Blogging in E minor
Usually just a bunch of silly crap.

Infamy and Irony

It is fitting that Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, remains one of those insidious anniversaries, preserved upon the American psyche in remembrance of the unporovoked attack committed against our nation in 1941.  The event prodded the Greatest Generation into  battle against malicious forces that threatened humanity worldwide. Following an extended, bloody campaign celebrated for the heroism, determination and sacrafice of American troops, the US and its allies emerged victorious. This is well documented.

            What is not well documented, however, is the date’s profound personal meaning to me. Dec. 7 is also the anniversary of the day I dropped out of high school.

            It was 1982, and I recall being 18 years old, nearing the end of yet another unsuccessful semester, facing the prospect of needing to attend a full fifth year of high school in order to graduate. I had just had a run in with one of the two teachers whose classes I was still regularly attending. In response, I left school to have a smoke and get my thoughts together. 

            By this time, my guidance counselor, my principal and even my mother were confused as to why I still bothered coming to school at all. Why not just move on to something else?

            Having been an exemplary student during my elementary years, I simply wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. The thought of dropping out was unacceptable to me, and I had never given up hope that I’d get my act together – somehow. After all, I had managed two years of decent grades alternating with horrid ones.

            What stands out the most about the situation is that most of my teachers had written me off. They took notice of the long hair, my poor attendance history and my quiet demeanor and figured I was a lost cause. I lingered as long as I did because two teachers had reached out to me: my first hour English teacher and my last hour Psychology teacher. In the former case, the interaction wasn’t all that positive, but she at least had high enough expectations of me to get on my case.

            So, when I returned to school after taking a powder on that fateful day in 1982, I had decided to call it quits. It was time to move on.

            Even though I received my GED three months later, it was not enough to salvage my self-esteem. After bawling me out for dropping out of school, my boss at the YMCA gave me more hours – cleaning the locker rooms at 5 o’clock in the morning. My mother had always said “You had better do good in school or you’ll end up cleaning toilettes,” and this turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I did manage to attend graduation . . . watching from the bleachers as my friends, relatives and former grade-school cohorts receive their diplomas.

Fast forward . . .

            After spending 15 years in crap jobs, surviving multiple bouts with unemployment and serving fragmented stints at various post-secondary institutions, I was unceremoniously handed my Associate of Arts Degree by a community college clerk. I took a few months to examine my options with the intent of pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

             Soul searching revealed a curious, yet somewhat obvious, course of action.

            When I revealed to my wife, advisors and friends that I wanted to become a teacher, I expected them all to laugh in my face. Remarkably, they thought it was a good idea, every single one of them. They figured my struggles with school would make me a person with whom similarly challenged students might connect.

            So I resumed my studies with the intent of becoming an elementary school teacher. Not surprisingly, however, I remained concerned with the plight of the struggling high school student, this being the frequent subject of research and inquiry.

            Coincidentally, I finished my student teaching assignment – the final step towards becoming a certified teacher and earning my degree – on Dec. 7, 2001, exactly 19 years from the date I dropped out of high school.

            The second graders I had been working with threw me a sendoff party with treats and gifts. “I want to see every one of you graduate from high school,” I told them in parting.

            One of the students took this literally: “You’re going to come to my graduation?” he asked.

            “If you invite me, I’ll come.”

            About a month later, at the age of 36, I participated in my first graduation. During an immense university ceremony, I walked across the stage with pride to receive my diploma – a teaching degree, nonetheless.

            As it turned out, I was recruited to work with at-risk high school students in a dropout prevention program and accepted the challenge. After several years working in various roles, I am now running the program.

            I frequently remind the teachers I supervise of my plight as a teen. Sure I had more than my share of issues that got in my way; nevertheless, I was permitted to fall through the cracks without a second thought. It is my belief that if all of my teachers had invested five minutes per week in me, I would have graduated from high school. I have recently made this very statement while serving on a dropout prevention panel at a local teachers’ college.

            Just the other day, I dropped off my Declaration of Intent to Graduate Form in the Educational Leadership office at the university where I am completing my graduate studies. Yes, I am on the verge of getting my masters. Ironically, dropping out of school all those years ago appears to have led to a lifetime of teaching and learning.

            As for my second graders, they are now juniors in high school. I’m keeping an eye on them from a distance, for I fully intend to keep my promise of seeing them graduate in 2012.


One Response to “Infamy and Irony”

  1. BRAVO, BRAVO!!! I’m so proud of you and all of your accomplishments. You are an inspiration to those who think it’s too late to go back to school and to be in a profession they never before would have seen themselves in. I’m glad it all worked out and I’m proud of who you’ve become and what you made with your lemons! APPLAUSE AND STANDING O!

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