Growing up he wanted to the smartest kid in class…he wanted his mental capacity to rule…he wanted people to whisper as he walked by…there goes the smartest kid in school.


And, although he was a good learner, so much of what he learned he soon forgot…so as far as being the smartest…he definitely was not.


He was going to be a football star…he dreamed of the sports world knowing his name…he dreamed of lifting the trophy over his head…he dreamed of fortune and he dreamed of fame..


But one has to have certain skills to play football…skills this young boy lacked…so he never made it on a football team…let alone its quarterback.


He wanted to be an astronaut…when he put on his uniform he wanted women to swoon…he wanted the world to proudly watch…as he stood upon the moon.


But he would get all nervous when confined in a small place…and he got sick in the back of a car…who knows what would happen in outer space.


He wanted to be a doctor…a surgeon…a surgeon better than all the rest…the surgeon people called when the surgeon they needed was the best.


But all that studying…all those years of schooling…he knew, for him, would not be easy…and even the slightest drop of blood always made him queasy.


So he found his way to teaching…to help others who forget…who might have trouble with a quiz…who perhaps aren’t as athletic…who had problems similar to his.


And though he never thought himself the best teacher…he was as happy as can be

Teaching his students:

You don’t have to be the best…just be the best that you can be.


A lesson to this day as a teacher…he continues to spread….

Happily living a life he didn’t choose…

a life that chose him instead.

View joy's Full Portfolio




I saw this thread hanging from my shirt the other day and was hit with a memory…back to my first year of teaching in Florida…and a young girl named Stephanie.


Stephanie was a beautiful little girl…her Autism…she was trapped in it…

she could not talk but whatever she had in her hands…oh…could that girl spin it.


Pencils…books…two by fours…I’ll never forget her grinning as she took any object she could find…and started it to spinning.


Like many young teachers when I started with Stephanie I was determined I would find…the reasons for her spinning…the secrets to her mind.


But Stephanie hated to he held…all she wanted to do was spin…as determined as I was to enter…she was just as determined not to let me in.


I was always watching her closely…looking for a sign…until one day, from across the room…I saw her eyes meet mine.


She threw her arms up in the air…her hands were shaking like leaves on a tree…I took this as a sign…she was calling out to me.


The closer I got to her…the bigger the smile on her face…and when I finally reached her desk…she jumped into my embrace.


With Stephanie clinging hard to me I waltzed across the floor…thinking this is the breakthrough moment I’d been hoping for.


I was proud of this accomplishment…proud of Stephanie and me…so I called to the teacher next door…I wanted her to see.


“Can you believe it!” I said to her. “Miracles do happen if we believe.”

“Jim,” she chuckled, “take a look at what that miracle is doing to your sleeve.”


My bubble immediately burst…I admit my pride was hurt…it seemed my breakthrough moment began with a thread hanging from my shirt.


Noticed by a little Autistic girl…who’s plan I now believe…was to lure me over…put her arms around my neck…and start unravelling my sleeve.


I think I would have figured it our eventually…Stephanie’s little con…

most likely when she’d finished…and my entire shirt was gone.


I set her back into her seat…she was crying…she didn’t understand…

So I cut off what was left of my sleeve…and put it in her hands….


Immediately with a smile on her face she began to spin it…spinning that one entire thread…I smiled…this time from across the room…”You’re welcome, Stephanie.” I said.


It turned out to be a breakthrough moment…not for Stephanie but for me…as deep within the silence of her Autism….I found my humility. 


And I learned how tenuous is happiness as through this world we tread…

How many times we find…

it is hanging by a thread.

View joy's Full Portfolio


When I was teaching my autistic students 

with, what I thought, was enthusiasm and verve

the parents of the students I taught would oftentimes observe.


And though it’s been many years since I retired

since I left that life behind

two parents in particular…stick out in my mind.


One parent thought I could do no wrong…she thought I was a saint

The other thought everything I did was wrong…a saint, she thought…he ain’t!


I’ill admit when it came to the first parent my ego needed to practice little restraint…

I mean I was doing the best I could but please…really….me…a saint!


And when it came to the second parent my ego needed a little boost..

Again…I was doing the best I could but was I as bad as she deduced?


When my clearer head prevailed after their praise and criticism were dispersed…

I know I wasn’t the best teacher in the world…nor was I the worst.


I did do some things well and so I felt some of the first parent’s praise I earned

while the second parent reminded me…I still had a lot to learn.


These parents taught me how praise could put me on cloud nine

while criticism could cut me like a knife…

in my jobs

my friendships

my marriage

in my parenting…my life


It was probably one of the greatest lessons that I have ever had…

Teaching me to improve on any good I do while learning from the bad.


Even now, when that first parent’s doubt enter my mind…

when I find my confidence is faint…

I smile remembering there’s at least one person out there

who thinks I am a saint.


View joy's Full Portfolio


There is a wise old saying…an ancient Chinese gem: 

When three people walk together my teacher is among them.


We had a simple dinner with some friends and the first thing I was taught

was if you listen but a little…you’re bound to learn a lot..


I learned a lot about sadness

sadness that our basic foundation seems destined to destroy…

I learned if we are ever to survive that sadnesses

we must discover joy. 


I learned a lot about how the sadness of a natural disaster, 

of divorce

of sickness 

of wars that never seem to end

can be offset by the joy that floats around a table

filled with family and friends. 


I learned in the midst of a sad world

there is more joy than one might think

as I watched the laughter, support and wisdom 

of people sharing food and drink. 


As luck would have it other friends came into the restaurant

It was like a holiday!

They were celebrating their 5th grandchild…

born earlier that day.


I learned although weakness can come from sadness, 

meant to injure, to bruise…to annoy

our courage, our determination…our strength

comes from our faith, our love…our joy.


I learned this simple lesson which I will from this day forward now employ….

I shall not close my eyes to sadness

but I shall open them more…to joy…


Any ancient Chinese scholar sitting in that restaurant would have smiled…

It would have been easy for he…or she…to see

there was more than one teacher in that room that night…


In truth…they were surrounding me.

View joy's Full Portfolio


I had a dream last night…

I know dreams aren’t always as they appear…

this one had me teaching……and I’ve been retired for 6 years.


For me to remember a dream…is extraordinarily rare

and I don’t remember this entire dream…just bits and pieces here and there.


When I awoke on the other side of my dream…ready to begin my day

I had to stop and wonder what my dream was trying to say.


Perhaps it was reminding me…trying to make me comprehend

that even in retirement…teaching never ends.


That there is always someone out there…someone I can reach

someone with whom to share my wisdom…someone I can teach.


Another reason for my dream was easy to discern…

to remind me I will always be a student…who has a lot to learn.


Reminding me in life through adventures big and small

no teacher…no person in this world…

ever knows it all.


Reminding me in life…through my successes and my flops

if I’m lucky…if I’m truly blessed

my learning never stops


Reminding me wherever I go…east, west, north or south…

A good teacher is one whose ears…get as much exercise as their mouth…


Yes, I had a dream last night…

that I was still teaching

and still learning too…

and I woke up this morning realizing…


that dream keeps coming true.

View joy's Full Portfolio


I pass it every time Ava has a home volleyball game 

and It makes me wonder about fate..

It’s a tree…growing outside my old classroom…planted in 1988.


It was for one of my Autistic students that this one tree came to be…

A wonderful student, his name was Eric…he had muscular dystrophy.


When Eric first entered my class…he walked on his tip toes…with great care.

Eventually his muscular dystrophy would put him in a wheel chair.


But he also entered with a reputation…I was told…all he did was cry…

and it drove everyone around him crazy because they couldn’t discover why?


I was told he could say a few words but as far as learning he was much too slow

I would come to find out it wasn’t Eric but our expectations that were low..


One day on a trip to the store…

(I’d strap him in the passenger seat of my van before we would depart)

I hadn’t driven very far when I heard him say…”K-Mart”.


As I drove and listened that day my thinking about Eric redefined…

He wasn’t just sayin random words…he was reading all the signs!


That day I learned if I listen to my students…sometimes they will lead…

for next to me sat the boy so slow…he had taught himself to read!


He couldn’t hold a pencil but he could write…in my heart and soul I knew it

so I found an old electric typewriter and wheeled Eric to it.


He commenced to typing us little messages…

and though his sentence structure was chopped

he began to smile a little more and we noticed his crying completely stopped.


Okay…it didn’t stop completely…but he didn’t cry as much

as his fingers walked along the keyboard and he found the letters he wanted to touch.


It was a minor breakthrough 

he was still limited by his understanding and his muscular dystrophy…

but just so watch him smile as he typed…was good enough for me…


Muscular dystrophy, however, was immune to Eric’s charms…

and one night on summer vacation…he died in his mothers arms…


The staff and students of the school in order to commemorate his memory…

outside the last classroom he ever attended…planted him this tree.


And that’s why I think of fate every time I pass in front of Eric’s tree…

Thankful not only for what I saw in him…


but for what he saw in me.

View joy's Full Portfolio


Now that teachers are heading back to their classrooms…

now that their students are returning

It’s time to think about all the teaching that will occur this year

It’s time to ponder all the learning….


It’s time for each student to try their hardest to learn

As they become a classroom member…

And it’s time for teachers, and all of us who were students,

to look back…and to remember….


To remember how lucky are we that in our lives

we often find it prudent….

to sometimes be the teacher…

while other times…the student.


That around every corner

over every hill 

and around every turn…

we discover opportunities to teach…

as well as opportunities to learn.


And if we’re lucky… truly lucky

as this magical orb keeps turning

we understand when we should be teaching…


and when we should be learning.

View joy's Full Portfolio

Knowing When

When I look around my life

it's easy for me to see…

sometimes I am a student…

other times…

a teacher I will be.


When I don’t have all the answers

I’m a student…to be reached.

When I have a certain answer, 

and I’m asked…

then I will teach.


One key to life, for me,

is easy to discern…

It’s knowing when to teach…


and knowing when to learn.

View joy's Full Portfolio

When You Grow Up

The teacher stood in front of the class,
“I give this same assignment every year!”
“Please write what you want to be when you grow up...
and remember:
there’s no wrong answer here.”

The answers were predictable
doctor, fireman, astronaut...
Super hero, secret agent,
owner of a yacht.

The teacher read with interest
as their grammar she corrected
until she came across one paper
with an answer unexpected.

It was written by a shy little girl
who didn’t want a super power.
When I grow up, she wrote in capital letters,
I want to be a wild flower.

Because bringing beauty to the world
is a flower’s livelihood
and I want to grow in places
no one ever thought I would.

‘You already bring beauty to my world’, the teacher wrote
‘And I know you’ll find a way...
to grow anywhere you want to.”
and she graded it an A.

View joy's Full Portfolio