Thursday, June 16, 2016

In Memory of My Colleague Stan Parker



When I first came to Springside School back in the fall of 2001, Mr. Parker, as he was always called, was already mythical.  At the time, he only taught 1 class, honors US history to 9th grade boys, and thus he did not have to attend our coordinate department meetings.  Still his influence was everywhere, “what would Mr. Parker say if he saw you with your shirt untucked,” “what would Mr. Parker think of that effort,” “what are you going to say to Mr. Parker when you have to explain this to him.”  Now mind you, this was kids, saying this to other kids.  After a couple of years of this, and still never having met him, I was convinced that this “Mr. Parker” was 10 feet tall, carried a giant club for bashing heads, and was possessed of a voice that caused your face to melt like the Nazis who saw the Ark opened in Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

Imagine my surprise when Stan became history department chair and I finally met him,  the bespectacled scholar whose neat notebooks contained tightly organized lesson plans and reams of primary documents.  This was the legendary Stan Parker?  No pitchfork?  No forked tail? 

Well, of course not, this was a man, after all, who a student once described thus:  “Some teachers, it feels like they want you to fail, with Mr. Parker, it feels like he always wants you to succeed.”  And that was the essence of Stan right there.  Stan wanted you to succeed, be you a student, an athlete,  a colleague, or a friend.  He held himself and everyone around him to a high standard but his expectations were simple.  Be on time (but generations knew that "early is on time, on time is late, late is left"), do your best, if your best wasn’t good enough, ask for help so you can do your best next time, tuck in your shirt, ask a good question, be prepared, take good notes, don’t panic, take a deep breath. 

It was easy to get fooled by the bluster.  By the time I met Stan, he had already been teaching longer at CHA longer than most people teach in their entire careers.  And he would teach for more than another decade.  Despite his penchant for using the past to explain the present (he was a historian first and foremost), he was incredibly innovative.  This fall, for example, he organized a symposium for his AP Gov students where they had to present plans for rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  It was the type of assignment that gets talked about as “21c” in the lingo, cutting edge, innovative, school for the 21st century.  And that was Stan, the guy who created the Washington trip, the guy who guided students from typewriters, to computers, to cell phones.  He didn’t make a big deal out of it, but he always understood that technology, used properly, was useful.  And in his own cranky way, he embraced it.   He was always innovating, always looking to get better as a teacher, as a colleague, as a person.

And that’s what he’d want from us going forward and the best way to honor him.  Be on time, do your best, if you don’t do your best ask for help so you can do better next time.  It’s a pretty simple playbook.  Stan was always a fan of “playing the game right way.”  If we can do those few things, it’s the best way we can honor his memory. 

 


3 comments:

  1. David, thanks for sharing. Spot on.

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  2. David, you're a wonderful teacher too and obviously a good friend to Stan. What many did not see was his devotion to his fellow teachers, his willingness to fight to the death for what he felt the program/team/colleagues/students needed. His extraordinary gentleness with boys who had been dealt a raw deal in life or his booming insistence that a boy live up to expectations an potential. I learned that arguing with him over limited resources was not an answer in his mind- it was so much more successful to put him off for a time while I worked some miracle behind the seams and never to promise something I or the school couldn't deliver. He hated falsehoods more than anything.
    Thanks for your reflections. They made me smile in remembrance and be happy for all those children who learned such great life lessons from him. I know he is in a better pain free place now but has left huge foot prints on us all.

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