Thoughts From Dr. Joe: A campus recon at back-to-school night

Sabine seemed concerned as I left for back-to-school night at LCHS.

She said, "Daddy! Whatever you do, don't embarrass me!"

After 13 years of being a dad, I'm now considered an embarrassment. Actually, it's a reputation that is most deserved; I can tell you stories that would make your hair curl.

Since Simone and Sabine are in the seventh and eighth grades respectively, Kaitzer and I decided to split our forces at back-to-school night. She would cover the seventh grade, I would take the eighth, and at some predetermined time, we would switch. Kaitzer laid out a detailed plan of attack. I had no clue what she was talking about, but I pretended I did.

I moved out and began to recon the brave new world of the 7/8 small schools, but was unsure of my mission. "Am I covering 7, or am I covering 8?" I thought. I should have written it down, but I didn't have a pen. "Hmm! I think she said 7…no, 8. But, is it school one, two, three or four?"

Carrying a list of teachers and their respective classrooms, I followed an azimuth toward what I thought was the eighth-grade area.

Everything went south after that. How was I supposed to know that the number in the middle of the three-digit room designation denotes what floor the classroom is on? So I'm looking for room 724 on the 7th floor. But…there is no 7th floor.

I thought of Sun Tzu's thoughts from his military treatise, "The Art of War:" "The plan is useless; but planning is essential."

Thinking that I was in the 8th-grade area of the campus, I haphazardly meandered into the 7th-grade area. You can image the puzzled query I received from Mr. Savage, Simone's 7th-grade math teacher, when I introduced myself as Sabine's dad.

There is wisdom in Robert Burns' recognition that, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry!" Thus, I followed an old mantra learned years ago: "Adapt and overcome."

While attempting to visit as many teachers as possible, I threw caution aside and opted for a frontal assault. I was curious to meet the teachers who, within a relatively short time, had endeared themselves to my children. Teaching is leaving a remnant of one's self in the expansion of another. Whether it is a smile or a favorite witticism, effective teachers leave a vestige of their idiosyncratic ways on the blank slate of their students. However, according to Kaitzer, students don't come to us as blank slates. They actually come with a social cultural context and a breadth of knowledge that a teacher can use to help students connect new knowledge toward their understanding of the world. There's an old Buddhist Proverb that says, "When the student is ready, the master appears."

What caught my eye that evening was the enthusiasm of their teachers. "I like a teacher who gives their students something to think about other than homework." (Edith Ann)

We were funneled into the IRC for a general briefing on the curriculum, so naturally I took a seat farthest from Ms. Baldwin, the team leader for small-school four. Old habits die-hard. At times, I have the attention span of a 3-year-old, so after six seconds, I was counting the light bulbs on the ceiling. However, when Ms. Baldwin mentioned the issue of bullying, my attention instantly was piqued. There is nothing I detest more than bullies, who create their energy from degradation, abuse, exclusion, name calling, gossiping, gestures, teasing, humiliating and controlling other children. The handprints of bullies are like slaps on the face, and remain stark and defined on the souls of their victims.

Next week, I'll re-visit the issue of bullies and I'm not taking any prisoners.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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