For fifteen years, I taught next door to a man who was ahead of his time.  In meetings, he disagreed with administration, made remarks that pushed the bounds of the appropriate, and spouted off about the futility of whatever dog and pony show was coming to to town. 

Often his outbursts had the rest of the staff laughing into their sleeves, even as they were forced to recognize the quality of his teaching.  His knowledge of the subject matter was impeccable.  His students loved him.  His English students were consistently successful on AP tests.  And yet, he was regularly outspoken about the bureaucracy and hypocrisy of modern American education.  Once he even declined a $700 stipend for participating in a program simply because he was against it in principle.  The stipend contract was circulated among the teachers at our meeting and when the paper came to him, I watched in awe as he simply passed it on.

For me, that was an object lesson in integrity.

I remember watching him going through his file cabinets one year and throwing away a truckload of files he never used.  He had no patience for keeping files around “just in case.”  Next, he showed me how he had whittled down his resources to a single drawer in a file cabinet and then, later, to only a handful of folders.

“There are really only eight assignments worth anything, anyway,” he used to say.  “Everything else is crap.” I chuckled with him, but felt an uneasiness that, in retrospect, I recognized as me realizing that he was probably right, and I either had to laugh it away with him or change everything I was doing as a teacher.  While I often relied on the certainty of foolproof activities and assignments, he rewrote his curriculum every year. That was ten years ago.

But I still remember the day he showed me those handful of files. 

At the time, I thought he was joking.

Now I think he was a visionary.  TZT