Banter with The Furry Bard

Here is the dialogue from an interview I held recently with my high school friend and fellow blogger, Derek Southwick. Derek is a high school teacher, husband and father of two beautiful girls. And he is also, The Furry Bard 

 D-rock! My blogging buddy… Tell me the one thing people who know you now (but didn’t know you then) should know about high school aged Derek…

 Hmmm… well, my mind drifts to two very different annual physical examinations. As a 6’3″, 130 pound freshman in high school, my doctor told me, “You need to gain some weight. I’m not joking about this. Put some pounds on.” No one today would believe that I was once rail thin. My physical a few weeks ago included this conversation. “Well, you are getting up there, and as we get older, our bodies require more work to keep things going. And, well, technically you are what we consider obese, although you are a big enough guy to carry 10-20 pounds more than ideal… you still need to lose some pounds. Its for your heart…” He was almost apologetic – “Sorry dude, but you’re a ticking time bomb.” Sigh…

 Honorable mention: I haven’t always been balding, greying, bearded, and quite so fuzzy… but my nickname has always been Eeyore…

 Eeyore? You always seemed like a ray of sunshine in Earth Science! Who knew? And based on that last answer I better ask this next question quick…what is the best memory you have of your high school experience?

 Actually, my group of friends in high school all called me Eeyore. I believe I still have a stuffed Eeyore in the basement somewhere… This is a tough question, simply because there are so many. I’ll give detail to a pair at the end, but allow me to mention a few others first…

 First semester of Seiler’s class, and Justin Lee picked the Spanish name “Eugenia” but insisted on pronouncing it “Yoo-gina”

 Predicting that Dent and Davis were hooking up and finding out they were married a few years after graduation

 Math study sessions at Megan Spillane’s house

 Senior year spring break, where Dave Hullman, Steve Rietzke and I were not hanging out at the beach, but nearly getting killed in the streets of Chicago.

 Getting off the train at the wrong station in the middle of the ghetto, and nearly getting my friends killed before the cops rescued us (because I nearly smashed a newspaper machine in my anger)

 Going to a party at… Katie Johnson’s house maybe… and sneaking out with Jamie Belanger and Rohit Jha and freezing everybody’s door handles with packed snow and a squirt bottle

 Sitting down on my broken desk in Rohde’s class and hearing the horrifying rip of my pants as they caught on a jagged edge

 Creating artistic cover sheets for our tests in Ms. Williams class that also happened to contain all the answers

 Having Mr. Ford as a sub for Mr. Romba, and having him tell us “Now, its no secret that I hate freshmen…”
But I think the two things I remember most about high school are prom and senior party. Prom was just a cool night, made cooler when we snuck out of the Becker’s house at 3 am to play kickball in the Meads Mill field.

 Senior party was like a last hurrah, one last time for us all to be together and enjoy the end of childhood… dancing, watching the magician screw up his tricks, how some people rearranged the “Hollywood” sign on the hill to make it say “Woody;” it was just a memorable night in every way. And the cardboard Chewbacca I took from the party decorates my classroom today, so that memory is rarely far from my mind.

 Those are fabulous memories! In fact I’m impressed by how much you remember in detail. What’s the one detail that you remember that you’d give anything to forget?

 Yikes. A couple of things, really. The terrifying little girlfriend I had for 10 months. The fact that I slacked so much and could have done much better than I actually did.

 But what I would like to forget the most is that I fell out of contact with so many people for such a long period of time. I know it always happens, and I also know it was harder back then to keep in contact – no FB, no social media, no blogs… but I feel like I just had a great group of people in my life, and I know for a fact that I deeply regret that I didn’t make the effort. In particular, I really blew up one of the best friendships I had in high school – that was all on me, and I can’t do anything about it now. In all likelihood, we wouldn’t be friends today anyway – I mean, that’s the nature of things, right? But I still regret that I was such an immature twit back in the day.

 Sometimes I don’t know where we’d be without Facebook now. It really has reconnected me with so many people. Speaking of Facebook, then—my daughter says it’s a tool for older people, that teenagers are on Instagram and snapchat instead. Things change so quickly. As a teacher, what do you think is most different about high school now versus school when you were there?

My students constantly tell me that Facebook is for old people… just this week a girl told me I must be old if I use Facebook instead of Twitter, and I told her I get more “likes” than she gets “retweets” – true story. But you are right, things are moving along so quickly now that by the time I catch on to something, it’s often already falling out of favor. I think the biggest difference between now and then is the nature of relationships between teenagers. Social media has made them so hyper connected that they are all in each other’s business all the time… but what they have gained in breadth they have sacrificed in depth. It’s tough to be close friends with hundreds of people when your communication is limited to 140 characters. So while everyone knows everyone, sometimes they don’t know each other at all. This manifests itself in the relationships they have – it seems there is no personal contact – its all about “hook ups.” Every year, I tell them a story about how on the first date the guys should give a yellow rose with red tips – there’s a whole long tale I tell with it. This year, as I told the story one of the female students pointed out “um, no guy ever knocks on the door and picks me up for a date – he just texts me and tells me where to meet him.” Umm… that’s awful to me.

 And don’t even get me started about homecoming. Last year, I chaperoned, and as the new guy, they kept sending me into “the pit” to break up dancers that were “grinding” too hard. Besides being far worse than any club I went to while in college, it signified the difference between generations – they don’t even make eye contact while dancing.

 That being said, I find that this generation has an unerring optimism that is so refreshing. They don’t know where the world is headed, but they don’t care – they are gonna make it no matter what. Plus they push themselves a lot harder than we did, and take a lot heavier load than most of us did back in the day. Seriously, mad respect for the level of achievement these kids attain. Maybe that’s why they don’t have deep relationships – no time for that nonsense when they’re trying to take over the world.

 I can’t help but point out the obvious to all of us reading, you know your students so well. I can tell how much you love teaching. One last question—what’s the best advice you would give to your daughters based on your experiences as a teacher and a student?

There are only two pieces of advice that I can offer my daughters, but I believe them both to be true with all of my heart.

 1. Always give your best effort. There are so many people out there competing to be the absolute best in some area of life – and they aren’t gonna cut any slack to someone who wants to take it easy in life. The world is changing, and that is a good thing – but you have to be willing to give it all to make it. When was the last time you gave every ounce of who you are to achieve something amazing? I want my girls to feel that way a time or two in life. They’re both such incredible girls.

 2. That being said, giving your best effort doesn’t mean anything if you don’t love what you do. I know what it’s like – I gave a decade of my life to a career I didn’t really care for. Living an existence without passion for what you do – so empty. Now that I love my career, my only fear is that it won’t be here for me one day – that teaching will change so much that it becomes unrecognizable. But today? Today, I held class with 158 students, and I had the time of my life. Giving your best effort only really matters if it’s towards something that counts.

 That’s what I want for my daughters…


 Reflecting on my conversation with Derek, I was left with this sense that he, like me, was just now—at 35 years old–sort of evolving into the person he was going to be. That maybe it took that long to get your bearings in life for anyone, that this was maybe the sweet spot, right here. I know I feel that way about my life—but Derek’s responses made me surer than ever that maybe it was more universally, empirically true.

 And one more thing. I felt safe in the knowledge that when my daughter goes to high school next year, if she has teachers this wonderful—everything will be all right.

 Read my interview with The Furry Bard where I sit and answer similar questions (and reminisce about my first kiss!) here:

 And check our Derek’s blog in general. I would read his work even if I didn’t know him. He’s that interesting. 🙂

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