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Monday, April 16, 2018

Jackie Robinson Day

April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day, the day named in honor of my numero uno hero of all time, who broke the Major League Color Barrier, and with the aid of Branch Rickey, destroyed the gentleman's agreement that divided the Major Leagues from the Negro Leagues into white and non-white.

Obviously, Parkinson's disease isn't a kid's game with a bat and a ball, but Jackie's determination, strength, courage, and resilience are all about overcoming disability. For this, we, too, are up with a runner on second, down by one with two outs in the ninth. We need to get the run in. We need to keep our healthcare options, therapeutic options, legal support, and our rights to be ourselves and not a condition as long as possible. Here, we can learn a lot from sports of all sorts.

Additionally, we people with disabilities are looked upon in derogatory ways, but due to the bravery and struggle of others, we overcome and are empowered in a way that makes our lives easier than for those people who came before us. That means something to me as a baseball fan, a guy with Parkinson's, and a member of the human race.

For this, I will never stop paying respect to this great man and his equally awesome wife who stood up against abuse right by his side.

Robinson took incredible abuse to do this. His wife and young child weren't spared from the hatred and threats either. In this, the movie 42 is fantastic, but for all the racism it shows, it doesn't get down to the evil Jackie faced in a way that made those who stood with him say, "You must take this. It's not because you're a coward, but it's because your opponents want you to show hate and violence so they can have reason to evict you and stop all other people who aren't 'the right kind of white' from the game of baseball."

We all know how the story ends. The league becomes integrated SLOWLY, and today, Jackie's stance, which came before the integration of the US military and the Civil Rights Movement, ignited and inspired others to do the same.

Robinson and his wife were class. Rickey was class, even if he recognized the chance to win as much as to integrate and right injustice. People come to places for different reasons, but in the end, they do right by their decisions.

Here, we're all beautifully imperfect.


I was looking back at something I wrote in the summer of 2016, which was the summer before I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. I was applying for an education job, and I sat down and listed out what it would mean for me.

"Just give me a fair chance… if I make it, I make it. If I don’t, fine" (a quote from Ken Burns Baseball about Jackie)
Pride in my own accomplishment
Opportunity to teach writing to more people using my talents better
Make my wife happy
PHD opportunity – Indy (a play on Indiana Jones, since my wife's maiden name was Jones and I love archaeology) – maximize my own learning potential
New car to replace the aging Macho Dude (my Yaris)
Summer need for work solved with year round paycheck
Utah summer vacation – World Petroglyph Tour
Neck surgery to get rid of the shakes
King-sized bed (for a barrier from my snoring)
My own office to showcase my professionalism
Bills taken care of / savings begun
Super zoom camera to expand my photographic talents

Obviously, things didn't happen for a reason, but... thinking about it now... it makes me wonder.


I remember going to a training school and listening to the woman that I was substituting for as she explained to me that her classes that she was teaching were her worst ever in over twenty years on the job. In listening to her, I mistakenly thought that she was just ill-prepared and incapable of managing a classroom, This was in part due to how she directed me to do this in a definitive way. 

However, in the first few hours I spent in her classroom, I too thought about how angry and hostile that many of these students were toward another source of authority with no authority, and it made me feel antagonistic toward them (just like in Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant"). From the smack-talking directed at me, which wasn’t even cleverly concealed when it was spoken in another language, the sleeping, the anger, and the feeling that I might not make it through the three hours that I was assigned to the class in a way that reflects that I am still 98.6°.

Looking at this tonight, over half a decade later, I realize truths I didn't realize then. Yes, some are still the same, but there are others.

1) In order to be liked, we have to be likable.
2) Authority is necessary, but we need to choose our battles.
3) Some people really don't have an understanding of why they're there in an adult learning area (in this case, a for profit training school, which is now out of business); however, we have a responsibility to help people figure out their best destinations from the moment they hit the door.
4) Guide people to the right classes and training for them. Don't guide them to the cash register and hope for the best. In the same way, don't let students view financial aid as a cash cow that keeps them afloat when they have no interest in learning (unfortunately, this is a reality in higher education in America, which requires teachers to withdraw students who never attend).
5) In really hostile environments, work with those we can, ignore the haters, and don't feed the fire.
6) In the end, time moves, even if it moves slowly.
7) Find strength from heroes and mentors.
8) Learn how to be better after your mistakes.

Eventually, the day did end, and I hobbled out of the room, battered and lacking confidence to go back into the ring to take a beating again.
Nevertheless, like many of my colleagues, I had to look inside myself to figure out who I was to make myself go back to a second day of substitute teaching the defiant class that I had promised to substitute for on 2 different days (6 hours and $240). After all, I gave them my word. That had to mean something.
In the end, I made myself see that if Jackie Robinson could do what he did to integrate baseball, face down death threats, kidnapping of his child threats, threats on his wife, and every other physical, mental, and emotional abuse known to man, I could “put up with” another three hours in a career training center. I even put pictures of some of his baseball cards up in front of me to remind me of what Jackie stood for. They worked.

As a result, I did what I needed to do, and I walked out of the day with a renewed sense of what I was capable of doing and what I wanted to be doing with my life as a teacher. All the same, I still squealed my tires as I drove out of the garage. Fortunately, for me, prior to that second occasion, the school had kicked out some of the worst of the students who weren’t doing anything besides creating confrontation, so I didn’t have all of the problems that I did in the first class. 

In the end, I went back in and showed myself that teaching means just that: teaching the room regardless of the percentage of students who might not be interested in getting it while engaging those students who did. What's more, I went back to the school several other times and faced different levels of hostility from students who didn’t want to learn and / or students who wanted to take out everything that they hated about education on me, but in my own way, I tried to be likable. Every time that the school asked, I went back. If they called me and I had the schedule, I would go back and do it again, but now, they don’t even exist as a school. Like so many other things, so it goes.

In the end, either I am a glutton for punishment, I like money, or I’ve figured something out about this teaching game (and why it calls to me after all those years). You be the judge, but I’ll tell you this truth: In the end, our job as teachers is to affect those people that we can in ways that they will understand now. It's also to provide food for thought for other people who aren't ready now to find it in the future. It's about doing what we can to be great, and it's about not losing the good ones on the days where we're lousy or just plain not up to par.  

Through it all, those adult students that want to learn will learn. Those who truly don’t will leave. We as teachers must give people every opportunity to learn and remember there is a difference between DON'T WANT TO LEARN and HAVE TROUBLE LEARNING. There's also a difference in WANT OUR HELP and WANT US TO DO FOR THEM. We must be truthful, but we have to give opportunity. That said, we won’t dilute the standards to get them through since we know what it takes to truly use the skill as a talent on the outside. Here, students need to learn this as much as we do. What's more; we need to avoid being a business where the customer is always right or softies who cave in when entitlement rears its head.

In this, a sahib must act like a sahib (as George Orwell said). Anything less means get a new job. If you’re not in there trying or doing what you have to do, you’re not a teacher. We don’t have to be liked and appreciated by everyone, but we have to adjust and make it happen and give it our all to be appreciated by those who want us in there giving our all. If we do that, we are who we are set out to be, and with that, we can be proud to be the person who we truly want to be and are: an educator in American in the year 2018.

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