I Believe In Second Chances

I believe in second chances. And third. And fourth. And more.  I believe in this for my children, for my students, and for myself. I am not a hopeless optimist, and I can’t always “just be happy,” nor do I expect those around me to behave like that either. Life is hard. We have earned the right to be angry, sad, depressed, anxiety-ridden, and to not smile when we don’t feel like it. I tell this to my students. BUT – I am also a 47-year-old without any regrets because I refuse to give up or to give in. I know that getting what I want out of this life takes hard work and the ability to keep getting up off the canvas. I am where I want to be in life and doing what I love to do – education the change-makers of tomorrow. Not only that, but I also get to infuse my love of comics and Hip Hop into my classroom lessons. I get to travel the world both in-person and virtually to share these methods of learning to universities, libraries, schools, and conferences. I get to be the teacher and adult I needed as a child for others. I have worked with the US State Department in a global education through comics initiative. I have a book coming out July 2022 – Teaching With Comics. But most importantly, I love being in the classroom.

BUT – none of this would be possible without the intervention and kindness of a person who was able to look past my fallibilities and to truly see my potential. See, after two years of attending Beaver College (now Arcadia University), my depression took a hold of me and, despite being on the soccer team, orientation leader, and having solid grades – I made some choices that lead me to transferring to another school. I left everything behind and cycled into a deeper depression. At my second school, I met my life-long best friends, including the love of my life, so I don’t regret this decision. However, my depression became that much work and I stopped attending classes, and I lost all faith in myself. I didn’t so much drop out of college, I just simply faded away. Some years passed and I was working in a career, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to marry my now wife and so I made her a promise – that I would quit my career, work at UPS on the nightshift, return to college, earn my degree, and become the teacher I had always wanted to be. I am forever thankful to my wife for helping me through this tough time. I made this promise to her and to myself – that after she said yes to marrying me, that we would not marry until I finished my degree. Flash forward through two challenging years, and I graduate from Beaver College a few months before we married and began student teaching the month after we were wed.

UPS was hard work, but it offered solid pay, free health benefits, and college tuition reimbursement. When I applied for the job, the interviewer asked me if I knew what I was doing as they saw the career I was currently in. I smiled as I took the job, knowing my fiancé was waiting for me in the car and cheering me on. I would work until 8 in the morning loading trucks, becoming a safety supervisor, and then leaving to attend college classes. I laughed as the younger students around me complained about being tired. I felt like the old man in the classrooms, but I was so pumped and found my self-respect again. I was lucky to be able to attend classes again with THE Dr. Haywood – the best teacher I have ever had and the person who solidified my desire to be a history teacher. He is the type of educator who can come into class, sit in the front of the room, eat a sandwich, tell a few cat stories, and then mesmerize students with fascinating tales of Ancient Rome and Greece – he made history come to life. He showed me that history is a collection of stories that we stitch together, of people, of patterns and choices. This is how I teach today, and I am forever grateful for his leadership in my life.

I was so very proud of myself, a rare thing for someone with depression and anxiety, as I walked down the graduation aisle as the last graduating class of Beaver College, as it was becoming Arcadia University. I was able to look my fiancé and father in the eye and knew the future, though still unsure, was what I was going to make it. I just can’t imagine not being a teacher, it is who I am.

There is an important person in this story I have not yet mentioned – Bruce Keller. I have never been more nervous than going into the admissions office this second time around – none of my plan would work unless I was admitted. I had no where else to turn, I knew that colleges would not accept me with the grades I had after I transferred and then dropped out. I hoped that Bruce would remember me and the work I had done while a student for two years as Beaver College. I am not a pushy person – my social anxiety just won’t allow that – but I knew I had to make this happen. When I finally had the most important meeting of my life, Bruce did remember me. He looked at the transcript at my second school and I saw his eyes get wide. He simply asked me what happened. I had to stop myself from breaking down and sobbing right there in that office out of embarrassment and anxiety, but I held it together. I shared with him about my plan and my non-traditional path to earn my college degree. He was willing to look past my grades at the transfer school and to see me – the human in front of him. He gave me another chance. He knew who I really was and saw something in me. This chance literally saved me and allowed me to be who I am today. I am forever grateful.

I tell this story to my students throughout the school-year – they are probably tired of hearing it. But it is so important – teachers can’t be seen as perfect student. College was hard for me for so many reasons and I have always had to work hard to educate myself. I went to summer school for Algebra II in high school. I dropped out of college. But I came back. I didn’t let me fear and depression stop my life. I spiraled to even plan on committing suicide. It was the love of my best friend, and a short meeting with Bruce, that changed everything for me. This is why I believe in multiple chances. We are all going through something and need to understand this about the human condition. I have high expectations for my students, but I am also always willing to meet them where they are. Students can get annoyed with me as I keep on getting on them. I have been asked by students to just leave them alone. They ask why I am picking on them. I always respond with this story and tell them that I am picking on them because I love them and have hope for them. I just can’t give up on them, just like I was not given up on. I want to be that person for my students.

The love story continued as my fiancé attended courses alongside me to earn her Master Degree from Arcadia – we even took a class with THE Dr. Haywood together. We even went back to the castle on campus to have our wedding picture taken. I think of this story every time I walk by our photo in the living room.

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