You know, I’ve been doing more than my usual this-time-of-the-year reflection since I have been thinking about putting together my “Dictionary of Teaching.”  I am very conscious of the fact that who I am, what I feel and think, and why I do what I do is nestled in the pages of my backstory.  And, if I had to pick a theme of that saga, it is that the most intensely vulnerable times, the most awakening times, the important times, the most transitional times, maybe the most beautiful times, certainly the most transforming times, I’ve experienced in my life were overcoming things I didn’t think I could overcome, confronting things I didn’t think I could face down, leading myself to an inner strength and sense of worthiness I didn’t believe I had.

These moments that made me–proposing to Susie, my epiphany, my cancer, my cerebral hemorrhage–were dramatic moments of struggle.   Over time, those struggles revealed several sobering truths.  First, life is a continually, daily natural “hold on and brace yourself” existence; that it’s inevitably changing and challenging;  that it’s fragile, uncontrollable, and unpredictable; that to suffer from an allergy to struggle only makes matters worse.  Second, struggle, that natural trial-and-error thing, that shape shifting thing, that learning how to hit life’s curve balls thing, is how we constantly mold and remold ourselves.  Third, in those earthquake-shaking struggles, and the inevitable every day aftershocks, I discovered that engaged “faith, belief, hope, and love are functions of struggle.  And finally, the fundamental question in our lives, then, is how are we going to live life in the face of life–socially and personally and professionally.   Are we going live a chronic frightened, distrusting, judgmental, frustrated, resigned, angry, inattentive, heartless, blaming “I am not pleased,” “I don’t care,” and “life is not fair.”  Or, are we going to learn to live a responsible, heartfelt, mindful, loving, empathetic, compassionate “I am still able to care.”

My struggles, the latest being my sudden, unexpected, and unwanted retirement, were and are about making daily difficult and soul searching choices.  I could start up a new conversation, show up, be seen, stand up, stand out, and blaze my own trails.  That required I become comfortable with the uncomfortable, familiar with the unfamiliar, friendly with the unfriendly, and expectant of the unexpected.  Or, I could remain silent, remain absent, stay hidden, sit down, remain in obscurity, and walk someone else’s path.  Then, I could defensively sit safely on the sidelines, be comfortably complacent, and express a convenient cynicism.

I chose and still choose the former.  And, the nature of my choices is measured by the extent I truly feel safe, content, at ease, awed, belonging, authentic, and strong inside, and act with a calm and confident reverence, kindness, community, and caring outside.  And, I know the choices I made are the most powerful meaning-making, purpose-driving moments of my life. They’re the guiding “why” of my “who,” “what,” and “how.”



Someone asked me how I had come up with my “Teacher’s Oath.” “It comes from what surviving my cerebral hemorrhage has taught me.”  I told her that when I was 18 years old, in 1959, I played soccer at then Adelphi College.  In one game, I cracked my skull and suffered an apparent not-so-severe concussion.  What wasn’t apparent, because of the limited medical technology back then, was that I also probably had developed a hidden venal aneurysm in my brain.  Lurked during degree after degree, tenure, and promotion after promotion.  Quiet during class after class, year after year.  Kept to itself during courting, engagement, wedding, births, anniversary after anniversary.  Unknown birthday cheesecake after birthday cheesecake.  Concealed during sons’ rites of passage.  Undetected during grant and publication after grant and publication, resume line after line.  Out of sight during physical checkup after physical checkup.  Undiscovered during jog after jog, power walk after power walk. Silent during workout with weights after workout with weights.  Camouflaged during my epiphany that sent me on my inner journey and during a bout with cancer that took me deeper on that journey.

Then, without warning, bursting, it made its sudden presence felt and appeared in the pre-dawn hours on the second day of Rosh Hashanah in the Fall of 2007.  Total deafness, completely clogged nose and ears, massive vertigo, profuse sweating.  I can’t describe events after stumbling to tell Susie, “Something is seriously wrong.” I have total amnesia from that moment until I left the neuro-ICU wing of UF’s Shands Hospital a week later.   I can’t talk of doctor’s office, emergency room, pain, fear, tears, nausea, surgical team on call, hospitals, angiograms, ambulances, gurneys, tubes, nurses, MRIs, needles, IVs, prodding, poking, testing, meds, doctors, interns, friends, family, Susie, Robby, Michael.  And while I can’t describe any of it, I can describe my feelings from the very moment I left the hospital to go home.

I had survived unscathed as what the neurosurgeon called “a walking 5% miracle.”  Some of my friends later told me not to “dwell on it,”get over it,” and “get on with it.”  I couldn’t and wouldn’t get over it; I wanted it to dwell within me.  I didn’t want it to recede into the mists of time.  I had escaped untouched after seeing my morality square between the eyes.  But, I was fortunate that I was not unaffected.   The hemorrhage was an ironic gift for which I consciously remain grateful each day.

I immediately experienced and noticed a vivid richness in merely existing, and I didn’t want it to fade.  Invigorated.  Alive.  Alert.  Aware.  Awed.  Attentive of every heartbeat, every breathe.  I felt every wisp of breeze, saw every blade of grass, noticed every cloud, heard every note of a bird’s song.  I felt a change in perspective I didn’t want to become a vague memory.  I was determined for it to remain real and not become a mirage.   Days more fully lived in and lived.  Intensely mindful that each moment was unrecoverable.  Everything slowed down.  Everything came into sharper focus.  Nothing going unnoticed.  Nothing taken for granted.  No complacency.  No blind acceptance.  No lulling comfort, dulling conveniency, and mulling safety.  Perception of time altered.  Attention lengthened.  Awareness heightened.  Emotions intensely engaged.  Power of grace and kindness exercised.  Sights and sounds intensified.  Eyes seeing.  Ears hearing.  Commonplace things become miracles.  Every person becomes sacred.  No one is divested of her or his humanity.  Power of grace and kindness is exercised.  Life is lived.

All this applied to myself, to things around me, to Susie, to my sons, to their wives, and to my granddaughters.  It applied to friends, strangers, colleagues, and students.  There is nothing more dramatically egalitarian than mortality.  I had and still have an understanding of the saying, “Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.”  I truly appreciate the words to live today as if it is your last.

I’m glad to report that I have successfully halted the natural waning progression from current event, to memory, to history.  I worked and still work hard, even upon retiring, to insure that these effects were not temporary as they are with too many who experience life-threatening events but refuse to change their \outlooks and ways.  I work hard to live the good life fearlessly, to make sure every evening is a happy ending as each dawn is a new and glorious beginning, to live life before life leaves me, and to know, as the Talmud says, “You are not required to finish the work. Neither are you free to desist from it.”   Getting up, getting out, going in, and doing it.  Taking hold of life in general and teaching in particular and squeezing it for all it’s worth.  That’s from whence comes my “Teacher’s Oath.”



Gifts have been bought, shipped, and some given.  Getting ready for some grandmunchkin spoiling.  Tis now the season of being consciously grateful.   So, I especially was thinking about my two sons.  I deeply admire them, deeply.  My Silicon Valley Michael always wants–needs–the challenge and excitement of something new; my artist-with-food Robby is always looking for a culinary “new” (oh, you should taste his pickles, bacon, and lox).  Neither are “status quo” people.  Old hat doesn’t fit them.  They’re always deftly on the move in their professions and lives.  A risky “let’s see if” and an unsuccessful “oops” are not their enemies; fearfully stymying “am not,” paralyzing “can’t” and atrophying “won’t” are.  They experiment; they’re not “one-and-out” people.  They’re not embarrassed or diminished by “doesn’t work.”   They know behind every one of their accomplishments there were a host of attempts.  Perseverance and practice are their names, commitment is their game.  They’ve learned through trail and error.  They don’t stick with one chiseled in stone habit of doing one thing one way, over and over again.  They adapt, adopt, invent, create, generate, discard, modify, adjust.  They venture out into new worlds to pass milestones rather than being weighed down and slowed by millstones..  They’re really humble, knowing that too much pride can rob them of their confident “I wonder if.”  They know so much about what they don’t know.  They know that mastering their craft has taken a lot of time and pain, but they’ve learned to learn to put in the time in order to convert that pain into gain.

I am truly thankful to have them as my sons and humbled to have them call me “dad.”  Love them both.  I’ve decided to keep them.  And, when I see them in the coming weeks, I will hug them, kiss them, and tell them, “thank you for becoming you”–and spoil their kids rotten.

Susie and I would like to wish one and all a merry, happy, and all that.



Still “Lilly-ized.”  Lilly, like any retreat, always lingers within me for some time.  Anyway, someone at the conference asked me after my session, “T.U.I.: Teaching Under the Influence,” why do I always emphasize my “Teacher’s Oath” in my pre-conference workshops and conference sessions.  My reply was simple.  “I’ve been handing out copies and discussing it wherever I go and whatever I do since I composed the Oath two years ago.  I wish everyone would not just read it, but take it to heart.  It’s not just at the heart of education, it is the heart of education.  Like I’ve always said, if you want a truly successful ‘career’ in teaching, you must be a ‘care-er’ unconditionally and constantly ‘carefronting’ each student.  Taking and living the Oath each day helps you help yourself do just that!”  I told that person that for a longer answer she would have to go to the ten part Random Thought series I wrote about the Oath back in October and November, 2011.  Then, I went on to say that, in a nut shell, after long and deep reflection,  I wrote the Oath in order to be consciously intentional. I created the Oath to be a purpose driven “why” of the “what” and “how.”  I created the Oath not to say something, but not to remain silent.  The meaning of the Oath is both to believe one thing and disbelieve another.  It is a guide to do one thing and not another. It is a catalyst to be active and not be reactive.  It’s a daily exercise program to keep you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually trim.  The Oath is about how to be a teacher and not about how to teach.  The Oath is designed to show you who to be and not what and how to do.   It is a lens to focus sharply on the inner person and blur the other outer things.  It is statement of the principles that guide the teacher and not the processes, methods, or technologies that guide the teaching.  The Oath, then, is a map to help stay the course and stay on course in any course without wandering or getting pulled off course.  I guess, in the long run, it is a sustaining article of faith, solemn promise, binding declaration, unhesitating commitment, unswerving responsibility, permanent obligation, and, above all, a long term call to action.  That is important because the long term by definition lasts longer.



In this season of gratitude, coming out from the fog of a Thanksgiving caloric coma, I thought I’d share what I call a humbling “little/big” teaching moment.  The place was the Marcum Conference Center on the campus of Miami of Ohio.  The occasion was the Lilly Conference on College Teaching held during the weekend before Thanksgiving.  The time was Friday morning (11/22), about 6 am. I had come downstairs into the lobby area for some coffee and a newspaper. Two of the Center’s kitchen staff were putting out the coffee. With a smile, I said to them,  “Good morning.  How are you doing this ‘brrrrr’ day?”  They turned towards me and stopped what they were doing.  One of them replied with a smile, “You weren’t here last year. We missed you. This gathering wasn’t the same without you.  We’re glad to see you made this year.” Then, they came over and gave me a hug.  I stood there, floored.  Stunned.  Momentarily paralyzed.  Deeply touched.  Almost teary eyed.  All I could muster at the moment was a quiet and deeply sincere, “Thank you.”  It was enough.

Think about it.  I did, and still do.  The staff! The usually hidden kitchen staff that makes momentary appearances amid the crowd of attendees to replenish the knosh tables!  Noticed my absence a year ago all those attendees! Missed me! Were glad to see me!   Of all that happened at Lilly this year, and a lot happened, nothing touched me more than this.

The next morning, still feeling both grateful and humbled, I asked these people how was it that with over 600 people at the conference last year they noticed I wasn’t present and remembered me a year later–two years since they had seen me–enough to say something the first time they saw me.  I scribbled down their answers when I got back to my room.  What do you think they said?