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Yesterday was my 67th birthday, a fact I acknowledged here.  Thanks to Social media, the day was full of communications from other wishing me well on the day, some of which I did not see until this morning.  The major event of the evening was a wonderful dinner out to which Leaves on the Current took me.  The restaurant, on Connecticut Avenue in the Cleveland Park section of DC (across the street from the Uptown Theater), is named Ripples.  For some of my generation that might bring forth images of a cheap wine.  Don't be fooled.  It has a terrific wine list, and of greater importance for me on my birthday, an equally enjoyable beer list.   The food is delicious, much of it organic and natural, such as the Amish chicken I ate, and is stunningly presented.

Yet as wonderful as the meal was, as enjoyable as the leisurely time spent with my wife, I am feeling - how can I say it -  overwhelmed, humbled, blessed, because of the messages I received.

They began a few days before.  A few came this morning.  

There were hundreds upon hundreds - via Twitter, email, comments on my diary, dkos messages, and especially Facebook.  Some came from great distance - a former teaching colleague now working in China, an expert on Finnish education from his own country.

I feel validated in an important way, especially as I explore reentering the classroom in the Fall, because more than half of them were from my students.

I began my official teaching career in 1995-96 in a middle school where i stayed only through the end of my 3rd year.  One of my students there put up a post telling his friends it was my birthday, and by the end of the day 6 students whom I had not seen or exchanged with for 15 years had sent me Friend requests.  That was humbling.

Of course, by force of habit, many of my former students still seem to think my first name is Mr., even though they may have graduated from professional schools, or be married with children of their own.  I put up a post requesting that if they are at least a year out of high school they try using my first name.  That led to some interesting responses, including from fellow teachers.  

Here's one exchange that came from that:

him:   It's force of habit, and it's hard to think of someone as "Ken" when your strongest memory of them is when they bolted through the door of their classroom in a wig and judge's attire.

me: that's your FIRST memory of me, but surely it is not the only one. I did get on top of desks, bark like a dog, and make a lot of bad puns. Surely that should be enuf to persuade you that I am not just your teacher.

him again: Well... definitely not just ANY teacher,

to which another student, one now serving overseas in the military, wrote No not just a teacher at all, but rather one who motivates and inspires others to challenge the status quo

That was really moved me.  His politics are very different than mine, but we have over the years shared a mutual respect.  I was also one of his coaches, and he performed in musical theater under my musical direction.  

One message was from a student I first knew at the first middle school who attended the high school where I spent most of my career, serving as point guard for the boys in two consecutive state basketball finals, captaining the team his senior year when we won our first title.  He wrote

Ok ken but my 1st memory of you was at kms chasing us down the hallways barking at us nd dressing up as historical figures from the past ... Didn't always understand where u were coming from but as erhs came I surely did understand that you always taught from the heart with discipline that has stuck with me since thx ken
Always said you were the most intelligent teacher that ever taught me
One of this year's seniors who won a prize at the Intel fair wrote Happy Birthday Mr. Bernstein!!
I suppose next year I’ll be saying happy birthday Ken..

while one of his classmates didn't wait and offered I'm going to take a leap here, and say Happy Birthday... Ken!

which is fine.  Graduation is next Wednesday morning, and that marks being an adult in some fashion, and empowers them to act towards me as adults.

My students were aware of my political activities, including my writing here, as one can see in this message from a class officer: Happy Birthday Ken! Keep on meeting those important people and writing those blogs! Have a good one!

Sometimes students don't fully grasp what I am doing until later.  When they do, it is gratifying when they share, as I experienced in this message:  

Happy Birthday...Ken. During the time I took your AP class I basically wrote it off as another weighted grade and set out to get tas many A's as possible. In retrospect, I realize that the purpose of your class was to force us to see beyond tests and actually value class discussions and real-life encounters with the movers and shakers of the subject matter we were studying. Thanks for an awesome year, and I wish you well in your future endeavors.
It is nice to know the lessons carry over for some:  
Happy birthday! I was actually reminiscing about being in AP Gov the other day after reading an article about immigration policy. Anyway, hope you're doing well :)
It was nice to get greetings from people I knew in high school, at summer camp in Interlochen more than half a century ago, people whom i have gotten to know online, or through politics, high school and college classmates, colleagues from teaching and elsewhere.

Yet as has become ever more clear to me, it is as a teacher that I have the most meaning in my life, and thus messages from those I taught carry great weight with me.

Some 17 of those who reached out to me are now themselves teachers.   That humbles me, but also pleases me.  I think of one young man who graduated in sciences from a VERY PRESTIGIOUS science and engineering institution of higher education who promptly entered a 2ndary classroom as a teacher, or another who chose to go into an inner city school . . . .

Well, I find the most meaning in being a teacher, but I would not have changed to become a teacher without the encouragement of someone else, who at a college reunion in 1992 encouraged me to consider giving up my career in data processing and explore becoming a teacher.

Thus the message that meant the most was this:

Happy Birthday to the wonderful husband & teacher who has been taking such good care of me! I could not get through this illness without you, & I am so proud to see how you have let it stretch your wings! May the year ahead be full of happiness.
 to which I could but respond  
thank you so much, my beloved, and not just for the wonderful dinner on my birthday, but for being a part of my life, despite my difficult nature, now into a 39th year.
It was a very good birthday.

I am so lucky and so honored.


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