Dan Remembers the Long Journey to Fabulous

Recently Hannah and I were talking with our daughter Molly and her husband Tip about dating and marrying.   The question came up, Do you settle for good when fabulous is out there?  Our discussion had me think back on my journey to fabulous.

Regularly two to three times per week, I read to my 91 year old friend Vin.  It’s win/win for the two of us.  He gets my full attention and my best theatrical reading; and I have meaningful conversations with a friend as well as just slow down enough to better understand what we read.  Ironically, as a teacher of reading, I wasn’t much of a reader.  In the 1950s I was taught with the look-see method of reading Dick and Jane at Radburn School in New Jersey.  I never learned how to interact with the text: ask questions and make predictions and personal connections to what I was reading.  I did learn how to answer comprehension questions at the end of the chapter and, by the way, to hate reading.  I fear those who pray to the god of standardized testing are again teaching kids to loathe reading.

Dick and Jane

Earlier this year Vin and I read Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a book I never even fake read in high school or college.  Currently we are in the midst of John Grisham’s latest page turner, The Litigators.

john grisham litigators

Though we have just begun The Litigators, I already relate to the main character, David Zinc; a young corporate lawyer in Chicago who, after five years, has had enough of the exhausting, life sucking demands and emotional harassment at his 600-lawyer law firm; he eats breakfast, lunch, and often dinner in his cubicle of an office on the 93rd floor of a downtown high rise and has never been to court in the five years that he’s been there.  And did I mention, he went to Harvard and makes $300K.  One day, he says no mas, goes on a day-long bender, and soon finds himself at a two, now three person law firm where he makes $1000 per month.

And I total get David Zinc.  Quitting?  I have been there and done that.

Patrick Henry School   Anaheim, CA  (Dan's first teaching job in 1970)

Patrick Henry School    Anaheim, CA                (Dan’s first teaching job in 1970)

As a teacher of some forty years, I took my first teaching job at Patrick Henry School in Anaheim, CA teaching social studies, science, and Spanish to a diverse group of Americans, be they Anglos, Chicanos, or Asians.  Let me note that I had four years of high school French to prepare for my teaching of Spanish.  With an East Coast childhood, my sweetheart (Hannah) in New York, and my college buddies in Arizona, I didn’t adjust well to my new situation; I was just so damn lonely.  I didn’t have the social skills to make friends in southern California and just pined for what I didn’t have.  Pretty pathetic.

So fourteen weeks after I started, I quit lock, stock, and barrel.  I was gone by Christmas of my first year of teaching!  Without the drunken excess transition of David Zinc, I returned to Tempe, AZ to hang out with my friends, took a job as bus boy from 11A-2P in Sahuaro Hall, a girls’ dorm at Arizona State University, and shared a $120/month efficiency at the Oasis Apartments with two college roommates.  I was happier, much happier.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on my way to fabulous by quitting what was not even good.

Dan taught 4th, 5th, & 6th grades in Tempe, AZ

Dan taught 4th, 5th, & 6th grades in Tempe, AZ in the 1970s

Something better was out there; I didn’t yet dare dream of fabulous; I was just looking for better.  After seven years of teaching in the elementary classroom in Tempe, Arizona, it was becoming just a job so I quit.  It was fine, students generally grooved on my teaching, but I wondered if there wasn’t something more.  The seeds of fabulous were planted.

Dan and Hannah's Alma Mater

Dan and Hannah’s Alma Mater

I just quit with a vague plan to get a Masters in Physical Education at Arizona State University.  (Ah college in the early 1980s – the refuge for those unwilling to grow up.   Read: Dan.)  At loose ends after completing my degree, but needing a job to support our family of four (Molly and Robyn were recent additions), with Hannah I moved to New England seeking better, even though I had no job offer.  I didn’t know it nor was able to articulate it, but fabulous was coming.

Still wanting better, I thought the transition to teaching middle schoolers might be what I was looking for.  Well, it was better; I had teammates for collaboration, learned to teach writing, but soon felt isolated with colleagues whose professional goals were different than mine.  Too many were enduring the kids and just getting through the day.  My hopes of working in a collaborative school were dying.

Frisbee Middle School, Kittery, Maine    (Dan taught here from 1986-1996)

Frisbee Middle School, Kittery, Maine                         (Dan taught here from 1986-1996)

At 48, I just couldn’t imagine working 14 more years in this same position just to get a pension; so I quit.  But, the buds of fabulous were finally sprouting: I had a plan to teach teachers at the university.  I hadn’t really dared to dream that, but twenty plus years in the classroom, pushed me to such a dream.

With Hannah working fulltime, I earned a PhD at the University of New Hampshire at 51, and then commuted 150 miles each way to my dream job on the faculty of the Department of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, CT as an education professor of reading, writing, and student teaching.  I had hit fabulous: I was teaching students who chose to be there, my schedule was varied and challenging, and I worked with some good folks.

Clock Tower at Eastern Connecticut State University

Clock Tower at Eastern Connecticut State University

So quitting led me to fabulous.  I listened to the gnawing doubt over the years and slowly got to fabulous.

That said, fact is I had fabulous at 19.  I met Hannah Kraai at the College of Wooster in Ohio.  Career fabulous just took a little longer.

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