Archives For Haroosh

Haroosh’s Last Trip

November 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

In Which Haroosh and I Take One Final Trip Together, and Some Lessons Are Learned

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Are you packing your suitcase again?

Yes.

Does this mean you’re going on another adventure?

Yes, Haroosh.

Wonderful! Do I get to come with?

Yes, of course. I think it’s important that you come on this one. You might learn something. It’s time to teach you about things greater and more important than Adventures.

Where are we going?

Florida.

For a holiday? I mean, a vacation?

Not exactly.

Oh. What is it, then?

I”m not sure what to call it, exactly. We’re going to see some family. To pay our final respects.

What does that mean?

It means that someone has died. In my family. And so my uncles and my mother and I are going to go say goodbye, and be with some of our family for a few days.

Oh. And I get to come with?

Yes.

It doesn’t sound as much fun as the other trips we took.

I know. This one is different. This is a trip we need to take together, my uncles, and my mother and I. The last trip, perhaps.

The last trip? For me?

For many of us.

Oh.

Are you okay, Haroosh?

Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I… I thought we were going to take a lot more trips together.

I know.

We were supposed to see the world. That’s what Kyle wanted you to do. With me. See the world.

I know. And we did. A small part of it. But that’s all done, for now. I have responsibilities, and it’s time you got back to Kyle. I’m sure he misses you.

I haven’t seen him in a long time. Will he be different?

Probably. He’s a little older now. He’ll be in high school next year.

Oh.

Will he still want to have me back?

I think so. I think you’ll be with Kyle for a long time.

I hope so.

So, we’re going to all drive together? All the way to Florida?

All the way to Florida. Without stopping for the night.

What’s it like down there?

It’s warm. Very warm. I used to live there, a long time ago. We’re going to say goodbye to my cousin, who we used to spend a lot of time with, her and her sister and her parents, when I was younger. We went on camping trips together, rode horses together, had pizza on Friday nights. She used to drive me to school. I had to sit in the backseat, but sometimes they’d let me play some of my music on the car stereo.

Was she nice?

Yes, she was very nice. She was a teacher, like me. And she loved animals. Horses, dogs, cats, even pigs. She would have liked you very much, Haroosh.

I bet I would have liked her too.

Are you ready to go, Haroosh?

Yes, I’m ready. Let’s go. 


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The photos are from the last time we visited Lorri and the rest of her family, in 2004. We went down to spend Christmas with my sister and her family, and took a day to drive over to St. Cloud to see the old neighborhood and to catch up with Lorri and Jenny, Jane and Mike.

I’ll write a bit more about the trip, and Lorri, in the next day or so.

In case you’re wondering who Haroosh is, I suggest starting here and then reading the rest of these entries.

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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

Recently Haroosh and I got talking about our trip to Washington D.C. to attend the second inauguration of President Obama. Sometimes we spend 10-12 hours a day in the car, as we travel through all these United States, and you need to do something to pass the time. So having a conversation with a small baby chick seems the perfect thing to do.

If you’re wondering who Haroosh is, and why I’m having conversations with him, I suggest you start here.

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Near Grantland, Maryland

Haroosh: Where were those people from?

Me: Ohio.

Same as last night, at McDonald’s!

Yep.

And they were at the Inauguration too?

Yep. And now we’re all heading back home. What did you think of it, by the way?

What? The Inauguration?

Yeah.

It was…it was really something.

Is that it?

No…I’m just trying to find the right words. Do you think a lot of people will be upset that I went?

What do you mean?

Well, I know a lot of people don’t like President Obama.

Ahh. Right. Well, maybe it’s best to think of this as not about politics, but more like history.

History?

Well, sure. First African-American president.

But that was four years ago. It was a bigger deal then.

Well, I suppose. But being reelected means something, too.

You were telling me about what it was like on Election Night, in 2008. All those people, and they were so happy.

Yes. One of the most amazing nights of my life.

Did people really think he was going to make everything better, just like that?

Well, no. But there was a… feeling, I guess. That maybe things would start getting better. That everything wouldn’t be so… ugly.

Do you think he’s made everything better?

It’s not as simple as that, Haroosh. He’s done some things I’ve liked, and some things I don’t like. That’s the short answer. But you didn’t really answer my question: what did you think of the Inauguration?

There were a lot of people.

Yes there were.

Especially while we were waiting for that subway train. And they were shouting sometimes, and those old ladies were fainting. And then they said the train was broken.

That was not the best moment, no. But did you listen to the speech?

Yeah…it was hard to concentrate, though. We were standing there a long time. And I’m pretty small.  But I liked it. He talked about people that don’t get talked about a lot in those types of speeches, didn’t he?

Yes he did.

And that’s what America’s supposed to be about, isn’t it? Opening the door for more people, granting greater freedoms and liberties. At least, that’s what I remember from what you taught us in fifth grade.

Yes. We didn’t get a chance to go look at the Constitution, but that’s what we’re supposed to be all about.

I think I know what you mean about things not being so…ugly now.

Well, we have a long way to go. And presidents can only do so much. But think about all those people standing in front of the capitol building, or waiting for the subway, or driving back home to Ohio or Alabama or other parts of America. Black or white, young or old, for them, it’s still a big deal that he’s the president. They’re counting on him to make things just a little big better. And yeah, I know a lot of people aren’t happy that he was re-elected. That’s a different kind of ugly that won’t go away for a while. But I’m okay with the vision of the United States of America that the president talked about in his speech. That’s the country I’d like to live in.

I wish he would have mentioned something about baby chicks, though. He won’t forget about us chicks, will he?

I don’t think anyone will forget you, Haroosh.

It’s good to be back on the road, isn’t it?

Yes. Yes it is. I’m glad you took me with.

I’m glad you’re with me, pal. It wouldn’t be as much fun if I was doing all this by myself.

So. Where are we going next?

I have no idea. Wherever the road takes us, Haroosh.

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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.

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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.

French Rituals

December 11, 2012 — Leave a comment

Just some random thoughts from the past few days. I’ve written plenty more than this, but I thought I would keep it brief and to the point. And also, photos!

Say what you want about the French, but they love the ritual of sitting down for dinner. When you enter a restaurant, or cafe, or brassiere, you are always greeted with a “Bonjour!” You sit, order food, and when it comes, you get both “Voila!” and “Bon Appetit.” Every time. And it’s great, mostly because it’s the only French I really know.

Because I’m in the solo part of this trip right now (in between visiting friends in Prague and meeting up with the Dublin UCD crew in London tomorrow), I sit and write my thoughts down while I wait for my food, or I knock out a story or two in James Joyce’s Dubliners. It also helps to slow down the dinner process; I normally eat quick and efficient-like, as a bachelor often does. But a European dinner can last a couple of hours, so it’s important to sit and relax and enjoy the food and atmosphere.

And as I realize time and again, a book or a notepad is fine, but company is always better at dinner.

We’ll see if all those observations I wrote down make it onto here. I’m heading into the closing stretch of this trip, and London is going to be pretty jam-packed with theatre and (probably) late nights with that young crew from UCD.) But I have more stories to tell, and one last city to visit after London, so as always, stay tuned, dear readers…

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Can I tell you how fantastic train travel is over here? I could do it all day and never get tired. This is the train I took to Paris.

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Oh HI there! Years from now, I’ll want to look back on this trip, and so it’s important to remember what I looked like. Old and bald, yesirree…

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Snowing in the Strasbourg Christmas market.

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The Venus de Milo, in the Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

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Looking out the window at the Musee D’Orsay, Paris. It used to be a train station. Shout-out to all the Hugo fans out there.

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Haroosh and I at the Eiffel Tower, Paris. He’s afraid of heights, so we didn’t go up to the top.

Also, I need a shave.

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Another picture of the Eiffel Tower. Had to get the light just right.

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Walkway across the river Seine, in Paris. Those are locks on the left and right. It’s become a popular thing for people in love to write their names on a lock then attach it to a bridge. Saw the same thing on the Charles Bridge in Prague.

Man, that’s just a fraction of what I’ve seen and done in the past few days. Hopefully I’ll get more up soon!

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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The Journeys of Haroosh

November 12, 2012 — 13 Comments

Alright, so after reading this post, some of you may have wondered: who or what is a Haroosh?

Well, this is Haroosh.

Haroosh and an Apple Buddy

Haroosh belongs to Kyle, a former student of mine. He was a sort-of sidekick for Kyle, you see. Sat on his desk, listened to me read-aloud, went on aventures. He’s an example of what’s great about being a fifth grader: you’re starting to get a little older, but you still have enough of an imagination to create an entire life for a fake baby chick.

Haroosh was also around when Kyle ran the light board for a pair of shows I directed at his junior high. At the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after everyone knew I was heading to Ireland for a year, Kyle presented Haroosh to me and said, “I think Haroosh should go with you and see the world.”

Now, some of you may read this and think, “Aww, how cute!” and leave it at that. Well, for me, it was a very solemn, serious moment. This was someone giving up their sidekick, their animal familiar, their trusted friend. Haroosh was an expression of Kyle, from a class that was particularly good at expressing themselves in unique ways. (See: Apple Buddies, above.)

And so Haroosh has come with me to Ireland, to see what I see.

Haroosh stares out the window of 316.

He’s mostly been cooped up in the places I’ve lived, but he should feel very privileged to have been a brief resident of 316 S. Circular Road. Our first home, and “a remarkable place altogether.”

Haroosh watches the 2012 Olympics

Before school started, we spent most of our free time watching the BBC coverage of the 2012 London Olympics. Haroosh was quite the fan of Jessica Ennis.

Haroosh and Squid Pig

Here Haroosh joins a couple of other items that came with: Max’s Viking mug that I got for Christmas last year, and Squid Pig, another pet from another student. Hope Madison reads this and knows that ole Squid Pig made the journey as well.

Haroosh and I enjoying a small rail museum in Dundalk.

And of course Haroosh came with when I headed up north to Carlingford last month.

Haroosh looking across Carlingford Lough to Northern Ireland.

I’m starting to plan another trip that I’ll be taking once classes end in a few weeks. The Masters students are all headed to London in mid-December to catch a bunch of plays, but I’m planning something extra as well (as long as the budget holds), and Haroosh shall hopefully be reunited with one of Kyle’s good friends from that class.

And when I finally head home, after this journey is done, I hope Haroosh finds his way back to Kyle. And I hope that Haroosh stays with him, sitting on his dresser or his desk, watching him do homework, or tucked away in his bag as Kyle grows up and heads off onto his own adventures. It’s important to have reminders of who we were when we were young, when the only thing that mattered in life was a few good friends and a big imagination. (Maybe that’s all that still matters?)

When we grow up, we put away childish things, and we get serious. But that can be so, so boring sometimes. Maybe that’s why I was so good at teaching 5th grade. I never forgot what it was like to be eleven.

And I hung on to the things that matter.

Doggy goes where I go.