I taught my last professional development class at the college I work with last Friday. It didn’t start out that way, at least that was not my intent when I began the session, but the reality of the world we live in caught up with me at the end of the session.
A little background. Since retiring from the Navy over twenty five years ago, I have had a number of passions. Obviously writing this blog and writing in general certainly ranks up there with my most favorite things to do. But I have had many occasions to practice the other passions in my life.
Preaching, Teaching and Public Speaking. It has been an absolute blessing and joy to speak God’s word in many churches and public meetings. The mere fact that they will let a sinner like me talk to them about how we can all do a little better is nothing short of a miracle in itself. As a former submariner and someone who has enjoyed life with gusto, I am sure many people have wondered why I think I am qualified to give the message and even attempt to speak for God.
(Debbie, if you are reading this, skip to the next paragraph).
My opening line when preaching or praying to new groups is nearly always the same…
“You are probably wondering why I am up here about to pray for you. What could an old submariner know about praying? Well, to be honest, you have a good point. But the truth is that anyone who has ever ridden a submarine beneath the ocean’s surface on a boat that was designed by the government and built by the lowest bidder already has an intimate relationship with Almighty God. Now let us pray…”
(That is my standard line before asking people to bow their heads).
The Public speaking part has been one of my favorites as well. I have given hundreds of talks to many different types of groups through the last 25 years. The most popular have been on submarines and Navy history but I have an entire catalog of speeches for all groups and all occasions. Many times, I just get asked to be a master of ceremonies and it is delightful to be able to practice a craft that I have worked so hard to develop. I was a Toastmaster for many years and won a collection of awards both locally and at regional competitions. The friendships and joy I got from that experience helped me through some really rough patches in life.
But I have been most proud of my teaching.
First, however, a true confession.
I was a horrible student in high school.
There were so many other diversions and learning seemed to be an inconvenience. Even when I joined the Navy, studying was not my favorite thing and that was proven out time and time again as I struggled in the early years. Somewhere along the line, I realized that advancement in life was not going to come from my looks. I wasn’t that handsome. It also wasn’t going to come from my winning spirit. Frankly, at one point I had reached about as far as one could go in the self esteem department.
But I learned that teaching was the best way to learn.
Interesting phenomenon. After reporting on board my third boat, I really took an interest in how people learn. I began to teach myself how to train other people which forced me to learn more about the equipment than them. Then I shifted from individual pieces of equipment to systems. The knowledge finally took hold. I began to absorb like a sponge. I taught something called School of the Boat for the next few years and got better and better at it. Then I went to my one and only shore duty at Trident Training Command. The Train the Trainer Class helped me to understand that there was science behind the learning process. It inspired me to start taking college courses in my late twenties that ultimately led me to getting a Bachelor of Science Degree in Workforce Education from Southern Illinois University achieving Magna cum Laude status.
I also achieved a title called Master Training Specialist.
That title and my degree were very important parts of the work I did for the many industries I worked for after I retired from the Navy. The list is long and you can see most of the companies on my LinkedIn page but I have taught thousands upon thousands of students. I have had a tremendous amount of fun doing so.
When I retired a few years ago, I knew that I wasn’t quite done. While the speaking and preaching go on, I thought it would be good to be able to keep my hand in the game. I went to the local community college with my portfolio and an example of some of the courses I had written over the years. I asked them if we could partner together. The Workforce Development group manages a lot of the state education grants for businesses and we created a plan to market my services.
Its been really great. I have been able to teach leadership, communications, project management, lean and six sigma and team building and other classes to so many different companies. The work is just steady enough to keep us all engaged without making me feel like I was working full time again.
I have even been invited to come to the college and teach the college staff some classes called “Professional Development”. The first two sessions went very well. They must have since I was getting more invitations to teach. Including last Friday.
The class was a standard class that I have been teaching in one form or another for twenty five years. I update the material for the class and rework it using current information and research. The class name is Conflict Resolution. It has been my experience since starting to work in the civilian world that conflict is one of the most expensive and prevalent conditions that most companies and institutions have to deal with. I take the class very seriously and on Friday, I was proud to include at least two new sections that are so cutting edge they couldn’t help but walk away with new tools and new strategies.
At the end of the two hours, the group of professional educators seemed positive and I felt really good about the feedback I got in the room. Being that it was a Friday afternoon, most exited quickly with a few stopping by to thank me for my efforts.
That is when she walked in. By the way she strode up to me with her piece of paper, I knew she was not there to congratulate me on my comprehensive performance. To be honest, she kind of reminded me of that Swedish girl “Greta” that is running around the world telling people they need to put their leaders up against the wall.
I went through the afternoon’s talk in my mind rather quickly and felt like there wasn’t anything that controversial to fear. After all, I have been as respectful as I could remembering that I was working at a place that is very diverse.
Oh how wrong I was.
She introduced herself to me as the Student Issues Representative. (the actual title may have been something else, but you get the point).
She wanted me to know that two of her folks had walked out in the very early part of my talk. I had not noticed it since the auditorium is quite large and there are several exits in the back. Apparently my first sin was using the word “drunk” in relation so a story I was telling about a conflict that actually happened in my life. I have used the story many times as an illustration of unusual situations you find yourself in that go beyond normal conflict resolution. I did not promote the use of alcohol or condemn it. I just called a man who destroyed a lot of people’s lives a drunk. Which he was. Apparently “drunk” is a word that offends people who are recovering from the disease of alcoholism and substance abuse. This particular use of the word triggered the people who walked out and they were highly offended. Enough that they went to the Student Issues Representative to demand that I be told.
The next word that I used was “slaving”. Apparently I spoke about some of my shipmates that were slaving over hot engines in the engine room of a US Navy ship we worked on while we were out sailing on the ocean. Defending the country. Many of whom are African American and Caucasian working side by side. Of course the engine room temperatures average over a hundred degrees and I had not thought about the connection to actual slavery. She was quick to point out that of course I would not understand the offensiveness of the word since I was an older white man.
Item three: Jesus Christ. I am normally pretty good about not including my Lord and Savior in a public non-denominational setting. Believe me, I am very sensitive about this issue. But apparently my reference to the conflict that can happen around Christmas time with families led me to mention somehow obliquely that I am sure the birth of Jesus Christ was not meant to be a source of conflict. That offense got me blasted for my complete insensitivity to people’s beliefs. I am still shaking my head on that one.
Finally, I was led to understand that my reference to my loving wife of thirty nine years on three occasions created an atmosphere that might be considered to be non-inclusive. In a general setting like the one that I just presented in, I should have been more understanding of the sensitivities of the participants.
To be fair, “Greta” was very even tempered as she schooled me.
She neither raised her voice or her fist. But it was obvious that she was enjoying telling the old white guy all of my faults and indicating that a new day had arrived even on this small college campus in the hills of Western Pennsylvania. I walked over to my Department Head’s office and let him know I would not be teaching anymore classes. He told me that she had stopped him on her way in to see me and let him know how unhappy she and her friends were.
I still consider him a friend. At one point, I was in consideration for a full time position working under him as a Director of Workforce Education. The money never materialized and I stayed retired. I love the way God sees things in the future and trues his best to protect us.
This morning I was blessed to give a sermon on Joy.
I don’t think I could have given it Friday afternoon. But this was Sunday. In Advent. I was reminded that Christ will return again and make all things right. That was my Joy for the day.
To be fair, one of the things I have taught for years is having the self awareness in knowing when it was time to stop doing something. Maybe I heard the voice on Friday afternoon.
(Oh, I forgot to say this earlier: GO NAVY… beat Army)