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“I wonder what dirt tastes like?”
That was how I opened my first conversation with a cousin in my parent’s backyard over 50 years ago. My cousin and I had never said much to each other before that because we’d always been in the company of grown-ups but they had put us out in the backyard to play while they tried to have some kid-free time inside.

My cousin stared back at me blankly. Then he smiled, picked up a handful of dirt and shoved it in his mouth. From the instant look of horror on his face, the spitting and retching and the explosion of tears I realized that dirt was probably not something one should eat. The grown-ups all spilled out of the house to see what the problem was and I told them we were just talking.

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Wwebster defines the word ‘team’ as, “a number of persons associated in work or activity.” Corporate America or anyone working in public service stretched this term out to mean how their workforce should handle the problems and opportunities of their day.

In other words the term ‘team’ is a philosophy all workers should have when they go about the duties of their day. But, is this a good thing? The best way to answer this question is to look at some famous teams throughout history. I guess the most famous would be The Roman Empire. They decided the best way to handle conquering the world was to put everyone on their team in similar uniforms, get rid of anyone who disagreed with what the team stood for, and then force the rest of the world to either join their team or, well die.

This worked for awhile but the basic problem with a team is everyone wants to be the captain. If this doesn’t happen by the team rules the team is basically broken. In this case assassination was the most probable way of breaking the rule. The Roman Empire demonstrated the longer a team lasts the weaker it gets. I believe this is because everyone on the team is more interested in going along with the status quo instead of trying to change certain things and make the team better.

Ssince any variance away from team policies in the Roman Empire would lead to death I find it hard to blame anyone for not wanting to go along with the crowd. As we all know The Roman Empire is no longer but the team concept of their ancestors lives on in organizations like the Mafia and most large labor organizations.

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Tthe other day I arrived at school to have one of the custodians stop me in the hall and tell me, that if he had never seen in me in his life before, he would know right away that I was from Maine. I thought about my weather-beaten, salt-stained baseball cap that is now stuck permanently to my head, and wondered if that was a giveaway.

When I asked him how he would just ‘know’ I was from Maine he shrugged and said Mainers have a “distinctive” appearance. There was something about the way he said “distinctive” I wasn’t sure I liked, and it set me to thinking about what Mainers are supposed to look like.

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“What is a lapel?”
For a minute I couldn’t believe my ears. I had asked the young store clerk for a lapel button and she had no idea what a lapel was.

If there ever is a sign of growing old it is discovering that words and meanings and symbols we have used all our lives are now unknown to the generation that will soon replace us. My wife and I were in the Fox Run Mall looking for a small lapel pin in the form of a peace symbol. I thought they might make a neat Christmas gift as we head into the season of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. As I searched, my wife trailed exasperatedly after me reminding me that, once again, that I was living in the past.

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Ii was talking to a colleague the other day about how education policies are driving many great veteran teachers out because they can no longer cope with the bureaucracy that is strangling a profession they have always loved and thought important.

She then told me this evolution was probably good because it allowed new blood into our profession. She ended her response by stating it is sometimes good to make lemons out of lemonade. She then quickly tried to correct her statement but I told her the original comment was very true. Walking back to my room I started to think about other instances when situations sounded remarkably good only to turn out to be remarkably bad.

Since I am a teacher the first program I thought of was the ‘No Child Left Behind’ education program our nation instituted five years ago. How could a name like ‘No Child Left Behind’ be a bad thing? Five years after the program started our education system is being buried in testing, data collecting, impossible standards that will drive most of our schools into failure, and the possibility our public education system that is still the envy of the world may just cease to exist. As I stated before many of our best teachers are being driven from their profession because of this program.

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Ook, maybe I am not so young but I am not that old. Of course this is coming from a man who hopes not to consider him self old when he is sitting on a porch in a place called Shady Acres looking for his eardrum.

However, the older I get the more I yearn for the simpler times in my life when I was part of a community that took care of each other. I felt this way after I left my heating oil company that allowed me to buy a winter’s worth of oil in advance so I could lock in a price that would allow me keep my family warm this winter. I am not objecting to this practice but it does make me miss the times of my past when I had no idea what a gallon of oil cost.

In fact, there was a time I never had to call the oil company to deliver because it was automatically done. I had no idea what the price was because I knew my oil company, who I had dealt with ever since I arrived in my home over 30 years ago, would take care of me and my family by offering me a fair price. The oil would be delivered and I would pay my bill.

The oil company would also take care of my furnace. I never had to make an appointment to get it done or buy insurance in order to feel confident the dreaded machine in my basement would work. I don’t ever remember seeing him fix the furnace. I knew he was there because I saw the old filters leaning against my garbage pails in my basement. Hell, I don’t remember ever seeing a bill. I just thought it was part of the service he gave me when he delivered the oil.

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Ii now know I’ve finally grown up and it is time for me to grow old. This took me a little bit longer than most people my age. I am 57 years old and I have yet to feel the pressure of being the patriarch of anything.

I was always the oldest male of the family who was supposed to lead by example. Of course, this is something I never did well. Hopefully I will have the capacity and the intelligence to fall into this newest and by definition the final role of my life. I consider myself extremely fortunate. Both of my parents are alive and totally functional.

In fact, at 87, my father still works for a cable company and does part-time work announcing high school games for the same cable network. My mother, who has always been a stay-at-home wife still cleans her own house, does all the household chores, and takes care of my father as she has done for the past 60+ years.

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Iiremember being scared. Most men and women feel the same when they start a new job. This apprehension is intensified when it is not only a new job but a first job in a profession you’ve spent the last six years of your life preparing for. I clearly remember my first classroom. The school was old and had a distinct odor all classrooms have.

I assume this is because of the hundreds of books that have been opened and closed or maybe the scents of the multitude of students who so desperately wanted to succeed so they could become what they wanted to become. Where ever the smell came from it was now being reinforced by this newest of teachers attempting to do something he always wanted to do.

The room was old but clean. I was surprised how shiny the floors were even though they were cracked and discolored. There were twenty or so desks in perfect lines waiting to be assigned students. The walls were remarkable void of any poster, piece of tape or hanging staple. The teacher who inhabited the room before me took down all her memories in order to make room for mine. There was a large desk at the front of the room. Like the walls it was cleaned and made ready for its new tenant.

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Tthe older I get the more I realize the ageing process has a tendency to shorten the length of the nerve that connects the brain to the mouth. In fact, the older one gets this nerve sometimes has a tendency to literally disappear.

The other day I walked into a group of colleagues talking about something I had nothing to do with. As to why I did this I don’t know but it was a choice between interrupting a conversation or going back to my desk in order to get some work done. As I listened I noticed one of the people in the conversation had a rather large mole growing on her face.

Since my room was at the opposite side of the school I rarely saw this individual. Instead of ignoring the mole I asked what the heck it was on her face. Needless to say this stopped all conversation, at which time the little group left attempting to console the woman who looked like she wanted to commit suicide.

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Wwhy are we always afraid of something new especially when we get older? I used to laugh at my parents after they got upset with me because of the new 8-track player in my car.

They were afraid it would take my mind off driving and thus get in an accident. I tried to explain there was little difference between the player and the radio. My father disagreed because there was talking on the radio that would somehow wake me up. I tried to explain to him that this is what put us to sleep but in those days one was only allowed a few seconds of argument. Times change but they don’t change much.

The other day I overheard a few of my colleagues talking about how they thought it would be a good idea to ban the use of I-pods in the school. Their reasoning was that the study that is going on today about how the ear pieces direct the sound onto the ear drum and thus has the capacity to cause damage. I butted into their conversation by stating that instead of outlawing the use of the I-pod we should teach our students how to use it.

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