That which is bitter to endure can be sweet to remember…
So as I read the topic for this month’s #blogamonth, all the obvious thoughts flooded my mind- I am so thankful for my children, my wife, my family, my friends, my colleagues, etc. But as I thought about the topic some more, it occurred to me that there are some things that I am thankful for now, that at the time I was enduring them, I was not so able understand that I was struggling through a challenge, or perhaps I was unable to see the value in overcoming the challenge.
So as to organize chronologically thoughts in a linear manner, I will share some of these experiences for which I am thankful that I have had to endure.
As I have shared very openly, I struggled mightily as a child with what would now be diagnosed as ADHD, and there is high likelihood that I would also have been medicated for my hellacious temper. My Montessori Principal at Children’s House in Levittown was named Ms. Cannon. She had a big green chair in her office, and a very cool canon right next to the chair. I remember this because I spent a great deal of time with her in her office. I don’t remember that time being horrible, or that I was enduring such a hardship; in fact, I have fond memories of those times. But I can’t tell you the name of any other teacher I had there. I am thankful for Ms. Cannon, because despite the fact that I spent enough time with her that she is the one I remember from those years, I remember those years fondly. She obviously never made me feel like a bad kid, even though I was causing trouble.
I also remember Ms. S. She is the one who sent me home from school in second grade. I don’t remember what I did, but I do remember always feeling like she never forgave me for it. Fortunately, I had the appropriately named Mrs. Tickle the next year. She was a legend at my elementary school. My sister had her, too. I am thankful that she made me feel good about myself. Also, her class is the earliest for which I have very specific vivid memories of lessons and activities.
My first year in junior high, I still had that crazy temper, and the ADHD was in full effect. Crammed into a public school classroom with 40 kids in a room, I was doomed to fail. Couple that with my short fuse and a feeling that I wasn’t going to back down from any bullying, I found myself failing all my classes and getting into fights nearly every day. I also found myself in a very unique situation. They kicked me out of school. At the time, it didn’t feel like this would be something that in retrospect would evoke good feelings, but it was a life-changing experience. It gave me the amazing gift of empathy for struggling adolescents. So I am thankful that the two guidance counselors told my parents to put me in military school. I am also thankful that my parents didn’t listen to them.
Instead they put me in a small school where I could get the attention I needed, the positive peer-pressure to motivate me, and the challenge to help me reach my academic potential. While I was at that Hebrew day school in Bucks County, I was not aware of how negatively some people treated me- nor was I remotely aware of being what many have said was a tortured adolescent. Actually, I was very happy in those days. I had a feeling of belonging that helped me grow and learn. I am thankful for the adolescent blinders that I had on in those days that kept me from seeing the negativity of the adults around me at school.
One of the most difficult times in my life was my junior year of high school. In a 9 month span, we lost my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother. The effects on my family are still lingering. But at that time, I found myself incredibly fortunate to be in a school that was very much a family. My teachers, friends, and even people I didn’t know were there to support me through this incredibly difficult time. I am thankful that I was in that type of school environment. It certainly represented for me a key element I have always sought in schools where I wanted to work, and in the last few years, in the schools where we send our children.
During my college years, I certainly had some ups and downs. During one such down time, my actions led to a rift between me and my family. This rift was accompanied by a new challenge- I had to pay for the rest of my schooling. This was a monumental obstacle for me. But I am thankful that I knew at a young age that I wanted to teach and coach. That aspiration allowed me to see the light at the end of that very dark tunnel. Once I emerged at the end, I was very thankful that my father had made me work for that degree. It made such a profound difference in my life- although I wasn’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about it at the time.
In the years since, I have always been cognizant of and openly gracious for people in my life who have supported, guided, and even tough-loved me. Mentors like Pat Lukacs, Joe Merluzzi, and Neil Gruber at Berkeley Prep- my first teaching job, Rich Basirico at Hilton Head, Bob McGrath at Pine Crest. Good friends and colleagues like Chris Piccone, Joey Walters, Phil Consuegra and others who continue to be a part of my life.
But along the way, I reflect with thanks on those from whom I learned about the kind of professional and/or person that I do not want to be. Whether it was negative colleagues, abusive supervisors, or those for whom the education and well-being of our students did not appear to be in their top five motives for being educators. But I am thankful for their poor examples, as I am for their influence in my continuing to move onwards and upwards towards finding the right place for me and now for my own children. That being said, I am a “high road” kind of guy. Regret, anger, resentment make us rot inside, and I have had too many wonderfully positive people and experiences in my life to allow that to happen, so I choose instead to thank them.
I recently wrote about my feelings about my current experience, so I will merely say that I am thankful for where I am and who I am with professionally and personally.
All of these experiences and people (and certainly countless more) have shaped me, and I am thankful to have the kind of mindset that has allowed me to grow at each step of the way. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been a great ride so far. More to come.