Sometimes a picture really is worth more than a thousand words.
I have always been a lover of words. As a child, I loved nursery rhymes and limericks, fairy tales and songs, and I lost myself in books. I learned early the power of words, how they could make you feel invincible, or hurt you worse than any other weapon. As I grew older, I loved writing and manipulating words, expressing sorrows, joys, and petty jealousies in long-lost diaries and journals. I went to college and analyzed and argued the classics, and became a teacher to convince children of the power of words.
It’s the unspoken words, however, that are the most powerful and sometimes tell the best stories.
And nothing tells a story better than a great photograph.
My dog, Shasta, is very high energy. Her looks tell all. After Christmas dinner, while everyone else is hooked up to their gadgets and distractions, and all she wants is a little attention.
In the summer, we don’t get much rain, but when it does rain it can be dramatic. Even if it spoils your Saturday afternoon plans of sitting on a restaurant patio, tossing back a few cold ones with your buddies, an unexpected rain storm can be a joyous occasion.
On the flip side, nothing says West Texas like a windmill and cattle next to empty railroad tracks on the Llano Estacado. If you follow 287 into Amarillo, this is pretty much what you’ll see, for miles and miles and miles.
Remember when you were a kid and you thought if you hid behind something, no matter how small, as long as you couldn’t see the other person they couldn’t see you either? And remember looking at the world through a balloon, and how the world suddenly became wrapped in yellow and you almost stopped breathing because it was so familiarly strange?
You don’t have to run a marathon to know they’re not easy. In most races the last mile is always the hardest, and at mile 25, with the end in sight, you sometimes need a little help. All you have to do is look at her face to know how many miles she held on, waiting for that hand to give her the strength to finish.
Photos capture things from the past. We remember the events, but we forget what it felt like to be there. Was it really that beautiful? Did I feel as small and insignificant that day as I look in the photograph? Did I gasp at the grandeur of the vista, or was I too tired to notice? Did I feel joy? Did I appreciate it then as much as I do now looking back at the photograph?
Words are important, whether spoken or unspoken. Words can paint a scene or an emotion, or they can twist and corrupt with their silence. Be careful what you say–or where you point your camera.
Now that the days are getting long and hot, and I search for anything to get me through to October when the days might cool off a bit if we’re lucky, I dream of snow. White, cold, fluffy snow.
And snow always makes me think of one of my students.
We have a rule in our school district that if the weather turns bad after a certain time in the morning, the buses will run and the schools will open. No matter how bad the weather gets, once the decision is made schools stay open for the entire day.
We rarely get snow in Dallas, but on this one day it started to snow after the cutoff time. By the time school opened at 8:00, the ground was covered in white and the snow was still falling.
As you can imagine, trying to get a bunch of fifth graders to settle down when all they want to be doing is playing in the snow, is tough. School is the last place they want to be.
On days like this you usually have two kinds of kids who show up: the straight A students who never miss, and the ones you pray will stay home just this one day, please dear God.
Ramon (name changed to protect the innocent) was in that first group. He was a smart kid. He never got in trouble, always did his work, and was very well-liked by his classmates. He even had a few girls think he was cute. But there are times when even the good kids go bad.
Like on a snow day.
After picking up the students, walking them up the stairs and past the windows where they could all moan and groan about the fact that they were here and not there, and telling them for the fifteenth time that no, we can’t go outside and play in the snow, the students settled down and got to work on journal writing. The usual suspects stared off into space, not a clue as to what they should write about, and the others wrote furiously about the unfairness of being stuck at school while so-and-so got to stay home and play in the snow. Pencil leads were snapping, sighs and moans were expelled, and even I felt gipped that school wasn’t closed.
A few minutes into journal writing, Ramon walked up to me with a worried look on his face and asked if he could go to the restroom, it was an emergency. I gave him the Disbelieving Teacher Look, saw the desperate look in his eyes, and decided he was legit. He grabbed the hall pass and escaped.
Class continued. I decided to read a chapter aloud from the book I had been reading to the students, knowing they would lord it over the kids who hadn’t come to school that day. It was a particularly good part of the book, and I was enjoying making the story as dramatic as possible. The class listened intently as I read.
After fifteen minutes or so, I looked up to see the assistant principal standing in my doorway. Mildly annoyed that she was interrupting our right at the good part, I also noticed she had someone with her. Someone who was hiding behind her.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Is this your student?”
Uh oh. I had forgotten about Ramon.
“Yes. He went to the restroom,” I meekly replied.
“Uh huh!” she said. “Do you have any idea where I found him?”
I looked at Ramon. He was looking at the floor. Ramon was in trouble and somehow it was my fault.
The AP called me into the hallway. The class was loving every minute of this. I walked out into the hallway, sweeping the room with my Evil Eye Teacher Look that said don’t even think about it.
Apparently the AP had been making the rounds downstairs after the bell rang, making sure everyone was in class and accounted for, when she heard someone yelling and knocking outside the door to the playground. The door was set to lock when it closed. When she opened the door who did she discover? Ramon.
For some completely innocent reason, Ramon had decided to go to the downstairs restroom. He couldn’t explain why. As he passed the door leading to the playground, he heard someone knocking to be let in. Being the good Samaritan that he is, of course, he opened the door–and was promptly thrown into the snow by some THUGS! They had really done a number on him, too, because his hair, shirt, and jeans were sopping wet.
“Who were these thugs?” I asked. “Just some guys who wanted to be mean” he sheepishly answered.
I said, “Wow, those were some really mean guys to throw you down in the snow like that! That’s awful, Ramon. It’s too bad you opened the door for them.”
He swore it was all true. He even cried.
We sent him into class, closed the door, and burst out laughing in the hallway.
We teased him all year about the thugs. We warned him to watch out for the thugs at dismissal at the end of the day. We asked him if the thugs ate his homework when he didn’t have it in class. We made sure he had a buddy on field trips so the thugs wouldn’t force him to do fun things again.
We were so worried about him, we even had him explain it to his mom on Parent Conference night. After a long look at him, she rolled her eyes and shook her head.
He knew he had been caught red handed, and he laughed along with us. I told him he would never, ever forget the day he went bad. He said he would never, ever do something that stupid again.
So on these horribly hot days of summer, when I’m running in temperatures that are meant for an oven, I’ll think of Ramon and how much fun he must have had rolling in the snow. He said it was worth it, and I believe him.
I’m one of those people who would probably be happiest being a full-time student. I wouldn’t want to write the papers and take the exams, but I would be happy sitting in class, taking notes, reading the material, and taking part in classroom discussions.
I think it all started with The Golden Treasury of Knowledge.
I probably learned more from The Golden Treasury of Knowledge than anything I learned in school. The Golden Treasury of Knowledge was something akin to The Encyclopedia Britannica, only on a much smaller scale. I think my mom and dad bought them on sale at the grocery store. To a shy, nerdy, bookish grade school kid, they were knowledge nirvana.
I had the first six volumes. Each volume spent three or four pages on different subjects. I particularly liked the pages on gems because I loved collecting rocks. I was also kind of fascinated with the medieval ages.
I spent many summer afternoons reading through the books. I went back to them all the way through junior high and high school. They taught me a lot.
I always loved school, especially grade school. I loved learning. High school was different. My senior year I felt like all I was doing was biding my time until graduation. I was ready to be done, and didn’t put much effort into my classes. The sad thing was, no one really seemed to notice.
Maybe it’s blasphemous coming from a teacher, but I don’t think formal education is necessarily the only–or best–way to learn something.
As a former grade school teacher, I have to acknowledge that at least a quarter of the school day was spent transitioning from one class or activity to another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve never understood the unrelenting push for “time on task.” Try sitting all day in a seminar or conference with no breaks and you’ll get what I mean. No one is meant to spend eight full hours engaged in learning, least of all small children. And the push to get rid of gym, music, art, library, etc. in order to spend more time on “academic” endeavors (i.e. test taking prep) = complete insanity.
I think anyone can teach themselves anything on their own. In my world, the answer to almost anything can usually be found in a book–or the internet. If I have a problem with anything in life, I usually head for my computer first, a book next, and then all my friends.
Michael and I are teaching ourselves how to garden. We’re building a fence. Neither of us expects perfection, which is key to teaching yourself anything.
When I started running six years ago, before I joined a running group and learned from the experiences of others, I read every book about running I could get my hands on. I still go back periodically and consult the books, especially when I decide to start training for a new race and make a new a training plan.
For me, the best teacher is experience. I’ve learned more about running by just running than anything I ever read in a book.
Michael taught himself everything he knows about computers. Despite a degree in something completely unrelated to computers, he now makes his living from data and computers. He’s also recently taught himself photography and videography.
Hel’s also directly responsible for my own exit out of the technological stone age. A few years ago he showed me how to set up Power Point presentations for my fifth grade social studies lessons. Then he talked me into giving up my Blackberry for a smart phone, and I spent a very stressful weekend reading the online manual trying to understand the mini-computer in my hand.
By the time my son gave me an iPad for Christmas, it took me no time at all to learn the ropes. Learning to blog and upload photos has been huge for me this past year. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
I still love to read and learn new things, especially science. I wish I’d had better science teachers when I was younger.
I recently read a book by Carl Sagan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which Wikipedia called “a Roots for the human species.” Sagan is one of my idols, and I wish he was still alive. I have to admit, the book was a little dry, but I learned a lot.
I have no idea what happened to my Golden Treasury of Knowledge, volumes 1-6. Like other things from childhood, I suspect it either found a new home or met its end in a trashcan. I can’t imagine not having computers and the internet, but I think we did okay without them when I was growing up.
I don’t know if there’s some type of internet equivalent of The Golden Treasury of Knowledge, but I hope there is. It taught me a lot about the world.