Tuesday, April 15, 2008


In the dark ages of the early 1990's, I attended the University of Hartford. Sometimes, I participated in "leadership conferences" (read: willing to wake up on a Saturday sans hangover). Here's a letter I wrote to my future self while "learning to lead":

Dear Future Ken (If you still go by the identifier 'Ken', as I presume life in the 21st Century will become wholly digitized. If so, please use the following greeting - Dear 10-0110-Kappa),

I know you're going to be disappointed when you receive this self-crafted note from your younger self. The use of hand-written notations will tear at your binary spirit. Looking upon lined paper will remind you of deforestation (remember trees?). But most disheartening is that when you read this, you will have dreadfully fulfilled your younger self's self-fulfilling prophecy:

You are a teacher.

Go ahead, look around the room you're currently sitting in (yep, I know you'll be seated, too). Eerie, isn't it? The pin-point acumen I have in mapping out the space between this letter's creation and your reading of it. And to think that folks say that young people "don't have a clue".

Now, putting aside your paltry salary (And I bet you'll be paying for health care as well. Even teacher's unions will prove powerless against a majority of taxpayers ponying up the bulk of their own coverage.), I'd like to throw you a compliment (cherish this, because you'll learn that they're few and far between in a teacher's career):

You're a good teacher.

Not Teacher of the Year good. Not likely to appear on Oprah good. But good. Quietly doing right for your students. Carefully taking more time to think about instruction and relationships than on handouts and assessment.

And don't listen to everyone who wants to wave the tattered flag of assessment in your face. There's not a number in the world that ever accurately conveyed the worth of a child. You and me, we're evidence to that.

You've been teaching now for 15 years. It's 2008. Do you live underground or above the Troposphere? Whatever you do, stay out of the Mesosphere (can you say, 'burn, baby, burn'?). What are some of the new inventions? What are students like? Don't bother trying to write me back, I'm just using this space to kill some time. The presenter tells us we're supposed to write for 20 minutes.

Dad has a portable phone. I imagine that they'll keep gaining ground. I mean, people love things that are portable. I have my Walkman with me right now. Odds are, your students will love music just as much as you did/do (Wow! It can be confusing writing to your future self.).

My friend Mike (you guys still friends?) has an Apple computer. Beats the crap out of my Toshiba Word Processor (graduation gift? My high school graduation gift?? Good grief, please tell me that you're still pissed off about this one!). Sometimes, I just sit at his desk and type and type and type and then I print everything. Nothing beats a dot-matrix printer.

I have a feeling that you'll have a computer. And I'm certain your school will have a bunch. I mean, we did have a computer class at Abington (remember making your name appear all over the screen?). Maybe they'll be in classrooms. Say goodbye to bookshelves.

Are you thinking, what's a 'book'? Haven't seen one in years. Are people reading anything? Or is everyone watching television? Have you been on The Real World? Or better yet, who hasn't?

I'm watching a lot of television these days, and I'm averaging 1.2 movies per week. You better be a good teacher, because you're already up against a massive army of mixed media. Maybe when you read this, classes will no longer be 47 minutes. Maybe they'll be 2 minutes at a time, 23 times a day. Jump cut. Fade in. Fade out. That's what the future of education is all about.

Finally, future self, I want to impart a couple things about teaching that have stuck with me. I think the current student in me has experienced enough instructional practices to make some informed recommendations.

I'm super-gluing the following to my conscious just for you:
  1. Say 'hi' to every student in your classes...every day. Then, ask each student a question. Questions don't have to be about course content. Kids love to talk about themselves. Heck, I'm 22 and I love to talk about myself (oh, and write to myself...talk about ego). Ask 'em something like, what's your favorite hot food served cold?
  2. Do more than teach. Don't 'honor thy contract'. Instead, 'honor thy students'. They need more than a teacher; they need a presence.
  3. If you're going to narrow down your course to 'what's important', then tether yourself to 'theme', 'symbolism', and 'allegory'. Students bring plenty of these three from their own lives. Use your content to explore the myriad of experiences embedded in their Schemas.
  4. Stay current. Already, I get made fun of for referencing The Dark Crystal, so imagine using that one on 21st Century adolescents. Can you say 'Gelfling meat'?
  5. It's okay to make kids run hills, literally and figuratively. It's not a punishment; it's exercise. It's conditioning. It's life. Uphill. Up hills.
If you're anything like me, you'll figure all of this out for yourself long before you read this. If any of the aforementioned kernels is out-of-the-box new, then you've probably out-stayed your welcome. You're due for a change.

But I think that would be a shame. I can't see you doing anything else...except having children; lots and lots of children.

Just remember...college is expensive, and it's only going to get pricier.

Hugs and kisses,



Ian said...

I'm tucking that assignment in the old noggin for my college teaching days. Maybe I should write myself a letter.

James and Tom said...

I love that letter. Really, a great piece of writing.

Thank you.

blueyestars said...

I did one of these in College, at Temple, 8 years ago. Plus I found some old writings from High School. All I have to say is my spelling has improved! :) I laugh at how much I have changed/did not change. I had my son write himself a letter when he was 6, so when he is 12 he can see how much he has improved. His letter said along the lines, "Hello. How are you? I guess Mom has not sold you on Ebay yet."

Anonymous said...

I found this link by mistake, looking up how to know when you've out stayed your welcome,and it completely sucked me in......I loved it! I'm wondering if I'm a teacher because I'm always pondering symbolism and allegory......