Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Monday, October 18, 2010

No Man Is An Island

Late last week I enjoyed the opportunity to serve as the mystery reader for the children in a primary grade classroom. The teacher selected three or four different books for me to choose from as the day approached. I picked A Time of Wonder, written by award winning author Robert McCloskey. You might be familiar with some of McCloskey's other notable works: Make Way for Ducklings; Blueberries for Sal; and Homer Price and the Doughnut Factory, among others. He spent a large portion of his adult life on the largest island in Maine - Deer Isle, home to about 2,500 year round residents. He died there in 2003 at the age of 88.

I started my educational career on that same island thirty-five years ago, teaching 32 fifth graders at Stonington Elementary School (165 learners in grades K-6). Interestingly, the teacher who invited me to be the mystery reader enjoyed many childhood summer vacations on that same island nestled in the Penobscot Bay of Maine. I reflected on the symbolism of reading one of Robert McCloskey's books in a classroom at Green Island after all these years removed from that island in Maine.

While hunting for my first apartment as a newly married, freshly graduated, first year teacher, I stumbled upon Robert McCloskey. I answered an ad listing an apartment available above a storefront. The little store offered many different items appealing to tourists. Yet, oddly enough amid all the trinkets there was a nice collection of children's books, each from the same author, Robert McClosky. I explained I was a new teacher on the island and asked the store owner about her unusual preoccupation with a singular writer and she exclaimed that the author lived nearby and in fact had just left the store. No sooner did she finish her sentence then she rushed outside, called down the street and beckoned the return of Mr. McCloskey. I don't recall what exactly, or even vaguely, that I said during our brief introduction, such was my surprise at the unanticipated meeting with a famous writer of children's books. Nonetheless, he remains one of my favorite storytellers, in large part because his work has earned him several national awards, and in small part because I can actually say I met him!

Yet, here I was, sitting in Green Island before a class of elementary children, much nearer the ending of a lengthy career than the beginning or even the middle, trying to entice their interest and gain their attention in a book written by someone resurrecting memories of my humble start as an educator all those years ago on that island in Maine. It's an intriguing full circle that left me in my own Time of Wonder, as I thought back on the many challenges and opportunities, the different experiences and lessons, and the various interactions and endeavors through the years spent in between these two islands.

I never would have imagined the odyssey that started on an island off the coast of Maine and ends on an "island" in New York. Though the village of Green Island is no longer surrounded by water in the form of the South Branch of the Mohawk River Delta, the home of approximately 2,300 people is nonetheless an island anyway - with commerce and industry as borders on the north and south, the venerable Hudson River to the east, and interstate 787, constructed in the 1960's by filling in the branch of the river, forming a wall to the west. This results in a small school district with the dense population of a city. It's an interesting combination of simultaneously having elements of being both big and small.

In between these two points of my career, and representing a pair of bookends to the journey, I worked in yet another island, this one much, much larger. It was a large city school district with over 30,000 learners in grades K-12 situated in the middle of the vast and otherwise vacant golden plains of the Texas Panhandle. The city of Amarillo, Texas (200,000 inhabitants) might as well be an island. It is not encircled by the suburbs that typically surround a city of this size in most of the country. Instead, it stands virtually alone, with nothing but huge tracts of arid, desert-like land bereft of anything but a few tiny towns here and there (with the exception of Canyon, Texas, home of West Texas A&M University, 15 miles away) dotting the map for miles and miles around. It is a very different island, with very different experiences than you could find in either Deer Isle or Green Island. The seven years I served as a school leader in that system posed unique challenges and opportunities that enhanced my professional growth and training.

I guess I have become the sum of those disparate experiences and the beneficiary of those same experiences. Despite the interesting twists and turns that have formed the path of that exploration, I've enjoyed the people I've met along the way and I've grown from the opportunities to learn from others. After all, no man is an island!

No comments:

Post a Comment