Moments: It's NOT just how you ask for breath fresheners

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 | 1 Comment(s)

I just had a moment.

thank god i just had a moment.  i needed a moment.

it's funny.  these days great moments often get measured by the sell-ablity of the subsequent screen play.  Disney moments.  Those are the super big bucks moments.  Because all of the 'lovable losers who come back and win' story lines have been played out, now we mine reality for our success stories.  And perhaps I'm being cynical here,  a criticism that i rarely get.  perhaps shining a spotlight on the wonders that happen to real world underdogs is what we need more of.  real world glory.

but a part of me can't help but think that this is real world glory in the same way that the Little League World Series is now a month long event on ESPN.  Yes, these kids are playing their hearts out.  And yes, there is something beautifully raw about the way they care and play the game.  But do i need to be watching it?  Some 32-year-old guy watching a the worst day of this 13-year-old's life play out in front of a newly minted national audience?  You have to admit, even the biggest skeptic would have to say that there is something, let's say, exploitative, going on.  And i feel like that is the mildest way of saying my feelings on this.  The most mild.

And that's how i feel about the Disnifying of real life triumph.  Why can't the recognition of the moment be glorious in and of itself.  We look for our moments from the television and miss the one's that happen in our day-to-day.

today, at the back end of a long day, i had a moment.  And i'm recognizing it right now.

5 years ago i taught a first year student-success course (this is not completely un-related to the piece that i authored that was recently published on this issue).  I had 3 sections of 20 (or so) first years -- and my task was to help acclimate them to the college lifestyle, and give them the tools (note-taking, studying, etc.) to reach success at the college level.  But, as i've grown to understand much more, i was also there to put a friendly face on "college" and give these kids an outlet for connecting with someone affiliated with the university.  Often students end up in large survey courses their first year, and can go long periods of time without having actual face-to-face contact with a professor.  As you might predict, this is not good for their general college well being.

In the smallest of these three sections, the one with 12 students, was Chris.  Chris was a light-skinned black kid with a puffy winter jacket and a Yankee's cap -- flat brim -- pulled down over his forehead.  He was quiet and reserved and thoughtful.  But also spectacularly disengaged.

It's fair to say i liked him immediately.  Which is to say i was a little harder on Chris than i was on most of the other classmates.   First, the Yankees cap had to be addressed.  His eyes engaged immediately.  He wasn't just wearing the cap for show -- he was a fan.  While sports fandom often gets a bad rap, it provides an opportunity for two people to connect instantly.  If i throw a red sox barb your way (5 years ago we were smack dap in the middle of our glory years), you are required to reply.  What kinda yankees fan wouldn't?  And so he did, and then i did, and then he did, and then i made sure he didn't half-ass any of his homework assignments all semester.  It's called teaching.

Did he always enjoy this process and extra attention?  definitely not.  His outfit said it all.  A bundle of puffed out clothes between him and the world.  In his shell.  Quiet and succinct responses.  And so when i made him phrase his answer in a complete sentence . . . and then complete that thought . . .  and then tell me why he thought that might be . . .

He suffered.

But he did great in my class.

The tough part about this type of class for me, is that when it is over, i am left with their comments on teacher evaluation forms, and then back to my grad school life.  They are left with my teachings, and very little reason to ever see me again.

Six months later i got an email from Chris, asking if i would write him a recommendation for a summer job.   He explained in the email that at the end of his first year, i was the only instructor that he felt knew him at all.  Like no one else could pick him out of a line-up.  And i did it gladly.  And life went on.

Today i ran into Chris on campus.  He was wearing a yellow v-neck t-shirt and no hat.  He had lost a significant amount of weight, and his posture was chin and head held high.  No slouch.  When he recognized me, as i approached him, he greeted me loudly and cheerfully.  Sunny t-shirt, sunnier disposition.  he told me he was a super-senior, he had added a second major, and that he was in the midsts of applying to grad schools.  for what?  social work.

boom goes the dynamite.

This kid made it.  He succeeded in the system.  he found his voice and his direction and it made me sincerely overjoyed.  it was a moment.  and while i certainly don't pretend that his success was the sole result of my tutelage, i do contend that i was a part of it -- and that I contributed to his success.  And that is what teaching, for the best teachers, is all about.  While you can never be solely responsible for a student's success or failure, you can take their resulting success or failure personally, to whatever degree you contributed.  That's how teachers take pride in their work, and how they push themselves to do better.

Today, for me, a got to see a W for education.  It broke a long string of recents losses.

Which is why i needed the moment i got.

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