Between the World and Me…

Having spent a significant chunk of my thirty-year teaching career in the English classroom, I feel I’ve come to know a good book from something less. My very core has been built from the bottom up by the literature I’ve been able to take in and more importantly by the books I’ve been so fortunate as to help others understand. So when it comes to recommending a book for others to read, I don’t take this risk lightly.

And make no mistake there is a risk in sharing a book with another soul. In a way, it becomes an act of sharing yourself and all of the vulnerabilities inherent with the act. But in this case, and through this vehicle of a blog, the risk is well worth it. Even when the book has already, been around for a while.

The book is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ve told my wife that although it’s a nonfiction work, this is a book that should be read as a follow up to Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, the seminal novel that pulled back the curtains on life within apartheid. Unfortunately, Mr. Coates succeeds in making me cry for my own country as he pulls back these curtains of ours.


I recommend this book because it is important! I hope you keep this in mind as you work your way through it. And make no mistake; it will take a bit of work… on a few different levels. First, Coates is brutally honest… and being the target of direct honesty is seldom as pleasant or romantic a notion as it sounds. Second, his book is an open letter to his own child, which will hopefully bring the truths he is sharing to an empathetic ear. Whether or not we are parents, we all have children in our lives. Think of those children if you can put yourself in his place. Third, his stream-of-consciousness style of writing requires a trip or two to your desktop dictionary. That is a blessing in disguise.

If you choose to get your hands on this book and give it a proper reading, please remember that it should not be considered a gift. In fact, it is like most good books, a tool. Once it’s in your hands, you must decide how to best use it.


If Not Now…

If I don’t start now, when in the hell will this thing ever get going? So with much tipping of the proverbial cap to my beautiful wife, my inspirational kids, an encouraging old Texan, and an unselfish writing mentor from The Sunshine State, here goes.

My life has changed. That much I’m beginning to comprehend. About this time a year ago, I was given the option to retire early with some rather appealing carrots being less dangled before me, than smacked up against the side of my head. In reality, it was serendipitous in that the job I had held for the past five years was being eliminated in a massive numbers crunch by the school district. Oh yeah…details. I was a teacher. Well…at least a facilitator. Things get a bit murky when one slides toward the end of a career. Over the span of thirty years, I had earned a living as an educator. And for the greatest part of that time, I was a pretty decent teacher…”decent” being a relative, but in this case accurate term. As a secondary English teacher, I had years when I knew I was serving a purpose and I felt myself making an impact. Kids were better off as a result of skills I had helped them discover within themselves. It was hard, but it was fun.

Changes came and things gradually matriculated into my becoming an instructor of technology at the elementary level. From day one, I knew I was in over my head. For the love of Pete, I’m a Baby-Freakin’-Boomer! I could fool the third graders (at least for awhile) but the fifth graders had me figured out from the git-go. Which is not to say I wasn’t useful. I was just overmatched. These kids knew more than me about technology by the time mom and pop brought them home from the hospital. Natives. That’s what we in business would soon learn to call these learners. Technology Natives. Being a “Technology Neanderthal” I set to sharpening my spears and headed into the fray.

It didn’t take long for me to understand that to survive, I simply needed to be somewhere close to honest with them and let them teach me as I facilitated their learning experiences. So every day, I found myself the smartest kid in the class and started to learn. It was a blast and to some degree, I got better, which helped them become better. Things were looking good. However, it was at this point that I chose to jump away from the safety net of the slower elementary grind to the spasmodic world of the middle school enigma. After twenty-four years as a professional educator, I felt like a first year rookie all over again. Except…I knew what was happening to me when things started to fall apart. That first year, the seventh graders grabbed a handful of me and squashed me on the floor like a red grape on “Fruit is Your Friend Day” in the cafeteria. I was coming apart at the seams and little, if anything I could do was going to stop it. These kids were articulate in about a dozen different technologies that I had never even heard of. Learning curve? More like a learning fastball…just on the outside corner where my bat couldn’t even reach. Days seemed dark and not surprisingly, my nights seemed darker. I was stuck trying to teach an outdated technology curriculum to a very much “updated” clientele. Before I knew it, that year and another had passed and the concept of a technology class had become obsolete. The educational world turned to mainstreaming technology via integration into the classroom curriculum. Great idea. Tough sell.

So as I limped to the end of my teaching career, it wasn’t with my head held particularly high. I still get some great notes from former students that help me feel wholesome, but being out of the game isn’t a horrible crime against humanity and the education of our kids. I am going to be fine…but indeed, my life has changed and it’s time to move on. If not now…when?

With a little luck, I’ll find what I’m looking for as a travel this path…down to the river