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in this my 65th year.   As I did approaching 60, I am taking the time to stop and reflect - on my life to date, on where I may be headed, on the world around me, on my role therein. This is a personal meditation, but much of what appears on this site has that personal quality. So read or not, I don't mind.

Approaching 50 and approaching 60 I felt the momentum of the forthcoming birthdays.   Half a century is a significant achievement in anything, and at 60 I became eligible for a variety of discounts, including being able to cut my weekly grocery bill by 5%.  No, I am not a member of AARP, although literature from them is in the bill of offers of various Medicare plans that I have yet to find the time to wade through.  And yes, I am already registered with Medicare and have my card.

15 years ago Bill Clinton was running for a second term.   10 years ago 9/11 had not yet happened, and George W. Bush had an administration that was not achieving much of anything, at least not to this point, although 3 days after my birthday he was able to sign  his disastrous tax cuts into law after getting them through the Senate via reconciliation.   And 5 years ago?  The USA Patriot Act was reauthorized in March, and in October we got the Military Commissions Act -  when it passed the Senate I really stuck my neck out with my students, as I wrote in What I told my students yesterday on the last day of September.

Five years ago I was in the midst of my most significant political activity, as a key volunteer in the campaign of Jim Webb, who had not yet won the primary.  I am still proud of the role I played in getting him elected.  Had he lost the nomination George Allen would easily have been reelected.  Had Allen been reelected, people may have forgotten he was the insider's pick to be the Republican nominee for President.  

But all this is background, preface if you will.  I want to focus on something else.  And that is teaching.

I began my full-time tenure as a public school teacher on December 8, 1995.   I was 49 years old.   Most of my work career to that point had been with computers.   I had made a comfortable living, but I was not happy.  Years before I had spent 6 months as an unpaid intern in a Quaker secondary school in New Jersey.  Since I was a free body, I was also given a great deal of freedom in what I did.  I experimented, and found ways of reaching different kinds of students.    I could have had a job there the subsequent year, but it would only have paid 6,000 and I did not think I could afford it.  

I spent the summer after that term in an Episcopalian monastery in Michigan - the first of many visits to monastic establishments.   This is also a major part of who I am.  

Upon my return - to suburban Philadelphia, where I then lived - I returned to my previous career of computers.   One Saturday I ran into a young lady I knew slightly, whose father had helped facilitate my time at the Monastery.   That chance encounter, on September 21, 1974, would more than 11 years later lead to our being married.  Now, in May of 2011, we are in our 37th year together.  And she is responsible for my teaching.

In 1992 I was at a college reunion.  A friend was about to become a principal.  He and I swapped teaching stories, he from a quarter century in the classroom, me from my 6 months.   When we got back to our room that night my dearly beloved Leaves on the Current pointed out that when I told my stories my eyes lit up and I became a different person.  Since I was not happy with the work I was doing - although it paid decently - why didn't I explore becoming a teacher?

That gave me the courage, and the impetus, to start the process.  It took a while, we had to make financial changes, including her being willing to go to work full time, which meant that she did not have as much time for her own writing and research.  We took a major financial hit.   But on December 8, 1995, I finally got my own classroom at Kettering Middle School.  Between the conversation in 1992 and then I had had to go to court against my father to get him into custodial care, and then, shortly after his 84th birthday, he had passed away.  

I celebrated my 50th birthday while teaching in that middle school.

My 55th and 60th birthdays occurred while I was at my current school.  My 55th was not a big deal.  In fact, I made more of my 57th.  With the help of one of our art teachers, I dressed with a Heinz like label -  57 varieties??    

But for my 60th, I shared with my students what I wrote here. May 23, 1946 - thoughts on a birthday.  A couple of passages from that diary stay with me:

I have neither the grandeur of my wildest dreams nor the depravity of my deepest depression.  I contain within myself both good and not so good.
I have always wanted my life to make a difference.  But I could never really define what that meant.   When I was young I would construct imaginery scenarios in which I was important, but that was unsatisfying.  Once I started down that path I found myself moving further and further from reality.  Then in the depth of my depression I would be able to see only the hurt I caused others.  I would wonder why anyone would want to have anything to do with me.  Eventually I came to recognize that these were two equally distorted images, both full of arrogance and self-centeredness.

The hard part has been allowing myself to be human, imperfect in many ways.  I am still learning how.

I do not have perfect knowledge and probably never will.  I will say and do things that are destructive to me and those I love, that will hurt others.  Sometimes I will unfortunately do so with intent, far more often I will do so out of thoughtlessness or lack of concern or ignorance.  But I recognize that often I say or do things which are of no great import to me but which are received as great kindness and consideration by others.   I will accept responsibility for the hurt -- that is actually fairly easy at this stage of my life.   I am learning, slowly, to accept the gratitude offered even when I do not perceive that I did anything to warrant it.   It is part of the human connection, it is something that comes with being open.  

And most of all I am beginning to learn about letting go of my hurt, even if it was caused by the deliberate action of another.  I try to reserve my outrage for when I encounter deliberate hurt aimed at another.  

I said that this was a political statement.  How I live what is left of my life is a political statement.  That I choose to write about things which concern me is a political statement, nay, it is a political action.  It is also a moral act, a spiritual act, an emotional commitment, an intellectual exercise.   When I write about music, or poetry, or my cats, it is political, moral, spiritual, emotional and intellectual.  All is part of my humanity.
I will continue to offer what words and insights I think I may have, not because I necessarily believe that I have anything near a complete understanding, but because in our joint incompleteness we may together approach wholeness of vision and understanding.

I was born May 23, 1946, in New York City.  It is now May 23, 2006 in Arlington, Virginia.  Sixty years ago my life was full of possibilities.  What I realize now is that it still is.  When I was younger I saw the possibilities only in terms of my own earthly life.  Now I know that my life is part of something much broader.   The possibilities open to me were there because of those who went before me, related by blood or not. It was with those whose lives overlapped mine before they departed from life, and those whose lives overlapped theirs but not mine.  My life contributes in some way to the possibilities in the lives of others.  Clearly that is true with those I encounter in my role as teacher.  But as my life has been enriched by those whose names I never knew, what I do offers opportunity to those I will never meet.

As I have reread those words - not for the first time - I see at least in part why I am a teacher, why I have stayed a teacher until now, and for at least one more year, even should I win the lottery (which will be difficult since I am no longer purchasing tickets - our budget is VERY tight).  It is also why I write, and why I remain politically active.  I am and always will be connected with other persons.  It is what gives my life meaning, despite my selfishness and my pettiness.

There were a few more words to that piece almost 5 years ago.  They were these:  

I am sixty.   The life in front of me is full of possibilities, farther than my mind can imagine.  

I am lucky.  I am human.  So are we all.

Now I am almost 65.   I presume, perhaps rashly, that I will still be here in 22 days.  The reflections I offered 5 years ago are still relevant.  I am older.  I tire more easily.  I know I have less time left.   But that does not panic me.  

I can look at the past five years -  or the past 10 or 15 -  and take some quiet satisfaction that I have made something of difference in the lives of other people.  I can take some pride in my minor role in helping get Jim Webb to the Senate.  I am still in touch with students whose lives crossed mine, if not from my very first year at Kettering at least from the 2nd.  I even have occasional contact with one student from that 6 months at Moorestown Friends School in 1974.  For a person who remains socially awkward and at times painfully shy I have, first through my writing and then in person, been able to develop friendships that have enriched my life and made me a better teacher.  And because so much of my life has been bound up in my teaching, becoming a better teacher inevitably means I become a better person.

I will teach at least one more year.  Knowing that I can then retire with full Social Security as well as my pension, rather than becoming stale as a teacher I am likely to find myself taking even more chances.  My students are changing, and to serve them I will have to change with them.  Thus this summer, even as I may be working several jobs and perhaps even working on a book, I will also be totally rethinking both of my courses.  For my regular government class, there will no longer be a state test for which I must prepare them.  Thus I can move away from the time needed to ensure the specific content and the practice of the multiple choice tests to work on meaningful skills of writing and reading and organizing.  Hopefully I can do so in a way that invokes their interest, perhaps even their passion.

For my Advanced Placement classes, of which I may well have four next Fall, I want to see if less is more.  That is, I want to spend less time covering the content that may appear on the AP exam -  perhaps by providing organized notes  for some topics -  and more time engaging them with the reality of government and politics.  As of yet I do not know how I will do this, only that I must.

Writing and political action?   We have elections of importance in Virginia this coming November.  Our entire state legislature is up.   I have been approached by a number of Democratic candidates now seeking nominations for open State Senate seats.  I am cordial, I am willing to help with educational policy as I have time, but I am not likely to engage in primary battles in contests in which I cannot vote, unless there is a previous strong personal connection.

Rather, my main political focus will continue to be through writing and lobbying and organizing, most frequently on education, but using the relationships I have built over the past 15 years (and especially the last 5 or so) to try to influence people on human rights, environment, and economic equity as well.  

For most of the time I have been at Daily Kos, I have written at least 6 diaries a week.  In the early days, before we had a daily limit of one diary, it was not unusual for me to write 2 diaries.  A few times since 4.0 went live, I have taken advantage of the lack of limit.  This week I posted nothing for three days -  W-Th-Fri - and I suspect such periodic breaks may occur more frequently.  Remember, I am finding that I tire more easily.

My participation here is a major part of who I have become.  Not only do I appreciate the audience for sharing my sometimes as yet not completely formed thinking, I also learn from reading the expertise of others.  People point me at resources of which I would otherwise not be aware.  People properly challenge my thinking.

As a teacher, I have to constantly also be a student, someone whose own learning never stops.

As a teacher, I remember the words of Henry Adams:  A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

As a human being, I have to remember one of the most important lessons I have been learning, that my heart is capable of expanding ever more to include care and love for ever more people.  That is one of the greatest riches of continuing to live - to find ever more persons about whom to care, towards whom one can direct love.

I know I am on the downslope of my life.   The possibility of dying no longer scares me.  I have already lived far longer than I ever expected -  having my mother die less than a week after I graduated from high school, when she was not yet 48, perhaps made me more aware of the possibility of death at a young age than I otherwise might have been.  I may live another 2 decades or even 3. I could die tomorrow.   I will certainly leave some things incomplete.  That is because there are always challenges before me, things I would like to do.  In that sense, my life will never be complete while I am still breathing.

Yet I can reflect back - on 65 years, perhaps, on the almost 37 years with Leaves on the Current, on thhe more than 15 years in the classroom -  and see that I have accomplished far more of value than I had any right to expect.  That it not reason to sit back and stop.  It is motivation to keep going, simply because the living, the caring, the doing, the loving is its own reward.

I wanted my life to make a difference.  I used to fear that I would die without having done anything of value.

I no longer have that fear.

That frees me, and empowers me to keep going, even as my body wears down, even if at times I am mentally and spiritually exhausted.

Then I walk into school, interact again with the adolescents who are so much a part of my life, realize my responsibility to help them make sense of the world they will be shaping long after I am gone.  

I am lucky.  It took me half a century, and perhaps I was not ready until them.   I am who and what I am supposed to be.  I am a teacher.

Thanks for reading.


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Comment Preferences

    •  Please recommed this diary! (12+ / 0-)

      Thanks for the great diary. It really made me think!

      sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]

      by Democrats Ramshield on Sun May 01, 2011 at 03:58:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  teaching (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It is the most rewarding of jobs, it is the most discouraging of jobs.  I started teaching to avoid Vietnam--and stayed there (NYC ghetto schools) for 37 years.  I'm sure I more than filled my patriotic obligation.

      The internet is a great place to rediscover former students.  Find one on Facebook, and you find hundreds of others.  I usually ask about their families--implore upon them to be good parents--they show me pictures of their children.  Many are more succeeded than I feared--a very good feeling.

      You teach the best and the brightest at your school, for your swan song, ask for the remedial classes--they need you too.  They are under served and need the most qualified instructors.  Added bonus, they give the most love to a caring teacher.

      Apres Bush, le deluge.

      by melvynny on Sun May 01, 2011 at 08:16:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I teach a mix of classes (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dhshoops, flurdman, 4Freedom, Cali Techie

        this year I have three AP classes, one class of students in a special program who did not qualify as honors but function not far below that level, and two classes of ordinary kids, some of whom really struggle.

        I have in the past taught multi-level classes in Middle School, with the cooperation of a special education teacher.  I am not a good fit for that, because often those students need a far more regular structure than I provide in how I teach.  We have teachers who specialize in serving those kids, and in our school they are quite well served.

        My regular level kids - there are emotional and social adjustment problems, there are kids reading at least 3 years below grade level.  I have some whose parents will let them stay home on any occasion -  how about having 5 students who each have at least 30 absences from my class this year, one who is now up to 54?

        One reason I came back to my current school is precisely because I do teach a wide range of abilities and backgrounds.   But I have my limits as a teacher, and our SPED kids are better served with the teachers they have than they would be by me.  I think I do a good job of serving my regular kids, many of whom I can help raise their performance and move on the next year to higher levels for World History, the next class in sequence in our department.

        Also, for what it is worth.  I have been told on more than one occasion with my very bright kids that I am the first teacher who has really challenged their thinking.  They, too, are entitled to good teaching.  And at least for Government, no one else in our department really wants to take on the challenge that AP represents.

        "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

        by teacherken on Sun May 01, 2011 at 08:24:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  at 70+ (6+ / 0-)

    ... and when you reach my age, events from 30 years ago seem to have happened "yesterday". Take for example Charles and Diane wedding day in 1981.

    But is not only those public events.

    Those special moments you shared with your family and the very few you wish that never happened, all of those live in the recoils of your brains and spring into life when you never expect, as if you were back in time, not as an actor but as an observer; and then, your brain plays games with you and poses you the question: that happened nn years ago... where will you be nn... years from now?

  •  If I had an AP class for one year (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JanL, liz dexic

    I'm not a teacher, though I have thought of going back to school to teach physics.  But if I had an AP government class and one year without accountability, I'd pull back the veil.

    Perhaps I'd start with this premise.

    Corruption is essential to a functioning government.


    Every citizen in a nation is a functional anarchist.

    Very often I find people, who focus on how government or society ought to work, rather than how they actually work.  This leaves them almost entirely impotent to have any lasting effect on public policy.

    •  I always have accountability (6+ / 0-)

      first and foremost to my own sense of professionalism and responsibility to my students

      then there is the responsibility to the school that trusts me and my judgment

      and always to my students, to what they need -  a bit different than the first, which is my sense rather than theirs

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun May 01, 2011 at 04:24:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A great diary, Ken. (7+ / 0-)

    I've returned to teaching and liberal arts [English/American literature and culture] after a mid '30s stint in tech.

    I enjoyed that work, and indeed, the problem solving --in the end-- have enhanced my abilities to focus on the issues at hand I couldn't have done in same way had I not had the opportunity to go off on a wild tear.

    I love what I do now; both the teaching, and the research. If there was ever anything such as a calling... well, I believe it.

    I want my students to be able to follow such tangential interests. I hope its still possible. Make it so.

    I'm staring at 45... but damned if I don't feel like I'm just an older and wiser 25 yr old.

    Skeptical: yes. Cynical: No.

    This diary struck a chord with me. Thank you.

    "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

    by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun May 01, 2011 at 04:38:01 AM PDT

    •  u r welcome (4+ / 0-)

      but I should thank you for letting me know that my words had relevance for you.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun May 01, 2011 at 04:42:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Mee too (3+ / 0-)

        I am having a post-midlife redefinition of self, and your journey here is an inspiration.  

        I recently got to perform with some of my lifelong musical idols.  I felt truly happy for the first time since I started in tech about 20 years ago.  

        Now I'm trying to figure out how to earn a living full time at music without touring.  I may have to move, but I think this will be my 'retirement'.  My wife, luckily, is very supportive, and your experience there is also an inspiration.  

        I have predicted, for a long time, that all that's left for these people is to start playing in their own feces. But even I never predicted they'd freeze it and use it as a dildo.

        by Nada Lemming on Sun May 01, 2011 at 08:36:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks (5+ / 0-)

    Let me add my .02 here - happy almost birthday ;) and thanks for adding to my list of Things To Think About.  I am 55 and while I still love my teaching, it's time to consider how old a person can be and still keep up with primary-aged children in an urban setting. They have so many needs and I often feel like no matter what I do, there will be some students who I cannot help as much as I should.
    Like you, I started teaching later (mid-30's) and so my long-term financial outlook is not particularly pleasant but it could be so much worse.
    Mostly, I am getting to the age where I speak my mind and not always very diplomatically, which I am working on, believe me - when it comes to school district policies that are damaging to our kids.  We have 24 days left in the school year and the next few years promise to be even more challenging that ever before. If it doesn't break my back or my spirit, it may make me a better teacher. I hope so.
    Thanks for making me think!

    Think what you are doing today. -Fred Rogers

    by JanL on Sun May 01, 2011 at 05:08:01 AM PDT

  •  Keep teaching. Retirement = death. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    One of the keys to longevity and to warding off dementia is keeping working.   The dementia angle had to do with socialization, contact and interaction with people.  And no, blogging doesn't count any more than watching TV.

    Work keeps us alive.  In the Reagan era we live in, in more ways than one since most have to keep working as their retirement savings and home value savings have been wiped out by Reaganomics and Social Security and Medicare are being looted to pay the bills.

    "My participation here is a major part of who I have become"

    That is scary and you should take a vacation from DKOS for a month and find out that this is really a fringe luxury item and one not particularly good for a person, like sweets or steaks. Blogging is an imitation of life.  Fun but not real world and very flimsy as hot website blog lifespans are along the lines of Mayflies.

    •  sorry, but I don't need a month off (6+ / 0-)

      I do not view my participation here as in any way destructive.  At times it is time consuming, because I read all comments on my diaries and all responses to my comments on other diaries, responding as I deem appropriate, as I am doing here.

      I have learned from others.

      I have developed meaningful and valuable friendships.

      I am not as negative on blogging as you are.  If you view it that way, then fine, take time off yourself.  

      It is a major part of who I have become.  It does not define me -  but it enriches me.

      I have been here since the end of November, 2003, having registered in December that year.  I am honored to be a long-time member of this community.

      My writing here has had meaning for other people.  That is important, as one can see even in some of the comments either on this diary or on the one I wrote yesterday.

      So I am going to disagree with you on that portion of your comment.

      Have a nice day.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun May 01, 2011 at 05:17:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are a gem, TK ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken, barbwires

        I always make a point of reading what you write.  I can only hope that in 9 years I attain the wisdom and the peace that you have.

        "Without viable unions to serve as a counterweight to corporate power, America's working people and their families are at the mercy of the largest and most powerful economic organizations on the planet."

        by billlaurelMD on Sun May 01, 2011 at 06:52:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  you are doing quite well (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          with much of what you write here.  

          Be yourself.

          Be the best Bill you can be.

          Don't worry about comparisons with anyone else.

          "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

          by teacherken on Sun May 01, 2011 at 06:54:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  DKOS not destrutive but not constructive either. (0+ / 0-)

        Don't think I called blogging a personally destructive activity as such but it certainly is not a constructive one either.  

        If someone defines their life by their participation in an online blog then it might be approaching bad for one's health.  Kind of like quitting smoking or drinking.  When you are doing it you think it is important but after a couple weeks you wonder why you were wasting your time with it. Blogging has a similar habit forming and not good for you aspect as smoking or drinking.

        I think it was Chris Bowers of DD who noted that DKOS is such a hot house atmosphere that you must log in a couple times a day or it makes no sense. The conversations become impossible to follow.

        If someone (other than the folks who run it) gets to the point of defining their life by DKOS, time for a break.  After a couple weeks they'll be wondering "What was I thinking?!".

        But back to teaching. Don't retire would be the key especially if you still have a passion for it.  You will live long and prosper.

  •  I appreciate your insight (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, princesspat

    I am 2 yrs and a few days shy of 60.  I try to follow Exme's advice to grab all the joy I can:  in work, in reading, music and with family and friends.  Taking pride in teaching and helping others, because this is also a very real joy.

    I see the same in you.  You are much more skilled than I at reaching out to a larger sphere of people, and in letting people see, through your writing, what lies beneath the skin.  I very much appreciate your sharing your thoughts here.

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Sun May 01, 2011 at 08:21:28 AM PDT

    •  I miss Exme - she inspired many of us (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      princesspat, linkage, barbwires

      even before we knew of her illness.

      I have benefited from the care and concern and mentoring of others.  We have no biological children, but we feel an obligation to pay it forward in whatever fashion we can.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun May 01, 2011 at 08:26:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A simple thank you - N/T (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Sun May 01, 2011 at 08:51:28 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for all you do... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Its a New Day


    I never diary but I always read your posts. They are always thoughtful and well constructed.

    I am following a similar path to yours. I became an RN at the age of 47. 2 1/2 years later I have absolutely no regrets.

    Nursing and teaching are both nontraditional careers for men. As a nurse I realize that my impact on the lives of my patients can go on for years. We see people at their best moments as well as their worst.

    As a teacher you have made a difference. My mother taught LPN's for 35 years. When I decided to become a nurse I met several of her students who years later were going on to become RN's.

    One of her students was on the verge of failing and she went to bat for that student to keep her in the program. Years later that nurse is on the verge of completing her PhD in nursing. If that student had failed out the nursing profession would have lost a true talent. My point is that teachers build the future and your impact will carry on long after your death.

    As an RN I always take student nurses because I need to pay back the instructor who helped me get off the waiting list and into an accelerated RN program.  I teach and mentor because I want to leave a better future.

  •  When you speak from your personal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    experience of who you are, not what you do for a living but living the process of learning who you are, I am reminded of this chorus:

    Strumming my pain with his fingers
    Singing my life with his words
    Killing me softly with his song
    Killing me softly with his song
    Telling my whole life with his words
    Killing me softly
    With his song...

    I am in my sixth decade too and appreciate that you are able to share so much of yourself here.  If I were able to do that as well as you I could more clearly explain what your blogs mean to me.  Not just your pain (as in the lyrics above) but your triumphs too.  Thank you.

    •  you want Roberta Flack (0+ / 0-)

      how about a live performance:

      btw -  the "his song" that lead to the construction of this was by Don McLean:  


      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sun May 01, 2011 at 10:21:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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