Cloister Commentary, Day 32: “Old Friends are Always the Best, You See / New Friends You Can Find Every Day….”

I’m sure I’m not the only one striving to strengthen connections with old friends, since I’ve more time on my hands and can’t easily see them in person. Yesterday, I called one of my best and oldest educator friends, Karen Downey, to catch up.

Karen and I worked together for 16 consecutive years as a special education-content specialist team in what was then called “class-within-a-class” mode. One, we planned lessons, assessments and units together to ensure all material could be sufficiently modified for our students who had individualized education programs (IEPs); two, we strove to deliver that material in the classroom in such a way that, if someone dropped in, they couldn’t be too sure who the content area specialist and who the special ed specialist was; and three, we had fun teaching together.

When I first accepted an assignment to work with her at Hickman in 1990, I was reluctant. I was 28, so I thought I knew it all. She also seemed a little conservative, and I worried she would cramp my freewheeling style. Plus–horrors!–she was 10 years my senior, and I didn’t need an oldster slowing me down. Well…10 years wiser, was more like it. In very short order, she taught me 90% of what’s really important about teaching to every kid in a classroom, she brought me closer to the middle (and I brought her closer to the left margin), and her precise historical knowledge and quicker-on-the-uptake classroom (and school building) vision radically enhanced what I was able to deliver to my kids. As a bonus, we became very close friends and quickly found ourselves able to communicate across the room with the flicker of an eyelid. Former students of ours will not only verify this, but also that she was the brains of the operation. With any text or lesson, at her suggestion, we could set up (among other strategies) a politically- or gender-based dialectic that could immediately make the material more interesting and relevant for everyone involved. One of my favorite aspects of our partnership was the visual we presented: I can’t think of anyone less stoic in front of a class than me, or more stoic than Karen! If a kid wasn’t able to connect with one or the other of us, they were probably not trying.

I’ve run on here, but she was the best thing that could have happened to my teaching, and I’m very grateful. We picked up yesterday right where we left off, as we always do. You ought to touch base with someone today who had a similar effect on your career.

We’ve found (it’s pretty obvious) that we’re spending much less money in this mess; we are lucky to have some. We’re also a bit frustrated we can’t get out to physically help to any serious extent. So we decided yesterday to double our monthly food bank donation, contribute to The Homieslocal effort to feed hungry people and help food service workers survive this, and make a big delivery order from Love Coffee, which “provides job skills training and employment in an atmosphere of love to individuals with disabilities and barriers to employment” (their mission). I don’t communicate this in order to signal our virtue; these are just some pretty easy local things to do that really do help, if you are able to do them.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

To balance the goody-good and celebrate a wily septuagenarian…

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