that if I really wanted to know the story of a person, all I had to do was examine that person’s hands - the story would unfold in their texture, depth, and color. I know I was eight years old when I heard this bit of wisdom because it was also the year when I was told who Mr. Albright really was.
In addition to a small farm, my parents ran a dog-boarding kennel, and Mr. Albright, living in Woodstock at the time, boarded his two Corgies with us frequently. For a while, I simply knew him as the nice old man who made my mind wonder with stories of the places he visited while his dogs stayed in our kennel.
One day, Mr. Albright and his wife, Josephine, pulled into our driveway, and I ran down to greet them and take their dogs. When Mr. Albright opened the back of his station wagon to let the dogs out, I caught a glimpse of something tucked behind the crates; it was wrapped in a white cloth and speckled with paint, and looked like the belly of Brook Trout. I asked him what it was, so he shuffled to the side of the car, opened the door, folded the cloth back and withdrew a painting of fairly good size. I stared. I had never seen anything like that in my short life; it was so weird but also beautiful and dreamy. It was a painting of an old man, seated and wearing a red hat, his hands resting in his lap.
“Where did ya get that?”
“I painted it. It is called The Vermonter.”
“How long did it take ya to paint all that?”
“Years. About as long as you’ve been alive.”
“Wow, really? Why did it take so long?”
“The hands. The hands took that long. They tell the story.”
After Mr. Albright’s dogs were put in the kennel and I went back inside to get some lunch, my mother, who had been watching the unlikely conversation from the dining room window said, “Dougie, make sure you remember what just happened. Ivan is a very famous painter and you just got the treat of a lifetime.” I did remember but did not fully realize until later in my life just how big a ‘treat’ that experience was. What I did realize at that moment, however, in the chance meeting of my grandfather’s words and Mr. Albright’s painting, was that a truth was created: hands do tell a person’s story.
It was this experience with Mr. Albright and the truth created from it that has been the biggest influence in shaping my thinking about myself as an educator. Simply put, my job is to provide opportunities for students that allow them to create their own stories, opportunities focused on activity.
Sure, learning can take place without activity, but what is learned is theory, not knowledge. Knowledge contains an intimacy that theory lacks and knowledge, as I have come to discover, is what creates stories.
Mr. Albright’s painting was appropriately titled. The hands that took him eight years to create told the story of every old-school Vermonter I knew then and have known since: Albert Atwood, Otis Wilson, Henry Koloski, Stash Koloski, and ironically, my grandfather. To this day, I cannot look at that painting and not think of those men, men who had an intimate knowledge of hard work, honor, patience, and nature’s way - qualities I pray show themselves in the stories my students’ hands will tell.
It is called The Waiting Room.
It is not majestic. Nothing that would be seen in the annals of a mountain bike magazine or a fast moving Pinkbike clip. It doesn’t even possess an encompassing or stunning view. Unless of course a set of power lines is considered ‘stunning’ (see what I did there?). They are only feet away.
Rather, it has a log. A log cut to hold a bike. Or a butt. The rider decides. For me, usually, it is my bike.
And it has a fire pit. Used infrequently but most prodigiously on the Thanksgiving Day ride.
It also has an appropriate number of leaves, trees, and sticks. And sometimes a bear. Off in the distance, hopefully.
But regardless of all that, The Waiting Room is a destination for any mountain biker in the Boston Lot trail network in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
The Waiting Room is a spot, if you will, of prominence. Or maybe even significance. Although it doesn’t have a sign to identify itself. Like the trails do. I suspect that it is not the least bit jealous, though.
And what, per se, does a rider wait for in The Waiting Room?
I have been asked that question again and again. By my wife, non-rider friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else hearing me proclaim through conversation or social media the benefits of stopping there. And waiting.
Given its name, it is a necessary question to ask. However, it is not an easy question to answer.
Maybe the difficulty in the answer comes in its connection for my need to ride. And that is hard to explain, too. So much need. Such few words. Story of my life.
I just have to do them. That’s all. Ride. And wait. Both restore me.
But that answer might be unsatisfactory to some. Even to me at times. So here it goes. An attempted answer. An acceptable one.
I wait for a lot.
I wait for another rider. Or a breeze. Sometimes I wait for a sound. Or silence. Or a vision of something positive. Often I wait on God. He has certainly found me there. And visa versa.
Sometimes others wait for me. I am not fast climbing. And they are. Particularly ‘Android Snackbar’ of Strava, Mason Racing bike shop, and Highland Mountain Bike Park fame. Or even Bruce Hathorn. Of childhood-friend fame.
Or maybe I am waiting for a beer. Some days it might be that simple. A beer. With Android or Bruce, a beer is always a possibility. Thank God for that.
I guess, in the end, of these words and the importance of the question, the waiting in The Waiting Room does not need explanation. And neither does my need to ride. Despite others. Despite myself. Both are simply what they are. Riding. Waiting. Amen.
I am not proud to admit it, especially to my Dad, but lately, given the craziness of my schedule, I have become a Jiffy Lube customer. My latest visit this past Tuesday not only had a handful of my former students changing the oil in my truck, it also had them rotating the tires and truing my rotors with a “newwickedfriggin’cool on-car lathe system that you have to let us try, Mr. Heavisides!!!!!” Always a sucker for seeing former students excited about their job, I agreed and, ironically, spent the next two hours in the “Jiffy” Lube lobby, perusing old copies of Sports Illustrated and looking for anything to kill the time. In that vein, I found myself in front of what I thought was the “awards wall” reading ten very similar looking documents. Upon closer inspection, though, they were not awards at all but rather Codes of Ethics written by every person who worked there, manager to pit monkey. I read every single one and was so impressed with the sincerity of their words, I vowed to give the activity a go of my own. Below are the results.
Code of Ethics
I will love my family unconditionally.
I will honor my wife.
I will be the best father that I can be.
I will encourage hope and optimism.
I will strive for balance in my life.
I will maintain good physical health.
I will maintain strong spiritual health.
I will not overreach.
I will not worship material objects.
I will strive to be trustworthy, honest, and honorable.
I will continually educate myself with whatever means are available.
I will be a positive leader.
I will promote progress and improvement, not achievement.
I will deal with conflict directly and respectfully.
I will help build a culture of collaboration and teamwork.
I will appreciate.
I will support.
I will be part of the solution, not the problem.
I was surprised at the difficulty of this activity. I thought doing a “Code of Ethics” would be a relatively benign and robotic piece of writing. However, I struggled with choosing the categories, what order to put them in (implying order of importance in my life), and prioritizing the indicators underneath.
Sure, any one of the indicators could be applied to the other two categories, but it was fun making decisions about what went where and why.
And although I struggled with this activity, taking way more time on it than I had to spend, it was fruitful; I have a clearer sense of what I value, or at least what I should value.
Who knew Jiffy Lube could be so thought provoking?