Archives For Teaching

Ben and Sarah and Emily

October 2, 2013 — 3 Comments

This is one of those posts that talks about how awesome life can be.

I wish I wrote more of these. But I’m mostly tired and cranky these days, so occasionally I get sentimental and reflect on some of people I’m lucky to know.

When they write the book on me, I hope they give a good chunk of it to a couple of kids named Mike and Liz. Mike and Liz just had their first baby together.

Mike and Liz were both former fifth grade students of mine, too. That’s the awesome part. I talk about them all the time, and tell their story often, but I felt it important to lay it down properly.

I came home for their wedding last year. A year ago almost to the day, I think. Last minute thing. Didn’t think I’d be able to make it back from Dublin, but things worked out and I got a chance to get this picture taken:

Mike and Liz wedding

Liz I met first. My first job teaching full-time was as a 4th grade teacher at East View. Liz was in that first class. Liked to do theatre. Used to give me pictures of her dressed up in costume from her plays. Here she is helping me pack up the room at the end of the year.

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I moved up to fifth grade next year, and Liz came along for the ride. There was a new student to East View that year named Mike. Here he is with his D-Day project he made. “A BECH ASSAULT.” Mike, we need to talk about your spelling, pal…

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Fun Fact: The blond girl behind Mike? She just got a job teaching first grade in my building. So now we’re co-workers.

That summer I started a theatre company for the park district, and Mike and Liz both joined up. A couple of years later I wrote my first, full-length play, and they starred in it. The Last Dance, about a group of junior high friends. Loosely based on my own youth.

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(There are way too many people that I love dearly in this photo, but this is for Mike and Liz, so I’ll just stay focused on them. But hey, Renee and Freddie!)

Five years later, after many shows and even some ups and downs, we did one final one together. They played Ben and Sarah again, the same characters from The Last Dance. It was about goodbyes, and a journey. Most of my plays are about goodbyes and journeys.

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(From left: Mike Arney as Ben, Liz Husted as Sarah, Freddie Zimmer as Stuart, and Kim Skibinski as Amanda. All former fifth grade students of mine.)

Shortly before Liz had their baby they stopped by my house to drop off some paint supplies I had lent them while we were painting their new house. I was making dinner and invited them to stay. We told stories and quoted The Simpsons, as we’ve done for over ten years. We talked about baby names, and of our fondness for simple, traditional names like Sarah, Elanor*, or Kate.

Last Wednesday Mike and Liz welcomed their first child into the world. And they named her Emily. Perfect.

*I recently decided that had I ever a) bothered to start a family and b) really embraced my nerdy love of The Lord of the Rings, I would have wanted to name my daughter Elanor.

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Part Two: Interviewing

I’ve been spending some time recently coaching some younger friends of mine on the interviewing process. I’ve probably interviewed at least fifty candidates for teaching and directing jobs over my 15 or so years in education and youth theatre, and not too long ago I sat down as an interview candidate myself. How you conduct yourself during the interview, and how effectively you answer the questions is obviously the most crucial part of getting a job. You can make that resume look as fancy as you’d like, and that may get you in the door, but its all about what you say in that chair as you’re grilled by administrators and teachers. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

Don’t Memorize a “Scripted” Answer

In an education-related interview, you know you’re gonna get the following questions, in one form or another: “What is your educational philosophy?” “What is your classroom management plan?” “How would you engage students, connect with parents, etc?” And it can be very easy to rehearse a well-written response to that, making sure you hit all of the current buzzwords and trends that we educators love to fall over.

Please don’t do that.

If you really want to stand out, you’ve got to get across a sense of self. Who are you? What is your teaching style going to look like? What do you believe in? Have that dialogue with yourself and truly ask yourself these questions. This is your one opportunity to differentiate yourself from all the other candidates, so make it count. Spend some time thinking about what you liked/disliked about your own educational experience. What did you do to stand out during student teaching, or in your education classes?

I’m amazed at the fact that after all these years, my basic philosophy of education hasn’t changed from when I took the course in grad school and we discussed people like Dewey, Bloom, and Gardner. A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a school in the U.K. saying, “I think you’d be great here.” And it was A.S. Neill’s Summerhill, the exact person I latched onto the most back in school.* I had never discussed Neill with my friend, but she knew me well enough to know what kind of teacher I was. In other words, my educational philosophy is a part of my overall worldview, and is an essential component of who I am as a person. I know what I believe education should be. Do you?

Start with the General, but end with the Specific

When you get those questions I mentioned earlier, your answer should start with your general worldview/philosophy/beliefs, but then follow it up with something specific. Give examples from your own time in the classroom, limited it may be. And if you can’t give good examples of your educational philosophy from your time in the classroom, then think about when you were a student. A certain teacher that either inspired you or enraged you. What did they do to help in your development as a teacher? This is another opportunity to showcase yourself, and not just an empty statement you memorized with your roommates the night before your interview.

What’s your “Stuff” that you’re going to teach?

I know a lot of young people trying to get jobs teaching secondary English. Part of me wishes I could go back and tell them, “Look, I know you’re really excited about teaching Austen and Hemingway to groups of eager high schoolers, but there’s a line stretching around the back of the school for those jobs. And you’ll be lucky to have maybe one section of kids that really gets into comparing Gothic fiction versus Modernism. What are your thoughts on teaching Science and Math?”

Hey, if I had my choice I’d rather teach history and literature over algebra and chemistry, so I get it. But it’s tough out there for English majors. So think about what can make you stand out above the others. If you’re interviewing in front of an English department, and they ask you about content, what would you teach? Are you going to rattle off the same five books that everyone else mentions? When I spoke to some of the young teachers-to-be and asked them what would be on their curriculum, I was surprised at how traditional their answers were. Not that there’s anything wrong with The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Great Expectations. But if I was sitting in that interview, my ears would prick up a bit if someone mentioned newer works. Here’s a suggestion: go to a Barnes & Noble somewhere near one of the big suburban high schools. Find the table with the high school Summer Reading lists. Look at some of the stuff they’ve got sitting there. It’s a fairly diverse and exciting collection. (Lots of Dave Eggers.) And once again, have that dialogue with yourself about what you like, and what you would like to teach.

Oh, and don’t show up to your interview sunburned and hung over. And yes, I’ve had people roll in like that.

*You can read all about Summerhill, and Neill’s philosophy, here, but this quote sums him up nicely: “The function of the child is to live his own life, not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.”

I originally wrote this piece about six years ago, after a pair of tragic events that hit my community. I was thinking about it recently, after the death of a former student of mine. I was thinking about how death comes to a town, or a school, or a family. How we deal with it. How we grieve, and how we deal with life, as messed up as it can be sometimes.

I’ve been seeing a lot of former students lately, scattered throughout the grades, some off in college, succeeding, and some struggling. Some of them will undoubtedly go through some very rough times in their lives. And if any of them out there are reading this, I hope they know that they can always come to me for help.

– – – –

April 14th, 2007

I wonder if you realize something. I wonder if you understand that all of us – me, the children who survived, the children who didn’t – that we’re all citizens of a different town now. A place with its own special rules and its own special laws. A town of people living in the sweet hereafter. 

– Sarah Polley as Nicole in The Sweet Hereafter.

A couple of months ago five teenagers from my school district died in a drunk driving accident. I didn’t know them. Their names were vaguely familiar, but I didn’t know them.

Last Tuesday a 16-year old boy stayed home from school and killed himself with a shotgun. I didn’t know him either, but I think I had met him once or twice. His mother teaches in my building, and his older sister had the lead in one of our productions last summer.

Needless to say, our community has had a rough year.

At first it was a distant feeling, the abstract sense of the tragic, the typical wondering of the why and how could it have been avoided. The puzzlement and the mourning once-removed. Death watched from the outside, looking in.

The days passed and the reality, the realness of it starts to become more apparent. What-ifs and the but-for-the-grace-of-God bittersweet understanding that you’re still alive and this kid isn’t.

Saturday the staff of my building gathered together and drove to the memorial service, to pay our respects. Drove with the principal, a good friend of mine, but still the removed feeling, the weight of the event strangely absent.

Walking a ways to the church, because of all the cars, because of all the people there, all the students and teachers and family and friends. There’s the football coach. There’s Curt, probably friends with the family. Ginny from the park district. Then some former students of mine. Some I hadn’t seen in years. A hug for tearful Katie.

Walk into the church, a church I’ve been in a lot, actually. Used to watch some of the girls sing and play piano when I was invited to their recitals. Because I was their teacher, or their director, or their friend.

More people I know. My co-workers, from now, and from then. Some more students, some friends of my roommate (who is friends with the boy’s oldest sister.) I make a small note in my head about how strange it is that I know so many people here, and yet I barely knew this boy whom they were remembering.

The service starts. Songs, readings, eulogy. I listen to it all from the hallway, listening to the pastor trying to make some sort of sense out it. At one point he says, “You are always something to someone. On your worst day, you’re still someone’s son, someone’s best friend.”

You are always something to someone. 

There was a moment, before the service started, that I need to describe. The church was very crowded, and so many of us stood in the halls or watched from the basement. My friend Jeff had been standing next to me, but had wandered away, and I found myself standing there alone. It was a strange, selfish thought, but at that point I was a little bothered by the fact that I was standing by myself. I’m alone too much of the time, and I started getting self-conscious of this fact. The outside-looking-in feeling again.

Then another former student of mine walked up to me. Someone I know very well, since he’s been in Limelight since he left that fifth grade room six years ago. We said hello, chatted a bit, and then the service started.

And he never left my side. As the service progressed chairs were brought out and most everyone sat down, but he and I stood there, sentinel-like, never moving, never speaking. We stood there, next to each other, and listened to the service.

When it ended everyone filed out, behind the casket, tears streaming, arms and hands together, holding on to each other for comfort. More and more students and actors and tech kids of mine started walking past me. My roommate, and the girl I had just interviewed a few hours ago for a directing position.

And there it was, more or less, the last ten years of my life, a world that the boy and I seemed to share in more ways than one.

You are always something to someone.

I didn’t know him, and there’s no way to tell him anything, change anything, and it’s a shame. He lived in this wonderful world, full of bright, loving people, all in it together.

Maybe he saw it, maybe he didn’t. I wish I could show him, let him know that it gets better, that even though the nights are horrible at times, it gets better. It gets better because of all those people in that church, all those people that he knew and I know, all interconnected.

I know a few guys his age, and I know they struggle at times, and that’s been the hardest part about this whole thing, from my point of view. Thinking about those boys that have been lost in their own lives, wondering what’s the point, wondering if getting through it all is worth it.

While I stood there next to this former student and friend that is so dear to me, I wanted to grab him and let him know how much he means to me, how much he means to everyone. I wanted to let all those lost boys out there know it: you are something to someone. You are something to me. You are something to all of us.

We are all in this together.

A lot of young people I know are heading into teaching. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

 

Part One: Voice and Personality

Go to any teacher’s website, or read a copy of their newsletter. Listen to some of them teach. What do you notice?

We all sound depressingly similar.

We’re all thrilled and excited to be teaching, we all encourage our students to be life-long learners, and we all have fun and exciting things planned in our safe and caring classrooms. And when you step inside that classroom, it can all too often be a chorus of identical phrases and commands learned from teacher manuals and institute day workshops. We “appreciate” the way students follow directions, we “appreciate” a parent’s suggestion or request, we “appreciate” a staff member’s comment in a meeting.

I’m not sure why this is the case. Maybe we’re too addicted to the step-by-step curriculum that’s been forced on us over the years, too used to following specific instructions that encourage the use of common and easily identifiable words and phrases. Maybe we’re afraid to talk like regular folks, with our own personalities and senses of humor, and instead we hide behind safe teacher phrases in order to avoid the shock and potential backlash of daring to talk like a real person. We all hear the horror stories of an irate parent or a student who misinterprets something said in class, and it pushes us towards a bland and toothless way of communicating so as to avoid any controversy.

Most teachers who choose to speak and instruct this way go through their entire career cheerfully following orders, teaching the curriculum exactly as its prescribed, providing their students fun and exciting life-long learning opportunities in a safe and caring learning environment. They are a committee-produced mission statement come to life. Years from now, former students will strain to recall their names, one bland unimaginative teacher melting into the next.

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Playing with your snack break was encouraged in my classroom.

If you hope to develop any sort of positive relationship, or gain any measure of respect from your students, their parents, and your colleagues, one of the most important things you can do is to develop and maintain a clear, individual voice and personality. If you want to be one of those teachers that inspires and encourages kids to do great things, then figure out who you are, and what makes you unique in that classroom and in that school. When you are talking in class, or sending out information to parents, or even updating your classroom website, you need to communicate in your voice, not the standard playbook of a million other teachers.

While this isn’t the only Secret To Being An Amazing Teacher, it’s where you need to start. And don’t be afraid to mess up sometimes; occasionally, you’ll get strange looks from kids or puzzled parents and principals if you stumble while developing that voice. Just defend yourself, explain what you meant, and don’t revert back to that robotic persona so many teachers are forced to adopt out of fear of trying anything different. Be funny, be irreverent, be strange and weird and nerdy and enthusiastic about strange and weird and nerdy things. Share your love of rugby, or the outdoors, or Loudon Wainwright songs about dead skunks in the middle of the road.

Remember: it’s your room, your methods, your students, and your voice.

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Wearing odd hats and having baby chicks as sidekicks was also encouraged. Photo used with permission.

Coming Soon: Part Two, where I reveal that Actually, No, It’s Not About You

Institutionalized

March 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

Okay, enough with the the wanderer-is-lost repetitive business. Let’s look at this thing from another point of view. Because when all you have is time to think, it’s very easy to see things from many different perspectives. Why, sometimes I’ll have six different opinions on something before breakfast. (Apologies to Lewis Carroll for that one.)

Recently, I had to make a decision about what I’m doing next year, and deliver it in writing to my employers by March 1st. To say that I was conflicted about that decision is an understatement. I even had two letters written up, in case I changed my mind at the last minute. Which is typical of me. Sometimes I have a tough time deciding on something.

We’re not going to get into which letter was turned in, and what I’m doing come fall, because that’s a long ways off, and a lot could change between now and then. And while living in this strange ghostly limbo life has its downsides, it’s also kind of awesome. Let’s unpack that a bit, shall we?

1. I have a lot of time to myself.

I like to write, I like to read, I like to create websites. I also like to get lost in my head when I’m going through some big decision-making, and right now my lifestyle has a lot of room for all of that. Subbing in a high school room? While the kids are taking a test or watching Patton, I get to debate with myself different options for my future. Maybe write a bit. And read practically all of the Internet. I haven’t worked for the past two days, so I got to overhaul BrianFauth.com and finally create a theatre portfolio/personal website I’m pretty pleased with. And I got caught up on The Walking Dead.

2. I get to drop everything and go wherever I want.

When my buddy Drew suggested I go to the presidential Inauguration with him, it only took a few minutes before I said, “why not?” Free place to stay in South Carolina? Hey, why not drive down there and hang out in the south for a few weeks. Explore some historical sites and cities and listen to a lot of podcasts while crossing the Appalachian mountains. Not a bad life. Granted, I still have to pay for gas, food, and the occasional hotel room, so I’m a bit broke at the moment. And not getting a call to work for the past two days is putting a bit of a damper on possible future road trips.

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The Shenandoah Valley

3. This is all part of a Grand Plan even I can’t really explain. But I’ll try.

Let’s not forget the simple fact that I got to live in Europe for six whole months. My time in Dublin and at UCD was fantastic; we all know that. But it was the living over there that really taught me something; I only get so much from sitting in a classroom. Thomas Jefferson, when he founded the University of Virginia, didn’t want to issue degrees; he wanted it to be a place where you could go until you felt you had learned enough, and then you could move on with your life. Del Close, the famous Second City teacher, once said to Jon Favreau (the director of Iron Man and Elf), “Why would you go to school to learn about theatre?” He thought it more important to learn about philosophy and life and finding The Truth.

(I needed a certain number of classes to get a theatre endorsement, so there was a practical element to taking classes over there, but it was really about living a different life and spending time with some dear friends, while I could. Get a little bit closer to The Truth.)

I want to become a better theatre director, but I also want to become a better teacher as well. For the past few years, I’ve started to get honors and awards, and the phrase The Best Teacher I Ever Had starts getting thrown around a lot. And all of that is great, believe me. But the more you do the same job, in the same room, with the same lessons and jokes and stories, it’s very easy to become an institution. Mr. Fauth and Viking Day and the impressions and the Simpsons jokes.

I’m not really interested in being Institutionalized (in any sense of the word!) I wanted to kind of blow up everything and start over. Give away everything in my classroom, sell half of my possessions, start over somewhere else. Learn how to do it all over again. And subbing? That strips you back to the essentials real quick. No one knows who you are when you walk into that room, and you’ve got 41 minutes, or 48, or maybe a day to win them over. You aren’t The Famous Mr. Fauth. You’re just Some Guy, and if you can get a room full of bored high school kids to listen to you, then you can do just about anything.

So wherever I go and whatever I do come fall, even if it’s right back in the same 5th grade classroom, hopefully I’ve reset myself enough that I can bring something new into the room, and keep myself fresh and energized for the next round of this thing called life.

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To the Elephant! My personal motto for living life.

The Sea-Bell

March 17, 2013 — 5 Comments

Today I drove around for a couple of hours, to nowhere in particular. I do this a lot lately.

Trying to stay in one place for a bit, save some money for the next round of wandering. But I tend to get in my car a lot and just drive, mostly the back country roads, so I can listen to the radio and get lost in my thoughts for a while. I’ve driven these roads countless times over the years, so I’m always searching for a new, unexplored route.

I bounce from classroom to classroom during the week, a different teacher every day. Some days I sit in the corner of a high school class while they watch 40-year old films to learn about World War II. Some days I entertain eight-year olds and they think I am a god.

Often I see former students and former Limelighters, and it is always a happy reunion. Still smiling about the bear hug I got from an eighth grader I had a few years ago; he stopped by my room every passing period of the day, just to keep saying hi.

On one of my drives I swung by my house, where another man now lives, where my neighbors are complaining of branches that are creeping across the divide into their patio. I forgot to bring any branch cutters, and so the small tree continues to grow and trespass onto another property.

Sometimes I stop driving and I walk inside a school and I sit in the back and watch my former company of actors and directors move on without me. During the intervals new ideas flood into my head and I scribble them down in a small black notebook. I have lots of ideas these days.

I continue work on a new play I started last fall, back in the writing course I took at UCD. I dust off an old one and I strip it back to only what’s necessary. I outline, I write dialogue, I collect pictures and think about color palettes and light plots and scene design.

And I think about teaching, the real job, and I wonder what I’m going to do with myself.

The old life is right there, if I want it. I can move back into my old house, my old classroom is waiting for me, and all my old friends are here. Everything could go right back to the way it was.

One of my best friends mentioned something about “getting it out of your system” when I moved to Ireland. My grandmother said the same thing. A lot of people say things like “Well, now you can say you’ve done it, and you’ve got no regrets.” Like it’s a box I wanted to just tick off on the Brian Fauth Bucket List.

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Once upon a time, I could have settled down and loved a woman and raised a family, and maybe that would have been a good life.

Once upon a time, I got on a plane and I flew across the ocean and I saw great cities and I met lovely people and I climbed green hills and I watched a continent pass by my train window.

Once upon a time, I thought I could go back to doing what I did before, and what I did better than anyone else, and I thought that would be enough. But that was a long time ago.

I’m like one of those guys in the old stories, the ones who forget the instructions and accept the gifts of the Fair Folk. There’s always a price to be paid when visiting the Twilight Realm; when you return home, nothing is ever the same again. You drift through life as a shadow, and try as you might, you can never find your way back again.

And so I drive and I drive and I drive, through the end of a bleak and cold winter, and I watch the snow melt along the roadside, and I stare out into the horizon, searching for a new route to take me home.

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“Do you know what you’re going to do now?” his mother asked.

    “See the world,” said Bod. “Get into trouble. Get out of trouble again. Visit jungles and volcanoes and deserts and islands. And people. I want to meet an awful lot of people.”

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Turning my back on the safe and familiar, and I’m off to wander for a few weeks. Got a free place to stay down in South Carolina, so I’m going to write and go for walks on the beach in the Old South and wake up in strange new cities.

Treading that line between self-exploration and self-indulgence. I’m not done with this whole Leave Year thing, even though I’m back from Dublin. And if I could afford to be back there, I’d go back in a heartbeat. But a free house in a place called Murrells Inlet ain’t half bad. I expect there will be oysters.

While I’ve been home, I’ve worked at the area schools for a few days, filling in for absent teachers. It’s fine, but not very interesting, creatively. I’ve also traveled a bit. Just got back from Washington D.C., and there will be more on that soon.

I got my final grades back for my semester in Dublin. Did fine in all my courses, but I got an A in my Writing for the Stage course, and that meant a great deal to me. I’m in a good place, writing-wise, at the moment, and every day I spend back home amongst the safe and familiar I find my creative energies slowly draining out of me. Had a job offer to do some part-time tech theatre work, but I’m going to put that off for a bit, if I can. This is the true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to explore and be creative without any responsibilities. Need to see where it goes, and enjoy it while it lasts. The safe and practical will always be there waiting for me.

For now, check the sidebars of this site for the Twitter updates, and I shall be in touch soon.

There and Back Again

December 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

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Of course I’d finish this with a Tolkien reference.

To know me is to know my long love of The Lord of the Rings and my ability to connect any and all parts of my life to moments from Tolkien’s works. It’s been almost 30 years now since we were assigned The Hobbit in school, which I tore through in a matter of days and was halfway through The Two Towers by the time the class finished the book. I suppose I’ve outgrown certain parts of the story: the magic and the monsters, mostly, although I still dream of owning my own Hobbit-hole someday.

What stays with me are the small moments, mostly about travel: Bilbo quietly slipping away into the night after laying down his burdens; Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin on the road, heading out of the Shire; the weather-stained clothes and long legs of Strider appearing in a corner of the Prancing Pony. And of course, the idea of regular, small-town folk finding themselves forever changed after going on a great journey.

I’ve traveled quite extensively over the past ten years or so, but after the wandering was done I always came back the same person, to the same town, to the same job. A friend of mine would always say she hoped I would find what I was looking for, after heading out on another one of my solo journeys. I don’t think I ever did, because I was never really sure what I was supposed to find. I was always happy to return home to my friends and family and familiarity.

He lived alone, as Bilbo had done; but he had a good many friends, especially among the younger hobbits. Frodo went tramping over the Shire with them; but more often he wandered by himself, and to the amazement of sensible folk he was sometimes seen far from home walking in the hills and woods under the starlight. He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He began to say to himself: ‘Perhaps I shall cross the River myself one day.’ To which the other half of his mind always replied: ‘Not yet.’

It took me a long time to finally cross the River myself. And the last six months certainly weren’t as dramatic or traumatic as Frodo’s journey, and there are others out there that have seen and done far more than I ever did while in Dublin. But it is no small thing to pack up your entire life and start over in a faraway place. For a while I thought I was heading over there for good, but reality and practicality have brought me back home once again. In my last post, I wondered what that would be like, and after being home for a week or so, I think I’ve answered my own question.

In the book, the four hobbits return to a Shire badly scarred by the War of the Ring, something the movie altered for a simpler ending. While I prefer the book’s version of events, the idea that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to a place completely unchanged has a different resonance now with me. They sit in the Green Dragon and toast each other and no one else has any idea what they’ve been through and how it’s forever changed them. And try as he might, Sam will never be able to convince the people of the Shire that he’s seen an Oliphaunt.

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*   *   *

This is the 40th post, and the last of the tales of my adventures there and back again. Tomorrow I turn 41. Normally I gather together friends and family at a local establishment and we eat and drink in honor of myself. Tomorrow I will probably just go for a long walk. But if I had my way, I would throw some essentials into a pack, grab a good walking stick, and quietly disappear into the night, in search of wild lands and mountains I have never seen. Or perhaps even head back to Dublin. A fine place, it is, full of people I am proud to call my dear friends. “Merry be the greenwood, while the world is yet young! And merry be all your folk!”

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*   *   *

Before I close, I thought I would add a little something for everyone’s enjoyment, if they like this sort of thing. One of the first posts I wrote on this site was called “Passengers.” A reference to a Lisa Hannigan song that ran constantly through my head while I was in Ireland, and also to those that I left behind: my friends and family, and especially my students. This blog was written primarily for them, and if they are still reading it, I hope that they enjoyed following along on my adventures. They, and everyone else back home, were passengers with me, and I thought of them often. So here’s a little something that sums up my time over there, in video form. Hopefully people don’t mind me using these clips of them. I imagine I’ll have more people upset that they weren’t included. Strange to see who and what I don’t have recorded; I could have used a lot more of my friends and family on here, and some students from way back, but hopefully I was able to capture a small slice of my life.

*   *   *

Okay, one more thing. While the farewells in Dublin were sad, and the drive to the airport was just a horrible day all-around, I have to say that it was very heart-warming to have my mother (and fellow world traveler) meet me at the airport.

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Okay, I’ve ended this thing enough times already. Thanks to all my readers, and please stay tuned: these are just the first 40 posts of the 4-T Tales. Even though I have just returned home, I think I am quite ready to go on another journey.

Theatreland

December 15, 2012 — Leave a comment

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Over the past two days I’ve seen three shows in London, with one more tomorrow before everyone heads back to Dublin. Haven’t had much time for sightseeing, but this is my fourth time in London, so I already have a lot checked off the Must-See List. In my downtime between shows, I visit with the UCD gang a bit, but mostly I just walk and walk and walk, observing life in this sprawling and crowded city dotted with some of the most famous landmarks in the world. And it’s amazing the amount of theatre that goes on in the West End and everywhere else in the city. They’re running a remount of the incredible production of Twelfth Night I saw ten years ago, but I decided against seeing it again. Best to save the original in my memory the way it was.

Aside from the heartfelt and brilliant War Horse, which I was completely on board with, nothing has grabbed me here, really. And looking back at the dozen or so shows I saw in Dublin, it was only Farm and The Boys of Foley Street that really left an impact on me. More and more, I keep wondering if theatre has anything left to say. Most people I’m here with shrug their shoulders at what we see, or nod off, or leave early, and so much of it is pretentious and boring. It’s theatre for serious theatre-goers only, and I think that’s just a shame. I’ve always believed that art should be as accessible as possible to the average person, while still trying to be interesting and innovative. You shouldn’t have to have a deep background in Marcel Duchamp or understand post-modernist theory to enjoy something.

Now that my trip’s coming to an end, it’s been the theatre of the everyday moments that stay with me the most. Little kids saying hello to St. Nicholas on Prague’s Mikulas celebration; cafe conversations on the boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris; schoolchildren on a tour of the National Gallery in London. That’s theatre to me at this point. Theatre of the small moments of humanity that remind us how fascinating life and people and cities and towns can be.

There are other kinds of theatre as well. The grotesque picture show of the Nazi’s Theresienstadt; beggars lying prostrate on the ground in Prague, heads down and a cup in their hands, and the people passing them by; the empty nothingness of waiting for the lift at Russell Square tube station in London. The theatre of life can be both beautiful and horrifying all at once, as the news from Connecticut reminds us.

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On Wednesday evening as I was wandering around the city I accidentally stumbled upon the London premiere of The Hobbit. The crowds craned their necks in Leicester Square to catch a glimpse of Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, and Cate Blanchett, and then to top it off I saw Prince William drive up at the end as well. Quite the unexpected journey, I have to say.

IMG_0844 IMG_0852Most of the UCD gang are young and full of energy, and stay out until all hours having a good time. They always plead with me to come out and join in on the fun, but I’m not 25 anymore, and to be honest, Thank God. I’m fine to come back to my room before midnight and read a bit before falling asleep. I turn 41 in a couple of weeks, and I’m totally okay with that. 
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So tomorrow it’s farewell to London, and my brief relationship with the UCD crew. Haroosh and I have one more small journey to take before we head back to Dublin on Sunday, and then it’s home for good on Wednesday. There will be some very difficult goodbyes to make before then, and that will be the hardest part of all of this. But it’s time to head back and figure out what the next act has in store for me, and I’m ready for it.

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Mind the gap, Haroosh.

The Swell Season

December 9, 2012 — Leave a comment


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My time in Prague was brief, but incredible.

Prague has this annoying association still attached to it, one of those cities that young backpackers always go on and on about. “You gotta go, man. Prague is amazing.” I avoided it until now partly for that reason. But it is the site of Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution, part of that fall-of-the-Iron Curtain era of history that I’m so fascinated with. And ever since a family I knew from my 5th grade days moved there this past summer, I had vague plans to travel there to finally see it for myself. And with school wrapping up, and my time living overseas coming to an end, I made it the first stop on the Last Tour.

I was able to see Ian’s school, a small British-style international school that, aside from the small class sizes and some cosmetic differences, didn’t seem that much different than what we were doing back home. The teachers are all ex-pats, travelers from around the world looking forward to teaching in a foreign country for a few years before they eventually move on. I looked into something like this several years ago but couldn’t quite pull the trigger.

For three days I wandered the city, spent time with Ian and his family, and ate heavy meals and washed it down with a few good Czech beers. The language barrier was only a small inconvenience; Czech is a difficult language to understand, but there are enough people here that speak English, and you get by.

The city is gorgeous, but here and there you see echoes of the former Communist past. Gloomy, boxy buildings made to service the proletariat but add little to the grandeur of the older architecture. The older folk carry that heavy, resigned grumpiness that comes from being occupied by an oppressive power for decades.

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When you teach fifth grade, you get the kids for a short nine months, three seasons and then you pack them off to the junior high and you say goodbye. Most of the time you never see them again, occasionally some stay in touch, but even that fades in time. But if you’re lucky, sometimes you build a relationship with a few that last for years and years. Sometimes, you even get to go to a wedding.

For a few days, Haroosh and I were reunited with an old friend, on the other side of the world, and I can only hope that it isn’t the last time I see Ian and his family. That last day of school, where everyone says teary goodbyes to the little community created within four walls of a classroom, gets worse and worse every year. Too many goodbyes, too many good kids you don’t want to part from. Limelight offered the chance to sustain a relationship for years and years, but now that’s gone too, a swell season of my life that has given way to a new, more uncertain one, but still full of promise and potential.2012-12-05 16.22.20 2012-12-06 11.46.13 2012-12-06 19.20.03
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