I began my teaching career at Hood River Valley High School, an embarrassingly fresh faced twenty five year old out to change the world. Hood River was home for two years, before a job offer at the school where I’d student taught lured us out of the Columbia Gorge and on to the next step in a career in education that has ranged from Oregon to the Bay Area to San Diego County. When my wife and I left Hood River we were still in our twenties with no kids, big dreams, and a spirit of adventure.
I like to think that our dreams haven’t diminished and that our spirit is the same, even now after twenty years and a family of our own. Even so, it was plainly clear how much we’d changed since the mid 90s when this summer’s family trip brought us back up the Gorge and we settled in for four days along the Columbia River.
It seems we’ve grown up.
I say that without a scrap of remorse or the faintest hint of regret for lost youth. The truth is that I’m a better person than I was when I left Hood River, more patient, happier, and quicker to be kind. I can still be grouchy when I get hungry and tend to focus on school so much I forget to change the oil in my car, but the accumulation of adventures that have filled the last two decades of my life have taught me the value of listening, the importance of seeing other points of view, and the satisfaction that comes not from being clever, but from treating others well.
I didn’t know who I was when I started teaching, though teaching helped to show me who I was. I look back at photos of my first year in the classroom and wonder at how young I was, how inexperienced, and how passionate about teaching.
Twenty years later I love teaching and have become even more passionate about learning and helping others learn.
I wouldn’t be who I have become without Hood River Valley High and my time teaching and coaching in the shadow of Mt. Hood. It was a truth I thought about today as I drove up to the campus with my kids.
How the trees had grown.
Two decades ago HRV was a hive of new construction. Today it has the comfortable look of an established campus, complete with the same amazing views of Mt. Adams to the north and Mt. Hood to the south.
I found the window to my first classroom, but held off peeking inside. My memories of the time spent there are rich and I didn’t want to see someone else’s posters up on the walls.
Instead, I thought about the successes and failures that defined my time at HRV. The wind tunnel I made in my classroom with teaching Pierre Boule’s Planet of the Apes, the nature walks near campus when studying Wordsworth, and the first truly goofy thing I did as a teacher, a confessedly silly thing that set the tone for a career filled with a spirit of play: Goggle Day.
It started as a lark, a way to shake things up in the midst of a long, cold winter. Our English Department, a curious and creative collection of good humored free spirits were kicking around ideas so zany they might be fun. I can’t take credit for any part of the idea that turned out well, though I suppose my name would be the likeliest to deserve blame, particularly when things went decidedly out of control.
We called it Goggle Day. Did we expect things wouldn’t go sideways?
The scheme was simple enough. On a particular day everyone in the department would come to work wearing goggles, ski, swim, what you will. We designated one of my students as “Goggle Boy” and armed him with a coconut cream pie. At some point in the day, completely of his own choosing, he would deliver the pie into an English teacher’s face.
This was a time before everyone had a cell phone; no one expected the event to live on in shaky video or on social media. Goggle Day’s pie would simply be the delicious delivery we’d talk about in the English workroom, something to laugh about together.
But we were not, truth be told, a group of people likely to follow all the rules.
Early in the day, in fact, the swell of cheers from two separate classrooms proved that it was not just Goggle Boy who was delivering creamy splats.
We had rogue pies.
Now I should pause this story long enough to explain that Hood River Valley High was a well run and professional place in 1994, as I’m sure it is today. Our principal was a strong and kind woman, the epitome of professionalism. Her assistant principal was a former head football coach whose scowl could melt concrete. It was a newly remodeled school, clean and orderly, a perfect place to learn.
We had not mentioned Goggle Day to anyone in a position of authority, and had fully expected that one pie could be filed under the heading: HARMLESS FUN.
Another loud cheer next to my classroom told me that we were barreling well past that heading and into the territory of: NOT ON MY WATCH.
It was at this point that I realized that the day was so far beyond my control that the best I could do was simply keep my goggles on and hope for the best. If Goggle Boy opened my classroom door, I’d smile and take it in the face.
But that wasn’t what happened.
Instead, midway through my prep period, as I was sitting at my desk, goggles atop my forehead, the back door of my classroom opened. In leaned a tall young English teacher with a smile on his face and a whip cream pie in his hand.
I did the only sensible thing.
Out the front door of my classroom I bolted into the hallway. Behind me I heard the roar of thirty five students, my wild colleague’s class, as they followed him through my classroom and after me. They poured into the hallway, picking up speed. At the head of the smiling mob their begoggled teacher loped forward, holding a pie above his head.
I tore out of the English wing and into the next hallway of the school. They were gaining ground and would catch me soon.
Turning a corner near the art room I could feel the pounding of their feet.
I raced down the main hall and in front of the office felt a hand on my shoulder.
There was no escape.
I turned, saw the wide eyed smiles of the students and the crazy glee of my colleague, and watched through my goggles as the pie hit my face.
…and then I heard the assistant principal’s yell.
He had been a head football coach and this was the tone his players must have feared.
With a flick of my hands I cleared my goggles, my face still white with whip cream. I couldn’t see the AP; the class was between us. My colleague’s back was to me.
And once again, I did the only sensible thing.
Without waiting to see what happened next, I stepped into the faculty restroom next to the office and locked the door.
It took a long, long time to wash my face.
When I opened the door again the hallway was empty.
It had been a glorious Goggle Day.
I didn’t see any of the teachers I worked with so many years ago when I visited campus today. It’s July and any still at HRV who might remember me are off enjoying summer.
The fact is that they’re as alive in my memory today as they were when we said our goodbyes so long ago. Dave, Chauna, Jeff, and so many others helped me to become who I am now. My affection for them has only grown.
Instead, with a head full of memories and heart filled with gratitude, I passed through campus today like a ghost, smiling.