Connecting Disparate Dots

As an only child, when I was sick or we were on a trip, my family always loaded me up with the latest and greatestdottodot CTDcaptainkangaroo in interactive toys of the time: puzzle books.

Yeah, that was my time – 1960’s, B.T. (Before technology.)

The books I favored the most featured a lot of word searches and brain teasers and word puzzles usually a couple of grade-levels above my chronology. I enjoyed them all, but even though they were the easiest pages in the book, I always had a thing for connect-the-dot pictures. Most of the time you could figure out what the picture was before you placed pencil-on-paper going from black-spot to black-spot to black-spot on easily torn newsprint, but oftentimes I was surprised at what the resulting picture really turned out to be, in detail. Especially while cruising some highway in the backseat of my parent’s Oldsmobile station wagon with my grandpa sitting next to me, this was not always the cut-and-dried, simple activity it may have appeared on the gas station magazine rack.

A new school year is beginning, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connecting the dots of my life; how I ended up an English teacher in an inner-city, high school classroom. It is not a linear, algebraic equation.

I am a teacher in what has been, historically, one of the poorest performing cities (new Orleans) in one of the lowest-performing states (by most educational measures) in the country, Louisiana. My wife and I came here nine years ago as part of an influx of educational reform and general societal and infrastructure rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the area – though the problems in education here predated the storm by decades. I have seen some notable improvements in our years here; I have also encountered a huge number of folks who came here for many of the same reasons.

microphoneThough to date, I am the only classroom teacher who began their professional life as a radio announcer.

Start with that dot.

I joined a one-year program at Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis, immediately following my high school graduation from Denver (Colorado) South High School.  There are lots of dots I can connect leading to the front of a New Orleans classroom. To be sure, the picture turns out more Salvador Dali than Norman Rockwell – to the naked eye, sans connecting lines, the picture dots would not come into focus at all.

I may need to sharpen an extra pencil.

I am about to begin my tenth year as a teacher- time to take stock. Also, with one son having finished his senior year of high school, and my elder son entering his senior year of college, getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and beyond has become a conversational focal point around here; it has also sparked some discussion as to how we even got to this stage in life as a family.

Eyebrows frequently become cocked and locked.

Objectively, I get that.  Analytically, maybe I can provide some inspiration to others also choosing a less-than-traditional path. In my days as an employment counselor, I was adept at helping people identify their ‘transferable skills’ – things they knew how to do, and could perform in other environments,

This a Readers Digest shot, working backward from now to then. Starting at the end was much the same approach I used so many years ago with those puzzle books in the backseat of the family Oldsmobile, so why not?

I first came to Louisiana in 2006 as a corporate trainer, helping the company I worked for in Minnesota get their Louisiana operations back on track following Katrina’s onslaught in August of 2005. I enjoyed training folks and helping them succeed, traveling all over the state – a unique experience.  My wife and I had long discussed getting out of the corporate rat race and doing something more meaningful with our lives, so when sitting in an IHOP Restaurant in Alexandria, Louisiana one night, reading a newspaper article about the TeachNOLA program recruiting folks to come to New Orleans to help rebuild the city’s long-distressed school system, it was a sign that my wife and I both took seriously.

We both applied, and were accepted for the 2008 TeachNOLA cohort.

I was dramatically changing everything:  locales, to be sure, and going from training adults to teaching inner-city teenagers. Logical, to a point, but I had become a corporate trainer only after I was laid off from my position as a job search trainer and employment counselor for the state of Minnesota – who had hired me away from my position as a county financial-aid (AFDC, food stamps, medical assistance) case worker and job coach in Minneapolis – all of which gave me great insight in dealing with my new students and, just as importantly, their parents.  (Dot, dot, dot.)

thanksamillionI had come to the county job after having spent a very rewarding year working for a millionaire philanthropist/newspaper columnist named Percy Ross – who gave away money to folks in need via the column.  A logical stretch from that job to case management, when you think about it: I was still helping people in need. (More dots linked.)

Mr. Ross had hired me after the children’s radio network I had been working for as an assistant business manager went out of business.  That had come at the end of a ten-year run in the hotel business, which I had grown weary of only due to the twenty-four/seven nature of the beast…which was why I had originally phased out of the radio biz. But that’s another story.

My last hotel gig was at a four-star hotel in St. Paul where I assisted the night manager. One night, a situation required me to remove an intoxicated gentleman from our crowded lobby. As a rather exclusive property, our management wanted such things handled unobtrusively. Jeff, our restaurant manager, was so impressed with my subtlety and tact in getting the drunk guy out without notice, he wrote it in his nightly report. That prompted the hotel general CTD5manager to instruct my boss the night manager to have me train new security personnel in how to handle delicate situations without confrontation. (Direct-line-dot-dot-dot to the corporate trainer gig.)

My skills at low-key, tactful, drunk-removal-with-dignity, I had picked up from Dennis, our night manager at a Holiday Inn I worked at previously. Dennis liked the way I handled people, and had also witnessed me training newcomers to the hotel. I remain grateful for his tutelage.

These big dots are directly connected to eventually training new security folks in St. Paul, but what I learned from Dennis also helped me greatly in working with the county and then the state.

I had begun my hotel career after ending (so I thought) my professional radio work, moving back to Minneapolis and deciding to go to college for the first time at the age of thirty. Three years at the University of Minnesota didn’t result in a degree, but by the end of my freshman year, I had been hired as a teaching assistant, thanks to one of my professors, Dr. Yahnke. Via that gig, I also did some work as a tutor in the computer lab of the U of M’s General College. You can draw a direct line (with heavy lead) from those dots directly to today. Bob deserves as much credit for where I am as Dennis.

My first stint as a college student came on the heels of a dozen years of bouncing around small-market radio – not often a financially lucrative endeavor. That was why I became quite adept at supplementing my income corelationdotswith side jobs. Through the years, I moved pianos, and did construction. I had stints as a convenience store clerk, racetrack security guard, and census taker, to name a few.

Before getting into the hotel biz, I was a data courier – daily picking up and dropping off huge reels of computer tape for transcription and storage – for a company that, when I applied, asked if I had ever had a security clearance. As I had been working in radio in Iowa during the presidential primary season of 1980, I had gotten Secret Service clearance, which turned out to be an important dot to the data folks, as they had contracts with big name defense contractors and other security-minded firms. I not only got the

I not only got the job, but the higher paying, preferred, high-security routes. Dot, dot, dot…

This came in handy during my hotel days in St. Paul, where we hosted a number of V.I.Ps – which sometimes required staff to get security clearance.  Mine aways came through first, as I was already on file, which again got me preferred shifts and duty assignments at the hotel.

Again, not a linear progression, but a solid gathering of a wide range of transferrable skills, all leading me here.

Each of those dots that I have touched on represent a number of different things; professional and personal experience, new skills, different CTDCTDperspectives, increased understanding of and empathy with folks covering a wide spectrum of socioeconomic America.

Experiences that continue to serve me well.

Which is why I feel pretty comfortable and confident in standing in front of a high school classroom of inner city New Orleans kids as their English teacher, trying to get them prepared on some level to take on the world, trying to relate to them all how what you do today has an impact on everything you do tomorrow in some way. In so many ways that are hard to convey, I tend to ‘get’ them (and their families and various situations) on levels that others may not.

Time to crank things up for one more year in the classroom.



A Teachers Summer on the Road; Episode 1

My first Monday back in my hometown of Minneapolis.Hire Me computer key

Reupping with an employer you haven’t worked for in over ten years is a bit like having dinner with a former lover. You start by discussing your separate, mostly unknown here-and-now’s before you move on to on shared pasts, getting each other up to date, filling in some blanks. Sometimes it is smooth flowing conversation; sometimes it’s a bit clunky.

Then you get a bit more comfortable, relaxed.

You also begin to remember all the good things you liked about each other ‘back in the day’ and why the relationship was so mutually beneficial…while also realizing why the relationship came amicably to an end, and just why it probably wouldn’t work for the long-term, then or now.

Or would it?

The folks at my favorite old temp service, Pro Staff in Minneapolis, have been gracious and helpful, and I am now officially back in the fold for the summer.

I can use the work, and I can do it. Jack-of-All-Most-Trades, master of a goodly percentage of them, proficient at the rest. A freelancesummer work fling would be just the ticket, with them or someone else.

If you need a writing or other creative project accomplished in a pinch, let me know. I am not a monogamous guy when it comes to earning some extra cash. If you are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and have some other sort of job or project you need handled, and handled well…hey, you know where to find me. I have wheels,desire, talent.

Have skills, will travel.

Hey, I won’t even expect you to buy me dinner first.

Hot dogs, Potatoes and Rocks – Oh My!

The world is an odd place.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I made a comment on Facebook about the World Hot Dog Eating Championship, and the guy going for his fifth win in a row. One of the ‘play-by-play’ (chomp-by-chomp?) guys on the ESPN broadcast of the event stated, “”If he pulls it off, he’ll be Bjorn Borg of the smorgasbord.” which I found amusing enough to slap on FB. This prompted my friend Lois to comment, “$10K for eating 62 hot dogs–life is odd.”

Indeed it is.

I remembered reading a while back about the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship, and it seemed to me that this event also had a $10K prize. So just to make sure, I looked it up.

Just to be sure.

The ‘World RPS Society’ maintains a rather extensive (considering the subject matter) website, featuring the usual array of web site stuff; a menu featuring home, FAQs, and “How To beat Anyone At Rock, Paper, Scissors” and ‘Gambit Play’ links, among others.  There was also a ton of basic info, some obscure historical notes, logoed items for sale including t-shirts, posters, and of course, the now obligatory link to sign up on their Facebook page.

Among the more curious highlights were  the multiple and bizarre, Soviet-propaganda-like graphic logo designs

(all explained by the fact they all turn out to be from some graphic design guy in Prague). Then, there was also one very intriguing technical link that caught my eye:

 ‘New Release! World RPS Society Announces RPS-OT Version 3.0 (alpha release) World RPS Online Trainer.’

At long last.

Along with the usual technical specs for such software ( RAM requirements, enhanced graphic interface capabilities) the tech-release release states, ‘The RPS-OT is the single most sophisticated RPS Grand Master emulator available anywhere for solo RPS’  (Solo RPS?! Borderline disturbing) before tacking on the coup de gras; ‘Finally a true blend of virtual AND reality.’

‘Single most sophisticated’ I have no doubt, the reality part…not so much.

Apparently, the software download is free (a bargain at twice the price) and the instructions are fairly succinct:

1. Hit the Let’s Rock! button below to start
2. The program will engage in a standard three prime shoot after the image loads
3. Play against the Online Trainer with your own fist in front of your monitor
4. Synchronize your priming with the speed of the graphic
5. Deliver your throw!
6. The page will automatically refresh every 6 seconds

Okay, this is where I get off the odd-train, but feel free to check it out yourself and report back. especially if you beat the software, you potential champion, you.

Personally, I haven’t played rock, paper, scissors since I can’t remember when – preferring the much more contemporary and action-packed ‘bear, ninja, hunter’ (bear eats ninja, ninja knocks out hunter, hunter shoots bear) for any of my more meaningful decisional situations.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy the classics.

The whole RPS thing got me wondering about that other, personally more preferred though less respected resolution tool, ’One potato, two potato’ and whether it has its own society, association or championship.

Alas, a thorough Internet search has turned up nothing of the sort. I did find a government publication titled ‘One potato, two potato: haplotype association mapping in autotetraploids’ from the USDA Vegetable Laboratory in Beltsville, MD, but that was a dead end – as was the IMDB listing for a 1964 ‘One Potato, Two Potato’ movie about an inter-racial custody battle.

My search results also included a number of nursery rhyme and other children-oriented sites, but that only served to confuse the issue, as there are a tremendous number of alleged-variations on the ‘one potato, two potato’ chant which queasily reminded me of the whole ‘duck, duck, gray duck’ versus ‘duck, duck, goose’ imbroglio (for the record, I am a Midwestern boy – a ‘gray duck’ guy all the way).

What I see in all of this is opportunity.

‘One potato, two potato’ (OPTP) has long since shown its social and business value and flexibility, and has rightfully earned its due as a managerial and life decision making tool, and is certainly as worthy of a ‘world championship’ as RPS. If somebody with some technical expertise wants to join me by coming up with a ‘one potato, two potato’ training app, I can use my writing and marketing expertise to help market it.  All in all, OPTP would seem to have far more numerous, much sexier sponsorship opportunities than RPS – no matter how you slice it.

Then again, you might just think introducing an OPTP championship (or even basic, organized competition) would destroy the purity of the sport, which would pretty much ruin it for all concerned. I can appreciate that point of view, but didn’t they once say the same thing about RPS, or heck – eating hot dogs?  I guess there is really only one thing I can say to that:

‘Et tu potato, Brutus?’