About dashthebook

I'm a Father / Teacher / Ultramarathoner / Author who enjoys putting his thoughts in print.

Life is a Classroom

Blackboard-Life-Grayscale

Every year I write a few words to the students as they leave the classroom and head off into the summer, and their future. This letter is one last pause; one final reflection on the lessons hopefully learned during our time together.

 

     You are leaving the classroom.  School is out.  The desks are empty, the lockers are cleared, and the homework is through.  First, take a moment and consider what you learned.  Think beyond the subjects.  Look past the projects.  See further than the report cards and the national competitions that give witness to what tremendous students you are.  What were the lessons?  What did you learn about life?  What did you learn about yourself?

    Life is a classroom.  It is an open, mysterious, wonderful daily adventure in learning. The attributes that make you great students, will also make you great people.  This year, we joined many wonderful characters that were on their own journeys in the classroom of life.  In a fictional way, Edward Tulane (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane), Katrina Katrell (Zorgamazoo), Jessica Carlisle (The Running Dream), Ava Anderson (All the Answers), Nolan Byrd (Shredderman), and Basil Pepperell (The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil) were on their own similar adventure.  These characters learned great lessons about the world around them, but more importantly, they learned about themselves.  They learned to cherish their unique talents and perspectives, as well as the people in their lives.  

    I hope to hear from you as you continue this journey in the classroom of life.  My own journey has been enriched and enhanced by each of you, and I look forward to learning from your personal adventures.  As Jessica Carlisle stated after crossing the finish line (with some minor adjustments):

“I’m aware that my friends and my teachers are here, telling me how proud they are.  It’s all fuzzy in my head because I’m shaky and exhausted, but I’m also aware that I am very, very happy.  I’m surrounded by people that have helped me in some way to get over that finish line.  But as we gather, I realize something.  That wasn’t a finish line for me.  Ten months ago, it required a great effort for me to stand in front of this classroom.  But today, I stand in front of my classmates with confidence.  Ten months ago, I wondered if I could do anything.  This year has made me believe there is nothing I can’t do.  

This is my new starting line.”  

    Thank you for making this school year a wonderful “run” for all of us, and hopefully through it all, finding a new “starting line” for you.   

 

Always your teacher; Always your friend,

Mr. Armamentos  

 

CampDays45

Eye Level

Ten minutes into recess, the skies were clear and the sun was shining, but I found him alone in the upstairs hallway, on all fours, eyes squinting into the multi-colored carpet.
My little Ashton.
Apparently he had lost one of the minuscule little screws for his glasses, and couldn’t see without them. Crawling backwards and forwards, scrounging for the missing hardware, he was determined. Relentless. Eyes on the prize.
And I was on my first and only break of the day.
I had better things to do, and of course, he did as well, but right now he wanted to fix the problem at hand. So I got down on all fours with him, eye to eye, and fixed my gaze into the kaleidoscopic abyss. 
Your mind can quickly imagine what we did find. Traces of glitter. Carpet furs. Smudges of a green substance that were tracked in by hundreds of feet that previously trounced through geese-infested fields. Yuck. 
But no screw. No luck. And also, no worries.
Ashton was incredibly patient, and would undoubtedly still be running his little hands across that patch of carpet, which of course just happens to be outside of the boys bathroom (don’t let your mind linger on that urinary fact for too long), if it weren’t for Mrs. Z saving the day.
Of course, Mrs. Z is one of those teachers who is prepared for just such an emergency. She has one of those bags that seems to have whatever you need inside. Had it been left to me, Ashton would be sporting a pair of duct-taped spectacles this afternoon, but Mrs. Z is more prepared, and more thoughtful. She had three of those mini screwdrivers, and an assortment of teeny-tiny screws that hold together a watch, a bracelet, or a small child’s glasses. So we carefully and painstakingly repaired the frames for Ashton’s lenses in time for him to enjoy a few minutes of recess. 
And while I might not have gotten the break time I envisioned, I got the break I apparently needed. The one that reminds me of the importance of perspective, and staying eye level with my students, so I can see the world through their eyes as well. Even when a screw may be loose, or my hands might get dirty.

Though She Be Little, She is Fierce

She slunk into my classroom with a forlorn glance. Head bowed down. Walking tentatively. But she needed to interrupt the class; this was important.
“I can’t run with our run club today, Mr. A. I broke my arm. The doctor wants me to keep it stable. But may I come anyway? I can still help.”
Her timidity dissipated as I welcomed her assistance. With the cold winds blowing outside, we were already short on volunteers, and we could always use that “I can help” attitude. 
When the meeting began, diminutive little Avya came back to me, asking “Where do you want me, Mr. A.? How can I help?” We were doing fartlek runs today, alternating between jogs, sprint, walks, and skips. After our stretches and warmups, I gave Avya a “jog” sign, and we headed out to the other side of the small lake.
My mind was swirling with the details of keeping roughly 100 kids engaged and supervised while we traversed the 1.6 mile course. 
“So tell me your name again?”
“I’m Avya.”
“So How did you break your arm?”
“I fell off a scooter this weekend.”
“Well thank you for wanting to help out today.”
“Oh Mr. A, you just don’t know. You have no idea how much this run club has changed me. I never thought of myself as much of a runner. I was mostly a walker. But this club changed me.”
I was floored by her intensity. Though she be little, she is fierce.
“Avya, why do you enjoy the running?”
“I get to be outside, and push myself. I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown! I just love the feeling of running.”
We continued walking together to her post. She pointed to her house across the water, and I asked her if she had participated in the race last year, which follows our seven weeks in the club.
She beamed.
“The 5K was the most lovely experience for me!”
I chuckled at the use of the term ‘lovely’ coupled with running. Imagining the heat. All the sweat. Hordes of stinky adults in drenched shirts running nearby her on the street.
“Why was it lovely?”
“Because I was able to run!”
There you have it. The wisdom of the ages. I’m happy, because I am. I run, because I can. With just a few short words, and a gigantic smile, Avya reminded me just why we began the run club at our school a few years ago.
To show kids who don’t identify as athletes, that they can find their own groove.

To point out some healthy habits with food and fitness.

To celebrate our abilities, and our gifts.

To run, because we can.

We’re Closed, But Come On In Anyway

 

The posted store hours decreed that the store closed at 5pm, and my watch said 5:45, but I tried to open the door anyway. After all, it was a chocolate store, and I have an affinity (err, addiction) for chocolate.

 

Sadly, the door was locked.

 

As I walked away forlorn, I heard the knob turn, and a delightful man called out, “Come On In! This could be my last chance to meet you for the first time!”

 

I never turn down the opportunity for chocolate, so I gladly spun around and entered this wonderful little store. Stepping inside, I was overwhelmed by the wondrous aroma of sweetness that wafted through the charming Anderson’s Candy Store.

 

Lief Anderson is a 4th generation chocolate maker. But he is also a story-teller extraordinaire, and a wonderful person to boot. His scrumptious chocolates are to die for, and his stories are even better!

 

As he gave us a personal tour of his creative delectables, Lief had us stand in a particular spot in the store and look up into the windows of a second floor room. Notice the circus wallpaper. This was once the nursery where young Lief and his brother played when they weren’t learning the fine art of crafting chocolates that stimulate the senses and delight the soul. The same upstairs room where he used to crawl out on the roof with his younger brother, until one day they were spotted by passers by who alerted their parents of the two little boys on the building’s upper precipice.

 

Of all the tales Lief shared, none caught my heart like the story of a sixteen year old Lief, who in order to get away from the store to go play ball with his friends, pretended to not speak English, and turned away customers who had traveled from Ohio in search of their chocolate treasure. It was a watershed moment for Anderson, forever changing how he would lead the direction of the store. Guilt-ridden, he decided to never close the door to a customer again, regardless of how late they came to the store. And here, nearly 50 years later, I am the beneficiary of his generosity.

 

I must confess that I have a sweet tooth, and am a sucker for mouth-watering chocolate. Additionally, I delight in a well told story. At Anderson’s Candy Store, you’ll be treated to a wonderful mixture of both. Even if you’re a few minutes late, you’ll still be welcomed like a new friend for the first time.

Apolitical.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
While in possession of an advanced degree, I must confess to spending most of my time in life being captivated by the trivial matters. I’ve been a lover of sports, and an ardent fan of entertainment. I’ve poured over box scores and team standings far more than I have trying to understand issues of social justice or economic disparity. When it has been time for me to stand at the ballot box, my votes have been based on a cursory glance at issues, but were also influenced by name recognition and the comfort of perceived personal similarities with candidates.

I have never been political, nor considered myself a devotee of any party. My voting record, though shallow on substance, has criss-crossed party lines continually. Even now, in an ever polarizing nation where many find identity in a status of red or blue, I’m more burgundy than anything else. 
I deplore partisan politics, or the mindset of opposing the other side of the aisle, simply because they are on the other side. Our country deserves, and desperately needs, far better from its’ leaders. 
But this reflection is not on the failings of our lawmakers. Instead, this is meant to be a more honest assessment of the electorate. And of this particular citizen. It seems we have become so entrenched in our views, that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we will hold even tighter to our positions, even when they are detrimental to our country as a whole, or when they are based in obfuscation and the propagation of false narratives.
My students and I spend a huge chunk of time discussing the great experiment of freedom in our nation, and by default, the fight of the oppressed to gain their rightful share of liberty. We delve extensively into the plight of women and people of color, and the amazing courage and resolve evidenced by their stories. We explore the courage of The Little Rock Nine, the resolve of James Meredith, and the audacity of Fred Shuttlesworth, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ruby Bridges, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Diane Nash, Medgar Evers, and of course Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We role play what it might have felt like to be segregated, spending a few days of class setting up a kind of false hierarchy, so kids can feel the sting of bias built on superficial attributes. Then we debrief, and explore our experiences, mining the lessons that we can apply to our lives, and how we treat people that are different than us. We embrace diversity, instead of being afraid of it, knowing that our nation climbed to it’s current greatness through collective struggle. 
In the backdrop of these lessons, I ponder the words of Dr. King, penned from behind bars in a Birmingham jail, and am awash in the timeliness of his insights. This letter, written in response to white ministers who questioned the wisdom and timing of his protests, articulates how many of us cannot afford to be uninvolved in our nation’s freedom experiment. I still have no desire to be beholden to any one political party, but I must get off the sidelines of complacency, and find a way to contribute the liberty’s narrative. So if my newfound political voice on social media offends some, please understand it is not about party or politics, but emanates from a deep concern for justice. I speak or act, in some small way, to participate in this great experiment, with the belief that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Here a just a few nuggets gleaned from Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

The interrelatedness of all communities – Dr. King concluded that he could not sit idly by while other people were facing oppression. He held fast to the truth that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I am not an immigrant. I am not a member of the LGBT community. I am not a female. But I am interwoven with them all. Their destiny is my destiny. Their rights and freedoms are tied to my own. And if one part of our nations’ body suffered, we all suffer with it. 
Beware of protest fatigue – There was a groundswell of protests sweeping across our nation in the 50’s & 60’s, mostly in opposition to the war and the gross racial inequities woven into our social fabric. The past several months have witnessed some of the largest protests in our nations history. The infiltrate our news, and cover the pages of our social media feeds. Many of us decry the desire to make our social media fun again. And as much as I enjoy fun videos of dog’s playing piano, or quizzes that reveal my supposed age to be twenty years younger or 30 IQ points higher, while I sit in the comfort of my home scrolling social media, millions of people live in fear of deportation or exploitation. They fear a government structure that has targeted them, and strives to blame the woes of our great nation, on a few select races, religions, or cultures. Shall we simply turn a blind eye, and return to scrolling photos on Snap, the Gram, or the Book? Are we more concerned about our personal entertainment and prosperity, than the basic freedoms of others?  
Privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily – History bears out this sad truth, that people who have the economic and political advantages seldom yield those advantages to create a more equitable society. Why would you feel compelled to give up your relative prosperity, especially when you feel somehow entitled to it by birthright, or by the fruits of your labor and talents. Yet often we are unaware of the inherent tipping of the scales that have favored us before we came into being. Centuries of laws, policies and practices have favored some parts of our society over other ones, often blinding us to their hidden mechanisms, or worse, intoxicating with in the insidious belief that we are somehow superior and thus more deserving of these advantages. 
Some laws are unjust – King, like Ghandi before him, advocated nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. He answered the moral dilemma of how as citizens who respect the laws of the land, we should be compelled to disobey laws that are unjust and immoral. That this is in fact, the highest form of respect for the law. This compulsion to a higher law has been a staple of the Christian faith, and of our American experiment.
The greatest obstacle to justice are those more concerned with order – King’s greatest frustration was often with the white religious leaders of his day. They often felt a great concern for order and status quo, than they did for resisting the practices and policies that our nation or the satiates used to deny people their constitutional rights and freedoms. Maintaining order is comfortable, when your own rights aren’t at stake. But when we realize we live in a web of interrelatedness, we cannot sit idly by professing moderation and gradual change. Resistance demands the fierce urgency of now. As King lamented, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
One day, this nation will recognize its real heroes – We are in the midst of tumultuous times in America, where our great experiment is under constant siege. Fear, blame, and division are being spread from the very top of our national power structure, inciting the peoples of our nation to build walls, and to mistrust those who look or speak differently than we do. We are told to assume they are somehow less American. That our nation has lost some of its past luster, and they are to blame. But this fallacy runs contrary to the very experiment itself. Now is the time for women and men of courage to find their voice, and to push back against the lies and fear-mongering. The agitators of the 50’s and 60’s now have schools, bridges, libraries and highways named in their honor. They stood against fear, hatred, injustice and division. Through courage, they fought to preserve the precious truths of our constitutional heritage. They safeguarded our national experiment, carefully handing it over to the next generation; you and I. It is our turn to stand in the gap. Our moment to build bridges, not walls. Our call, not to be political, but to be protectors, of the great American experiment.
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

            – Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr

Poop Deck.


A Runner’s Story in Three Acts.

For those within the running community, it is a well known fact that the pipes should be emptied before toeing the starting line. To run swift, one should run light, so to speak. So runners often arise a few hours before the race to take care of this number one issue. Or perhaps we should say number two.

Warning: This little story is a little on the gross side. Potty humor. But it is the whole truth. I promise that the following isn’t full of alternative facts, hooey, or crap. Well, maybe some of the latter.

You’ve been warned. Continue on at your own risk.


Act I:

Since it is best practice to do a quick throne-sit before heading to the race, I’m up early, quietly occupying the downstairs restroom. The rest of my family is fast asleep.

This little ritual is a good thing for you to keep in mind for your next race, whether it is a 5K, a Color Run, or a challenging half marathon. Before you leave the house that morning, get up early and poop to your heart’s delight. Less to carry on the run. Or to become “the runs” with. So I’m trying to push through a shipment before leaving the house.

Gross, eh?

Thank goodness I have a running magazine to keep me company, and plenty of time on the clock.

Now if only this drop shipment would pass…..
Act II:

As inspiring as those running stories were, the throne sit didn’t yield any positive results. Or since the desired result was subtractive, would that be termed a negative result? No matter, there was no shedding of baggage before leaving the house. My full tummy went to the race with me.

Fortunately, there were plenty of bathrooms in the high school where the race started from.

Unfortunately, there were also plenty of long lines.

Fortunately, there were less popular bathrooms downstairs.

Unfortunately, the person who had gone before me was OVERLY successful at voiding his system. And whatever he consumed last night was a bio hazard.

Fortunately, I got a warm seat. 😛

Unfortunately, my tummy was not having it.

Fortunately, I brought another magazine!

Unfortunately, a line was assembling outside my stall. Then a few “ahems” murmuring. So poop anxiety filled the air, and my tummy won round two.
Act III:

I began the race full of hope, full of joy, and full of sh*!.

Up and down my tummy went, applying centrifugal forces with every step of the race. By mile 7, detonation was imminent. I found the nearest forest preserve toilet, and burst through the door.

With only seconds remaining, I realized that I was going to have to put my pristine fanny on that toilet seat, that God only knows how many men never raised before proving they are terrible at target practice. I unrolled some toilet paper, wiped down the seat, and then repeated the process a few more times.

When only a few squares of paper remained, I decided to conserve the precious remains, and park my tush on the throne.

The remnants that already piled in the tub below wafted an odiferous, and nearly lethal cloud that immediately caused me to gag. I began dry heaving, thinking my tummy was going to empty itself one way or another.

Or both.

The sound of my gags resounded off the walls, and I raised my mouth to the ceiling, hoping to get a breath of at least less putrid air. Within moments, the blasting commenced, and my contributions made the cement chamber even more unbearable. I had to exit as fast as possible. I utilized the remaining few squares to clean myself (no monkey butt for this runner), and the seat for the next person. Because someone has to be polite.

Finally relieved, I got back into the race, lighter, and a little light-headed. After several strides, I regained my running juju, and continued the last remaining miles to the half-marathon finish line.
Truth be told, it wasn’t my best run ever. It surely wasn’t my lightest. But running is always an adventure, replete with stories, and reflections that dovetail with life around us. I run to learn more about myself and the world that I live in. I run to cleanse my mind, and sometimes my body. I run to celebrate the past, and welcome the future. I run to write. I run, because I can.

And as a writer, I thought it important to provide specific details, and supporting evidence. I apologize if my words don’t accurately convey the full scope of the story. Your nose should thank me.

Speak Life in the PARCC

This week we begging PARCC testing in our school. I have many thoughts on that, but those are for a different time and a different Post.
Suffice it to say that I know there will likely be an air of stress in the building this week. Teachers tend to stress about following all the many restrictions and rules for the testing, as well as how to balance it with all the curriculum demands. Kids stress about taking the tests. But the stress can be counterproductive. 
I’m setting out to be especially mindful of finding little ways this week to speak life into my students and colleagues. I want to find ways to alleviate stress. To promote joy, confidence, and acceptance. In the testing tug of war, we are on the same team. While we might occupy different rooms, we share the same goals and purposes. I want to cheer them on so we can pull on the rope efficiently, and have fun without falling in the proverbial mud pit.
I want to speak life so they remember that they’ve got this.
I want to sow seeds that remind them their value is not measured by a test.
I want to give words with wings, so they can rise above the stress.
I want to speak life, because our words matter, and I want those words to remind students and staff around me, that they matter, far more than any test.

During the month of March, I’m blogging daily with friends and colleagues from around the world in the “Slice of Life” writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.