My first real interaction with Chris came a few weeks into our freshmen year of high school. We were in a pickup game during after school intramurals and I had the ball at the three point line. Chris was guarding me. I was very aware of who he was – this was the 13-year-old who could already dunk! As any proud former 8th grade all-star would do, I decided to see what he was all about. I made a move and drove right by him!
Thinking I had a clear lane to the rim, I attempted my lay up. Who knows how far behind me Chris was, but as my shot reached the backboard, I saw his arm high above me extend toward the ball. He blocked my shot so hard that anyone there would have understood if I had left the court. And Chris barely acknowledged what I assumed was a superhuman feat. He had done this to poor souls plenty of times before and would do it countless times again. I doubt Chris remembers this encounter but it was quite the first impression for me and the message was clear – this dude was going to be goooooood.
My long-winded description of Chris’s and my “meet cute” (you know the scene in a romantic comedy where the protagonists meet for the first time?) has a point. It was the start of four years together at a very successful high school where we had the privilege of playing for John Mirabello. Coach was (and still is) a fantastic teacher, leader, and family man. He formed relationships that inspired us to maximize our high school potential, both on the court and in the classroom, and planted the seeds in us as to what we could become. He is simply one of the best humanity has to offer. Having spent four of our formative years with him, it’s no surprise that Chris and I became teachers, as well.
I currently teach 6th grade science at East Hartford Middle School, home of the Falcons. That is how I introduce myself when asked. I teach science; not, I am a science teacher. I enjoy the subject and I find the content fascinating (especially the new NGSS curriculum we’re rolling out) but I am not a science enthusiast and probably never will be. I’m okay with that. I teach because I love working with students, regardless of how challenging they may be and regardless of the content area. I find a meaningful conversation with a student far more satisfying than a well-executed lesson (though it does feel pretty good when a lesson comes together!). The birth of my little guy, Samson (Sonny), eighteen months ago has done nothing but enhance this.
Fatherhood and the Classroom
Sonny gives me a connection point that is of far greater significance than banter over how annoying Steph Curry is (very) or what new song I should be adding to my playlist (never, ever Justin Bieber – unless I want to deal with dramatic eye rolls for days). I am now a parent and each of my students relates to that in real ways. Students that I previously struggled to connect with now ask about Sonny and share stories about their little brother or sister. My patience for my students has increased. Subconsciously, I am always aware of how I would feel if a teacher talked to my son a certain way. I have become more empathetic. It is so obvious now that my first period student is cranky because he missed breakfast, not because he has a personal problem with me. Sonny is a bear when he is the least bit hungry! At the same time, I am less lenient with borderline behaviors. Students must act the right way because I will expect my son to meet high standards.
Before Sonny, my students were students. Now he is somebody’s son; she is somebody’s daughter. This is obviously not new information. I teach science so I know where babies come from. Becoming a dad has changed my perspective. The he could be my son. When that student is inside my classroom, it is my responsibility to set the right example and demand excellence. I have always taken pride in that but now it has a new meaning, a more personal meaning. What would my son think of my interactions? What type of example is my attitude, my work ethic setting? I am no longer a teacher. I am a father and a teacher and my students are people’s children. I often fall short of this ideal but I have become far more reflective about my daily practice and I strive to be the best example I can. Sonny has changed the game for me.
When my little guy was born, I expected that being a dad would impact my teaching. I hoped I would be able to maintain balance without compromising my energy level at home or in the classroom. And I hope – I think – I am doing that. What I did not predict was that I would be bringing Sonny to class every day.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out another of Luke’s posts.