A Beautiful Catch


The cover of a baseball

composed of two distinct halves

Woven together

Stitch by stitch

Along the seams

Becoming singular

Seamless

One.

.
Two mitts

Two hands

Two hearts

Tossing the ball

Gently through the air

Ascending

Then falling

Trusting 

The catch.

.
There is no score

No competition

Only connection

Two mitts

Two hands

Two hearts

Woven together

Seamlessly

Singularly

One.

Advertisements

The Ugly Triumph of Unwelcome Failure


The results came back in an email, just a few minutes after I completed the test. It was a rather pleasant “Thank You” letter, masking the unpleasant news. 
Dear Greg Armamentos, 
Thank you for completing the Google Certified Educator Level 1 exam. 
Exam Result: FAIL 
It was of course sent in a “Do Not Reply” email. But my reply, or response, was utter disbelief. And embarrassment. And all those annoying, haunting, insecurity-inducing little inner voices that instantly seize the opportunity to heap shame upon you when you don’t accomplish a task that you set out to do.
“You’re not technologically savvy.”
“Your students can handle these apps better than you.”
“What makes you think you are qualified for this certification?”
Now I have been using various Google Educational Tools in my classroom daily for the past few years. When I signed up for a training session to prepare me for this test, I assumed I would be filling in a few small gaps and then breezing through the test later that day. But a few minutes into the training presentation, I realized the instruction was much more comprehensive than my knowledge to date. So I dug in, and tried to absorb everything shared over the 8 hour session. 
They also provided a link to website that offered additional preparation for the certification exam. This site had thirteen training modules, and I spent over 20 more hours pouring over the materials to make sure I was ready for the test. Because I was determined that there was no way I was going to fail that test. 
And to top it off, I signed up to take the test with a group of colleagues. We would all meet together, and have each others’ backs while navigating the test. It was overkill to be sure, but sometimes I can be a perfectionist. Eve though I caution my students against the self-imposed stresses of perfectionism.
Easier said than done.
A colleague emailed me the night before, letting me know that she had just taken the exam and passed, and sending her best wishes for my results. When I replied with what I had done to prepare for the test, she quickly emailed back:
“OMG! You’re more than prepared!”
Famous last words.
I used every minute of the three hours allotted, and still I didn’t reach one of the 11 test scenarios, and failed to complete another one. But I felt very confident in all of the sections that I had finished. 
Those of us gathered to take the test together began getting our results at the same time. And immediately the horror of not passing in front of my colleagues dawned on me. The email alerts came one after another.
“Exam Result: PASS”
“Exam Result: PASS”
“Exam Result: FAIL”
Now I remind my students all the time of the importance of failure. Of having a growth mindset. Of daring greatly. We talk about JK Rowling’s inspiring Harvard commencement speech extolling the benefits of failure. But truth be told, I’d rather learn from your failure than my own. I’d rather be an empathetic colleague, patting you on the back and encouraging you to try again, than falling flat on my face and having you extend a hand to help me up. I’m just being honest.
But that day wasn’t a day for welcome results. It wasn’t a day to bask in glory. It was just plain ugly.
For a few moments, I inflated a few proverbial black balloons and wallowed in a bit of self pity. I listened to those little voices, leaning in to tell me that I didn’t quite measure up to my colleagues, and that I likely am a fraud masquerading as a competent educator. But then I resolved to get back in the arena, and dare greatly again. I reminded myself that failure isn’t permanent, and while it is ugly, and I might still secretly wish to learn from its’ virtues when it befalls others instead of me, I nonetheless embraced the moment, and resolved to take the test again. I took out my notes from the training session, and revisited any area that posed some difficulty. I went through the litany of modules, again.
And after a gut-wrenching, stress-filled, “shove-it-in-your-face” to those haunting little voices, I finished the test with plenty of time to spare. And yes, this time I passed.
But the real lesson for me was to authentically embrace my own failures, as unwelcome as they may be. I was reminded that some of life’s little triumphs aren’t pretty, but ugly. That trying and failing, only to rise and fight again, always trumps not trying at all.

Shadow.

He is my frequent companion

walking alongside me

always listening

my secrets are safe

a silent partner

my distorted twin

playfully forging ahead

or sporadically trailing behind

I hope to watch over me

We’re always connected

but at times he is hidden

craving the light 

to have his darkness recognized

a continuum of grey shades

stretching out

then fading

seeping through fenceposts

clinging to walls

one silhouette after another

imitating my every move

is it flattery

or mockery?

he never lets on

keeping secrets of his own

Leaving me to question

Are his quiet ways

melancholy 

or menacing?

In my own darkness

I’m left to wonder

My secrets are safe

In his silence

But am I?

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.