Tuesday, December 25, 2007

An Environmentally Correct Merry Christmas

The headline on ABC News this morning declared, "Pope Calls for Peace and Environmental Protection on Christmas." I had honestly not expected them to get it right, as I read in the article his real message was not about the environment at all.

"In his homily the Pope called on people to aside time in their lives for God and for the needy. He compared what he called the modern world's rejection of God, to the story of Jesus' birth in a manger, because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn."

This is a fitting comparison. What good does it do to save the environment, when there is so much pollution in our own hearts, and in mine? Yes, we have been placed as stewards over the Earth; shall we then ignore the greater illness over the lesser one, the unseen over the one plainly observed?

As I examine myself, there is much that can be submitted which I have kept to myself, starting with my use of the time which has been given me. We are all creatures of habit, and in my own life part of this is staying away from socially awkward situations (everywhere outside the house) and becoming somewhat of a hermit. This isolationism is self-feeding and self-fulfilling, for it confirms my own view of myself, that I am basically an unworthy individual. This lie that I have accepted and believed, this snake that I have embraced to my chest, needs to have the light of God's truth shed upon it, to be revealed and cast aside.

Dear God, in as much as I am able I bring to you this small gift this Christmas- my time and my mind. Help me in my weakness. Let your love and your truth be known and come forth in my life. Let me not take this gift back to myself, but in a daily way, given back to you. Happy birthday, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your advent, your gift to us all.

armchair coach
amateur historian

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I was outside a convenience store last week, and as I was leaving, I noticed a group of teenagers pile out of the small vehicle they were traveling in. As I observed them, they were laughing and talking, their social lives taking center stage, living in the moment, without the cares and concerns of adulthood. I smiled at them, noticing two of them seemed to be a couple, oblivious to their surroundings in the midst of exploring romance.

As I got into my truck, I thought about the "magic" years, both the best and worst of our lives. Everything is magnified. Each moment, each experience, each thought. To us at the time, in the midst of hormone craziness, each event takes on important significance. We long for freedom, to shed the shackles of our parents and to express our individuality. To some, high school is a wonderful time, filled with discovery and friendship; to others, a desperate cage with no way out. To some extent, it is a matter of perspective.

Those of us who have gone through the process of "growing up" can recall numerous events that a picture, a song, a person, or a smell or thought can evoke. As I view myself as I was so many years ago, I could go into lengthy discussions about Mr. Spain's class, my life back then at Ridgeview High, my thoughts and aspirations at the time- the moments that were instrumental, in part, in shaping me into the person I am today. Two things, however, stand out.

One is that as a teacher who has been in the business for many years, I sometimes grow jaded with my students, and can take them for granted, forgetting that they are special, unique individuals who deserve my attention and respect. A word, a glance, an exchange of encouragement and ideas can make for them a special moment that might make a difference in their lives, much as the teachers I looked up to and respected encouraged me.

Another is that it is extremely rare that we give thanks to the *real* author of these wonderful, seemingly magical times. God grants us our lives and it is through His love that we have some how, some way, made it through the odd, awkward age of puberty. Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful, awesome days of my life!

Even though they are most probably gone, there are some teachers that I have not forgotten. Mr. Ed Coley, my 8th grade science teacher at Sandy Springs Middle School; Mr. Thomas F. Barry, Coach Bill Smith, Coach Hershel Robinson, and Mr. Harry Weisgerber from Ridgeview High, and Dr. Robert Ramger, Dr. Gaunt and Coach Caltagirone, from Maryville College and Liberty University respectively, I wanted to take a moment to say, wherever you are, thank you for believing in me.

armchair coach
amateur historian

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Top Turkey Teacher

[Click for larger picture]

This will be a fun article... sort of, hehe. I recently challenged my students, before Thanksgiving. There was a fund raiser by the Student Council for MUST ministries, a local charity that helps folks who don't have a lot of money. I swaggered up to the office with delusions of grandeur swimming in my head, planning and plotting. This would really get them going.

You see, each year they have a Top Turkey Teacher award. There is a picture of a bare turkey that graces the cafeteria wall. Students go up to the stage and can buy a paper feather of different bright colors for the teacher of their choice for 50 cents. They write the name of that teacher on the feather and it then adorns the turkey on the wall, making for a large plumage to decorate the school for Thanksgiving. The teacher with the most feathers gets a turkey.

As I went into the principals office and told her my plan, she laughed at my schemes and gave permission for me to make the school wide announcement.

As I was relating the story to my dad over Thanksgiving break, I asked him "How do you get a child to do something?"

"Tell them not to do it," he replied.

"RIGHT!" I said, as I proceeded to tell him the story.

"Good morning, boys and girls," I announced, as my voice boomed through the corridors of the school. "This is Mr. Houtchens. As you may have heard (and none of them had,) I understand that if I am chosen as the Top Turkey Teacher this year, at the end of the week at the pep rally, I am going to be hit with a pie in the face. Now, students.... I am much too proper... much too dignified... much too conservative... much too formal... much too respectful of my own image to allow this to happen. Therefore, I would ask your cooperation in NOT buying any feathers for me. I repeat, please do NOT buy any feathers for me. Thank you very much."

Of course that got the whole group of them going, particularly students that I had taught both this year and last. Father Kurt Wheeler, a co-worker said to me as he saw me later that day, "You dirty dog," shaking his head and smiling.

Students started making a point of coming up to me and telling me how many feathers they had bought for me. "No, no, no! Don't do that!" I would exasperate with mock indignation. One student came into my class and told me that her parents had given her $30 just to buy me feathers. I just stared at her dumbfounded. Things were escalating to a fever pitch. The announcements each morning gave a daily tally of who was winning. I was in the lead, and it appeared as though I would have to eat some pie on Friday. The story does not end there, though.

As there were TWO pep rallies, one for the seventh grade and one for the eighth, it was deemed (not by me) that I should have to take a pie in the face for each one. I had one last trick up my sleeve to make this memorable, something they would never suspect.

When the pep rally concluded, I was given the microphone. "Boys and girls, as you know I won the Top Turkey Teacher contest, and now I must take a pie to the face. However, the pie I am taking to the face is the MATHEMATICAL SYMBOL PI.

The gymnasium reverberated with their displeasure... BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
I was eating it up, grinning like a professional wrestler gone bad.

Thats when I got hit with the pie (I knew it was coming.) I think they may have hit me a little early in my monologue. The reaction of one of my former students behind me speaks volumes. They all cheered when I got my... pardon the cliche... just desserts.


It took a couple of days of hot showers to get rid of the stickiness completely. At the second pep rally *someone* provided enough paper plates and whipped cream for the entire 7th grade faculty to take a shot at me. They lined up eagerly, madness glinting in their eyes, juvenile glee spreading across their faces at my misfortune. It seems my plan had incited my colleagues as well. Its nice to be loved and accepted, even if in a roundabout sort of way.

Perhaps I will need a little work before constructing my secret underground lair and becoming a super villain. However, maybe I should take this in stride... Dr. Evil's plans always go awry too, so maybe I *have* arrived.

armchair coach
amateur historian