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A blogpost in place of a poem

I lost a friend the other day, died of cancer, the way many do, after a decade or more living with the disease in varied bouts of beating and being beaten.

I often write a poem when someone important dies. This time no words came out of the void in a shape that made me think it should be a poem.

Perhaps it was because I found out the news over the internet – one of the few positive points about some social media sites that at least some use it for good, if sad actions. Many of his friends found out the same way. At the time I was in work, teaching in a school where nobody knows nor knew Tamir Teichman. As I found out when my grandmother died while I was in Boston, school kids don’t need to know about what’s going on behind the smile when you greet them in the classroom. The show goes on. So I’d little time to digest the news and let my memories return the way it would be needed to write a poem.

Instead, it’s a blog post.

Tamir bikeride.jpgI worked with Tamir for several years when I lived in Boston. We were two of three people in the CHS science dept., along with Anna Power, who’d been Tamir’s student teacher. They taught chemistry and physics, while I taught biology. We had three classes in a row, mine in the middle, joined by interior doors. We went in and out of one another’s class all the time, often leaving the doors open if one of us needed to use the bathroom. He made reagents for my experiments when I ran out, and was a great colleague. He was also a great teacher, who taught me a lot, and I hope in my own career some of what I learned from him has stuck and been transmitted to my own classroom.  He never varied in his frank and honest approach to his classes and the students. He was the same person in the classroom and out. His methods sometimes clashed with the administration’s views of how classrooms should be run, especially those of a new headmaster who after a couple of years fired Tamir – the laws in America are not usually much help to employees. The union had been ousted before I started in CHS and we had a right to work agreement in place of a contract.  Tamir saw the writing on the wall, but never changed the way he went about things. As far as the students are concerned, his way was clearly the right way to do things, as his friends could see on social media when a huge number of people declared he was the best teacher they’d ever had.

He was one of the best colleagues I ever had, I can tell you. And one of the best friends. We spent a lot of time together during the seven years I lived there, from going out for drinks on Fridays with the other teachers, to cycling along the Charles River on Saturdays, to a road trip we took in a U-Haul truck, taking some of his mother’s antique furniture from storage down in Boca Raton up to Brookline – a trip from Miami to Maine, all told. Living in rental accommodation, I was delighted to help him out in his garden, doing a little bit of landscaping in his house and the summer camp his family have on the shores of one of the lakes of Maine, where he’d invited me and my wife and we’d take in the wildlife and the silence. I’ve experienced fewer more peaceful places in the world – even in Wicklow the wind is always in your ears!

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Tamir on the open road

 

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At Kitty Hawk

 

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Tamir and my wife out on the lake

A dedicated environmentalist, he saved everything, from school materials to bike parts. One of his, and my, great disappointments was to see the old vintage benches of the labs torn up and thrown out rather than taken by an antiques dealer – it would have made an amazing pub bar. Before he left CHS, we donated lots of old chemicals and materials to one of my former student teachers who’d started in a charter school that needed stuff (in America, many schools rely on charity to do the best they can for their kids). He taught me how to cool a house at night and keep the heat out during the day, and for drinking glasses he used really lovely old jam jars to serve freshly squeezed orange juice in the humid summer.

He died after a long illness, which though debilitating at times never stopped him from his work as athletic coach, nor slowed him down on a bike ride – he outpaced me easily. He’d left another school since then, and was working in a less stressful job when I last talked to him.

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Our last bike ride along the Charles.

His mother had moved in with him, but she’d died just recently, coincidentally, or perhaps not. He was single, with two siblings living overseas and their children, two aged aunts and some cousins.

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Tamir in his mother’s car before we took a drive around Miami

 

Yet he leaves many, many mourning his passing. He leaves a multitude of memories among his friends and colleagues, and he has made a significant mark on the lives of his students. They will keep him alive. His actions have their ripples though the times to come, having helped form adults who will work to make this world, their world, a better place than the way it was when they were thrown it.

Whatever your view on the afterlife –I’ve no idea of Tamir’s, since we never talked much about religion, other than about his family’s history of having survived the Holocaust – one thing I’ve learned from this sad episode is that your actions during life will reflect on what happens when you die. Perhaps you’ll have a lot of kids to attend your funeral, have family to pray for your passage through purgatory and onto the pearly gates. Maybe you won’t. Yet even if you don’t, never think that your life hasn’t touched someone, that someone won’t mourn your absence, won’t think wistfully of the time you smiled at them, offered help, extended a hand, said a kindly word, gave your honest opinion and made them ponder, wonder, reconsider, feel some emotion.

As I said on social media, mostly directed at my (our) former students who knew Tamir, nobody dies who lives on in memories. Tamir will never be lost from the thoughts of those who knew him. His positive energy will reverberate though our worlds.

Sometimes when a person dies, we say, well, thank god they’re gone. Think of Margaret Thatcher…. I’ve experienced a few of those thoughts. There are some people who are just arseholes. Even children and grandkids can be glad to get shut of their elderly parents and grandparents, truth be told.

Other times, after the sadness comes a smile, a contentedness, a (cold) comfort, that at least you had the privilege to meet that man, to know that woman.

That’s what I feel now, a few days later. I know my life has been enriched for knowing Tamir and hanging out with him.

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chilling out in Saint Augustine, Fl. Rest well, T.

I only hope a little of his teaching style rubbed off on me, and that when I die, some at least will say something similar of me.

 

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Climate Breakdown: explaining it is easy when the examples abound

I’m teaching Climate Change in my first-year classes at the moment.

No matter what the topic, I always like to use examples to make things clearer to the kids – references to things in their own lives. I often refer to TV programs, movies, songs.

However, some of my references are dated – movies made before they were born, which, while classics, haven’t always been seen. In my English SL class last week, when describing the meaning of “a the height of one’s career,” I used a TV presenter, who first shot to prominence on the Spanish equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The show was called 50 for 15, referring to 50Million Pesetas – a currency that disappeared when the kids were toddlers.

But teaching Climate Change, I was struck by the fact that I don’t have to reach back very far to come up with an example of what I mean when I talk about the changes that are happening/ could happen in the future.

For example, California – it was burning a few weeks ago; latest news out of there is a terrible mudslide. Opposite types of natural disasters in a short timeframe.

 

Even here in this very city, though, the oscillations are becoming ever more obvious. And rapid.

I described how Spain was experiencing a drought late last year. Reservoirs were down to 10 or 20%. On the 3rd of January, I was in a jeans and a sweater, enjoying the sunshine. I was sent a video of a snake the same week.

This poor frog was squashed by a car just outside the village that night – what the hell was a frog doing out on Jan 3?

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On the 5th, it started raining, then snowing.

I posted this photo on my facebook page, joking how I’d always wanted a garden with a little river flowing through it.

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It was gushing out of the gully under the rocks you can see behind the fence in this photo.

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And some of it was filling the groundwater so much that I’d springs popping up in the grass.

This looks like a cowpat, but it’s actually mud pushed out of the ground by the water flow.

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Pamplona was covered in snow.

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The aqueduct of Noain outside Pamplona.

The reservoirs refilled past 50% in a few days.

And now it’s mild again.

So the kids get it. They understand Climate Breakdown. They can hardly not when it is staring us in the face like the barrel of a shotgun.

Question is, what can they do about it?

Because the previous generation who knew about it haven’t been able to do very much, yet.

Teaching Fail, a poem

This was inspired by a conversation I had a few days ago with a former student…

Teaching Failure

We try to teach, but the TV has got ahead of us,

The advertisers are two steps in front,

And the screens seem indeed brighter than the sunshine.

Paving paradise might be permitted after all;

Not for a parking lot, but yes for a shopping mall.