It Only Takes a Spark

The cynical side of me, the part that burned out on teaching because it was like trying to steer parked cars, thinks I shouldn’t give much thought to it. They will be only so many living, teen-aged stumps sitting out there a week from today. Not a one will hear a word. It doesn’t matter what I tell them, because I’m an old grown-up offering the same old platitudes and bromides as their grandparents. Boring.

But the other part of me remembers the one student from a class of stumps who, years later, would come back to tell me she had taken to heart my encouragements, he had been driven by my enthusiasm, or remembered how I used humor to create images of one biological principle or another that were indelible. And now, he was a biology teacher; she was a conservationist.

What I have to remember is that, out of a hundred students, if just one life changes for the better–whether I ever know it or not–my hour at Patrick Henry High School with honors and advanced 10th, 11th, and 12th graders next Tuesday will not have been in vain.

But all of this, of course, begs the question: what do you have to offer, Fred? And how will you frame whatever it is you do to an audience so very young? I think I would have been awake anyway during the wee hours last night; but as it was, this is what I mulled over in the dark.

I’m pleased to have been invited, and I have no doubt that filling this short span of time will have seemed very easy looking back on it. I just don’t know how to best use their time talking about blogging, journaling, nature and the environment, being a rural Virginian, an Appalachian, a budding writer, a responsible Earth-keeper. But next Wednesday, I’ll be able to tell you how it went.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I once asked a Zen teacher how he managed to stay patient & upbeat while dealing with clueless students like me who kept trying, trying, trying without ever seeming to get anything. He said, “I’m not attached to the results.” It’s impossible to know short-term whether or not the “seeds” you’re planting will ever germinate, but you plant them anyway. I’m sure you’ll do great as a “faithful farmer” who sows seeds on both good soil & bad.

  2. Hi,
    I came upon your site from IRFD–wasn’t that a fun way to focus bloggers with similar “focus” on a project? Anyway, really enjoy what you bring together here–can identify with old houses, appalachian ways, conservation, ….and I’ll stop by again.
    Until then, good luck with your stumps. That teen age is difficult to address–it’s not acceptable for them to acknowledge interest or enthusiasm, more acceptable to remain aloof. But, underneath that exterior….the wheels are turning. I’m sure you’ll have an impact on a few. And that’s all it takes–a few.

  3. I was fortunate enough to have as my 6th grade teacher a brilliant woman who had decided to teach inner-city children instead of college students in the hope that she would inspire someone, change a life, give something extra, something unexpected.
    When I thought to thank her, years later, I discovered she had died, but her two sons were delighted that I found them, and told them of their mother’s influence on me, and on others.
    Don’t despair. Someone will hear you…