Sunday, June 16, 2013

Just Me and my Daddy Dean

Today is Father's Day.  After 37 of these things, you'd think I'd get better at remembering to send a card.  But in true Nazworth fashion, I wait until the last minute and always wind up late.  So instead of a card, it will be a blog post dedicated to my Daddy Dean.  That's what my grandmother always said I called him.  I don't remember it, and I don't know where I would've gotten it, but I like it. 

My dad taught me many things in my life. 

He taught me that most things can be fixed with duct tape and WD-40.  And if it can't be, then I should just call him. 

He taught me to check the oil and tires before I leave on any trip and that you should plan to leave by 1:00 if you're really shooting for 4:00. 

He taught me to pitch a softball, make a freethrow, sink the 8 ball, and shoot dice.  He taught me to ride a bike and roller skate and he tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift (or how to read the owner's manual and figure it out on my own). 

He taught me that humor is a common language, and he helped me master the art of a well-timed one-liner. 

He taught me about working hard and playing hard.  He taught me that you have to earn a win and that by earning it, it's even more meaningful.

My dad could shoot pool with either hand, play 18 holes one-handed, or beat you at dominos giving up a 50 point advantage. 

He loves babies, animals, fried fish, and Little Debbie snack cakes.  He always wore a pearl snap shirt, lambchop sideburns, and a baseball cap.  He's still rarely seen without a ball cap. He's flawed, just like the rest of us, but his imperfections and struggles have never stopped him. 

He's been a farmer, a night-club manager, a small business owner, a volunteer firefighter, a pilot, a race-car driver, a long-haul trucker.  But mostly he's just been my dad.  And I'm pretty damn thankful, every day, for that.

This is my dad. 

My dad was the first in his family to graduate from college.  I was the second.  And I'm proud to have graduated from his alma mater.

This is my dad and my mom.  Although it's Father's Day, I feel like she needs an appearance too.  He'd be the first to tell you that without Wanda, there is no Dean.  They just celebrated their 40th anniversary last month.

My mom, dad, and mom's best friend, Aunt Patti. They were not the "stay at home" kind of crowd.

Dean with a beard.  Still looks weird to me.
Cuddling with the catch of the day.

Dean, the farmer.  They're probably just fixing it with some WD-40.

The next four pics are of my dad and my brothers.  The first two are my oldest brother, JD.  And the next two are my other brother, Jimmy Ray.  

 I had to crop this photo to avoid indecency charges. Put a diaper on, man.

One of the things I'm most proud of, however, is that those boys turned out to be pretty spectacular dads of their own sons.

JD and Hunter: Way Back

Hunter and JD: Closer to now.

3 generations of Deans -- James Dean, Roy Dean, and Hunter Dean.  And a Wanda.

Jim and Isaiah

Naptime.  Dads are good at that.

My favorite picture of Jim and his favorite tiny superhero.

My dad is a goofball.  Although he takes great pictures, the ones I love most of him are those with goofy faces.

As you can tell, goofiness -- much like our tardiness -- is a family trait.

My dad can sleep anywhere.  Including in the middle of feeding me.

Luckily, by the time Hunter Dean arrived, he was a little better at it.  Or maybe we just snapped the picture too early.

This is my dad today -- whipping me at dominos. He'll admit that he's not quite as fast or young as he once was, but neither am I and that's okay. Because no matter how old I get, this is how I see us. 
Just me and my Daddy Dean.

Happy Father's Day, Dean-O.  I love you bunches.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Amazing Things Will Happen.

Normally, the last day of school is a pretty joyous day. 

The students are usually all:
And the teachers are all:
And, admittedly, some of the teachers may do that dance, too.  That's what happens on a "normal" last day.  But today wasn't that day.  This week just wasn't that kind of week.
In case you don't live in North Arlington or read newspapers or listen to just general gossip or speculation, you might not know what's been happening in my school.  To make a long story short, we haven't met the standards set in place -- AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) -- according to NCLB (No Child Left Behind).  All those letters are federal standards, measured in accordance with state testing standards. 

Now, you can feel how you want to feel and say what you want to say about standardized testing or how we measure student progress here in the good ol' U.S. of A.  That's your business.  And you may or may not realize that A) every state's measurement standards differ.  Or 2) that once you're in trouble with the Feds, you're in it... and you have to prove you're worthy by making AYP two years in a row.  So finally) a school could actually be seen as a top-perfoming school in the eyes of the state and still continue to be seen as a failing school in the eyes of the federal government (See: Nichols 2010).

But, as I said, you can feel however you want to feel.  Mostly, I just feel confused by it all.

AYP also advances in stages.  When a school first misses the mark, they are in Stage I. On a side note, it has never escaped my attention that the AYP lingo is the same lingo we use for classifying cancer. Stage 1 is sort of shocking, but fairly isolated and easily treatable.  But Stage IV... man, watch the eff out for Stage IV.  Ain't nobody got time for that.  Stage IV is devastation.

There is no Stage V in the cancer world, but there is in AYP.  And that, my friends, is where we've found ourselves. 

This year has been especially difficult.  We, as a faculty, have been living and working and teaching in a metaphorical pressure cooker.  There are, I'm sure, many people who have decided that somehow we've gotten what we've deserved.  They will say that we didn't work hard enough or that we didn't use the right materials.  Or that we should have tried this.  Or that we should have tried that.  Or that we must not really care.  Or that we're a waste of time or money.  Or that we should be ashamed.  Or that we don't deserve a voice in our own fate.

Don't laugh.  Don't doubt.  Those are actual quotes I've heard -- some whispered behind hands, eyebrows raised.  Others voiced openly and publicly.  Mostly by people who have never worked in a struggling school.

It's been hard to wear the Scarlet "N".  But we've done it, and we tried to keep our heads held high.  In many ways, I've done it my entire career.  I've been on the end of the sympathetic head tilt many a time when I've told other district employees where I teach.  They react as if I told them I had a dreaded disease.  Like cancer, I suppose.

So this week, the decisions of some led to the leaving of many.  Today, it was very hard to celebrate the end of the school year.  It was hard to remember the success of our students, and we've actually had many -- just not those that are measurable with a scantron and a #2 pencil.  And it was very difficult to say goodbye.  I'm not very good at goodbye.

See, the greatest thing about being a Mustang is that you are always a Mustang.  I have heard, time and time again, that there is something truly special and unique about our building.  Teachers leave and go to other campuses or districts, and they always report that they might like their school, but it just doesn't feel like home.  The Nichols faculty is a family.  We may not always get along or agree, but we love each other.  We support one another.  Teaching in a struggling school feels like going to battle, and our faculty has been in the trenches together for a really long time.

While I will remain at NJH next year, seeing so many of my friends leave today was tough.  Some were leaving by their own choice while others were not, but it doesn't matter how they left.  They left.  And we will all have a tremendous amount to rebuild -- within our school and within ourselves -- no matter where we all land in August.

I wore one of my favorite shirts today.  It's the last shirt I have from the grief camp I used to volunteer for.  (It didn't escape my attention that there are, strangely enough, five stages of grief). The camp's motto is, "We cannot choose the way we are hurt, but we can choose the way we are healed."  We have been hurt.  We will continue to hurt. 

But we can choose to heal.  And, God, I pray that healing touches all our hearts soon.  I don't know how or when it will begin to happen, but my suspicion is that it will start with the smile of a student in August.  Or a hug from a colleague.  Or a parent choosing to believe in each of us.  I doubt that it will start with a test score. 

Just as I was about to go to bed tonight, I saw a video that made me think of my school family.  It's the farewell speech from Conan O'Brien when he left The Tonight Show under much scrutiny and a highly publicized controversy.  The first time I watched it, I just watched it.  But the second time I watched it, I heard it.  And it went straight to my broken heart and placed a tiny band-aid.  It may not hold for long, but it held long enough to make me believe that amazing things will happen.

Amazing things will happen, friends.  Not just at Nichols but wherever we all land.  Amazing things will happen because of who we are and what we've learned from one another.  Amazing things will happen because we struggled mightily and never gave up.  And there is beauty, real beauty, in standing tall in a fight that no one else thinks you can win -- in standing up when all you want to do, when all anyone expects you to do, is stay down.

They will happen.  I believe it.  I believe it in my heart, broken as it may be right now.  I have to. And I  hope you believe it in yours as well.

So, good night, my Mustang friends.  But not goodbye.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pass It On...

There is a song I once sang, at a camp, not so long ago.  Its opening lines are:

"It only takes a spark
to get a fire going,
and soon all those around
will warm up to its glowing."

It's a song we sing to celebrate the love of God, but, for me, it's also about celebrating the warmth we find within one another.  The friendships we form and cultivate.  The knowledge and guidance we provide to one another.  That's what camp does -- more than any other place in the world.  The light we find in each other, even those of us who may be old friends, grows within us and begins to change us.  And it burns so brightly we feel as though the darkness may never creep up upon us again.

But it does. It always does.  And it threatens to snuff out our joy, our hope, our light. 

Last night, one of my camp family, Matt, was killed in a car wreck.  This morning, one of my most precious and joyous friends, Jarrett, called to tell me.  The pain in his voice and in his tears, the confusion and loss, cracked my chest open with grief. 

Matt was a wonderful young man, and in the short summer that I knew him, I found him to be quick to smile but long on patience.  He always seemed to be just off to the side, watching first, but wherever he appeared, he brought a calm and a peace to the situation.  He had a quiet air and a quick wit, and to sit next to him at dinner was the prime spot to catch one of his quick jokes.  As his supervisor, I cannot say I knew him well, but I know that he was well-loved by his friends and well-respected by his peers. And if you were to know them, you'd know what a fine compliment that is.

All day, I have grieved and worried.  I have felt that darkness, so familiar an old friend, scratching at the door of my heart.  When I heard Jarrett's voice on the phone, I felt my light flutter, and I worried.  I worried about how these kids -- my kids -- will mourn Matt, the toll that grief exacts on people so young.  How the unfairness of a life gone so quickly, so abruptly, can burn a hole in your spirit and rage uncontrollably.  I worried -- I worry -- that it will engulf them.

I thought about Matt all day, and I thought about those closest to him.  The more I thought about him, the less I cried.  I even began to smile as the sun set before me.  Because while he is gone, he will not be forgotten.  The light of Matt, that spark I saw 2 summers ago, won't be snuffed out.  It can't be because it burns on within each of us that had the privilege to know him.  And it burns strongest in those who loved him best.
The SFA crew -- AJ, Matt, Jarrett, and Destiny

Matt, at home on the range.

And they're not the type to let it flicker out.  They will pass it along -- sharing his smile, honoring his life.  I know this much to be true.

This one's for you Matt, and for all those who loved you, from the very first week you were a part of our camp family.  Thank you for your spark.