|Mary Ann Balbach, DD, Bob Luckay, John Smolko (L-R)|
Halftime, AHS Homecoming, 11 October 2013
I first heard of all of this on the night of 10 September when, reading in bed, I got a call from former Harmon student Brian Brookhart, who's now the assistant principal at Aurora High School. He told me the alumni had selected me--along with my former colleagues Mary Ann Balbach, Bob Luckay, and John Smolko--three educators I had admired for many years.
I was shocked. I had many great memories of Aurora--and of Harmon (Middle) School--but I also knew I'd had some great failures there, too, especially early in my career. I'd even had periods when I was, uh, controversial. I'd had periods of intransigence, arrogance (not generally good policy to let everyone know that you are right, pretty much all the time)--and I'd also been very active in the teachers' strike in the spring of 1978, a strike that (no surprise) angered and divided the community. So when I decided I wanted to return to Aurora in 1982 (I'd been away for four years), the School Board voted 3-2 to accept the superintendent's recommendation to hire. 3-2. Not exactly acclamation!
And more ... I had never won the Teacher-of-the-Year award in the district--an award that some of my colleagues (deserving, all) had won more than once.
So, as I said, Brian's call was a surprise--and a profoundly moving one, especially when he told me who the other three were.
The weeks passed. And I became less and less sure that I could go through with it. As I've aged, I've become more Cat, less Dog. I tend to keep my head down most of the time, and when I socialize, it's almost always with family. My illness has also made me more reclusive. Although I feel all right most of the time, I am--now that I'm on hormone-suppression therapy--experiencing hourly suffusions of great heat. One minute I'm fine; a few minutes later I'm perspiring heavily. And I know this, too: People feel awkward around others who are ill. What do I say? How do I act? These are questions I'd asked myself for years when I knew I was going to be around people like ... like the me of right now. I don't like making others feel awkward. So ... two days before the award ceremonies, I told Joyce I didn't think I could go.
I have the habit of listening to Joyce, and it took only a few swift but loving words from her (summary: Grow up!) to change my mind.
And so on Friday, the 11th, there I was, driving toward Aurora High School for the luncheon, the festivities commencing at 11 a.m. in the new AHS Library--a lovely space, by the way. I had to press a buzzer to get through the locked doors outside (a sad, sad reminder of reality these days), then met Brian in the office, and he escorted me down the hallways to the library, where I found myself immediately embraced by the arms of the past. I saw the other three right away--and other colleagues from yesteryear--and members of the AAA who'd obviously gone to great effort and expense to make this a memorable experience for all of us. The image below lists the names of many of those involved--and there were others, I'm sure, behind the scenes, not on the list, who burnished our moments for us. I've also pasted in the program schedule so you can see others who were involved. It was not just the AAA, I discovered, but also the City of Aurora and the Aurora Education Association (AEA), and each of us received from them some humbling proclamations with lots of Whereases.
And did I say that the food was great? And that Joyce was there? And Melissa, my daughter-in-law?
The most moving parts for me were the actual presentations; for each, a former student delivered an introduction. Two were via video (those involved were far away), Evan McCarthy (who spoke from Latvia about Bob Luckay) and Jeff Champ (out in California, speaking for John Smolko), two were "live"--from Erica Eckert and Brian Brookhart. Each of the inductees then got to say a little bit. The four former students--and the three teachers who preceded me--did a terrific job, and I was feeling really very ... strong ... until Brian, talking about me, began to ... hesitate .... a ... little ... as ... he ... spoke. For some reason, my tear ducts--in sympathy with his?--began their own ... leakage. And by the time I got up there to read the little speech I posted here the other day, I was pretty much in meltdown mode.
(BTW: I did not know that we inductees would have an opportunity to say anything, but I wrote out my remarks--just in case: I am not a very good extemporaneous speaker, and I did not want to forget anyone or anything--though I surely did, anyway.)
And then it was over, and people were saying farewells (some running off to classes or offices), and Joyce and I were on the way home to see if I could recover some maturity before the evening's events--another presentation at halftime of the Aurora HS Homecoming game.
I left home in time to arrive about 6:15, driving up the Harmon School driveway for one of the few times I've done so since I retired in January 1997. I was happy to see the blue ribbons along the driveway, placed there because of Harmon's recently winning designation as a Blue Ribbon School. I felt proud, too, though I hadn't done a damn thing to help them win it. Still ...
I found my way to the Alumni Tent and spent the early part of the evening shaking hands and hugging (and trying to remember names) and laughing (and some of the other stuff, too). Steve, Melissa, Logan, and Carson arrived (son, daughter-in-law, grandsons); Joyce was there. And about the time the band shows commenced, we moved with Russ Bennett, Aurora Superintendent (I taught him in seventh grade, was later a colleague at Harmon), and Brian, and the others out to the sideline--at the fifty-yard-line. And as soon as the bands blew silent, the focus was on us for a few minutes. The PA announcer said a few words about each of us; we each received a plaque, applause. And then it was over ... Back to the tent, a few more shakes-and-hugs-and-laughs-and ... on a dark highway to home.
Later, Joyce and I talked a lot about it. I realized that this was probably (certainly?) the final time in my life I would ever be honored for anything--well, the final time when I'm alive! We go through our lives earning all sorts of recognitions now and then--awards at school, on the job, marriage, births, retirement. And then they stop. I think, for example, of my mom, 94, once an honored educator, who now, sadly, receives recognition only for being able to stand up, to make it to the dining hall. Things fall apart, someone said.
And I also thought about this: Bob Luckay, Mary Ann Balbach, John Smolko, and I were very different kinds of teachers. I could not have taught like them--I don't think they could have taught like me. Each of us affected kids in very different ways. (Not everyone liked us; not everyone learned well from us.) But kids remember and even revere Bob and Mary Ann and all other good teachers in their lives not because they were like everyone else--but precisely because they weren't. In Education World today, though, we have mounted our jackasses and have ridden off in search of uniformity, of standardization--a foolish, feckless, fruitless search that surely would have delighted Procrustes, a guy who knew a thing or two about the subject, a guy who knew some very effective ways to make everyone the same.