Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Affirmation

(the historical map that hangs over my home desk)

Yesterday, I had a totally affirming moment with a student after my last class of the day.

The interchange validated what I do on a daily basis, and it made me feel like I was flying.

Yesterday, we were discussing the Armenian Genocide of 1915 (which did, in fact, take place) and the modernization efforts of Mustafa Kemal in the emerging Republic of Turkey in the post-war years.

After class, one student came up to talk to me. He is from Somalia, originally, and his family fled when he was just a child to avoid the violence there.

His first comment was, "I really am enjoying this class very much. I appreciate that you let us discuss things and voice our opinions and come to our own conclusions. I'm a senior, and I had been avoiding my history requirement, because I dreaded taking it. I thought it was going to be like high school, where you just threw a bunch of facts at us."

And I knew, in that moment, that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing in this life.

I am opening young minds to the possibilities.

I am charging them to become independent thinkers, to use evidence to draw their own conclusions, and to follow through on their thoughts with actions.

He went on to say that he is committed to making the world a safer place, so that things like this can not take place ever again.

He has a police background, and is working to go into full-time law enforcement.

He told me that as they were fleeing from Somalia, he asked his mother why people do such horrible things. He said, "How can this happen?"

She replied, "All that is necessary for evil to occur is for good men to do nothing." (a very famous quotation, by the way, from Eleanor Roosevelt).

And he told me that is why he is determined to go into law enforcement.

I told him we need more people like him in our world.

This thoughtful, intelligent, determined young man is going to leave his mark on our world. I can see that very clearly.

And he let me know, in no uncertain terms yesterday afternoon, that I have left my mark on him.

I feel honored.

And I flew.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tales of the Tall Ships

(The Bounty)

This weekend the Tall Ships tackled the Erie docks for a spectacular festival showcasing these marvelous sailing vessels.

There were six ships here all weekend: The Bounty, the Niagara, the Lynx, the Roald Admundson, the Unicorn, and the Pride of Baltimore II.

We spent a delightful day on Dobbins Landing, soaking in the history and romance of these impressive ships.

My personal favorite was the Bounty, a ship built as a replica of the original Bounty in 1960 for the Marlon Brando film "Mutiny on the Bounty." This ship has also made appearances in other films, including the recent "Pirates of the Carribean" films.

This ship simply oozed romance, power, and history. Belowdecks, the woodwork gleamed. The red leather in the captain's office glowed. And we got a real glimpse of the life the sailors led as they took these ships into unknown and often dangerous territory.

(the rigging of the Bounty)

The rigging and flags on the Bounty took my breath away.

We also were able to board the Niagara, whose home base is Erie. This is a replica of the ship from the War of 1812, the flagship of Oliver Hazard Perry. It is also an awesome vessel.

(the Flagship Niagara)

Belowdecks, one has to duck in order to move through the cramped quarters. (and if I have to duck, as I stand at only 5'1" tall, you know that the ceilings are indeed low!). Aboard the Niagara, the cook was in the process of preparing lunch for the crew, in the tiny galley, and let me tell you, lunch sure smelled good!

(flag on the rigging of the Niagara)

The third vessel that we had time to tour was the Lynx, a much smaller ship that the Bounty and Niagara. Based out of Newport Beach, CA, the Lynx is an interpretation of a naval schooner, approximating the original Lynx built in 1812, which was among the first ships to defend recently won American freedom by evading the British aval fleet that blockaded U.S. ports.

(the rigging of the Lynx and the Niagara, Lynx in foreground)

The Lynx, though small, was also impressive, as we were informed that she can travel up to 12 knots under sail. A beautiful ship, indeed.

(view through the gunwhale of the Lynx)

We also took the opportunity to go to the top of the Tower on Dobbins Landing, to take advantage of the spectacular panoramic view of the ships from above.

(the view from the tower, Niagara on the left, Unicorn top right and Roald Admundsen lower right).

The weather was a perfect Fall day, with plenty of sunshine, a gentle breeze, and temperatures hovering right around 70 degrees. I could not have asked for a better overall experience, as I let go of everything but the sensation of the sailing ships around me.

And it reminded me, again, of the significance of hands on education, and the importance of seeing "how it really was."

All in all, the Tall Ships Festival in Erie rates a huge FIVE STARS out of FIVE. I hope they repeat the experience many times.

(powder barrel aboard the Bounty)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ready or Not, Here I Come!

Today was the first day of classes for me.

As many of you know, I was approaching this day with a great deal of trepidation. How would the students respond to me? Would they KNOW I was denied tenure? Would they treat me differently? Mock me? Scorn me?

I was a bundle of nerves. Raw energy. Ready to be labeled a failure before I even began.

And I walked into my classroom at 7:50am this morning to find two thirds of the class already there. Many greeted me with a cheerful "Good morning!" I responded in kind, sounding much more confident and upbeat that I really was.

And I proceeded to the podium to open the computer and get set up for class. Of course, I was having technical difficulties (par for the course at my institution).

As I was working, I glanced around the room, registering faces and scoping the students to gauge the tenor of the class.

And I heard a bright voice ring out "Are you ready for us, Dr. Kern?"

Following the voice, I found a female adult student, smiling with bright eyes, gazing intently at me. "Are you ready, Dr. Kern? Ready for us?" She repeated.

And I smiled back at her, broadly, and responded "yes, I am! Are you ready to be back?"

And in that moment, I knew I was, indeed, ready. I have always been ready. For the classroom is exactly where I belong.

And this morning, in that 8am class, I had one of the best class sessions ever. I felt alive and vital and on top of my game, and the students responded. My passion for history and for teaching shone through all the crap and crud of the past year, and everything fell away except that passion. The students felt it. They grasped it. And I reveled in that moment.

That student, with her casual charge, "Are you ready for us, Dr. Kern?" reignited me.

So, despite the difficulty of facing my colleagues on a daily basis, and the stress of being in a place where SOME of my coworkers don't want me, I will have a good year.

Because it's not about them. It never has been.

It's about the students. It always has been, for me.

The rest of my day went well, too. I had two other good classes (though not as good as that first one), and I had a visit from a student, interested in World War II, who just stopped in to chat about his interests.

All in all, a highly successful first day back.

The first of many, I hope. It's time for my to fly, and teaching gives me my wind.

So watch out, world. Ready or not, here I come!