One of my fellow volunteer firefighters, who also served as the department chaplain, invited all the full-time paid and volunteer firefighters to his church for a recognition ceremony one Sunday and his message that day included a phrase that has stuck with me to this day. So much so that I used it as the basis for the graduation speech I gave for the Eudora High School graduating class of 2012 in the video below (full script of the speech available here).
That phrase was "You guys are good for nothing."
Imagine how much attention that phrase grabbed at graduation. (I also later stated how I look forward to someday buying drugs from a student, then clarified by noting he was majoring in Pharmacy once he graduated high school) Here's he rest of the story, clipped from my graduation speech:
About a year into the volunteer firefighter experience at Emporia, the chaplain for the department issued an invitation to all full-time and volunteer fire department staff, as sort of a recognition for the job they do, hosted at his church near the fire house. Part of his message included the notion that firefighters consciously see people running out of a dire situation and immerse themselves in it, be it a bicycle wreck or a house fire. He used a phrase in his message, citing that “volunteers are good for nothing,” hinting that volunteers do good deeds with no incentive presented to them beforehand. Hence, “good for nothing” as this pastor had indicated meant “to potentially do great things with no expectation of recognition or reward.”
Pardon the sound quality in the video below. I'll post a better version when I get a chance, but wanted to get my post done and caught up on things. See second paragraph above for the speech's URL, if interested.
- When I asked students to volunteer time with Habitat for Humanity, helping build a house in Lawrence, intentionally failing to mention a start time of 7 in the morning on a Saturday, there were numerous willing volunteers. Even after mentioning how early it would begin.
- Volunteers needed for the Ironman Kansas Triathalon? No problem. 100+ degree weather? Cool. When do we start?
- When I brought up the idea of installing a wind turbine on our high school’s campus, you guys were just sophomores and you wanted to help (check out the time-lapse video of the wind turbine's installation HERE). You showed up at City Hall. You filled two rows to support the cause (the Kansas City FOX News affiliate has a story prior to the turbine's installation available to view HERE). After the Planning Commission voted to approve the project, the chairperson spoke to you and said he was ready to sign any forms you needed to get extra credit for your Government or Civics class. And here’s the cool part: to the amazement of the City Planning Commission members, none of you stepped forward to get your extra credit. You weren’t there that day to get something for yourself. I didn’t say this at the time, but I’ll tell you this now. I was proud of you guys. You came just to support the cause, you good for nothing kids.
- I was approached by students from Mr. Robinson’s Video Editing class to help with a public service announcement about how texting in class is unacceptable. This was the most creative way to get a teacher tackled by a student I’ve ever seen (watch their video by clicking the link HERE). I fell for it...three times. So, by association, you made me good for nothing, except a little soreness from landing against a light switch.
- When KDOT wanted to unveil their Airspace Analysis Tool, a brainchild of Mr. Ed Young from Eudora, it took place on a Friday when students were not supposed to be at school anyway--a teacher inservice day. When I asked for volunteers to come in and offer feedback to the KDOT folks about how the software looked and acted, I almost had to find more desks. The media staff (Lawrence Journal-World story available HERE) commented numerous times about how great my students were when they didn’t have to be at school at all.
- I casually showed a handful of students a picture of a Sierpinski triangle made out of pennies and mentioned how our school had done coin drives in the past. They run with the idea and managed to get over $250 raised in three days! Not stopping there, they “burdened” me with having to track down $600 in pennies so we could beat the known record for such figures (NINE times the pennies of the previous record). With all the proceeds benefiting the March of Dimes, these students incorporated teamwork, charity, and a killer math lesson in one fell swoop. No banners were hung up to recognize their efforts and the folks with Guinness World Records seemingly shrugged their shoulders to find a record that compared to what we had achieved, for an activity where a collection of students showed up to begin work at 4 IN THE MORNING with no incentive given (watch the time-lapse video of the project HERE).
- A couple weeks ago, I came back to school at 8:30 in the evening, only to cross paths with Garrett Cleveland, who said he was working on a new sculpture in the Art room. The League Art Contest was earlier that week, so there was no chance of him receiving any recognition for this project, nor would he be the cunning type to pull off an elaborate senior prank and use art as an alibi. Garrett, you exemplify a good for nothing kid.
- Tara Miller has long been known among staff members as an incredible photographer, actress, and artist, having her work used literally across the nation from photos she has taken at school events and activities. For so long, she exemplified a good for nothing kid in that she was never paid for her work. This past Tuesday, she showed me her first paycheck for taking photographs. I’ve known it for a while, but that check finally showed that Tara Miller can be good for $omething and actually get paid for doing something she excels at.
I have had teachers before who made an impact on me, nonchalantly leading me down the career path I'm on now. Experiential learning is something that is hard to replace, or duplicate for that matter, no matter how vividly a teacher is able to describe the scenario. Students really DO learn best by DOING. To that end, I find it vital to seek out fun, engaging activities for them to participate in as part of my classes as well as the groups I sponsor.
Personal Pride Plug: In my speech, I also managed to work in the phrases "one fell swoop" and "save for a vague recollection," and the words "perspicacity" and "wherewithal."
Similar to my days with the fire department, I strive to offer good services, lessons, tips, and stories through my blog. Well, I'm not saving any lives through a blog, but the intent of doing good deeds with no respect of being paid back is still ingrained in what I'm doing here.
So, here's hoping you are able to contribute something to your students or colleagues that is good for nothing. Sure, it doesn't sound very rewarding, but if teaching was about the extrinsic rewards, it wouldn't be the same gig now, would it?