My Journey of Life and Learning (with occasional digressions)

Just when I thought…

Been substituting a LOT in grades 3-6 and with the special needs kids. I never thought that I had enough patience to work with those groups, but I really love it. At the end of the day my face hurts from smiling and laughing so much.

So, I’m thinking, “Forget high school – those kids don’t really care and you can’t get through to them.”

While I’m “signing out” today, I was telling the secretary how excited I was to get to work with a 3rd grade reading class. A young woman walks in and asked where a club was meeting. She sees me, her face brightens into a big smile, “You helped me with that poem.” I respond, “Which poem, which author?” She explains, “You were my sub that day in Mr. *’s class, reviewed my poem and told me how to improve it!” Bolt of recognition hits me, “That’s right – I remember you now! How did it turn out?” “Oh, well I got an A for that class but I submitted it for a scholarship competition. Now I’m waiting to hear back.” I say, “That’s great! It was a good poem – you’ll get it. Remember to just keep writing!” She says, “Oh, I will and thank you again for reading it and helping me improve it!” 

She is a senior, so will graduate in a month. I subbed in her class on one of my first assignments! That makes me feel pretty darn good.

Tomorrow I reenter pygmie-land to teach third grade reading! I can’t wait for the adventure!


Open Letter to High School Class 2020

By way of set up, allow me to explain that I substituted today in my absolutely most favorite 8th grade History class. Great day! They were studying the Civil War…most comprehended the role that the Missouri Compromise (It had something to do with Missouri, right?) played in the tensions prefacing the conflict. The understood the argument about Federal and State powers. No problem, they grasped the basics and I filled them in a bit more regarding Andersonville POW Camp, how the non-discovery of antibiotics contributed to the mortality rate and emphasized that even though some women fought along side me during the war, that the normal soldier was they same age as my students, roughly 14 years old.

This fact struck me for a moment. In the next election, in 2020, these darling little creatures will have a voice over the management of the United States of America! I managed to remain upright at the thought and asked them what the point of studying History was. Of course, the silly answers flew, “So we can learn about old dead guys,” etc. I explained that there’s an old saying, “Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it.” I pointed out that State rights versus the federal government has always led to debate. They actually grew quiet and seemed to be trying to digest what I was telling them. “You people witnessed one of the weirdest elections in our nation’s history. Next time it happens, what will you see? What will help you determine your vote? Is it going to be the next mega-superstar? Will news organizations become even more propagandizing loudspeakers for various parties? Will other parties be able to get their food in the door and free us from this two party debacle we subject ourselves to?” A few blank stares, a few looks of concern…I left them hanging, “Hey, this is your world. What’s it going to become and, more importantly, why?”

NOW — on a totally different sail tack — I pray to the Lord that I can get my resume picked up and can get a teaching job. I KNOW it’s a good resume and I’m confident that if I can ever meet with a hiring authority that I can land my teaching job. It’s just such a pain )-;! Oh well, I’m doing this because I WANT to teach, I feel passionate about my subject and enjoy all the time I get in the classroom – and it’s mostly productive. Students in the district now kind of have me figured out.  I make them work, but will give them lots of freedom, until they violate it, then it all goes away.

Alright, submitted four updated resumes this evening. Let’s see what happens! woo hoo!


Long ago, I read a short story by an author who talked about the small tokens and gifts that they had received from their children over the years. A plain, ordinary shoe box housed these treasures which the author lovingly called “gummilumps.” The box contained macaroni necklaces, pressed flowers, a feather glued to construction paper and a rock that was suspected to be an arrowhead. I suppose all parents have a box of gummilumps that they treasure.

I accepted an assignment to fill in for a sixth grade art class and, having not been with students that young, I was intimidated by these small creatures. Were they going to behave, attack, have a mishap, sneeze on me…the list goes on. One of them approached me after class and handed me this picture:


Picture of Mr. Matthews

Drawing of Mister Matthews by a sixth grade artist


My heart melted! The fear was gone, hasn’t returned and I was even able to comfortably fill in with third graders. I have only mental pictures of their faces when I read to them during “story-time,” but that goes right into my treasure box along with the masterpiece. When I’m fortunate enough to substitute at that school, I always break into a grin when I see that little artist…

In high school English, I had the honor of reviewing the play Macbeth with a group of rather active seniors. The play is intense on many different levels and lends so much to discussion. Some students engaged, others relentlessly tried to text and “snapchat” with buddies. I fostered student discussion as well as I could, but when the bell rang and they all left, I stood there for a moment wondering if anything had been absorbed at all. I went back to the teacher desk to write up my substitute notes for the day. Atop my yellow notepad was the following note:

Thank You Note

I sat down and took a long drink of water. I reread that note and smiled. The student who left that note may never know how they validated my efforts to become a teacher. They didn’t sign it. I’ve been in that class many times since and no one has ever approached me about it. Maybe it’s most effective if it remains anonymous. After all, can anybody ever say from where a refreshing breeze comes?

So…thus far, these are my first two physical gummilumps from my students that I will always treasure. I don’t know if there is a big enough box to contain all the gummilumps that have come as high fives, fist bumps, unexpected hugs, smiles, “a-hah” moments of comprehension, or other wonderful moments that I’ve been privileged to share with these wonderful little people. The best part is that I’ve only been doing this since October, 2016, so I’m confident there will be plenty more coming my way!


sorry for shouting, but…


It’s been years since I had this much test anxiety…

My Return from the Land of the Pygmies

And so it is that my three weeks among the pygmy tribes of the third through sixth graders ends…but for a moment…I shall soon return!

In the whole time I’ve desired to teach, I never thought that I would enjoy interacting with younger students. Every single day I spent with them, though, changed my preconceptions of them. Far from the small, gully-dwarf-like creatures (thank you, Weis and Hickman) I expected, I encountered a warm, welcoming tribe of miniature people.

At first, of course, they were suspicious and curious of this “new teacher person” who had wandered into their midst. By the second day, the dominant members of the herd recognized that I was not there to take away their position, but to encourage and facilitate their collective explorations of the worlds of science, mathematics, reading and social studies. As I gave of myself, shared my experiences and knowledge, more of the band accepted me and we explored the regions of Academia together. Soon I was receiving spontaneous hugs, fist bumps, high fives and one small group introduced me to a unique custom of “smashing thumbs” by way of greeting. How strange!

On several occasions, other educational explorers and I had the opportunity to escort these diminutive wonders into the outdoors. If the explosion of activity I witnessed could be harnessed, the world’s quest for energy sources would be over! Despite their occasional lack of enthusiasm displayed inside the confines of a classroom, the first whiff of outside air renewed their joie de vivre.

Now I return to the land of the larger students, examining grades seven through twelve. Already I have witnessed some general displays of apathy common among this group. I do not despair, though. I have worked with this tribe before. I know which ones are receptive to gentle prompting to activity and which ones must constantly be monitored lest they disappear into a fog of digital semi-reality.

Ah – the challenges and rewards of a new day…

Maybe, Just Maybe…

Another great day and experience in substitute-teaching!

Today I had the privilege of working with some wonderful young people who had some challenges – physical or developmental. I never really had much interest in working with special need students before, but I’m using my substitute experience to get a feel for working with a broad range of students. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to work with these special learners a few times now and they surprise and inspire me in so many ways!

It dawned on me during my drive home that until fairly recently, society sidelined people who had disabilities or challenges. What a tragedy! As a species we’ll never be able to recognize or make amends for how many talented, gifted or true geniuses we shunted from the mainstream. The number of lives tragically wasted in this way boggles the imagination. There may be a few cases in which a person has conditions that truly prevent them from any degree of independent functioning, but I strongly believe that with patience, redirection and proper facilitation many more “challenged” individuals can learn and attain a reasonable degree of personal achievement and live fulfilling lives. I’m sure those are the barest of minimal requirements for anyone working with that special population.

The rewards, though, are sublime.

I love to see the “lights come on” whenever a student discovers a new connection. Working with learners of any age, ranging from “full-bird” colonels to infants, witnessing that response is magical for me. That “lights on” moment is even more profound when working with someone who, for whatever reason, has trouble making those connections.

My first interest in teaching was simply to teach English. The more I learn about young learners, though, the more I’m becoming interested in working with those identified with special needs. I finally scheduled my certification exam. After that I should be able to find a full time teaching job. Once that happens, I can consider my further educational goals and it is steadily becoming apparent that certification to work within the Special Education field may be a part of those goals.

I don’t know if I love teaching or learning more! Is there really a difference?



Got to Bring It Full Circle!

Today I had the chance to work with the same students I had when I introduced the topics of Antigone and Macbeth. That post is here if you wish to go back and read that so you have some better context. Bottom line is that I actually had the experience of watching students come full circle – from start to finish – with a couple of serious texts. There were, of course, the few that would make a point of goofing around and not paying attention if you told them that what you are about to say would earn them a million dollars with no effort whatsoever. The most, though, were actually willing to work through a decent discussion of the texts, their historic and literary contexts and formed coherent interpretations of their own. During the discussion of Antigone, a student commented, “These guys keep coming back to questions and stuff.” I explained that most of the old Greek playwrights were philosophers. After the bell dismissed the students, I went back to the teacher desk to take a look at the text for the next hour. There was a handwritten note left on my notepad thanking me for my patience and explanation of their text. What an awesome feeling!

There are times when I look back and wonder whether or not I’ve made an impact or been a positive influence. Of course I had positive feedback from soldiers that I taught when I was in the Army, but when you’re teaching someone how to actually survive or enable others to survive, it’s not really challenging to know that you’ve “done a good day’s work,” because you MUST do a good day’s work. When I worked with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and youth in Church activities, I always kept in mind a quote I saw in a store, “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” If anybody reading this can help me cite that correctly, or knows who first said/wrote that, I’d appreciate knowing. I’ve run into some men who had been Scouts in my Packs, Dens or Troops and I’ve been proud of each. Now I get to teach. One point raised in both of those literary works is the unexpected/unanticipated results of someone’s actions. I hope that little note is just the first indicator that I’m doing it right.