It's come to this . . .
Apparently I am in this month's Teen Vogue magazine. For real. I wouldn't make this up. (Well, actually I might, but I am not in this case.) I haven't seen the issue myself, but I've heard about it.
Apparently I am in this month's Teen Vogue magazine. For real. I wouldn't make this up. (Well, actually I might, but I am not in this case.) I haven't seen the issue myself, but I've heard about it.
It looks like this blog is a father now. Well, sorta. Scott Harris was one of my students this summer and has started a political blog that mentions this site as an inspiration. Nice to know someone is reading out there in the blogosphere. Except he writes a lot more there than I do here, which will make me look bad if he keeps up the pace. Anyway his site is well worth checking out here, as is one of the sources on electoral college projections he links to, which is here.
Just got in from the Choate commencement exercises. Need to change out of these academic robes, given the 90-degree heat!
As James Taylor sang,
And our golden ones sail on, sail on
To another land beneath another sky
Good luck, Class of 2005!
Sort of. Fall term classes ended today. This break between trimesters hardly feels like a vacation, however, since the faculty here at school have exams to grade, reports to write, and winter term syllabi to prepare, all while trying to enjoy the Thanksgiving vacation.
This year was my first time grading the English department's proficiency test for 11th graders. The kids were given three hours yesterday afternoon to read a short story and write a critical essay in response to a question. Each exam was read by at least two department members this morning. We gathered at 8:30am and over the next three hours I read and graded 78 (!) exams. Admittedly, there was no expectation one had to mark the papers; in fact, we weren't allowed to, as it might influence the next reader. But I flew through those puppies.
Today was the start of the spring term at school. I am teaching a section of Constitutional Law to seniors and juniors; it's my usual spring elective in the history department. I am also continuing my American Literature class; we are about to delve into The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite books to teach.
Today was graduation day at Choate, an occasion which always brings mixed emotions. The ceremony itself was terrific: the rain (mostly) held off and the speeches were very good, especially the address by Senator Christopher Dodd. The weekend is a good chance to catch up with families and alums in town for the festivities. Moreover, this day more or less marks the start of my summer vacation (aside from the five days of report writing, wrap-up meetings, and departmental socializing that lie ahead!). But the down side is, of course, saying goodbye to kids I've gotten used to spending time with just about every day for the past few years. Most of them will keep in touch and come back and visit, but it never really will be the same. Teachers do get used to this rite of passage and September surely will bring new faces, but it's still sad to say goodbye.
During my stay in Greece, I've been listening to a series of lectures I got from The Teaching Company. This site offers lectures by well-know university professors in all sorts of different fields. I chose a set in Greek history and another in western political philosophy. I downloaded them from the company website and uploaded them in my iPod, where they show up in the Audiobooks format, which means I can resume a particular lecture where I left off, even if I play some music in the interim.
I am teaching a class called Modern Africa and Global Relations here at the Summer Academy at Cape Town. What makes this experience so different from teaching at home is the diversity of the students in each class. While I am accustomed to having students from all over the world in my Choate classroom, the presence of Africans and Europeans (as well as a geographically and racially diverse smattering of Americans) in each group adds a lot to our discussions.
The world is new again.
Today was the first day of classes here at Choate. After a week of pre-season training camp and orientation activities--which explains my absence in cyberspace these past days--we are finally up and running with a normal routine. This term I am teaching two history electives (Modern Japan and Use And Abuse Of Power). Then, come winter, I am on sabbatical leave.
The ranks of the cross country team swelled with many newcomers today, too. No doubt there are more to come; internal recruiting efforts are in overdrive!
And Memorial House is full of eager faces, both new and familiar.
There is something comforting in this annual rite of opening school: a sense of renewal and rebirth and starting over. In this period before tests are taken and athletic contests scored, all things are possible.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the American Library Association's Banned Books Week later this month, Google Books has created this site to encourage readers to explore the supposedly controversial works of literature.
A recent Choate alum--who shall remain nameless--sent me this note some weeks back:
you were right. kerry was the better candidate in 2004 but hindsight is 20/20 and i was wrong at the time.
i said it
Give 'em time and most of them will see the light.
David Halberstam died this week in a car accident in California. He enjoyed a distinguished career as a journalist and a sportswriter. I admire the versatility with which he alternated his work between "serious" topics and sport; of course, I'd argue he approached the latter with the same seriousness of purpose he brought to all his coverage of politics and culture. I've enjoyed a number of his books, which I've always found well written and provocative.
One personal anecdote came to mind in the wake of his passing: some years ago when I was teaching the Vietnam War elective here at Choate, I included excerpts from The Best And The Brightest, Halberstam's book on the genesis of the war among American politicians, on my syllabus. Well, one day Halberstam was visiting the Choate campus--I think one of his children was an applicant--and the tour guide was one of my students enrolled at that time in The U.S. In Vietnam. The good news was that this student told Mr. Halberstam that he was reading The Best And The Brightest as part of his coursework and found it fascinating. The bad news was that he let on that Halberstam's book had been distributed in (royalty-free) photocopy form! D'oh!
Anyway, we will miss this man of letters and his urbane and humane voice.
I've been making more use of iWeb to maintain a "microsite" for my Constitutional Law class this spring. I provide summaries of the real Supreme Court's decisions in the cases we cover in our Mock Court exercise. I also started a podcast; there's only one "episode" up right now--an explanation of something called substantive due process.
iWeb is a quick, easy way to edit and upload web content, though it works most smoothly with a .Mac account. I figure that I'm paying for this service, so I might as well use it.
This is Reunion Weekend at Choate. There were a fair number from the Class of 2006 back on campus, but most of the returnees I visited with were from 2002 and 1997 (attendance is always strongest among those celebrating their 5th, 10th, 20th, and 25th reunions, I think). It was nice to see some alums watching the tennis tournament today. We had a strong turnout at the dedication of our new Gelb Track & Field facility. And I had a nice evening catching up with folks in Hill House. It's always a hectic time for me, what with the tennis New Englands in full swing, but it's an enjoyable weekend nonetheless.
The last day of the spring term and it was over 90 degrees in Wallingford. In fact, I made the move to install my bedroom air conditioner this afternoon to create a bit of an oasis. It is, after all, Memorial Day weekend--the traditional start of the summer!
The kids have packed up and left for home, for graduation parties, for summer travel, or whatever. Memorial House is eerily quiet in the wake of the mass departure. The first few days after the end of the school year always seem a little spooky in the dorm.
As someone whose professional obligations include living with teenaged boys, this blogger's post resonated with me. I pass it along here in its entirety for the benefit of any members of the target audience who may have found their way here:
To: Surly Teenage Boys
From: The Straggly-Haired Pear-Shaped Heterosexual 30-Something Schlumpy Lady with the Glasses Who Drives the Dented Green Car with Britax Car Seats and WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER and GOD BLESS THE WHOLE WORLD NO EXCEPTIONS Bumper Stickers
Re: Take my word for it
Teenage Boys: Stop with the surly. You have nothing to be surly about yet. Yes, pimples suck. Yes, homework sucks. Yes, wanking with your mom’s Skin-So-Soft is not the same thing as doing it in the back of a rebuilt ‘78 Mustang with Jessica Alba.
But your parents give you a room with a bedroom door and they let you keep that door AND keep it closed. They let you have in that room GameBoys and Wiis and Xboxes and other things my aging brain files under the “ATARI” category. They let you hide out for endless hours in that stanky room with those things and they let you slam that door they let you keep. I am here to tell you that this would not be so at my house, because Ma Ingalls here would never put up with that kind of crap.
Aside from school, you are blessed with nearly unlimited freetime and very limited responsibilities. Yet you are surly. You are surly when you load my groceries into my cart. You are surly when I have to ask you to wait so I can find out whether or not Sophie wants chocolate milk or apple juice with her Unhappy Meal. You are surly when I finally pull up to the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through for my whole-milk latte with Splenda and I am not half as cute as my voice was through the speaker.
Let me tell you something, Surly Teenage Boys. Surly becomes a bad, bad, hard-to-beat habit, and it’s not going to help you get laid, either. At the very least, it’s not going to help you get laid well. I know right now you think that any sex is great sex, but you’d be surprised how far a good attitude goes in that department. Mumbling oh baby you know you want it in what you think is a sexy, tough guy voice? Is. Not. Hot. Look up ‘foreplay’ if you need to. Read a few interviews with Sting and Trudie Styler.
Better yet, just work on eye contact. Bonus tip: Sex is better if you’re not ashamed to look the other person in the face. Sex does not preclude smiling. ‘Preclude’ is a good SAT word. Look that up too. I’m trying to help you here. Our two demographics tend to be polar opposites, so consider this an outreach memo.
Surprise yourself. Surprise me and the other pear-shaped women of the world. Pull up your pants. Better yet, buy pants that fit. Scrap the Jay-Z cap. Borrow a tie for absolutely no reason and wear it like You Da Man. Because it’s that frickin’ simple. You Da Man, and not Da Boy, if you carry yourself with respect and treat other people with respect and LOOK PEOPLE IN THE EYE and STOP SHOWING YOUR BUTT CRACK. You could wear your grandmother’s lace doily on your head and no shirt and lederhosen with patent leather stilettos, and if you treated people well and dropped the surly act, you would STILL be Da Man, and you would get Da Girls. And I would like you too, although I would worry about your nipple ring getting caught in your lederhosen suspenders.
Look all people in the eye, even the haggard mother-types. Women like me, the ones who buy baby wipes and supersize tampons and organic milk and a guilty 24-inch Slim Jim and Us Weekly? We remember you. We remember you well. Not you in particular, but we remember how those of your age and species treated us at an early and difficult age, and it mattered. It mattered more than you knew at the time, more than we knew at the time. What you do now, how you treat the young women in your life after your shift at Big Y? I am here to tell you that it matters very much.
Be good to the girls. Not for what you want from them. Because bedroom door or no bedroom door, this whole time sucks bad for them too. Sucks worse, because they’re the ones who bear the visible brunt of young love gone bad and gone unhappily fertile. They’re the ones who wear the terms slut and whore and that c-word that you and I both know, while the guys who manhandle them just yank up their pants, readjust their caps and slink away smirking.
I’m not saying you’ve done this, not yet, but watch your mouth and expect more from yourself. It’s always been easier to ruin a girl than a guy. That kind of damage clings to a girl in ways you don’t know, in ways you don’t ever want to know. Women turn out strong because they’d die if they didn’t.
I’ve got girls. I’d rather you kept your paws off them. I’d rather they loved other girls. But they tell me they like boys like you, so I have no choice but to write you this memo.
Love girls well. Love them honestly. Or don’t love them. And tell them that, gently but assertively. Then walk away, never once talking trash about them. It’s pretty simple: If you don’t love them, don’t stick your boy parts into their girl parts. Be better than that.
If you do love them, great. Then keep your hands off them for longer than you think you can bear it. Keep your hands off them until they put their hands on you. Keep your hands off them for a full week after that too, if you can, and hear where they’re coming from. Listen hard. Because they are on your team. Although without this memo from me, it might have taken you another fifty years and two divorces to figure that out.
Snort if you want, disbelieve if you want, but I know exactly what your penis looks like under your Big Y or Burger King pants. Every pear-shaped mother whose groceries you bag? She knows too. And if she smiles slightly and sadly after she says thanks and you just grunt at the floor, that’s what she’s smiling about. Your penis, and how it rules your life these days.
Don’t get pissed off. Maybe you think you have a terrific penis. Maybe you think you don’t. Maybe you’ve read my post on Ron Black, his adult penis, and the Extender. If you haven’t, read it. Because the point is the same: Women, young or old, pear-shaped, apple-shaped, or brick shithouse-shaped, care much less about your penis than they do about your eyes or your mouth or your hands, and what they say.
What you can do with your penis and what comes out of your penis is just not all that impressive to us. You can do a great shadow-puppet snake act? Terrific. Lift a car with it? Excellent, dude. Get something up on YouTube, stat.
Please know this beyond a shadow of a doubt: Straight girls of all ages are just amused by your penis. Even when we seem to be actively enjoying your penis, we are still amused by your penis. The male member is a funny thing, and it’s even funnier that Freud was dead serious about his beloved theory of penis envy.
Penis envy is something that happens in sidewise glances in a men’s locker room or a men’s restroom, as far as we XX-chromosomed can figure out. There is penis pity, but Freud was too busy sweating and Gestalting in a back room to admit it to himself. It would have killed him.
We don’t care much about your penis and what you do with it, as long as you use it with respect in our presence, or disrespect it to a bloody pulp alone behind your bedroom door. We women DO care a lot about what you do with your eyes, your mouth, your hands. Young women are trying to convince themselves that they don’t care that much about anything, because then the disappointment when you treat them badly is not as acute. So maybe this is news to you. Good. Straight-talking news sources are hard to come by. Trust me.
I will say it again: Surprise them. Surprise the world, yourself, and that naked girl you’ve snuck into your bedroom after school, with great kindness. Kindness is all. Kindness to the naked hotties who will come your way, and kindness to the bundled, exhausted mother-types you barely seem to notice, even when they ask you for two fives and five ones instead of a ten and a five. At this point in our lives, we exhausted mother-types know a lot about sex, and we know a lot about kindness. Kindness is more surprising.
Do not forget: You’re here on this earth because someone had sex, or had a lot of sex that didn’t work, procreatively speaking, so they whipped up your ass in a test tube. But I guaranfrickintee you that sex was involved in some way.
I am no longer as cute as my voice. But I am a force to be reckoned with, particularly if you decide some day that you love one of my daughters. I can tell you right now that I will see it all, that I can see into you, that I will know from your eyes what kind of person you are, or are trying to be. I’ll know too if you’re not trying at all.
So I’m begging you. Start now. Throw surly to the wind. Look at me. I’ll look at you. Let’s smile at each other. I won’t look down at your penis, but we’ll both know it’s there. You’ll know I have a hoo-hoo, because one of my daughters will have fallen headfirst into the cart, and when you help her out, you’ll see she looks just like me. She’s too young for you, but there is someone out there right now who isn’t, and she’s thinking about you.
I know your options. I care about your options.
Rise to the occasion. Make it a habit. There’s a reason the nerdy dudes seem to get the hot chicks later in life. They figure it out early, have more time to practice. Or they’re stinkin’ rich. That’s the chick’s issue; I’ll address that later. Right now I’m talking to you.
Surliness sucks. Kindness rocks. Using girls sucks. Appreciating girls rocks.
I’m watching you. Watch me back. Take a good look at me as I wipe my whining kid’s nose and fumble for my car keys. If you love a girl for the long haul, this is what you’ll get. Someone like me. Someone like your mother.
Try not to recoil. Let it sink in. Because this is the start of recognizing that beauty runs a lot deeper than all of us can see, especially in our crappy surly early years. Since we’re speaking of surprise: Real beauty is fabulously surprising. The sooner you train yourself to look for it (not just the glossy enameled variety), the better.
Meet my eyes and I’ll meet yours. I promise to look harder for your beauty too, even the beauty you don’t know you have yet.
And maybe someday we’ll even have a good laugh over this after Thanksgiving dinner.
Even in the summer, there's a certain excitement about the beginning of school: new students, the term ahead, and fresh energy. I missed the first day of classes while in London yesterday but reported for duty promptly at 8:15 this morning!
Off to Washington, DC for the rest of the week with the J.F.K. Institute program.
I took the kids around to the monuments tonight. Evening is the best time to do this: it's a lot cooler, there are fewer crowds, and the venues are lighted for dramatic effect. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial--one of my favorites--was a huge disappointment, in that most of its fountain/waterfall features were dry and the lighting was not fully implemented through the site. But the Jefferson Memorial (pictured above), the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial all looked great.
Papers and exams graded, classes wrapped up, term reports filed, final faculty meeting over. I am now officially done.
I took off for Manhattan in the late afternoon to meet a group of six others for dinner. The party was spread over four graduation classes from Choate (five, counting 2003 summer school!) and we had a lovely evening over Italian cuisine at Isle of Capri on the Upper East Side. I caught the 12:23 train back to New Haven and am now quite ready to crash!
I spent most of today fleshing out three terms worth of syllabi for my U.S. History course, a class I haven't taught in over a decade. All the course resources are now online. By investing time in prepping the course in August, my daily work during the year will be far less stressful. Moreover, I do much better "big picture" planning before the proverbial train leaves the station, as it's scheduled to do in just over two weeks time. So I've worked out the pacing of the material pretty thoroughly at this point. The authorities better not change my schedule now!
There aren't any students on campus yet, but with the arrival of our new faculty members today for the first round of meetings, my schedule has official appointments, so I guess there is no avoiding it: the school year is now underway.
A new term begins, a new year gets underway. I'll come up for air in June sometime.
I teach on Saturdays only twice a year: the first weekend of school and Parents Weekend in October. Otherwise, my teaching schedule is limited to four days a week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
I've covered twelve straight nights of duty in Memorial House, including pre-season athletic camps. Tomorrow night I am off! I do prefer to front load my duty early in the term so I have more down time later in the trimester when I'm more in need of getting away.
Ourt faculty meetings start earlier and are limited to one hour. That's the good news. The down side is that we are no longer free to use laptops, grade work, or read anything, which means more work later in the evening.
I digested Restless Virgins the last couple of days. The book is a pretty quick read, mostly because it's pretty lightweight, seemingly more interested in titillation than enlightenment. It follows a small group of students at a Boston-area private school, whose population is roughly 50% boarding and 50% day, and chronicles a social climate in which partying and casual sex are routine. In fact, the year the co-authors describe culminated in a high-profile sex scandal that landed Milton Academy loads of unpleasant publicity.
Now, I'm not a Pollyanna when it comes to such topics; I recognize that these things are a part of teenage life, even at prestigious New England academies like the ones I have worked in for over twenty years now. But it seems to me this book is skewed in that it focuses on a very narrow cohort of Milton's student population and glosses over the differences between the lives of boarders and those of day students. Simply put, students at elite prep schools are painted in far too broad a brush in a work like this. It's too easy to conclude that children of privilege--and those schoolmates who aspire to be like them--live soap opera lives. My experience has been that reality for most kids in places like this is quite different. But you couldn't tell if Restless Virgins was your only window into this world.
The school hosted reporter Jeffrey Marx as a speaker tonight, to talk about the themes he develops in his book Season Of Life, a short meditation on coaching, masculinity, and values. I got to chat with the author over dinner beforehand with a small group of colleagues, too. Marx delivered a terrific presentation, one which seemed to resonate with the student body (no easy feat, that!). His message was what I have found to be true as I've been part of the teaching and coaching profession for over twenty years now: that true learning is made possible when the relationships between teachers and students, between coaches and athletes, are positive and affirming.
The annual autumnal ritual of meeting the parents of my students during the school's Parents Weekend is a source of stress and anxiety for many of my colleagues. I've never understood this. The arrival of the parents brings a certain energy to the campus. I enjoy meeting the families of the kids I've come to know well; it certainly is helpful to see these folks in action in order to better understand their offspring. So even though it will be a busy few days between now and Saturday, it should be fun.
I am off to the District of Columbia now through Thursday with my American Political Institutions class. We'll visit the White House and Capitol Hill, among other places.
Spent much of the morning in the White House. It's been a few years since I have been inside the building. We did the East Wing/mansion tour and then spent time chatting with a handful of relatively senior staffers. Pretty interesting stuff for the wonkishly inclined. It's still somewhat heady to be in the actual White House for a few hours.
We had lunch at the State Department, followed by back-to-back Asia-related briefings wth some high-ranking Foreign Service officers, the first focused on the Five Party Talks about North Korea, and the second on the recent Burma crisis.
Our last stop of the afternoon was a visit to the city's premier lobbyist/law firm Patton Boggs. We talked to several senior partners there, including former U.S. Senator John Breaux of Louisiana.
Tonight we head to Georgetown for a chat over pizza with Newsweek editor-at-large Evan Thomas.
The Choate group spent the morning on Capitol Hill, visiting the Senate and House chambers as well as a congressional hearing. We also met with freshman Representative Chris Murphy (D-CT) and enjoyed a luncheon in the Capitol with some CRH alums.
On the ride back, we watched Mr. Smith Goes To Washington on the bus. I had forgotten just how good this film is.
Off now to the athletic center to run a late night make-up practice for cross country team members who were on the DC trip with me. Two days until our first championship meet!
This day is one of my favorite in the whole year. It's the final cross country practice of the fall, and after our weekly meditation session, I traditionally read the letters written to the team--"words of wisdom," if you will--from recent alums. Many are funny, some are touching, but all are wonderful connections to runners and teams past. As I read these missives aloud, I can picture very clearly each author sitting on the floor of the hockey locker room one or five or ten years ago, in the place where fifty current team members sit transfixed, eager to hear from their predecessors.
Well the New England meet is a thing of the past. This event, which took up more and more of my time the past couple of weeks, turned out successfully for the most part. The Choate team was somewhat disappointed with its collective performance, and I always feel guilty trying to give the runners the attention they need while we coaches are juggling the frenetic nature of playing host. But the weather cooperated, races went smoothly, and the reception and awards ceremony was as efficiently run as it's ever been. [Thanks to former Choate Cross Country parent (twice over) Jan Gelb for the above photo.]
Not even 24 hours after the end of the cross country season, I am off to Simsbury for a noon meeting of the New England squash coaches. From one season, onto the next!
No exams in my classes this fall, so I am pretty much done for the term. I've got duty in Mem House tonight, some meetings to attend, and of course term-end reports to write, but most of the next week is unscheduled for me.
Just finished reading, proofing, and filing my term-end reports. The process is entirely electronic now: word processed comments are pasted into a database via a web browser. When I started teaching, these reports were handwritten or typed onto NCR paper (with three colored layers that copied whatever was written on the top one).
Now I am about to head into Manhattan for an admissions gathering for the school.
First day of a new term . . . always gets the blood flowing!
One of the hidden benefits of my work at athletic director is that I have a bit control over teaching schedule than most teachers. As such, I am not slated to teach on Wednesdays nor Saturdays, as those are game days, which are most likely to require my presence in the athletic office. So I teach Monday and Tuesday, get a respite, and then have two more days to close out the week. Not so today, when my blocks have an unusual Saturday class meeting scheduled to balance out the number of sessions between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks with the other teaching blocks. And with my luck, my classes start at 8 a.m. (though are mercifully over by 10 a.m.).
This is my last night in 2007 doing evening duty in Memorial House. I'll enjoy having a different rhythm the next few weeks, and then I'll be ready and eager to be back to the routine.
I was notified today that I have been awarded a Coe Fellowship by the history department at Stanford University. So I will be spending a couple of weeks in the Bay Area this summer.
The bad news is I had back-to-back athletic director meetings tonight: the Founders League ADs met from 5pm until 7, followed by the Western New England group--a session that wrapped up about 9:30. The good news is that both of these meetings were here at Choate, which meant I missed just the tail end of tennis practice and could cruise right down the hill to get home at the end of the night.
Let it not be said that I do not introduce my young charges to all that is great in our civilization: here is the Choate tennis team earlier today at the one and only--not counting the other one down the street, that is--Blink's FryDoe in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. This culinary treat followed a dip in the frigid North Atlantic Ocean.
My U.S. History class turned in portfolios of essays--three of them, to be precise--about the 1960s. This was the culmination of a two-week period of individual research and writing. So while the past couple of weeks I've had a much lighter class day experience, now I am facing 45 essays to read and grade! My general policy is to return all tests and papers the next class day, but I'm giving myself a week to turn these around.
Just taught my last class of the year . . .
SCHOOL'S . . . OUT . . . FOR . . . THE SUMMER. (da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum)
I am about to drape myself in academic regalia--a black gown and a hood adorned in white and Williams purple--to sweat through the better part of an outdoor ceremony in nearly 100 degrees of heat for the next two hours. The event, of course, is Choate's graduation exercises.
My good friend Chuck Timlin (note the obligatory Samuel Johnson reference) wrote the following piece, which appeared in the Hartford Courant a week ago--a reflection that perfectly captures my own feelings about the day.
"Great Joy Tempered By Deep Sadness"
A Sunday early in June is the most bittersweet day of each year for me. When I wake up that morning, I already know that I will go to bed that night emotionally wrung out. Each year, I experience the most selfless joy for my students as they graduate from Choate Rosemary Hall and the most selfish sadness for my loss.
After sipping my morning coffee, I shave and shower and watch the beginning of the men's French Open tennis final (also always played on our graduation day) as I put on a pair of dress pants, shirt and tie. Then, I go down to the basement closet and look for my robe, red and white hood, and mortarboard. I am always a bit surprised to find them still there, as if even the inanimate world would refuse to participate in the wrenching ritual about to unfold.
At 10 o'clock, I walk across the street on campus and take my place in line with my colleagues. At 10:30 the bagpipers in the front unleash their stirring swells of Caledonian war music, and we begin our march through the gauntlet the senior class has formed. All the girls wear beautiful white dresses and hold single, long-stemmed, crimson roses. The boys wear dark suits with crimson roses pinned to their lapels. They no longer look like boys and girls but seem to have transformed overnight into men and women. As we saunter through, seniors cheer and call out greetings to their teacher friends. I begin to see eyes watering up. I think those haunting bagpipes and the physical fact of our marching strikes the first note to them that this is indeed the beginning of the end.
Once the teachers pass them, the students pair up and march behind us toward their seats, facing ours on either side of the stage. During the long ceremony, I have time to scan the vast sea of students and their families on the green lawn. The graduates seem to tingle with excitement and expectation. Why shouldn't they? All they can think about now is that high school and all of its restrictions upon them are ending.
I look more closely to find the students I have come to know more as friends than pupils. A girl with whom I read Hamlet shows none of the sweet prince's melancholy. A boy I coached in basketball bats playfully at one of the beach balls bouncing above the scene. They are in love with the moment. I am trying to hold onto the last minutes of a relationship that in a couple of hours will never be the same.
As the seniors line up for the awarding of diplomas, I try to pay attention to all of the names announced. I want to see every student to whom I've grown particularly close receive his or her diploma. But every year, as the Y's are being called out, I look over my roster of graduates' names and realize, disconcertingly, that I missed seeing several students walk across the stage. I feel as if I have betrayed them somehow.
The ritual concluded, we teachers march back out between the rows of seats. The seniors, now graduates, again yell out our names, and more tears well up in eyes. Then it's onto the luncheon. For the next hour or so graduates and parents come up to us to offer thanks, little gifts, and requests for photos. A student gives me a parting hug and whispers, "I will never forget you." I have learned to quote Dr. Johnson's fine reply to his pupil Boswell on a similar occasion: "Nay sir, it is more likely you should forget me, than that I should forget you."
And then, they are all gone. Later that afternoon, I take a long, slow walk around the campus. It is a ritual that I must re-enact each year to confront my mixed emotions. I feel drained from the academic year just ended. And, having had so many heartstrings cut earlier that day, I feel the blues coming on.
There is a quiet about the campus that in a week will feel therapeutic but which now feels unreal. It's too quiet, as if all the life has been drained out of the place, turning it into a vacuum.
This is a crazy way of going through life. You get used to seeing these kids just about every day for three or four years, you have given a large part of your heart to them (and they have given even more of theirs to you) and then snip — the cord is cut and you may see some of them once or twice in the next 10 years.
They say that the three best reasons for teaching are June, July and August, but "they" don't know what it feels like to die so many little deaths at the crossroads of spring and summer.
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's character Jordan Baker praises fall as the season when "life starts all over again." She was right. I know that only September's regeneration of the student body will make me feel whole again.
Well said, Chuck.
I had a nice dinner in Georgetown at J. Paul's on M Street with a group of nine relatively recent Choate grads, all drawn from the classes of 2004 through 2007. It was an eclectic mix of people, but a pleasant night out.
One of the interesting by-products of my career is knowing people pretty much anywhere I travel. I have connected with a few Choate students and alums here in the Bay Area already, mostly because my Facebook status indicated I was in town. Tonight I met Calen Ipalook '06 (and Stanford '10) in downtown Palo Alto, where we caught up at a pretty good sports bar. I am meeting one of my former tennis captains for breakfast tomorrow morning.
In his review of The Landmark Herodotus in an April issue of The New Yorker, classicist Daniel Mendelsohn describes the story of the Persian invasion of Greece chronicled by "the father of history" as follows:
Then, there is the story itself. A great power sets its sights on a smaller, strange, and faraway land—an easy target, or so it would seem. Led first by a father and then, a decade later, by his son, this great power invades the lesser country twice. The father, so people say, is a bland and bureaucratic man, far more temperate than the son; and, indeed, it is the second invasion that will seize the imagination of history for many years to come. For although it is far larger and more aggressive than the first, it leads to unexpected disaster. Many commentators ascribe this disaster to the flawed decisions of the son: a man whose bluster competes with, or perhaps covers for, a certain hollowness at the center; a leader who is at once hobbled by personal demons (among which, it seems, is an Oedipal conflict) and given to grandiose gestures, who at best seems incapable of comprehending, and at worst is simply incurious about, how different or foreign his enemy really is. Although he himself is unscathed by the disaster he has wreaked, the fortunes and the reputation of the country he rules are seriously damaged. A great power has stumbled badly, against all expectations.
Captains of Choate's interscholastic teams arrived at school last night for today's leadership training sessions, which I had a hand in running. So with students back on campus and sleeping in my dorm, I guess it's fair to say the 2008-2009 school year is at hand.
Always an infusion of energy on the first day of classes in a new school year! Glad to be back in action.
I took Choate's American government classes up to Hartford on a field trip today. We checked out the State Capitol, met with State Senator Len Fasano, and then crossed the street to the Supreme Court, where we spent some time with the Chief Justice, Chase T. Rogers. Believe it or not, in all these years of teaching politics and government classes, this was my first time dealing with the Connecticut state government or visiting any of these landmarks.
I am not one of those faculty who grouse about Parents Weekend and the ordeal of meeting families. In fact, I like it a lot. But there's no doubt that once it's over I am pretty much ready to collapse. I am now unscheduled until 3:30 on Tuesday, when my team practices.
1. Get up.
2. Breakfast at Abbott's
4. Community lunch.
5. Teach PS550 classes.
6. Athletics staff meeting.
7. Cross country coaching.
8. Meet with girls' squash captain and co-coach.
9. AVOID ALL INTERNET SITES ABOUT THE ELECTION, ESPECIALLY THOSE WITH LEAKED EXIT POLLS.
10. Eat dinner.
11. Go to Goodyears for Election Night Party.
12. Await good news.
The last exams of the term were given at school this morning, so I am more or less on break for the next week. That doesn't mean there is nothing to do, however; it will be a busy break. All of our term-end reports must be written and filed, and I also need to polish the syllabus for my Modern Japan survey for the winter trimester. Add to that some family time on Thanksgiving, and three productions in the city--two plays and one opera--all of which should be enjoyable. And there are all sorts of work-related and personal projects that will need some attention in the next seven days, too. But I will have the advantage of mostly unscheduled expanses of time for a little while, which is a pleasant change of pace.
I just filed my last report at 2:19, just a few minutes past the 2:00 deadline. I don't feel too guilty about this, since I wrote a grand total of 101 reports (for two large sections of 16 students + 69 cross country team members), most of them in the past 24 hours. I'll have another 11 comments to write for my advisees in the next few days, once I digest their teachers' remarks, but that will be a walk in the park by comparison.
So I've pretty much committed to return to teaching summer school and running the John F. Kennedy Institute here at Choate next summer. My other option was going to school full-time, but it looks like I'll put that on hold (again!). My reasons are part financial, part logistical, and part philosophical. I probably will go to the University of Cambridge to study for a couple of weeks in August, and perhaps do some coursework at Yale or Wesleyan next summer as well.
Pretty close to Christmas vacation right now: one day of classes remain (in which I am giving a test, so no prep is involved). I've got some athletics-related duties over the weekend, but for the most part the pace of life around Choate will slow to a crawl as the holidays approach.
I am attending my first Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association here in New York this weekend. I've been a member of this group--which once claimed Teddy Roosevelt as its president--on and off over the years. Since this gathering was in New York and scheduled at a time when I had no other trips nor obligations planned, I decided to give it a whirl. And as a bonus, the special hotel rate makes a weekend in the city eminently affordable. While the conference is dominated by college professors, there are a fair number of high school teachers, public historians, and independent scholars here as well. I already attended one session and found myself sitting next to a Choate grad who now teaches at the university level.
I got a call this afternoon informing me that I have been named High School Coach Of The Year for the New England Division of the United States Professional Tennis Association, the premier organization of coaches and teaching pros in the country. Not sure how my name got on the Association's radar, so this was an unexpected honor. I'll now be expected to attend the awards luncheon in New Hampshire next weekend--and will have to juggle my schedule a bit to do so. It will be a good chance to catch up with some USPTA folks I haven't seen in quite a while.
On the drive up to Worcester for a NEPSAC Executive Board meeting, I played a video lecture on my iPhone: "How To Really Achieve Your Childhood Dreams" by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie-Mellon professor of computer science who delivered these inspirational remarks just after he had been diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer a couple years back. Well worth the time to watch this. The lecture and other good stuff is available on the late professor's website.
So I have a cool plaque for my office, or maybe for the Hunt Tennis Center. Not sure who nominated me for this, but I had a nice time at the Convention up in New Hampshire today. Saw a couple of presentations: one by the Yale women's coach on running a team practice, and another by former world top ten player Tim Mayotte. I also reconnected with a few folks in the tennis world I haven't seen in some time.
On the way home, I stopped at Phillips Exeter to see Choate's boys' basketball teams, who were arriving for their games. I then drove straight back to the Remsen arena for crowd control duties during the Choate/Taft boys' varsity hockey game. I got around to dinner about 9:30 at night.
One of the good things about teaching term electives in a school on a trimester schedule is that three times a year I feel as if I am starting fresh all over again. My sense of repeated renewal is highly recommended.
It dawned on me today that the cultural references I make with my classes and with team are increasingly greeted with blank stares. How is it that today's kids don't know who Captain Kirk is but know all the words to songs from Mulan?
I am spending three days on the campus of St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire--the place I started my prep school teaching career years ago. I am here as part of a visiting evaluation team to review the school's athletic department. It's kind of fun to be able to take a break from my routine and poke around a similar school for a while.
I am getting ready to head up to Beantown to lead a "lecture tour" this afternoon at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library for a group of 30 or so from Choate's Boston Alumni Club. I'm not particularly equipped to give a very knowledgeable tour of the JFK Library, but I am informed by my handlers that I should be ready to lend my "interpretive expertise" to the experience! I suppose I can say a few meaningful things about Choate's most famous graduate, but I will cross my fingers that the questions won't expose my inadequacies.
Yesterday I got the official notification of my acceptance into my program of choice at the University of Cambridge, so I'll be spending some time in England this summer immersed in books amidst some crumbly old buildings. I fished around on Amazon.com earlier today to find the best prices for my course books, though I dread the thought of lugging texts overseas and back! When I was at Stanford in 2008, I ended up shipping a dozen books back home so I wouldn't have to schlep them through Oregon, L.A., and San Diego.
While traveling to central Jersey, I had about three hours solo in the car, which was a perfect chance to get caught up on my favorite podcasts and also listen to a couple of lectures that I purchased from The Teaching Company. I am a fan of both of these formats--podcasts and audio lectures--and used my time behind the wheel this afternoon to good advantage.
In today's post, I got the first shipment of the books I'll be using at Cambridge this summer, courtesy of Amazon.com. I'll confess to still getting a bit giddy whenever new books arrive for a class I am teaching or taking. I guess that's why I may never be a complete convert to Kindle (or whatever form e-books may end up in), as there is something tremendously satisfying about the printed page and the physical representation of ideas in book form.
I spent this afternoon with the Choate team at another one of my old stomping grounds: the Phillips Academy campus, where I taught and coached in the first year of my career. Our tennis matches with Andover are usually hard-fought affairs, and we managed to eke out a 4-3 victory in dramatic fashion, with our team captain closing out his #4 singles match 6-4 in the third set.
This was an especially gratifying win for the squad, as it represents a breakthrough this season: until today, we struggled to win the doubles point against better opponents and we had yet to assemble a team victory in a contest against a truly competitive rival. Things fell together for us against a very solid team, enabling us to climb to a 7-4 season record and secure our place in the New England playoffs next weekend. We'll hope to use this momentum in our remaining dual matches and in the tournament.
I am delivering a mini-lecture tonight in conjunction with a former 60 Minutes producer about how television news covers a story. This is for a colleague's class on the media and democracy. We are looking at a segment from 60 Minutes about a drug trafficking scandal here at school in the mid-1980s, a few years before I arrived. My remarks will be centered around what I believe are driving story values in television news, with a focus on the three S's: sex, scandal, and schadenfreude.
Just two class days to go for me: today and Thursday. Tomorrow is senior speeches and the class trip to the beach. Thursday I am doubling up on my Constitutional Law classes, with a session after school for the "Super Bowl" case against the other section. This takes the place of Friday's meeting. So the end is near.
I always like these lyrics from "Never Die Young" by James Taylor when thinking about the departure of newly minted Choate graduates each June:
I guess it had to happen someday soon
Wasn't nothing to hold them down
They would rise from among us like a big balloon
Take the sky and forsake the ground
Oh, yes, other hearts were broken
Yeah, other dreams ran dry
But our golden ones sail on, sail on
To another land beneath another sky
Apparently there were some ruffled feathers that this corner of cyberspace never mentioned two Class of '08 Choaties whom I met in Paris at the end of last month and who spent a day with me at the French Open. They did treat me to dinner (and I did treat them to breakfast when they had run out of money a couple days later) but I should note that they did foul my hotel bathroom, too. At any rate, Christophe and Tucker now can enjoy a small moment of recognition.
I spent much of the last twenty-four hours working on a paper--what I call a "critical essay" when I teach fifth form English--on Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One. The essay, prepared for the course I am currently taking at Yale, ended up being roughly eight pages long. As it's been awhile since I've written papers like this--and I am generating at least two a week, mostly shorter, throughout the five-week term--I have been getting some writing muscles that have gone flabby back into shape. What has really struck me is the various ways technology has made this process so much easier since my own undergraduate days.
The ease with which I can access information via the Internet means I have a lot more resources at my disposal in a unimaginably convenient manner. Kids now take this for granted, of course. (Damn, that makes me sound like a cranky old man!) When I was in college, I used to check out a stack of books and bring them back to my room, which is where I preferred to write. Today when I was trying to find a line from a medieval religious pageant, I simply searched online and found what I was looking for in seconds; it was in an out-of-print edition that Google Books had posted, so all I had to do was select the text and copy and paste it.
In terms of the actual writing, I was ahead of the curve starting in the first term of my freshman year at Williams, since I was a relatively early adopter of word processing technology. I wrote my first several papers on the manual typewriter that I had brought with me to school, and then discovered a basement room in one of the language buildings where a small number of in-the-know students gathered to take advantage of word processing on a batch of Commodore computers; if you were inside when the building was locked, you could stay there all night to work. I shifted to the IBM PC about a year later, and then the following year to the newly released Apple Macintosh machine, which I instantly knew was created for someone like me. Anyway the actual work of composing and revising on screen isn't all that different now than it was then. The one element which I have incorporated into my writing process recently is voice recognition software, which allows me to dictate ideas rather quickly, inputting a lot of text fairly easily. Of course I still need to go back over all of it thoroughly to edit and reshape the prose. But when I was in high school and college, I only could have dreamed of speaking and seeing my words appear on a computer screen.
Well, maybe not all that little.
A handful of newly graduated Choaties--most of the prefects here in Mem House this past year--moved back into the dorm today, so it feels like old times and the ghosts in the empty corridors have been chased away, at least until August.
I am sitting in the opening meeting of the Choate summer school right now after taking last summer off to take advantage of a fellowship at Stanford. It's actually a pretty good gig for me, in that I run a program in government and politics for high school kids with a strong interest in these fields. And the compensation for five weeks work is pretty good too.
The 2009 crop of Choate summer school students arrives today. Classes don't actually start until tomorrow, but I need to be on point here in the dorm to meet the families of the middle school boys moving into Mem House. The quiet campus of the past few weeks is about to be transformed!
Our group of thirteen students and three adults spent most of the day on Capitol Hill after a morning visit to a prominent lobbying firm. The new Capitol Visitors Center is impressive; nice to see the finished product after looking at that huge hole in the ground on the East Front for years. The highlight of the day was a 15-minute or so meeting with the Speaker of the House; Nancy Pelosi met with us on the Speaker's Balcony--arguably one of the best views in the District!
I got to see the (relatively) new Nationals Park tonight as the local NL franchise hosted the Mets. It was a beautiful night for a game and I enjoyed the company of a quartet or recent Choate alums: an two '05s, an '06, and an '08--all cross country and Mem House vets.
Today's appointments for the Kennedy Institute's D.C. session happened to involve a handful of former students: two veterans of the Kennedy Institute and a trio of Choate "winter school" grads all doing great things in either government service or related work in the private sector. (Two of them also taught with me in the K.I. summer program, too.) As a teacher, it's very rewarding to see those I once knew as eager 15-year-olds now positioned as seasoned veterans in prominent roles in the nation's capital. One of them is chief-of-staff for a Representative, another a staff director and counsel for a major House Homeland Security subcommittee, one more working on government relations for Google, and yet another developing a career as a lobbyist after a half-dozen years as a Senate aide.
In the last 24 hours, I finished grading chores on two sets of final exams and two sets of papers (thankfully sharing the labors with teaching interns) and also wrote evaluations of the interns as well as most of the 26 teacher comments I need to submit before flying off to England tonight. A handful of errands are still ahead of me today, chief among them packing for the trip!
I just said good-bye to the Kennedy Institute kids, whom I shall miss.
As a Mac person, I am partial to Keynote--rather than PowerPoint--for visuals whenever I do presentations for a group. This morning I had such a presentation to deliver to about 50 interscholastic team captains at Choate. For the first time I used an iPhone app as a remote control to drive Keynote. This had the advantage of getting me out from behind the laptop; before I had to be within range of the infrared sensor when I used the traditional white Apple remote control. The Keynote Remote for iPhone works over the wireless network, so I could be much more mobile in the lecture hall and move through my slides with ease. And all this for 99¢!
I have always been intrigued by these One Day University programs, held around the country with superstar university professors offering a day's worth of lectures. So I enrolled in one in New York City on Sunday, October 4 and signed up for presentations in American Studies, Art, English, Philosophy, Music, and Religion.
Living with 14-year-olds exposes me to some curious musical choices, I suppose. It's fascinating to me that the rock band Queen is very popular with teens nowadays. I could see if it were 1979 rather than 2009, or even if we were in Britain rather than the States, but I can't figure out this particular fascination.
Just finished a slate of lectures as part of the One Day University program. This meant getting up in time to take the 5:45 a.m. train from New Haven so I could be at the New York Hilton before 9:00 for the first lecture on Moby-Dick. Subsequent presentations were on the psychology of art appreciation, Shakespeare, the philosophy of the ancients, and connections between Beethoven and The Beatles. Pretty interesting day overall. Now back to Grand Central for the train to Connecticut.
Made it into Dallas last night and took a shuttle to the Gaylord Texan Hotel and Convention Center, a mammoth complex right near the airport. I am attending my fourth National Athletic Directors Conference in the past four years (the others were in Anaheim and Nashville). Since I'm only here until first thing Monday morning, and I'll be engaged in a trio of four-hour mini-courses as well as other sessions in that time, plus I don't have a car, it's unlikely I will get out of this place to see anything else in Dallas. So I could well be anywhere in the country right now; the city itself doesn't register in my plans. Of course, there is a slew of restaurants and other diversions here in the convention/hotel complex, so I'll be living in the convention bubble this weekend, I guess.
Today is the first day of the winter trimester here at Choate. I am teaching History 423, The United States In Vietnam, an elective course I taught with some regularity before I was appointed Director of Athletics in 1996. In fact, it has been thirteen years since I did this course. So this term will be like getting reacquainted with an old friend. And I'll be able to approach the material from a relatively fresh perspective too. Moreover, I have visited Vietnam since the last time I handled this subject, so my time in Saigon should inform my teaching. Should be fun!
I am prepping for tomorrow's class and reading Frances FitzGerald's Fire In The Lake for the first time in a long while. Though it's controversial in some (i.e., right-wing) circles, I always liked this book because it's so well grounded in Vietnamese culture and history and helps unwind the Indochina conflict(s) by dealing with the culture clash(es) involved. This work holds up pretty well as I return to it nearly fifteen years later.
I just gave a test to my U.S. In Vietnam class and am now celebrating being on holiday break (more or less). In spite of how much I love my job, even after all these years there is still a thrill to the sensation of finishing up before the start of a vacation!
The Memorial House common room is festively decorated with a fire roaring in the fireplace and plenty of treats for the boys coming back from their final school commitment before break: a concert presentation in the Arts Center. So spirits are high and we had an enjoyable evening. Most of the older kids are accompanying me to the midnight premiere of Avatar 3D later on at the local cineplex, once the third formers are in bed for the night. First thing in the morning, the campus empties out. Many of the kids are taking off before dawn to catch international flights.
I've figured out the best way to schedule my weekend duty nights in the dorm: I do as many of them early in the term as possible so that as the inevitable cabin fever/fatigue of the term sets in, I can look forward to having free nights on the weekend.
This means these first couple of weekends in January I am doing a lot of duty, but the payoff will come in February!
In a wonderful surprise, the school awarded yours truly a faculty chair at this morning's school meeting. It's a very nice honor, if a bit embarrassing to be in the spotlight in front of the entire community for ten minutes. I now hold the Hubert S. Packard Chair, named after the longtime French teacher and wrestling coach at Choate, who was (fittingly) also a Williams College alumnus. I am told I will actually be getting an actual physical chair to commemorate this award. I also will get a nice little bump in pay for the ten-year term of the chair.
This morning, the Choate faculty had a three-hour professional development session. (No classes were scheduled for the day, as this week has an academic Saturday.) This may be a nice break in routine for my colleague, but it totally throws off my morning. That's because I never teach on Wednesday morning. I am scheduled to teach--one or two classes per term--in rotating blocks that do not meet on Wednesdays or Saturdays so I can be available in the Department of Athletics office on game days. So a three-hour block like this on a Wednesday cuts into my productivity in a big way.
Just over a week after being awarded the faculty chair, I am still receiving some wonderfully thoughtful sentiments from colleagues, students, parents, and alumni. Folks have been just so nice about this honor. I am humbled and grateful for all the good wishes.
The chair arrived today. When one is awarded a named faculty chair at Choate, the school gives you a very nice actual chair. It has the school seal engraved on the front and my name on the back. Pretty classy, I think.
An article in this morning's New York Times addresses the perception that those of us working in academia skew toward a liberal political orientation. The current thinking:
Now new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals -- and so few conservatives -- want to be professors.
Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.
The tendency of people in any institution or organization to try to fit in also reinforces the political one-sidedness . . . when it comes to hiring, "the majority will tend to support candidates like them in the matter of fundamental beliefs, values and commitments."
Provocative analysis, and one that seems to make sense to me.
Since I arrived at Choate, there has been a winter term tradition called "President's Day" in which the head of school makes a surprise announcement in the evening canceling the following day's classes. Word just came via e-mail that tomorrow is the day, so spirits are running pretty high around here right now.
I've signed on for teaching duties once again this summer, but have begged off taking the Kennedy Institute kids to D.C. for a week in July. I have taught most summers since I began my career and mostly enjoy the change of pace represented by the summer school, but I don't think I can schlep around muggy Washington again. This way, I'll be able to enroll in the course at Yale I am planning to take, too.
Busy week here dealing with the media. Because three members of the U.S. Women's Ice Hockey Team are Choate graduates, the school has been getting a lot of coverage in the local papers on the airwaves. I've talked to a bunch of journalists and facilitated camera crews and reporters coming to campus to shoot some footage and interview Choate coaches and athletes. Tonight, I am hosting our girls' varsity ice hockey team for a pizza dinner while the gold medal game in women's hockey is contested between the U.S. and Canadian squads. We'll have visitors from the Hartford Courant, NBC Connecticut, and public radio on hand. After tonight, all of this attention should subside, no matter what happens in the game!
. . . well, that may be exaggerating, but since exams at Choate ended today, the campus more or less cleared out as kids headed off onto their spring break (aside from a few teams still competing) and the place is awfully quiet for a change!
One of my students in my first year at Choate, Geoffrey Fletcher, just won an Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay. What a thrill. This was largely unexpected, as he was passed over in the other major awards shindigs this season. And judging from Geoff's reaction, he was pretty surprised too! Bravo, Geoff.
Spent most of this afternoon catching up with a Choate post-graduate from the Class of 1993. He now lives in Helsinki and we had a great time reminiscing about the old days in Hill House and talking about our lives since.
I've been using a good bit of time this week prepping my new spring course, "Shakespeare And The Death Of Kings," about the history plays. It will include Richard II, both parts of Henry IV, Henry V, Richard III, and King Lear. I've got the syllabus more or less set at this point and am fleshing out paper assignments and support materials. I've also prepped much of the first play so I can hit the ground running next week.
I showed my Shakespeare class the 1953 film Julius Caesar tonight to introduce some of the themes we will be covering in this course on the history plays. Marlon Brando is great as Antony in this movie. As one whose first exposure to Brando was in his later life roles in Superman and Apocalypse Now, seeing him as a vital young actor in top form is pretty thrilling.
After spending two full days coaching this weekend, I am pretty exhausted. I won't have much of a break next weekend either, even though there is no tennis match scheduled for my team. I am slated to drive a few kids from my English to class to Washington to see two Shakespeare plays. We will leave first thing Saturday morning, stay overnight, and drive back on Easter Sunday. So I will be behind the wheel at least twelve hours.
I've got a faculty meeting from 8:30am until about noon to determine major year-end prizes, then immediately after that I am taking the tennis team up to Deerfield, MA, for the balance of the day. Once back on campus in the evening, I am scheduled for duty in Memorial House--and check-in is at midnight tonight, as the younger kids have a big dance. That's a pretty full day.
Hard to believe it's been forty years since the Kent State shootings, when National Guardsmen opened fire on student demonstrators, killing four of them. When I taught a course on the Vietnam War, I used to show a film called The War At Home, which captured the domestic social and political tensions associated with what was going on in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. Of course the truth of the anti-war movement on college campuses in that era is that protests dropped off significantly once the draft was abolished.
Last May in Paris, I picked up an olive green bag--sort of a messenger bag, I guess--at the adidas shop on the Champs-Élysées. It's very useful to throw over my shoulder when cruising around town on the scooter. And I can fit my iPad or MacBook Air in it very comfortably, even though it's pretty small.
So what would one find in it this morning?
Started the morning at the Memorial Day parade in town before helping run the school's Field Day activities for a couple of hours. A beautiful day for both.
This afternoon I have a lunch date with two girls from the squash team, and then I will attend a capstone project presentation by one of my advisees: a documentary film about charter schools.
Then tonight is my final night of duty for the school year!
The return of alumni to the Choate campus is generally a good thing: a chance to reconnect with faces from the past and catch up on lives that have evolved over the years. Not every aspect of the weekend is positive, however, such as waking up at 1:30 a.m. last night to find two Class of 2005 grads making themselves at home in my living room, watching TV and drinking beer!
A relatively quiet day after the departure of the Class of 2010 from the Choate campus yesterday. I met a couple of the new grads and their families for breakfast in town this morning, had a couple of meetings in the Athletic Center, got started on my term reports, and am visiting my parents for dinner this evening. Lots of work still ahead of me this week before I head off to Europe for an eight-day tour.
For the third year, I created summer training shirts for the boys' cross country team. 2008's was gray, last year's was light blue, and this summer's is gold. (In 2011, we'll go with navy before beginning the cycle once more the following year.)
The Latin quote on the back of the shirt is from Ovid. Roughly translated it means, "Be patient and put up with it; one day this pain will pay dividends." (The sources of the quotations seem to swing between high and low culture from year to year: 2008's was from Robert Frost, while 2009's was from a Van Halen song!)
An artist likes to signs his work. And as a teacher, my work is my students. So I designed some T-shirts bearing my signature for me to distribute to the kids in my classes and on my team at the end of the term--what may become an ongoing tradition. I have started to hand these out and have been met with some bemusement, but the shirts generally have been quite well received (people like freebies and like to get things that are limited in quantity). In fact, the economic principle of scarcity was in full evidence: I've fielded literally dozens of requests from other kids for extra shirts if there are any available.
Each group's shirt has its own moniker and color scheme: red on yellow ("Sunburst") is for my Shakespeare elective; pink on blue ("Baby") is for Constitutional Law; white on green ("Rally") is for varsity boys' tennis; and the silver on black ("Genesis") was the test run of a half-dozen or so shirts I had made some weeks back.
A year ago, I referenced the words to "Never Die Young" by James Taylor as a song I associate with the graduation of students from Choate. Here are the lyrics of "Landslide" by Stevie Nicks, which also capture how I feel about a day like today:
Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too
Bon voyage, Class of 2010! You shall be missed.
Well, not really banquets, I guess. But at the end of the school year, there is a cluster of faculty events requiring my attendance in between report writing, meetings, and other such chores. Last night was the English department party. Today there is a catered luncheon in the Alumni Center for the history department, and tomorrow night is a big shindig for all the school's faculty and staff.
Good to know the chances of meeting up with someone connected to Choate are pretty high no matter where one goes in the world. Had an enjoyable dinner near the Duomo tonight with one of my former advisees from the Class of 2009, a runner and tennis player. He is here for six weeks studying Italian.
I am attending the pre-Wimbledon coaches gathering hosted by the LTA that I have been to twice before. I've also attended the USTA's version of this conference, held on the eve of the U.S. Open, many times over the years (though that conference used to be a lot bigger than its British equivalent). And I even made it to a similar such conference in Melbourne before the 1998 Australian Open. I usually pick up a few good ideas at these workshops and meet some interesting folks as well.
I just finished my athletics-themed presentation at the Risk Management conference sponsored by TABS (The Association of Boarding Schools), and it seemed to be well received. I'll take a 1:34 train from Wilmington and be back on the Choate campus for the opening dinner for the summer session faculty at 6:00.
New students are arriving on the Choate campus as the summer session kicks into gear. I am prepping a new class for middle schoolers as well as teaching a small group in this year's Kennedy Institute In Government program.
One of the two classes I am teaching this summer is a middle school history class. Working with ten 12- and 13-year-olds is a new experience for me, in that I have to shift my assignments and teaching style a bit for this different age cohort. So far they seem to be a pretty capable bunch and I'll be interested to see just what they can do as the syllabus unfolds over the next few weeks.
After the school year ended, I ordered T-shirts for my third former advisees, the only group I worked with this past spring that didn't get one of my signature shirts. Each class or team or advisee group gets its own color scheme. These are called "Dragon."
New signature T-shirts unveiled this weekend and distributed to my summer school classes. This one, in blue and orange, is called "Metropolitan."
One of my two summer school history classes heads to D.C. this afternoon for the Kennedy Institute Washington session (which I, having done this trip nearly twenty times now, begged off). This means I'll have an extra 80 minutes of class time freed up this week (plus one fewer prep).
Two days from the end for the summer session here at Choate. I taught the last new materlal of the five-week term today. Final exams will be administered tomorrow, and then grading and report writing becomes my focus, and I will be on my way to the airport on Friday at the same time a lot of the kids here will be heading out.
Being on a train for four nights is giving me a great opportunity to unwind and catch up on my reading. George Packer's article about the "broken" Senate in last week's issue of The New Yorker is a fascinating read: a "don't miss" piece for anyone interested in American politics and government. I'll have to find a way to work this into my American Political Institutions course this fall.
I left Wallingford at 9 a.m. with members of the boys' soccer team loaded into one of the school's mid-buses. After a journey to Casco, Maine, and back, I hit campus at just about 9 p.m. on the button. Like Sunday's trip, I faced a lot of rain on the return voyage (though the traffic was much better).
I drove a handful of kids from my cross country team to New Hampshire today for running camp. I didn't expect to get caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way back, however. It seems like everyone in the Northeast was driving from New Hampshire to Connecticut on an early Sunday evening. And the constant precipitation didn't make the experience any more palatable.
I attended the funeral of a faculty colleague today in the school chapel--understandably a very sad occasion. The silver lining was the chance to reconnect with former students who came back to campus to pay their respects. It's touching to belong to a community like this where the ties that bind are often so strong.
The Eight Schools Association (Andover, Choate, Deerfield, Exeter, Hotchkiss, Lawrenceville, Northfield Mt. Hermon, and St. Paul's) is a group I've dealt with quite a bit in my role as athletic director. So it was nice to spend most of today at Hotchkiss School with fellow teachers of English from most of the member schools, discussing teaching and literature. Of particular interest to me was the round table session on Shakespeare in the classroom.
Since we have an informal long weekend break with no classes scheduled tomorrow, I am escaping into Manhattan for the day. I am in the middle of a One Day University program, sitting through a half-dozen presentations by college professors (and former New York governor Mario Cuomo) on such diverse topics as the U.S. Supreme Court, psychology, creative writing, and Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. Pretty fascinating stuff.
Got a text from a 2005 Choate alum tonight that brought a smile to my face. Here is the exchange: