Mr. Keating was fired . . .

It is the night before my 13th year of teaching. I find myself flipping through random channels as I thumb through a local newspaper that features two articles about education and teaching. As fate would have it, I find that I am just in time to start at the beginning of Dead Poets Society.

John Keating. . . . 

The untimely passing of Robin Williams a short time ago generated an appreciation for his many talents and movies. For educators especially, his role as John Keating served as the inspiration to join the ranks of education. As a senior in high school, I compiled a video compilation of movie clips that represented who I was and the aspirations I held for my life. Clips from Dead Poets Society were present in large quantities as I began my journey in education.

First Day of School . . . . 

I stifle a laugh as the opening scene unfolds. The film takes us from classroom to classroom as teachers begin their classes. There is the Latin instructor that firmly believes in the repetition strategy of instruction as the boys repeat a series of words over and over. We see the instructor that outlines all his rules and policies and warns the boys not to challenge him on these points. A few more introductions and coma-inducing procedure lectures leave the students waiting for more of the same as they wait for Keating to arrive. They are startled by a cheery whistle and sit in confusion as he leaves the room after gesturing for them to follow. It is here that we experience one of the most iconic moments of the film.

Carpé Diem . . . .

Gathered in a hall, the boys are surrounded by trophies, awards, medals and photographs of the glories achieved by the alumni. Keating encourages the boys to look into the faces of those that came before them as he whispers, “Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary!

Disruption . . . .
The rest of the movie features additional moments where Keating is pushing and challenging not only his students, but the status quo of the traditionalist institution. It is hard to not smirk, or to break out in a wide grin when Keating challenges the notion that 17 year-old boys cannot be free thinkers. The sharing of the secret society that “sucks the marrow out of life” has us leaning in with delight for the beauty held within poetry. With the headmaster watching disapprovingly from above, Keating leads the boys through a lesson showing ease at which we fall into conformity by having the boys walk in the courtyard. From ripping pages from text books that describe mathematical formulas determining the success of poetry, standing atop desks to see the world from different point of view, and, the final straw, infusing the boys with the “carpé diem” spirit to such an extent that Todd defied his father’s orders and continued his acting. It was this rebellious act that ultimately led Todd to end his life – a life he couldn’t fathom living without acting- and Todd’s father to allege that it was the teachings of Keating that were to blame.

Reality. . . . 

Back to the local paper I was reading while channel surfing. One story focused on the disservice done by Hollywood by portraying teachers as saintly martyrs instead of active professionals (Mentors Not Martyrs). The article features several iconic teachers, and I realize, they all battled to teach the way that they believed in. Why? Why do we have to battle so much? I want to be a Keating-type of teacher for my students, but does this have to come with the price of potentially being removed from teaching? Is insubordination the worst thing I could do? 

Disruption. Creativity. Innovation. 

They certainly come with a price. I personally, have decided it is one that I will gladly pay. I’m sure there will be some technicality or minor error that will snowball into substantial reason to let me go. So far I have been reprimanded for requesting student emails (for crosschecking our database), saying the word “crap” (Junior High??), and being “too overwhelming” for some people with my enthusiasm/passion for teaching. At any rate- fear can cripple creativity and passion to the point of mediocrity. It is when egos supersede camaraderie,  protocol over personalization and control trumps creativity that kids are truly failed.

Mr. Keating was fired.


Cultivate . . . .

“Il faut cultiver notre jardin” ~Candide by Voltaire
Cultivate your own garden.

My friend Paige first introduced me to this sentiment in the fall of 2013. We were both working on transitions happening in our personal and professional lives. As Brené Brown refers to it, we were in the middle of our “Breakdown – Spiritual Awakening.” Trying to remember who we were at our core, who others believe us to be, and who we are when we are most happy, we began a journey that has led us to deeper experiences and relationships. 

Welcome to my garden.

My plan for planting includes an abundance of creativity! When is the last time you picked up a crayon, colored pencil, paint brush? There is something remarkably simple and rejuvenating about the act of applying color to a blank canvas. It seems that, as teachers, in order to increase difficulty and formality in education, we cut out the creativity. The color. The fun. Without sacrificing the integrity and objective of an assignment, what can be included in lessons for this opportunity for creativity? I don’t mean just coloring the front of a brochure- but real, inspired creativity.

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