Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX


June 22, 2011

The Idle American

JACKSONVILLE — It was a weekly commitment closest to the hearts of many folks in the 1950’s. We were transfixed — millions of us — on the dramatic hallmark opening by Jack Webb (alias “Joe Friday” on   TV’s Dragnet.)

He’d always mention the City of Los Angeles, saying “I work here. I’m a cop.”

Then, we’d be assured that the story we were about to see was true, with “the names changed to protect the innocent.”

We’d adjust the vertical hold to minimize the rolling frames that plagued most programming. Still, we were thankful for our little 17-inch black and white TV sets —  maybe much more than today’s kids who are “ho hum” about their 60-inch 3-D, HD receivers….

• • • • •

I feel somewhat “Jack Webbish,” wondering if I can paint the right picture of this “good news” account. It’s about two seasoned educators deeply committed to a “giving back” mentality that has deep claims on their lives. If they were identified, others might view them as “goody two-shoes,” perhaps masquerading as “Good Samaritans” stopping to lend a hand on life’s highway. Still others might figure they are posturing themselves to run for political office.

And such cynics would be dead wrong. This husband and wife team — let’s call them “Joe and Jane” — are a lot like folks you know, maybe around the block or down the street,  deeply resolved to teaching youngsters every day. They sign contracts annually, ignoring the fine print, knowing that by year’s end, they’ll have “given back” more than contractual obligations require.

They are pushing age 50, a number slightly under their total years in the field. Their two children are “out of the nest,” so they have a couple of extra bedrooms. But wait. I race too fast ahead….

• • • • •

Flip the calendar back to the early days of the past school year. The couple knew a 17-year-old African-American youngster — let’s call him Shawn — who wasn’t doing well in school — or in life. Within a few days, Joe (Shawn’s teacher) better understood why.

The youngster was born into a world where good choices seemed so high in the tree. The bad ones hung on low branches, ripe and ready for the taking.

His mother, ensnared by problems associated with poverty, and his daddy, largely absent since Shawn’s birth, are near the bottom end on the chart of model lives. Until this spring, the youngster was like that acorn fallen near the tree. Shawn was well on the way to replication of his folks’ pilgrimage — one of bad friends, bad habits and bad penalties. In and out of jail, he felt his life tilting toward worthlessness and sadness unimaginable to many….

• • • • •

The couple made a big decision back in February. They completed papers to gain custody of Shawn. For the first time in his life, he had his own bedroom and bath, regular meals and “around the clock” guidance.

In a matter of weeks, his life began to square; even carpenters would be proud. Other teachers, noticing his new approach to school, termed the transformation “unbelievable.”

And when there were minor “slip-ups,” Joe and Jane smiled through them, resolved to keep on trying…..

• • • • •

This vignette warrants the telling. A few weeks ago at around three in the morning, Joe and Jane heard sirens wailing, one of them in their neighborhood. Joe trudged to the door, where he was greeted by a fireman who is an acquaintance of the couple.

“What’s the problem?” the fireman asked. “Nothing I know of,” Joe answered, bumfuzzled by the 9-1-1 call that resulted in a fire truck in their driveway. Other sirens from a police car and ambulance heightened, closing in on the neighborhood….

• • • • •

Sheepishly, Shawn made an admission: “I have a powerful bad toothache,” he explained. “I know how hard you and your wife work. I didn’t want to wake you up. So I called 9-1-1.”

Joe and the fireman looked at each other and smiled, both on the same page.

Quickly, the fireman notified drivers of the police car and ambulance that they wouldn’t be needed….

• • • • •

The couple understands. The veteran educators feel loved, fully convinced that Shawn had made what he considered a good choice, at least a considerate one.

They thought of a long ago track coach named Joe Bailey Cheaney, a familiar figure who fired the starting pistol at Texas’ major track meets. When runners sprang from their blocks early, the old coach “preached” his mini-sermon. “Men,” he’d say, even if they were junior high runners, “I don’t know who’ll hit the string first, but I do know this: You are all leaving here at the same time.”

Really, that’s what Joe and Jane — and thousands of other educators — are trying mighty hard to do — help students “leave at the same time.”…

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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