Sunday, September 03, 2006

So I lied. So sue me.

Yes, I lied. I said I would post during the summer, but I didn't. And now the summer is gone, school is back in session, and I'm back to working like a dog. (Although truthfully, my dog never seems to do much other than sleep and eat. In fact, he's sleeping at my feet right now.)

At some point somewhere back in the distance, someone (is that vague enough for you?) mentioned that I should write more about my experiences as a teacher. In fact, I have done so on many occasions for the Raleigh News and Observer. One of them can be found here, and by clicking on the offerings in the right margin you can see a few more. If you prefer to listen to similar pieces I've done for our local NPR affiliate, you can find them here. I'm rather partial to the Mule Days piece, and the one on the Dress Code has a certain quality, but in truth they all pale in comparison to the real thing. I don't mean Coca-Cola, of course, but classroom teaching. If you've never done it, you can't possibly know what it's like. During my only ultimate podcast (which was lost as the result of severe technical incompetence) a fellow podcaster suggested I should be coaching ultimate. When I replied that I prefer to focus all my energies and talents on teaching, it was suggested that pretty much anybody can do that, but I am "uniquely qualified" to coach ultimate. I still smile when I think about the comment. The truth is that just about any bozo with a PE degree can take the UPA's coaching package and turn two dozen marginally skilled teenagers into a passable high school ultimate team in a fortnight of practices. Classroom teaching is another animal altogether, and I have little doubt that when it comes time for my fellow podcaster's little ones to begin their formal education, he will come to realize the folly of his comment.

I am now 6 days into my fifth year as a high school English teacher at West Johnston High School in Johnston County, North Carolina. While teaching is my primary responsibility (and the only one I am paid for by Johnston County Schools) , I am also the Director of our Freshman Academy, which means that I am in no small way responsible for everything that happens with (or to) our incoming class of freshmen, the class of 2010. As of Friday, that group numbered over 660, and was growing every day. I have learned more about public education in four years than I could ever share, but if there is one, all-important thing I have learned it is this: in public schools, the difference between a great education and a virtually worthless one can be as simple as who is standing in the front of the room. The dearth of available teachers coupled with the phenomenal population growth in our area means that we're pretty much looking for any warm bodies we can find to put in our classrooms. When you add tenure to that equation, you get the regrettable reality that any classroom you walk into might present a marginally qualified long-term substitute, a painfully jaded veteran counting the days to retirement, a wet-behind-the-ears but earnestly eager first year teacher barely staying afloat, or someone like me. If you think that the students in those classrooms are getting the same education, you must be on crack.

So, why do you care? Well, you may not, but those of you who have been patiently waiting for me to begin posting again can blame public education (and my unwavering devotion to it) for my prolonged silence. When I wasn't working full-time in the NCSU Forent Entomology lab over the summer, I was putting in volunteer time at WJHS, trying to get things in order for the upcoming year, a year which is now fully upon us in all its chaotic glory. Now that we're in session, I work 12 hours a day, five days a week, while continuing to put in 30 hours a week at NCSU on nights and weekends. It's a grueling schedule, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love what I do, and it never feels like work. In fact, I believe it's what I was meant to do. I bring the same passion, intensity, and indomitable spirit that I brought to ultimate into my classroom, although I rarely spike my textbook. Still, when my students look into my eyes I have little doubt that they see the same thing my teammates once did, and what they see helps them to believe in themselves. The funny thing is, for four years they had no idea about my ultimate past, that I was once as passionate about a piece of plastic as I now am about their futures. Of course, that was before ESPN classic.

I first heard about the program from a fellow teacher who called my cell phone. That night a friend called while watching it. Do I need to tell you she was in hysterics? Soon my email inbox was overflowing, and the furor has still not died down. Copies on DVD now regularly make the rounds at school, and hardly a day goes by without someone in the hallway whispering with mock curiosity, "Whatever happened to Kenny Dobyns?" Although several people have promised me a copy, I have yet to see it (I don't have cable), but I expect I'll have a good laugh at my own expense when I do. I deserve to be ridiculed. I was over the top, out of hand, and preposterously self-obsessed. Still, I don't shy away from it. It is an accurate depiction of what I was, of what I felt I had to be in order to be successful. I may have been wrong, but we were successful. And now, all these years later, I'm just as over the top, just as out of hand, and just as obsessed. Thankfully, though, the focus of my efforts is no longer self-aggrandizement nor ultimately hollow victories. Now my opponents are apathy, indifference and ignorance, and while their names might lack the cachet of Windy City, Tsunami, or Titanic, they are significantly more formidable. And although I'll never again hoist a trophy in victory, there are days (quite a few of them actually) when I feel similarly elated, and significantly prouder for the accomplishment.

So, the question stands: Whatever happened to Kenny Dobyns?

He grew up. Finally.


gcooke said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the post. My 9-year old daughter begins 4th grade on Thursday, so I appreciate that you are focusing on teaching.

My family has become quite close with my daughter's second grade teacher, and he, in his assessments of the challenges facing kids and teachers, sounds very much like you in terms of his concerns and focus.

I have a very small part time job in which I go into local schools and teach Ultimate clinics in the gym classes. In one school, I go in for 3-4 days in a row and teach 5-6 classes a day. Frankly, I am exhausted by the end of the day and I, without fail at the end of each day, wonder how the teachers do it day after day.

So, I agree that coaching Ultimate is easy as compared with teaching, and I, again, appreciate your efforts and concern.

Thanks, George

luke said...

hmm... i suspect i may have been the voice on the last podcast who said 'anyone can teach...' obviously, my own self-deprecating sense of humor aside... that was a joke...

3rd year for me, kids start tommorrow... teaching a class of 50... (have to go to another room) and my classroom has so many desks (39) and is so small... that i literally have 3.5 feet of space at the front of the room...

have a good year...

parinella said...


First off, thanks for the capital letters.

Regarding unique qualifications, it is also true that any bozo with a 450 on his SATs and a four-year degree can become a teacher. There are 6.2 million teachers in the US, according to the 2004 census. There are probably fewer than 10 retired frisbee players who have anywhere close to the background in winning ultimate than KD has, and probably less than 2 who are in position to coach, hence the "unique" descriptor.

Now, you didn't say this explicitly, but it's pretty clear that you feel that it's a lot more important that you spend those extra unpaid hours on teacher-related activities than being a frisbee coach, and I agree completely with that sentiment. But look: you're already a teacher, you are passionate, you are committed enough to spend an extra 20-30 hours a week on extracurricular activities, and you're KEN FREAKIN' DOBYNS!

Corey said...

KD wrote:

"I bring the same passion, intensity, and indomitable spirit that I brought to ultimate into my classroom, although I rarely spike my textbook."

Well, what about slamming a book closed at the front of the room? Does that sort of feel like the now outlawed "Catch spike" that you were the master of?

And teaching kids about stuff besides ulty? Bravo, kd, bravo.

kd said...


Mr. Parinella stated that any bozo with a 450 on the SAT and a four-year degree can become a teacher. Nothing could be further from the truth. Such a candidate can get a job in a school (provided of course he or she satisfies the other criterion, and is not currently serving time in a federal penitentiary), but getting a job and becoming a teacher are two vastly different things.

In my school, parents are clamoring to get their kids into my classroom even though I'm already 9 students over the legal cap. Meanwhile, other teachers are sitting in their rooms well below cap. Why? Because some people are teachers and some people work at schools.

As I said, when my fellow podcaster's children are school age (or when he has the time to investigate the matter) I think he'll realize the folly of his thinking. I may never make the hall of fame, but I still think I'm a better teacher than I ever was an ultimate player.

gapoole said...

Is it possible to do both? I have a slowly-forming dream of teaching high school english and coaching ultimate, although I am certainly not committing myself now, in my freshman year of college. So, at the risk of being told to get a job where i wouldn't screw up somebody's education, what do you think? In my experience, high school ultimate enriched and stabalized my high school education, but of course I was in a upper-middle class school with great teachers and opportunities. Thoughts?

Gary said...

Another great post, this is the best ultimate related blog. I guess it shouldn't be suprising since you are an English teacher, just wish you'd post more often.

Anonymous said...

Just in case you were looking for it.. here's a short clip..