A Final Talk — maybe

 

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On May 27 during my last faculty meeting at Holy Ghost Prep I made the following remarks:

Last  week Tom Murtaugh, Joe Cannon and I went to Seorabol, a Korean restaurant in the Olney section of Philadelphia.  For weeks, I’d been suggesting that Tom go to the Korean show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Finally we decided to go together.  Tom invited Joe and picked out a lunch destination.  You may or may not know — Tom was a Fulbright scholar in Korea.  At the restaurant, he proceeded to order us a feast using some Korean and some English.  It was amazing.  The food was delicious. At one point I asked Tom why he had never taken any of us from HGP to a Korean restaurant? His answer, “No one ever asked me.”  I was set back.  Surprised.  A bit ashamed.  Why had I never paid attention to Tom’s Korean experience? Why had I never asked him to take me to a Korean restaurant?

Later that night I was feeling great — flying high, nothing more that some wine.  But I was feeling exceptionally good.  Why?  To my surprise, it wasn’t because I was retiring. Almost the opposite.  I was happy because for several weeks so many HGP people had been paying attention to me.  Both students and staff.  Some were thanking me for my years of service; others asked what I would be doing with my time.  Some congratulated me on 40 years of teaching.  They communicated that I was appreciated, even needed.  I would be missed.  In short I was happy because I believed I had the respect of my colleagues and students.

I don’t mean that previously everyone ignored me or told me I was a failure.  But in our busy lives we often forget to affirm each other.  I know I do.  We all know about the need for affirmation —  we have heard of Maslow.  But we are busy grading papers, preparing classes, taking care of our kids, shopping.  We are preoccupied with personal needs.  Why had I never been to a Korean restaurant with Tom or gone to a play with Tony Figiola (which I did recently)? The list could go on with every person in this room.

When my father worked in his appliance store in Bristol, he  would always engage customers in questions.  What were they doing, what were their interests.  What did they think about this or that? Many times he asked questions and I knew he knew the answer. One evening I asked him, “Why do you ask questions, when  you know the answers.”  He responded, “because it makes people feel good, it shows you care about them.  As I leave here today to look around the corner, I ask that you try to take the time to affirm each other.  Ask Tom to a Korean restaurant; ask Tony to a play.  Celebrate individual interests and talents.  Respect and understand differences.  My thanks to each of you.

I concluded with a handout (once a teacher, always a teacher) and gave one or more  used books to each staff member.  Some were mine; some donated to the library but not needed.  They were books that I though reflected their interests or our relationship.

As it turned out it was not my final talk (no surprise). At a Wednesday night retirement party at the Yardley Inn for John Buettler and myself, I felt compelled to give another talk.  It went something like this:

This morning when I arrived at HGP the halls were dark,  no one was there.  But as I walked around lights automatically turned on.  I was reminded of a retirement party for my father many years ago.  He was part of the maintenance staff at HGP and he had a great respect for teachers and learning.  He gave a short speech.  “Each morning I go around the school building and turn on the lights,” he said.  “I am proud,” he continued, “I am turning on the lights so that all these great teachers can teach and students can learn. . . I feel that it’s a small thing but it’s the way I contribute to the educational process.”  I was amazed.  My father was very humble, not given to speeches.  I was also very proud.   Since my father worked at HGP there has been a lot of technological change (we discussed it endlessly at faculty meetings).  It’s intended to make for a better education.  The lights go on automatically.  There are computers, smart boards, phones, this program and that program and on and on.  Always changing.  My father is no longer needed to turn on the lights.  But is it better?  I wonder is technology making for a better education?”

I was coming to my conclusion when a voice in the back of the room shouted. “Yes.”  The room broke up.  It was my grandson, Eli.  He was listening closely and shared his opinion.  I thanked Eli but suggested that I might disagree with him.  I thought it was the teachers, not the technology that made a better education.

But the reality is actually (one of my grand daughter Vivienne’s favorite words) a lot more complex.  Eli is partially correct.  He reads at about a 4th grade level.  But he is only  in first grade.  The reason to some extent is an I-pad that he  has used since he began cancer treatment. Technology in many forms helped him get through the ordeal and cured him of cancer.  He learned from it.  And yet we all know that machines, technology can’t fully replace the human touch.  The teacher in the classroom remains extremely important.

As in the past I think Eli and I will continue to learn from each other.  For that I am so grateful.

P.S. The drawing in this entry is not Eli’s  or Vivienne’s.  It’s Jason Fisher’s who gave me a nice tribute at the party.  Somehow he claimed the drawing helped him to write his speech.  We all Learn in our own way.

Another final Comment:   Thanks to everyone at HGP for making my past few so joyful.

 

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