Sunday, July 17, 2011

Taking a Chance


Memorial services are always tough. It's the celebrations of life that come after that are much more meaningful to me. So it was, yesterday with the service and celebration of Tom Ruhl's life. Tom died suddenly after complications from heart valve surgery. At 61, he had so much more to do. The good news is that this was a man that left a huge impact on everybody he encountered. Some will talk of the teacher, the principal, the college professor...but it was the human being that was most remarkable. The rare combination of wisdom and passion is what struck me. To that I would add humility. Case in point: I met Tom over the phone when a friend in Portland suggested I give him a call. All I knew was that he was the director of a new MAT (Master's in teaching) program at Marylhurst University, near Portland. I'd been in Portland only a year or so and was anxious to get involved in teacher mentoring since ending my 33 year career in the Bay Area. Trouble was that I was an unknown in Portland. If I'd remained in the East Bay, many opportunities were possible. But I was delighted to be in Portland and eagerly awaited the opportunity to use my time, experience, and energy to insure that beginning teachers could see that there is still joy to be had in this particularly difficult time. So I called Tom. He listened. We talked. It was a remarkable conversation. I dropped all apprehension when we just got caught up in the excitement of teaching. He asked me about my classroom, my colleagues at the Bay Area and now Oregon Writing Project, my ideas about curriculum and mentoring. We met the following week and sealed the deal. In the next few years, I had the opportunity to work with Tom at meetings and seminars. We also participated in those tough conversations with student-teachers that range from support to considering the unthinkable: "maybe this isn't the profession for you...and that's OK."
One afternoon during a break in a workshop we both attended, we happened to be walking side by side back into the Ed. building at Marylhurst. What a perfect opportunity, I thought. "Tom," I said, "I just want to thank yo for taking a chance with me. You know when I called you you knew nothing of my work in the Bay Area. Oh I know I sent you a resume, but we both know there is often a difference between what looks good on paper and the person behind the words. It was strange trying to tell you about what I could offer the program without you really knowing me." Tom smiled that caring, all-knowing smile. "Oh no," he said. "Thank you for taking a chance with me." Humility.

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