An Email from My Father: Positivity, Love, and a Call to Action

I asked my Mom, a retired kindergarten teacher, if I could interview her for this blog. In typical “tough mom” fashion, she said she would think about it. Stay tuned…

So as a I sit here, encouraged by the fact that so many people are reading my writing, I was trying to figure out what else to write. There are so many thoughts and emotions running through me that tonight I can’t seem to focus. (Or maybe it’s all the text messages asking me for my new address for Christmas cards that people are sending, when I have yet to give Christmas cards a minute’s consideration.)

I have been reading a lot about race relations in the wake of the Michael Brown case and Eric Garner. But in my current sleep deprived state, I am going to choose to defer to my dad’s thoughts and message.  Tonight I came across an email from my Dad that I had shared over a year ago on Facebook. My father was a leader and a fiery independent thinker.  So even though he died before he knew what a blog was, his story will shine here, as it has in my classroom over years as I told stories to my students about his life experiences.

Dear Paula, Matthew, Paige and Gregory.

I have some special feelings about what has happened on November 4th 2008.  I would like to let all of you know a little about why I have such feeling by telling you a brief history about my life and what I had to deal with as a young person growing up in the small town on Carlisle Pennsylvania.

I was born in 1941 the year Pearl Harbor was attacked. In Carlisle I went to kindergarden and first grade in segrated schools and I went to second grade in my first  interegrated school.  The remainder of my schooling in Carlisle was done in such schools.

My graduating class of 1959 there were eight black students.  I used the term black because there was no such thing at that time as an African-American.  We were known as Negros and not blacks.  I remember reading a article about my basketball ability which was that I was a “negro with gazelle like skills.”

I played football, basketball, baseball and my senior year I ran on the mile relay team in the district finals.  I chose to go to Tennesee State to college because my brother Clyde went to Prudue University and told me that he had a very rough time there with traveling and being with the team so I took his advice and went to an predomently black school in the south.

The city of Nashville was segrated during the sit-ins. Of the 60’s I personally couldn’t allow myself to be subjected to some of the things that blacks had to go to at that time.  We traveled by bus and it wasn’t good.  There were signs telling Negros where to eat written on the floor.

I seem to have to tell you guys so much I realize that It would take reams of paper to do so.  I want to say some other things about my family that I want you to know however, I will stop this part and tell you to look for Part 2 of this e-mail.  I love all of you and I am proud of all of you and I cherish the life that we’ve had and still do have I will always support all of you and particularly my wife, your mother.

I will send you the next part soon.

                                     I Love Everyone

                                     Daddy

This is a historic time in our lives so remember you can achieve anything in life. Yes we can.

Racism did not end in my father’s lifetime, and it probably won’t in mine either. But perhaps, if we as a nation come together and admit that our current education system is broken, then maybe we can start to heal the racial divide whose open wounds taint the lives of us all.

What happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner was tragic and incidents of police brutality must be investigated and prevented. But thousands of children, not just black children, suffer everyday in schools that are failing to meet their needs. Why not start with the children? When a school is failing, let’s not abandon it to be inherited by those not fortunate enough to be able to move or afford private school. In every neighborhood there are born leaders, but what is missing is the public support.

When the protests are over, and the media moves on to something else….will those protestors get up off the ground and do the long, hard work that will really and truly prove that they believe that “Black Lives Matter”? Because if they do matter, then, Common Core and high-stakes testing are not going fix anything. The solution must come from the people.

As I look at more and more “Stop Common Core” Facebook pages, I find almost as much insulting propaganda as was in the pro Common Core commercials I posted yesterday. Hate only breeds hate.

My Dad never got a chance to send us part two of the email. So it’s a good thing he ended with positivity, love, and a call to action.

dadmom

10 Things My Father Taught Me About Teaching

This is my dad.

dad swing

The picture shows how I choose to remember him most…smiling. That smile lit up the lives of thousands of children that passed through his gym over the nearly 40 years that he taught physical education and coached many teams. At his wake, the room overflowed with people of all ages. Many I knew, but so many I had never met or even heard about, yet my father’s death moved every single one of them to tears.

Here is just some of what I learned from him about being a teacher.

1. You can’t fool kids. If you don’t care or don’t like them, they will know right away.

2. There’s nothing wrong with getting down on the floor to play a game of duck, duck goose with a bunch of kindergarteners. (Not even if you are a 65 year old, 6 foot 3 inch tall black man.)

3. Not everyone is going to work as hard or care as much as you do. But you shouldn’t let that slow you down.

4. Murphy’s always working, so you might as well not sweat the small stuff.

*Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

5. Always have fun, but set the bar of expectations high.

6. A custodian is not any less of a person than a principal. Treat everyone with respect.

7. Have zero tolerance for bullying or any sort of put downs in your classroom.

8. Never be afraid to speak your mind at faculty meetings, board meetings, union meetings, or anywhere.

9. If you have a good idea, work hard to make it a reality no matter who or what stands in your way.

10. Don’t be in a hurry to retire.

When my dad kept teaching past retirement age, colleagues constantly asked him when he was going to retire. He used to hate that. He loved his job. Once he retired, he said no one would call him Mr. Washington anymore, he would just be Mike.

Well, there he was wrong. He never was just Mike, or “just” anything….and he never will be.

Teaching is not a job that ends at the end of the day or at the end of the school year. It is a job that keeps working long after the teacher is gone and the students have moved on and grown up.