Friday, June 1, 2007

Old and Young, Giving and Blue

I’m starting to miss them already, and we still have a week and a half to go. Well, I’ve said before that there is a final picnic for the students outside on the lawn and then suddenly around 2:00 P.M., there is absolutely no noise at all coming into my office window. It’s as if a neutron bomb had been dropped on the school grounds and all life has disappeared, but the structures still remain. The birds don’t even sing! And it’s amazingly depressing, even to those employees who had expressed eagerness at getting rid of the little devils for the summer.

Of course, the kids, themselves, are mentally pretty much through with school at this point. They’ve got to be occupied with various events, games, and other special activities to keep them grounded at all; otherwise, for sure they’d sail away like let-go helium balloons.

Last week was grandparents’ day, in which they got to have their grandparents spend the morning with them on campus, ending with a wonderful lunch on tables spread outside all over the campus. It’s one of the most beloved events of the school year.

Last night was the sports awards night when all the fathers were invited to a big ol’ steak barbecue and to see their kids’ teams pick up whatever trophies they had earned, and maybe even proudly watch their own son or daughter receive one of the very special sportsmanship awards.

Today for the kids was a pajama day--maybe our third one this year, but it’s always a popular event with everybody. We, too, can wear our pajamas if we want, but since I sleep in my birthday suit.... For the first pajama day, I did wear some sleepwear that I had gotten for a school overnight trip, but today I just had too much other stuff to do to fool with it. But the kids couldn’t possibly be cuter. I’ve said for a long time that it’s a matter of evolutionary survival that kids are cute, anyway. Otherwise, our species would never have progressed beyond the Paleolithic Era. Those screaming babies would have been left behind on the grass of the veldt as sabertooth tiger bait. But no, they were just too cute and our ancestral parents simply couldn’t let go of them. How much more helpless, sleepy-sweet, cuddly, and precious do the 21st century versions appear when they are in their soft flannels? Sponge Bob Square Pants, Little Mermaid, Super Heroes, Hello Kitty, Sesame Street, Army commandoes, Finding Nemo, frilly lavender robes for pretty blonde-haired princesses, it’s almost like a kinder, softer version of Hallowe’en.

Pretty soon, the school will have “Super Stars Day,” which will be kind of like an Olympic “multi-athalon” in which the school is divided into competitive thirds (the Red, Blue, and White teams) for a day of relay races, games of skill, and contests of strength. In my own personal “all I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten” vein, I used to be “on all sides” by wearing all three colors, but last year, I had forgotten about the event but wore a white shirt and happened to walk by a kindergarten class that particularly liked me because I had been a mystery guest reader in their class several times and had engaged them in some pretty lively discussions. These kids used to call out “hi” to me whenever they saw me (calling me by my first name!). I walked by them on the morning of Super Stars Day as they waited to go into class and saw me in my white shirt and asked me if I were a “White”. Sharp-eyed and quick, I saw from what they were wearing that THEY were “White,” so I said that yes, indeed, I, too was a "White". Well, I had hardly ever heard such cheering and excitement that I was on their team. I learned from that experience that in a contest, you HAVE to choose sides, and never had I enjoyed a Super Stars Day as much as I enjoyed that one. (The White team won, by the way, and of course I know it is because I was a White.)

This year with a whole new crop of kindergarteners, I didn’t get to read in that class more than once. So I didn’t get to develop the special relationship with this class that I had had with the class before. However, I developed a special relationship with a first grade class in which twice I had given guest lectures and twice I had been a guest celebrating their unveiling of special writing projects. So this year, I thought I would be on the team that this first grade class will be on, and that will be the “Blue” team. Yesterday morning, I e-mailed their teacher and told her that in their honor, I was going to be a “Blue” this year. She e-mailed back that she would tell the kids. As soon as lunchtime, I ran into several of the first graders who asked me what team I was going to be on. When I said, “the Blue team,” they cheered, saying that what their teacher had told them was right! So it’s happening again!

Also, today was a special thank-you luncheon for the lower school teachers and so that all of them would be able to enjoy the luncheon, it was asked if any office staff members (who don’t normally do lunch duty with the kids) would be willing to volunteer to do their lunch duty for them today. I had volunteered to do it last year, so this year said I would definitely be happy to do it again. Enough of us volunteered that all of the lower school teachers were free to go the luncheon, while we (about seven of us) got to watch hundreds of kids in their pajamas eat their lunch and play in the playground. I have to say it again--they couldn’t have been cuter!

While I was out there, several first graders came up to me on the playground and said that their teacher had told them that I was going to be a “Blue” along with them, was that true? I was amazed at the impact it had. One girl said that she was so glad to have Mrs.-- as her teacher, connecting the dots between having her as a teacher, the teacher having me as a guest lecturer, and me caring enough about them to choose to be on their team in spirit with them. They all know that their teacher is the only first grade teacher to have a guest lecturer, and the only guest lecturer is me.

Then another amazing thing happened, two different kindergarten boys, at different times, walked by me and said, “I remember you, you read to our class, I wish you would come read to us again.” I came across their teacher at the end of the lunch period and told her what the boys had said, so she said, “Well, then, we will have to get right on it!” Knowing that we probably have time for only one more mystery guest reader (whom I hope isn’t already scheduled), I did get right on it. I’ve already figured out one of the books I will read, but my assignment for this weekend is to find a second story to read (there’s time for me to read, and discuss, two).

You love them, and that’s what it’s all about--you love them. They are pure and know that love is what matters the most and that is what they appreciate the most.

Beyond all this, what I mostly got accomplished today was send out letters acknowledging the receipt of employment applications. We get so many, so I save them up and do them in batches. We have no teacher openings, having now filled all available slots, and that’s what most of the resumes I get are for. One guy really stood out and impressed me in several ways. For one thing, he wrote a very nice letter to me personally, because he had left me a voicemail asking if we had any openings and I had called him back and said that even though we didn’t, he should send me his resume anyway, “because you never know; I keep those resumes and when we need somebody, I pull them out for consideration.” He had liked my manner on the phone (first of all, the fact that I called him back), and apparently felt well-cared for and was now even more eager to get a job at our school if there ever were any opening (actually what he said was "if other people at the school are like you, I can tell what a wonderful place it would be to work.")

He also had his picture like a little logo on his resume, which was a good idea as he was extremely good-looking, almost as if he were being “cast” in the part of being the ideal young male teacher. Something about the photo said “head shot” to me, this was anything but a crappy little snapshot, but was professionally done with an eye to a particular effect.

He was, however, really a teacher, that is to say, he was beyond the student teacher phase (too bad, because we still do need several teaching assistants), and he now had his credential, but up to now had only done substitute teaching. I really wanted him working at our school, though, so instead of sending him my standard response letter, I wrote him a special letter suggesting that he might want to consider listing as a substitute teacher with us. It’s phenomenally hard to get a teaching job at our school, but successful subs not only get a foot in the door, they have a leg up toward getting hired (I’d say we hire any of our proven subs who actually want a full-time job--they’re actually the first ones we think of, as they’re practically “here” anyway).

But there were some other intriguing things on his resume, such as the stories he had published and the small film he had written, produced, directed, and starred in. When I got home, I did an Internet search for the film (which sounded very intriguing and was something I would like to be able to see) and was led to several small film festival sites that had awarded that film various “best director” or “best lead actor” awards, and also found his own website, full of photographs (and that photo on his resume was, indeed, a professionally-taken “head shot”), links to his theater, television, and film work, and other personal things. I was pretty sure that most of that work was “background player” work (more commonly known as “extra” work), and so to that extent his experience was similar to mine, although it looks like he had more actual speaking parts than I did, and he did have a starring role in one film (that probably was a straight-to-video production) beside the film that he wrote, produced, directed and starred in.

Seeing all this made me wonder if he were using teaching like most Hollywood-hopefuls use waiting on tables, a way to make some money until they make it big. But our school would be reluctant to hire a person as a teacher if show business were their true goal; however, working as a substitute teacher would be fine (if they are a good teacher).

I surmised that this guy was young enough (in other words, had enough time ahead of him) and already accomplished enough to be able to make it in the industry if he stuck with it and if it were what he really wanted. Many do get to where he is, though, and realize that it is not what they actually want after all.

I thought possibly he was a bit too much “young L.A.,” where he was so interested in the L.A. lifestyle and in a good enough position that he could reasonably see himself rising to some kind level in that dream-desirable life, which others have found to be putrefactive and rotten to the core. I know from experience that “Hollywood” is at once not as bad as some people think, and not as good.

In short, I figured that I liked him. His website was very funny and he’d write clever, self-deprecating things like, “I was cast in a small, but unimportant role...” which showed he understood more about it than he was, on the surface, letting on.

He’s also engaged to be married, to a woman who has the same initials that he has. One of his links was to a “wedding” website, but he had filled it with enough interesting and funny things that I was drawn to look through all of it. The story of his proposal (on a commercial airplane) was at once funny and heart-warming, where he recruited a stewardess to help him with champagne and to produce at the opportune time the engagement ring that he had entrusted with her, but somehow what he was going to do had enamored the whole crew of stewardesses, so with all their attention, he felt he was in danger of being considered a terrorist by the other passengers and whatever air marshall might have been secreted on board but who would not have been in the know about this proposal. However, all went well and he and his girlfriend who had tearfully said “yes” were treated to the pilot’s on-air congratulatory announcement and an airplane-full of thunderous applause.

The wedding website also led to their bridal registry and here was where I really got to liking them. For one thing, I loved their taste, very clean, modern, and trendy in a substantial way (almost as if their taste were Finnish or Scandinavian) and I was also impressed that everything they selected was, while beautiful, amazingly inexpensive: “Small serving plates, $.59 each, number desired: 2”; “Wine glasses, $2.25 each, number desired: 6”; “Bed sheets, $19.99, number desired: 2”; that kind of thing. I had gotten so used to other people’s bridal registries (and then, later, their even worse ‘Babies R Us’ registries) where every little can opener or candlestick seems to cost several hundred dollars, and where I have to comb through every page to find something that I can possibly afford to buy that I feel good about giving instead, of say, “linen napkin, 1, $79.00”, that I felt that I could manage to give to these lovebirds each and EVERY thing on their list. And they had selected so many things that I liked well enough that I WANTED to give them, that soon enough my brain hatched the idea of “well, why not, actually give them something?”

I mean, I certainly wasn’t invited to the wedding, the woman doesn’t know me at all and the man hardly does, short of one brief phone conversation and a note and resume he sent to me. But it was just too delicious of an idea, the idea of supporting who they were and what they are doing, so I went ahead and selected on-line a gift I thought was wonderful from their registry and had it sent to them. On the card I said, "I love what you're doing, so why not send some love from a 99% stranger (100% crazy and impetuous)?" and said my name and then "(WHO?)". I hoped that maybe my resume acknowledgment letter and the gift would arrive at approximately the same time so that they could figure out who the heck that gift is from (and the “why” I’ll just leave up to them).

Like I said in the earlier portion of this piece, children know that the most important thing is love, and I think that, for a time, newly-weds know that, too, and from being a guest lecturer in a child’s classroom to being a non-guest wedding gift-giver, giving love is what I like to do, and I do it whenever I can.

1 comment:

Bret said...

Tom, you hit the nail on the head again. Love comes and goes but we leave an impression on those who understand what life is all about.

They are lucky to have you around to show them things.

Take care, Bret