Graduation Advice from an “Old School” Educator

Graduation Advice from an “Old School” Educator
The last of my nieces and nephews will be graduating from high school this June and he'll be heading off to college in the fall. I doubt he or his parents will seek any advice from his Uncle Dave. But, if any of them should ask, I'm prepared to pass on an old lesson that my dad taught me back in 1970, the year I graduated from high school.

Dad did not graduate from high school himself, but he was bent on not allowing any of his four children to make the same mistake as he. He was also from the "old school" in that his lessons were harsh but they were indeed effective.

I was heading home from college for a weekend in mid-September of my freshman year. I did not enjoy my first few weeks away from home and frankly I did not like the college experience at all up to that time. I was ready to hang it up - ready to quit after only three weeks of taking classes. The social life was a drag and the work load in the sciences was more than I bargained for.

Besides all that, my girl friend from high school was still residing only four miles away at her home with her parents.

I knew neither Mom nor Dad would take the announcement well, so I rehearsed diligently what I wanted to say and planned for just the right time to break the news to them. Naturally, nothing works according to plan, as I soon learned.

During supper that Friday evening, I broke the news to my parents. My younger sister and brother were there. And my older sister, already a college graduate, was living at home too, but had already begun her teaching career in a local school district.

When I made my declaration, the facial expressions of the family spoke huge volumes of shock and dismay. Mom glanced at Dad, and only he began to speak. Astonishingly, and much out of his character, Dad proceeded to give me his advice in a low, calm, non-threatening voice.

"That's fine with me," cautioned Dad. "I'll get you in the steel mill with me as a laborer. I know the foreman, and he has told me many times to let him know if I have any family members who might want to work."

In shock myself, I couldn't believe my ears. This was going way, way too easily.

"Maybe he'll assign you to my drill press area, and you can sweep up the metal shavings from my work station. That way, we could see each other throughout the day. I will also ask him if he'll give us the same shift assignments, so we can share rides too, and save on gas and parking expenses."

I had seen and dealt with those metal shavings while employed one summer in the mill. It was a year earlier. Each one was about the size of a tennis ball. The metal was a quarter-inch thick and coiled like a SLINKY. They were heavy and sharp and they sliced into your shoe sole if you accidently stepped on one. The broom used to sweep them up was heavier than any shovel and as large and as rigid as a huge pitch fork.

Dad, no doubt was counting on me, remembering that employment experience and all that went with it.

The cautious but firm explanation continued.

"I'll talk to him on Monday morning. He'll have you working the first thing Tuesday, after you pick up your steel-toed work boots, and we get you a lunch pail. They'll deduct those from your first pay check. You will need some blue work shirts and heavy-duty jeans too. And starting with that first pay period, you will owe your mother for rent, water, electricity, and room and board too. Please pass the mashed potatoes."

I graduated on schedule, four years later, in May of 1974. I eventually went on to earn my master's degree in education and completed a 32 year-long career as a teacher and coach.

Today, I really don't know if Dad meant what he said that day or not. The main emphasis of that lesson was that I thought he was serious at that time. I really believed everything he said was going to take place. It was enough to get my behind back in school, and to eventually graduate.

I thank my dad for his novel, old-school advice back in 1970, and I would gladly pass on his wisdom, with his manner of presentation, should I ever have the chance. Even with my education, I somehow feel that my guidance methods pale in comparison to his.

Without a formal education, he was still a great educator.

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA