20 February 2014

The Teacher's Journey

I was recently asked at work to explain my philosophy of education in a short paragraph. I'm a special education teacher. I don't do anything normally. The following is my response. Credit goes to Joseph Campbell and his teachings about the monomyth and the "Hero's Journey" and to Big City Mountaineers for using this as their wilderness mentoring curriculum. 


There is a theory out there which proposes that nearly all stories, plays, myths, and even religious and/or psychological development follows the same general path. This Hero's Journey essentially takes place in twelve stages.

First, we begin in our ordinary world. For us, that may be our classrooms on a Monday morning or our kitchen counters waiting for the coffee to finish brewing so that we can wake up enough to take on the day. For our students, it might be hopping into their Land Rover SUV for the arduous five mile commute to the school. For yet others, this ordinary world may start with fighting with seven other brothers and sisters over who gets the bathroom next in their three bedroom apartment, funded primarily by the government.

Suddenly, there is some sort of "call to action". This is an event which introduces an interruption to the mundane. Maybe it's the student who comes in for help for the first time...and it's the third grading period. Perhaps it's a phone call from some distant friend in need of help. In any case, our normal routine has been shaken up.Because of a fear of the unknown, however, that call is refused. The preference to continue on with the status quo is far more attractive than stepping into an uncomfortable situation. You sip your vanilla latte and drive on.

You drive until you remember the words from someone, maybe even a mentor, from the past (or maybe it happens in the present) which offer wisdom, guidance, or even material assistance. Your thoughts then turn inward to tap courage from deep down.That realization of courage now takes you to the precipice of a major decision. Do I stay at school until five o'clock to help this kid with her math problem? Do I sacrifice an extra hour of sleep to hold a study session in the morning to get everyone ready for today's test? Do I give a kid a ride home after school because his parents forgot to pick him up? You are now entering into an unknown realm that is neither comforting nor convenient.

The next two steps involve going through minor tests and trials in which you discover new allies in your struggle to accomplish your task. You pass these people every day in the halls. Sometimes, it's even the people you least expected. As a collective though, you all know there is something bigger looming on the horizon.

Invariably, we reach the crux. This is a moment where we may feel overwhelmed, outmatched, and maybe even conquered. By pooling our newly collected resources though, we emerge with a new life. It's a new take on the way things are and the way they should be done.

Now we have some kind of "reward". Johnny passed his math test for the first time all year, or Sara finally learned to log into Google Docs without needing help with her password. This treasure is invaluable to us, but it is in danger of being lost again if continued effort is not sustained. The road back is gonna be bumpy. Cue the chase scene.

Just before we make it all the way back to "normal", there's one last challenge. Some might refer to this as the CRCTs or some other asinine standardized test. Still others will see this in a bigger light. Morgan has been emotionally abused for years by her father, and she's ready to give up, regardless of the small victories you've been able to help her accomplish this year so far. You strike a deal with her which requires a big sacrifice on your own behalf (at least at the time). The sacrifice pays off though. You learn that a few years later, she graduates high school and has been accepted into nursing school. She tells you you are the reason she made it.

Finally, you return home. You are different though, and you realize that the journey really isn't over. In fact, maybe it's only just begun, and it's up to you to carry on this newly discovered and earned "treasure". You, we, must now try to transform the world around us as we have been transformed ourselves. Then, get ready to do it all again next August.

Man, that was long.



13 February 2014

Way Past Ten

The psych level in my house just went way past ten. Why, you ask? It's because of who I just found out will be joining our team for this year's Summit for Someone climb of Mount Shasta in June. First, here's an update on the trip.

I always come away from conference calls with Darin Fearday, director of the Summit for Someone program at Big City Mountaineers, with way more excitement about my next fund raising mountaineering trip, and this call wasn't any different. After a quick introduction to everyone in our newly formed climbing team, Darin started discussing some of the details about our upcoming climb of Mount Shasta. We are going to be one of at least eight teams that will be scaling the mountain as part of a nation-wide fundraiser being put on by Backpacker Magazine in June to raise money for Big City Mountaineers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that runs wilderness mentoring expeditions for at-risk youth. Each member in our group has pledged to raise $4,000 to help support BCM's programs. This money will be enough to cover the cost for two groups of five teens to participate in a week-long backpacking mentoring trip this summer without a single cent coming from their own pockets. We have seven guys on our team, so we will end up raising $28,000, enough to pay for 70 teens to experience the healing power of the mountains! Talk about awesome.

The conversation then turned to all the great sponsors who will be kicking in free gear and support for the climbers to help them with their trips. Brands like The North Face, SOLE, Eddie Bauer/First Ascent, Lowa, Black Diamond, and others are all big supporters of BCM and are collaborating to make this a truly amazing, fund raising event. I mean seriously, there are two things that just never ever seem to get old: Christie Brinkley and free gear packages.

Finally, Darin got to the part I was really waiting for. This is my fourth time climbing for Summit for Someone, and on the last two, I've gotten to climb with some of the biggest names in the climbing world. In 2012 I was led to the summit of Mount Rainier by none other than Dave Hahn (15 summits of Everest, kinda a big deal). In 2013 on Mount Whitney, I was on a rope team with "Mr. Everest" himself, Pete Athans. It was therefore of no surprise, but plenty of excitement, when I heard Darin state that this time, our "guest climber" would be The North Face's very own Cedar Wright. If you aren't familiar with his work, Cedar is a highly accomplished rock climber who is quite skilled in free-solo, aid, and free climbing. He's also a pretty damn good filmmaker, often writing his own music to accompany the footage. It's going to be simply incredible sharing time on the mountain with him and the rest of our crew (including Darin himself!).

For more information on my climb, including how to make a donation, check out some of the other posts here on my blog, or visit my climber page. From first-hand experience as a mentor on BCM's trips, I can personally attest to how effective these programs are in the lives of teens across the country. Help BCM and their volunteer mentors touch the lives of thousands more this summer. Watch the video below to get the idea.