Monday, May 9, 2011

Richard G. Kolczynski Belongs On The School Board!!!


Okay!  Before we get down to business, let's get the mushy truth or dare part over with first...

"Once upon a time a long time ago..." is the way that stories with happy endings are often started, and I want this story to have a happy ending, so I'm going to start it this very way...

Once upon a time a long time ago in the days of yore when Saturday Night was both Live and running a Fever and CBs were almost as popular as the Internet is now, there was a year in my life known as 1977.

At the time, I was taking graduate school classes at Ball State University's Department Of English and had started the spring quarter in March of that year.

As I've just mentioned, I'm going to get the mushy stuff out of the way first so that I can continue with a more serious line of conversation.

So, I will confess to having certain symptoms of being smitten by somebody--symptoms such as stuffing a pillow under my t-shirt and standing sideways in front of a full-length mirror and looking at myself with a silly, dreamy expression on my face while Sunday Sharpe was singing I'm Having Your Baby in the background or just suddenly having so much energy inside of me that I had to run outdoors and dance/leap into the cool spring air during Monday evening class breaks.  There were other signs, too, such as writing everything from songs and poetry about him to simply writing his name over and over again in my notebook--usually, in fancy letters with floral designs on or around them.

As you might have guessed, the person who made me feel this way was Dr. Richard G. Kolczynski whose class I was taking at the time.

So, the truth is out now--that being that I had a major crush (make that total lovesickness) when it came to Richard G. Kolczynski back in the spring of 1977.

However, I hope that this won't make you take my opinion that he belongs on your school board (CaesarRodney, Delaware School District) any less seriously, because I'm about to give you plenty of legitimate reasons why he should be.

The million dollar question that is a song title for a Tina Turner hit could be asked here:  "What's Love Got To Do With It?"

After all, it's pretty commonplace to want to find out how people whom you knew "way back when" but of whom you've lost track are doing these days--and, if you've ever seen this or that person in a romantic sort of light, this just adds more flavor to the search.

So (like countless others on similar searches) I've taken advantage of The Internet to find out whatever I could in the way of current news re:  Richard.

For a very long time, I didn't come up with much.

Love has a lot to do with my desire to relocate Richard G. Kolczynski, though romance has almost nothing at all to do with it.

I still love to travel back in time to those days when the then-popular songs, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing and You Light Up My Life (the latter which came out several months after the class had ended but still applied) described how I felt every Monday evening while listening to his engaging lectures and two-way interaction with all of us so blessed to be a part of his class.

The paragraph I just wrote is as far as the romantic part goes (just the happy memories of being a 24 year old young woman with a huge crush on her 30 year old professor), as I neither have the hope nor desire to turn this into a Hallmark Channel movie where two once-young people meet in their golden years and end up riding off into the sunset together.

However, love has so much to do with it, because there's so much worth loving about Richard.  Monday after Monday, I sat in class listening to his dreams while hoping that at least the very best of them would come true for him. After all, if his fondest dreams came true, it would be a better world for our most precious natural resources:  our kids!!!

It has been many years since Richard and I have been in touch, and, for all I knew, he might have turned a complete 180 in his outlook on life--but, somehow, I didn't think this would be the case.

Therefore, I was really pleased when I recently finally found some current news on him:  that he was running for a seat on his local school board!

I knew that the Richard G. Kolczynski whom I knew and loved so many years ago would be just what the doctor ordered for any school board, so I decided that I would write about Richard as I knew him and say that, if he were that same person, he would be a plus to his local school board.

Just yesterday, I actually found his current information, and he didn't let me down at all, as he's still the same Richard I knew back in 1977 with the passing of years only making him even more wise (and, yes, still very easy-on-the-eyes, imo!).

Having said this, I'm going to share my memories of his class, and, if you like what you read, please cast a vote in his direction if you live where you can as well as sharing this with others and advising the same...

It was March 14, 1977, and I had just started my third quarter of graduate school at Ball State University with the idea of ending up with a M.A. in English and, possibly, going on to get my PhD in the same after that.

My life would take a different route than planned, but those were my plans at the time.

However, I had been used to changing plans.  After all, I had once had a dream of being a special education teacher somewhere in or near Madison County, Indiana along with being a homemaker and writer.

Even though I still had held on to the homemaker and writer dreams, I had pretty much given up on becoming a special education teacher in the conventional way, as it seemed to me as if the school system that I would be going into just wasn't ready to accept the likes of me (another story, which will be covered in my upcoming book).

Therefore, my plans at that time were to write; possibly, teach creative writing at college-level; and operate a summer camp for a month out of each year.  One week of camp would be for kids whose main challenges were physical.  Another week would be for those whose main challenges were cognitive.  Another week would be for inner-city kids.  The final week would be for mainstream local kids.  And, of course, I wanted to be a wife and mother.

Of all of the courses I'd taken so far since starting graduate school, only one of them had an early education theme to it, and that one was the first one that I had taken (one about children's literature).

The other courses--in which I'd done very well (after only receiving a C from the first course, due to a personality clash between the instructor and me)--were classes in creative writing, Shakespeare, and English Literature.

Now--along with a class called Twain, James, and Crane and a Steinbeck seminar--I would be taking a course about getting students to enjoy reading.

Dr. Alexander MacGibbon (my academic advisor) had told me that I would especially enjoy the reading appreciation course and that he had the feeling that my instructor and I would get along famously.

He mentioned the instructor's name--which didn't really stick in my memory at the time other than sounding kind of Old World to where I pictured him being an energetic Lawrence Welk lookalike with a lovable personality and upbeat manner (a lot like Lawrence Welk).  Anyway, it certainly sounded as if it would be a much more positive learning experience than the last teacher-geared class had been.

Spring quarter had started the week before--but on a Tuesday, meaning that I'd already been to the first sessions of my other two classes but that this would be my first session of the reading appreciation class.

The instructor hadn't arrived yet, but students were gradually entering the room and choosing seats.

That's when I saw him--a real knockout of a guy!  He was around 5'9" and looked at least a little bit on the Italian side with thick, beautiful, almost-black, curly hair worn in the Afro style that was so popular back then.  Find a picture of how Conway Twitty looked at the time, age him backwards by about two decades, and you would get a general idea of how this sight-for-sore-eyes was looking to me that evening!

I was hoping that he'd choose a seat next to me, but, instead, he went up to the desk in the front of the room and placed the items that he was carrying on it before exiting the room again.

That cute guy's the instructor!?!. . .Probably already married. I decided at that point.  Even so, I checked his ring finger when he returned to the room again.  Yep!  There was a ring there.  Oh well...

After checking around, I would find out that, ring or no ring, Richard was single.  The ring was simply costume jewelery with no romantic significance.

This is all I'm going to say from this point on about how crushing I was on him, because it really doesn't matter.

Had the instructor of this class been married, eighty years old, a Catholic priest, or even a woman, the class and the person teaching it would have been just as inspiring and excellent--and worthy of a school board seat in the future (though there would be a very slim chance that somebody who was eighty at that time would be a school board candidate here in May of 2011).

Obviously, I found Richard's outward appearance to be attractive even before getting to know what was on the inside, but outward appearance alone isn't enough to captivate my heart the way that mine was captivated by Richard. 

It was what was inside that really counted there, and I want to share that inner-beauty with you so that, hopefully, the same inner-beauty that had me placing a pillow under my t-shirt and having wonderful daydreams will be the same inner-beauty that will have you placing a ballot with a vote for Richard G. Kolczynski on it in the ballot box and having a dream-come-true kind of reality when it comes to the education of the students in the CaesarRodney, Delaware School District!!!

The best way to share that inner-beauty is to share what it was like being in his class once upon a time...

On the very first evening of class, I would find out that he enjoyed Petosky stones.  My folks and I had hunted some of those amazing, fossil-decorated rocks a few years before, so I knew what he meant there.

His manner of relating to his students was engaging and personal.  He didn't seat himself behind his desk but, instead, on a corner of it where he would share, both that first evening and the ones to follow, his experiences (life experiences ranging from classroom experiences to personal experiences that even went clear back into his childhood). 

The way he told his stories was anything but boring, and there were many times when he reminded me of that adorable, little boy in the Oscar Mayer commercial singing about his bologna sandwich.

On the very first night of class, we were to learn about one of his favorite educators/writers named Frank Smith and were given one of the latter's thoughts on what we best remember:  the unusual, the unexpected, and/or the unpleasant.

Richard, himself, was certainly not what kind of a professor I'd been expecting to find teaching my Monday evening class, and he was definitely unusual.  However, he was anything BUT unpleasant!!!

He told us that he was going to be giving each of us contracts when it came to deciding on our grades and that everybody taking the class should be making at least a C.  The C was what you got for simply showing up for class.  If you also--along with showing up for class--read the two textbooks going with the class (and was able to show some kind of proof that you had read them) and did (as I recall) one or two of the extra-credit activities from a list he had made, you were good for a B.  If you wanted an A, you could do everything that you would do for a B along with several more of the extra-credit activities.

You could contract for any grade that you wanted to but could change your mind at anytime.

That is, you might contract for a C at first but find out that you were able to do B or A work after all and could change your contract to show this.  Or you might contract for an A only to find out that you were only able to do B or C work.  Again, you had the option of changing your contract.

If you didn't change your contract downward if you were up at the top, you would get an I for incomplete until such a time that you could finish it.  It was a reasonable amount of time.  If you didn't finish it, you would, of course, get an F.

Richard wasn't a person who was fond of giving Fs, so he would do everything in how power to see that his students left his class with at least a C.

As for myself, I contracted for an A right off the bat and was able to pull it off!

I began to find out that Richard and I had a lot in common when it came to our views on the educational system at the time.

At one time, he had taught special education--something that I had once aspired to do.  He would later go on to teach mainstream classes.

Both of us had reached the very same conclusion on one thing in particular:  There was too much government and red-tape in our public schools, and it was tying the hands of teachers while denying their students the right to be given the most meaningful and lasting education.

In my own case, I was denied even the right to get the complete education needed to become a teacher (Read my book when it comes out!) thanks to the influence of the dean of women at my undergraduate college along with a handful of others who thought like her--this in spite of successful teaching I'd done while taking some of the classes that were for teachers but weren't in the last rung up the ladder of the teacher education program.

Richard, on the other hand, was crafty enough to slip below the radar of powers-that-be like my own dean of women and was able to become a fully-licensed, effective, and well-liked (by the kids, anyway) teacher.

After teaching in the public school system for awhile, Richard found a greater calling in teaching college--as in teaching teachers (and, especially, those teachers of the language arts) the ins and outs of pubic education.  Along with that, he gave us pointers on how to better get kids to appreciate reading.

Of course, I wasn't even thinking along the lines of classroom teaching anymore, but I still loved kids and wanted them to develop a true joy of reading for its own sake as well as wanting them to get a truly wonderful formal education, so I soaked up everything that Richard was teaching us like a sponge!

His burning desire to cut through all of the red-tape gave him a very special place in my heart.

He told us this one story about outfoxing the powers-that-be in this one middle school where he was teaching language arts.

It seemed as if every teacher there had to make out a teaching plan and stick to it no matter what.  Of course, doing something like this would allow for very little, if any, spontaneity--which, in his opinion (and mine, too), really put a damper on those "Aha!" kinds of discovery moments that are so important to genuine learning.

Richard's solution?

He obediently made out the plan, gave a copy of it to the principal--AND barely gave his copy a passing glance when he started teaching his classes!

His students loved coming to class and really thrived!!!

In spite of this, he was called into the principal's office and called down for not going by his written plan.

How did they find out? he wondered.

He decided that he'd better play by the rules until he figured that mystery out--and it didn't take him long.  He picked up peculiar sounds coming over the intercom in his classroom and realized that he was being spied on.

At that point, he got some legal advice and found that this unauthorized listening in on his classes over an intercom was infringing on his right to privacy.

However, he was told, the principal and other superiors had the right to appear in his classroom at any time, so he'd better be going by his lesson plan.

After that, Richard kept his lesson plan handy--but still allowed his students to study and discuss whatever interested them at the time.  Richard had the ability to think on his feet and tie whatever discussion was going on to the written-out plan whenever some higher authority figure showed up in his classroom.

Another one of Richard's interest was collective groupings--as in what things might be called as a group.  It was usually determined by one or more factors that might describe the items.  A noise of boys, for instance, had a word describing a characteristic of boys (noise) and a case of one word rhyming with the other.  A gaggle of geese had two words starting with the same letter plus a characteristic of geese.  A knot of toads fit the bill, as toads resemble something tied in a knot.  A murder of crows referred to their vulture-like characteristics.

We were talking after class that evening, and I asked him what it would be if there were more than one of me.  When he told me that he had no idea, I responded:  "An annoyance of Ainsleys!"  He reassured me otherwise, but I told him that I was a genuine collective annoyance--and it turned out that there would be times every now and then when he had to agree with me. 

Thus, I had coined my own phrase "collective annoyance" or "genuine collective annoyance."  Its definition is something that can be so annoying that you're glad that it comes as a single instead of a group.

On a couple of Mondays, we didn't have class because Richard would be lecturing at a conference somewhere.  I have another confession to make here:  Whenever he was away like that, it reminded me of the Leo Sayer hit When I Need You about an entertainer on the road with his true love back home and his singing "When I need you, I just close my eyes and I'm with you. . ." in spite of the "miles and miles of empty road here between us. . ."  There were so many times of daydreaming that we'd, one day, get the chance to slow-dance to that ballad.

Thinking about Richard being on the road with his message was exciting to me because it was a message that needed to be heard:  The message of cutting through a bunch of political red-tape and giving a growing number of kids a really meaningful education!

Early in 1979, I got to attend a conference where Richard was speaking, and he told his audience the most wonderful story about living with this family for awhile (either while he was teaching or else when he was studying to be a teacher).  One of the family members was a young boy who was always drawing pictures--at times, even putting off his chores and/or homework to finish one on which he was working.  The boy's parents--and, especially, his dad--were always on his case about that, saying that he was wasting his time and needed to quit fooling around and get to work.

Richard said that he knew that, should he ever write a book and hadn't lost track of the boy by then, he was going to hire him to be his illustrator!

Although Richard has written articles and has even had one story included in an actual book (anthology with several contributors), he hasn't, to my knowledge, written that book yet.  I hope that, when the time comes, he'll be able to find that boy (now, obviously, a grown man) and have him as his illustrator!

For those who know me, you'll know that there's at least one thing on which Richard and I don't see eye-to-eye.  He believes that the word "cute" has been overused.  I don't!

All kidding aside, he was talking about when it came to describing children's books, and I can see his point there.  After all, most children's books have a certain cuteness about them, so they need to be further described in order to be able to distinguish one from another.

I remember right after class when he, another student, and I were looking at some children's books and discussing them.  He and I both especially liked this one about how far a rubber band could stretch, and I said to him, "That's really. . ." (short pause after catching myself before I said the forbidden word) ". . .adorable!"

Richard took the book and (gently) hit me over the head with it while exclaiming, "Adorable!!!  That's even worse than cute!!!"

During one of the last classes of the quarter, Richard told about how he liked to collect all things frog.  As it turned out, I had quite a collection of stuffed/woodcarved/ceramic/etc. frogs and toads, so I brought part of my collection in to share it with him a day or so later.

I have a kind of Rose way of telling my own version of St. Olaf stories, so I'll stop myself from doing this here and say that I'll share some of my stories of catching frogs and toads as a child at a later time when I'm not focusing on getting the right man elected.

But I will go on a little more about frogs and toads to first say that I got Richard a 45 of Chet Atkins' Frog Kissin' as a present to give him on the last day of class--which he said that he appreciated even though it was a bit too "twangy" for his personal tastes.

Also, I looked into the Frog & Toad book series by Arnold Lobel which he had recommended and bought some for my cousins' kids who celebrated their birthdays in June (two actually born in May and one born in February--and, a couple of years later, another born in May--but they all waited until spring for their big celebration which, usually, took place around the June 6 anniversary of Carolyn & Larry).

They all really fell in love with those books!  A few years ago, I received a letter from Eva (the oldest) who said that she was now passing down a love of Frog & Toad to her daughter!

After not hearing anything new about Richard in so long, I was elated to find out that he was running for a seat on his local school board--and glad to further read that he's still a person who believes that the best kind of education is when he can get kids, parents, and educators genuinely-enthused about learning!!!

Added to his previous issues is one that most of us hold to be of utmost importance:  bringing bullying to an end!!!

In closing. . .

Once upon a time a long time ago in the days of yore when Saturday Night was both Live and running a Fever and CBs were almost as popular as the Internet is now, there was a year in my life known as 1977.

It was then--on a night that wasn't officially spring but when both spring and spring fever seemed to be in the air after a chilly Indiana winter--that I met a real prince of a professor named Richard G. Kolczynski who, like myself, had big dreams when it came to improving the quality of education and getting kids to really love to read and learn.

A story that begins "Once upon a time. . ." deserves to have a happy ending--and, in this case, a happy ending written by enough people voting for Richard to get him that place on the school board where he can use his know-how and dedication to make sure that the kids in the CaesarRodney, Delaware school district get a joyful, meaningful, and lasting education in a safe, loving, and pleasant environment!!!