Monday, June 1, 2015

One for the History Books

     One of the things I've done to help me cope with being away from teaching for over two full years is honing in on experiences I've had that wouldn't have been possible if I were working.  When I went on medial leave in February of 2013, I did not have any guarantees that I would ever go back.  The reality of that set in through a gradual process.  Events at my school that I couldn't be a part of, or traditions that I returned for (like Ham-o-ween, my colleagues' annual fall celebration of pork consumption) reminded me of what I was missing on a day-to-day basis.  So, it helped immensely to recognize and appreciate occasions that couldn't have existed had I been working.  One of the greatest examples of this happened on Friday, when I surprised my favorite high school teacher and popped into one of his final classes before he retires this month.   

     Mr. Dillabough was still the same teacher I had fifteen years ago.  The same wit, passion, and energy were there, and have been every day of his 42 year career.  My mom had him for history, and I had him for AP History and Government / Econ.  He also coached the Academic Games History Team, which I joined mainly because of him. In the two years that I was his student, I already knew I wanted to be a teacher, so I was not just learning about the Civil War or supply and demand, but also about how to be an effective educator.  When I walked into the room, the same one he's taught in for over 20 years, I could instantly see aspects of my own teaching at the front of the room.  Whether I was fully conscious of it or not, his ability to tease students without being rude, as well as the ease with which he adjusted his lessons to incorporate world and local events became part of my teaching repertoire.  On Friday, I was the "local event," and he brought me into the lesson on taxation and debt, since I am an example of where some tax money goes when I cash an SSDI check from the federal government each month.  Mr. Dillabough also dressed up in costume each year to portray FDR, delivering a fireside chat in full character, and unwittingly creating a protege who would take his example and run with it, in the form of Mark Twain, Spider-man, and a leprechaun.

     Just before the students left, I told them why I was there and how lucky they all were to have Mr. Dillabough as a teacher.  His next class would have normally been a group of senior AP students, but the previous day had been their last, so he and I spent the next hour and a half just walking the halls and talking.  Who would replace him (more on that later), how the school building and the student population had changed over the years, and the issues with how the state currently funds education were among the many topics we discussed.  It was an unexpected blessing to have so much time to spend with him one on one.  It was clear that he could do this job for ten more years, but he feels that this is "the right time."  I joked that if I am unable to return to work, our retirements would coincide and we could meet up to feed birds in the park on Wednesdays or something.  

     We said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch, and I walked out with the same bittersweet feeling I had on my last day of high school a decade and a half ago.  After lunch with my mom, I got in the car to make the two hour drive back home, and posted a picture on Instagram (, if you want to follow me there) before leaving.  When the app claimed I had spelled his name wrong, it confirmed what I, and everyone who encountered Mr. Dillabough, knows to be true:
They call them "smartphones" for a reason.


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