Sunday, November 4, 2007

Up a Tree
by Nick Kalakailo
a dedication to Al Massey, October, 2007

We could certainly pull out an ax and start chopping down all the trees, furiously fixing the problem, felling the timber and youth simultaneously, rejoicing in our power to take control over the situation. We all know an administrator or colleague who'd like the sound of that plan. But writers, teachers, and learners need the forest -- we need the trees. We need the kids to get stuck every once in a while; we need to get stuck with them. If we don't climb that damn tree we'll never touch the sky. Wingless as we are, how else can we reach the sky?

And, we'd never have the opportunity to climb back down and become grounded. How does one become grounded in this way? Some might say encouragement, belief, confidence, skill are all key to establishing some roots. Regardless, in the classroom, it might look like this: A student's cry for help, followed by a teacher's voice, calling up, coaching and coaxing. The youth begins to step down, believing in the power of his own footing and grip, descending earthward. Branches snap and knees knock, and finally the student reaches the ground. He smiles at that tree, appreciating the challenges it presented to him. His admiration for this oaken obstacle transforms into desire. He scans the forest and starts looking for the next tree to climb. The teacher stands back in relief, knowing nothing heroic was accomplished yet nothing tragic had occurred. The teacher closes his eyes for a moment, catching his breath, and upon reopening them, he finds that he is now the one who is up a tree and the students are on the ground, calling to him, "Come back to us!"

Something clear cut all the sturdy trees in Al's body long ago. The parts of him that were once firmly rooted in the fertile soil of life escaped him, washed away in a downpour. He wandered alone too long in the desert, looking for that one tree.

We didn't know him well, but we knew him.