“Dude, can we turn around yet,” pleaded Tim. Tim is my best friend; “dude” was the typical jargon that high school kids from suburban LA spoke back in the mid 90’s. “No,” I replied firmly, “not yet.” We had been running through the trails and up the steep hills at Griffith Park for forty minutes and had yet to turn around and head for home. Coach Linam gave us the workout less than an hour before. “Hit the trails for sixty minutes,” were his instructions. The last of our teammates pealed off twenty minutes ago. The weather was hot, the terrain was rigorous, and it was Friday, not the time to be killing yourself at track practice in my teammates’ opinion. Five minutes later I turned to Tim casually and said, “Ok, now.” We stopped on a dime, did a 180 turn, and began our trek back.
Forty minutes and over six exhausting miles later we made it back to the main road, a mere five minutes away from putting an end to our self-inflicted torture. We had not been running on the main road for over a minute, when a car sped up to us and with the window rolled down the passenger yelled, “you honkey faggots!” I was furious. Who were these guys to disrespect and judge us because we were doing an activity we enjoyed? Even if we were gay, does that make us any worse than them? I cursed them out in my mind, not nearly stupid enough to say something out loud and risk getting my 5′ 11″, 120-pound body beaten to a pulp.
Upon our arrival, Coach Linam was waiting for us; his face was red, I thought he was surely mad at us for taking so long to get back. “Where have you been?” Linam asked calmly. “Running,” was my answer. “How far did you guys go?” he continued his query. “45 out, 45 back, about 10 minutes past the water tower,” I replied. “Jesus, you guys ran all the way up there! Up all those hills! Why?” he asked amazed. “Because I want to be the best coach. I know the only way to do that is to outwork everyone else,” I reasoned. Coach Linam pulled me aside and put his arm around me in a fatherly gesture. We walked down the desolate hallway toward the locker room. After an extended silence he looked at me and said, “Trevor, you have a message that you need to pass on.”
That was April 24, 1994; that night I did not sleep. I laid awake pondering just what Coach Linam meant by that parting line he said to me. Cal Linam was someone I always respected; he was not only my coach, but my English and Journalism teacher as well. I knew the words that came out of his mouth were full of wisdom. The most amazing thing was not what he said, but the way he said it. He formulated his words, almost like a riddle, never revealing the answer. He counted on the recipient to put some thought into what he said, and arrive at the answer themselves. The unspoken theory was that if the “riddle” could be decoded, the recipient was in fact ready for the advice given to him/her. I wrestled with his sentence and racked my sixteen-year-old brain until about 6:00am. the next morning. The faintest evidence of sunrise had just begun to shine through my bedroom window, when I realized I knew the answer. I concluded that “the message” was “hard work is the only way to success” and the means to pass on that message was to be a high school teacher, following in the footsteps of Cal Linam. From that day on I knew what my career in life would be.
But let’s back up just a bit…I grew up in a box. That box was called 712 Jamestown Road. It was about 350′ x 350′ and consisted of a loving mother, father and three years after my birth, a younger brother. I knew nothing about the pain of divorce, domestic violence, or alcoholism. When I stepped out of that box, I found myself in another box, a slightly bigger box. This box was known as the 700 block of Jamestown Road, in Burbank California. It was approximately 4200′ long x 1400′ wide and included exclusively upper middle class Caucasians, who all got along well together. For the first five years of my life my memories outside of these boxes were extremely limited.
At the age of five I graduated into an even bigger box. This box was called Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. It was bigger than the others, at about 4000′ x 4000′. It contained a large group of Caucasian, female schoolteachers and about 900 children from mostly middle to upper class families. There was some diversity scattered about, but at the time I knew nothing about racism, prejudice, or hatred. I simply thought that my darker skinned classmates must have spent more time at the beach than I did over summer.
At the age of eleven, without knowing it, I exited my beloved boxes for good and got my first taste of the real world. This “real world” experience began for me at John Muir Middle School. For the first time I was introduced to gang violence, discrimination, poverty, drugs, and death. I was shell-shocked, completely lost and yearning for the safety and familiarity of my box. I remained in this state for a couple years. I had not been prepared for the transition that had occurred in my life. I found nobody who could provide me with the answers for what was going on around me. This was very possibly because I had no idea what questions to ask, or where to even start.
By ninth grade I had some of it figured out. I discovered what divided some people and what brought others together. Sadly, the answers were color and money. People who were the same color hung out together, people who came from families with a lot of money stuck together as well. I found out that I was pigeonholed into a role based on some aspects of my life that I felt were very minor. This saddened me, but it was reality so I played my part. Up to that point I had always identified myself as an average kid. I didn’t see myself as white or rich or smart or dumb. However, it appeared that everyone else saw me in a different way. I was called “white boy” in a derogatory way. I was ridiculed when I answered a teacher’s question correctly in class. I was threatened when I aced a test. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was seen as the guy with the silver spoon in his mouth. The one who had life easy, who never had to work a day for anything in his life. I couldn’t see what I was doing wrong, my whole life I did what my parents and teachers told me to do. I worked hard when doing my chores, my homework, or when studying for a test. The results of my efforts were that I stayed out of trouble, received good grades in school, and was complimented by many adults in my life. Suddenly the world had turned upside down and I was seen as a bad guy for these actions.
In college I escaped to a new world, a larger world, a different world with striking similarities. I met people from polar opposite ends of the country, people who looked down at me as poor, stupid, white trash and people who would have called my former antagonists, “pampered little moma’s boys.” For once I could see both sides of the story and understand both points of view. That’s not to say I agreed with either side, just for once I experienced some of the pains that both sides endured. The rich kids made me feel inferior, inadequate, and stupid. When I was around them I felt like I didn’t belong and that this wasn’t the place for me. I looked back at my secondary school days and thought that must have been how I made my less fortunate classmates feel. I never intentionally tried to hurt anyone, but were the rich kids trying to hurt me? I did not know, but I saw the parallel and gained an understanding of the resentment some people felt toward me.
Looking back I feel I was probably very privileged due to my subjectivity. I have a strong feeling that my secondary school teachers took a greater interest in me than a lot of my classmates. I made their job easy. There were no communication barriers surrounding me, no frustrating learning disabilities and no nasty disposition that can drive a teacher’s hair to turn prematurely gray. Teachers enjoyed working with me because I was an easy success story that would help them go to sleep easily at night thinking they had done their jobs well.
I have had experiences being privileged and underprivileged due to my gender. More than once have I had a female teacher with obvious favoritism towards girls. No matter how hard I worked on a test or assignment, I could not top some of the girls. This was an issue that I found very unsettling and made me feel unmotivated to learn in these classes. On the other hand I find myself in classes, even here at Chico State, where the louder male voice is heard over the softer female. I have noticed my female classmates engage in class discussions less frequently than their male counterparts due to what I see as either intimidation or simply their unwillingness to compete with the shouting that is taking place.
In the area of sports I have also, at times, been privileged and other times underprivileged. In high school the sports teams were mainly focused on the boys. The turnout was much greater for the boys, we always had more success than the girls did and we received the majority of the attention from coaches and administration. In college the tables turned and due to Title IX, a law that states colleges must have equal funding for men’s and women’s sports, I was the one underprivileged. Because much of the money allotted for men’s sports goes to football on the college level, my men’s track team was left with few scholarships, limited roster positions, and a tight budget. Meanwhile the women were all on full scholarships, drowning in new uniforms, sweat suits and shoes, and traveled to all the meets in either a charter bus or airplane. I guess this was supposed to balance things out, but I feel there is still something missing in the equation.
Now, as I begin to get more experience teaching in a classroom, I look at some of my students and I see traces of myself in some of them. With other students I can easily recognize traits of those who disliked me when I was their age. I can even see kids who I wouldn’t put it past them to yell slurs from their car at someone running down the street, like those guys did to Tim and I that day in high school. I have to work hard to separate my past experiences with the way I treat my students. I know I have a job to teach all of them regardless of ability, ethnicity, sex, attitude, or level of motivation. I cannot rely on being satisfied with teaching six out of thirty, while the rest get abandoned in the back of the classroom. In every student, I believe, there lies some inherent will to learn. It is my job to dig up that will, no matter how deep it may reside. As a teacher my job is not to simply teach the subject matter, but to learn about each student as an individual and from that knowledge formulate a plan that will best reach him/her. In my classes I have not gotten to that point yet, but everyday I continue strive toward the goal of the 100% connection with my students.
I sit down at a booth at the popular burger joint, “Islands,” in Burbank. I am joined by Cal Linam, who is sitting across form me. It is December 27, 2003 I have one semester under my belt in the Chico State University credential program. “How is your credential work going, Trevor?” he asks. “I’ve begun Cal,” I say referring to him by his first name now that we’re both adults, “I’ve begun delivering your message.” “What message is that,” he replies confused. “Remember that day my sophomore year when Tim and I ran an hour and a half, beyond the water towers. You told me I had a message to pass on. I figured out what that message was; hard work is the only way to success. I found that I could pass on the message by being a school teacher, right,?” I answered suddenly a bit unsure now. Cal responds, “Yes, but that was your message, not mine. I just told you to make sure to pass it on, and I’m glad to see you are.”
Now I wonder, where did I get the idea that hard work is the secret to success? Did Mr. Linam instill it in me without even knowing it? Did my parents, by the way they raised me? Or did I come by this wisdom on my own? I will never know, nor will my students know where they came upon theirs.