Tampa Teachers Today

Hey there. Me 'n this sandhill crane are in Tampa, on my last official trip of this school year, where I'm working with Hillsborough County Teachers -- 800 of 'em. Hillsborough County is the 8th-largest school district in the United States. Literacy Compass sets up this conference, and this is my second year participating. It's great good work, and lots of fun, to boot.

I do two breakout sessions this morning, and the closing keynote this afternoon, me and Pam Munoz Ryan. We're having fun reconnecting... last time we worked together we were in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. RobinH, we both send you our love and admiration!

Conferences stretch me, teach me, and get me together with colleagues and friends -- often we live so far away from each other, we'd never see one another otherwise.

I have book news. But... I'm late for work this morning, so I'll post it tomorrow -- how's that? Whoo-hoo, two posts in one week, be still my heart.

I'll be talking about the Sixties Trilogy today (we sang Beatles songs at dinner last night -- Steve Swinburne and Mike Shoulders led the way with a room full of teachers, but I had to keep them straight on lyrics -- my specialty). I'll also talk today about a favorite teacher, Mary Farrell, who taught music at Camp Springs Elementary School in Camp Springs, Maryland in the early-to-mid Sixties. My dad was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base and we lived in Camp Springs for seven years -- unusual in an Air Force career, but oh-so-wonderful for a kid growing up from ages 8 to 15.

Mary Farrell changed my life. As I journaled about her in my notebook, in preparation for writing today's speech, a flood of memories came back to me, things I hadn't thought about in years. Mary Farrell... she wore silk stockings short (well, right above the knee) Jackie-Kennedy-like dresses. When she sat down next to me at the piano, I could see that she didn't shave her legs above her knees -- I noticed things like that then. Maybe because I so desperately wanted to shave my legs and my mother wouldn't let me.

Such a small memory, but it's important to the whole picture, it helps to complete it. "God is in the details," who said that? I don't remember, but I do know that a good story lies in the details.

What teacher changed your life? How did he or she do it? Mary Farrell translated love. That's the title of my talk today: Translate Love. Miss Farrell loved music so much, was so passionate about it, so excited to share it, that we fell all over our ten-year-old selves wanting to know what she knew, wanting to hear more of that classical music, wanting to sing out those tunes from the Great American Songbook -- in four-part harmony, no less! -- wanting to please her, wanting to master what she had to share with us. Miss Farrell was a force of nature. And when she first walked into my fourth-grade classroom, she was 22 years old, just out of college.

"How did you do it?" I asked her, when I met her again many years later.

"No one told me I couldn't," she said.

This is a model for our times.

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