Kicking Off the School Year with Some Honest Talk In Schiller Park


Schiller Park School District 81, in the northwest Chicago suburbs, chose me as their kickstart for this year's "Oh no, get ready, get steady, it's back to school already!" moment. Their theme for this event celebrated the many hats teachers wear — which is of course a nice way of asking them to keep on heroically doing more with less.

That said, this was one of my favorite groups of educators thus far — plus I had a funny and interesting moment with the superintendent who was in charge of introducing me. The thing is, she was hesitant to read a certain handful of words in the intro I'd given her. And she asked me if she could just ... leave them out.

Let's see if you can spot the problem words in this abbreviated version of what was written for her to read:

“Before he was an educator, speaker, playwright, and father, Tim was a left-handed undiagnosed hyperactive dyslexic rug rat raised in a small town ... 

So, how'd you do? If this were, let's say, the 1800s you might have zeroed in on the left-handedness — although I was shocked to discover that as late as the 1970s there were still institutions trying to connect lefties with Satan's work. (Where was Ned Flanders when we needed him?)

Ned Flanders and his left-handed store
Ned Flanders and his left-handed store

The only upside to that way of thinking is that if my poor mom had been able to link my own lefthandedness to the devil, it might have helped her explain away some of my more mystifying choices as an adolescent:

NEIGHBOR: "Do you know that your boy just ... [lengthy, colorful description of my questionable behavior]

TIM'S MOM: "Oh, it's not him. We're pretty sure it's the devil. But we're working on it ... "

Fortunately my mom was too much of a parenting pro to steal blame-shifting strategies from Flip Wilson. (Oh, just Google it if you're under 30. Or YouTube it.)

Flip Wilson "The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress" album cover
Flip Wilson "The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress" album cover

At any rate, I'm sure by now you've picked out the handful of words in that intro that might make any modern superintendent squirm a little.

I get it, I do. But once I explained my approach and why I didn't shy away from those words in reference to myself, she got it too, and went with it. To be honest I would have understood and accepted her decision if she'd gone the other way, but it's always nice to connect.

What I told her was basically this: Putting those loaded terms in the intro was my way of setting the table for issues I'd be delving into a little more substantially in my talk. But more importantly, I think the more we hang our challenges on the clothesline for discussion, the more likely we are to raise levels of acceptance for all kinds of thinkers, learners, and even numbskulls like me.

If unpacking my own hyperactive dyslexic rugrattery in public can help us move away from blaming the devil and toward a better understanding of kids with challenges, I'll call that a win.


(Thanks to @TeacherMelissa on Twitter for sharing the photo at the top of this page!