Tuesday, January 21, 2014

'"H" Is For "Hoosier"

If I had told the airline what I was really bringing with me on my trip to join the Teachers of the Year from across the country at our conference in Arizona, they would have charged me extra baggage fees.  In addition to iPad, iPhone, and a Walt Longmire mystery, I have with me the wonderful state of Indiana.  Let me explain.

Both my mother and father were born in Indiana and spent their whole lives there.  The same is true for my wife's family.  I was born in Clark Memorial Hospital, grew up in New Albany, and earned my B.A. in Classical Studies at Indiana University.  Although I had a full ride scholarship elsewhere based on S.A.T. scores, IU was the only school I wanted to attend, and I can still remember the thrill of getting my acceptance letter.

After two years teaching in Kansas City, Missouri, and five in Austin, Texas, where I earned my M.A. in Classics, we moved back to Indiana.  It is here that I have taught the longest, published the most, and it is here we are rearing our children.  We are a Hoosier family, born and bred.

Indiana and its history will always be special to me.  My mother was a fourth grade teacher and taught Indiana history.  From stories of Corydon as our first state capital and tales of Native Americans and settlers, including all the variations on the etymology of "Hoosier," I came to a sense of heritage and place.  The shape of Indiana and its dark blue flag with golden torch and stars, the state house and Conner Prairie, farmland and basketball and everything from the dunes in the north to the Colgate clock in the south evoke a feeling, a spirit, a genius Indianensis deep within me.

For this reason I could not have been more humble and honored than when at the 2014 Teacher of the Year banquet Governor Mike Pence presented me with a proclamation naming me a Sagamore of the Wabash.  2013 INTOY Suzanne Whitton got her wish that night.  She hoped I would be moved to tears, and I was.  It was a moment made all the more special since my mother, that former fourth grade teacher, was there, too.

A few days later our family were guests of Gov. Pence at his State of the State address.  Sitting in the First Lady's box seat with other guests, being acknowledged by our governor, and receiving a standing ovation from our legislators would have been an honor for anyone.  For me, it was yet again a humbling experience, for I remember visiting the House and Senate chambers on a government trip when I was a senior high school.  Memories and feelings flooded my heart, and that genius Indianensis welled up.

And then two days later we were special guests once more, this time of the Indianapolis Pacers.  I was escorted to photo ops by none other than Darnell "Dr. Dunk" Hillman, we had seats behind the Knicks, and after the first quarter I walked to center court to receive an Indiana Hero award from the Pacers and Citizens Energy.  It doesn't get more Hoosier than basketball, and that whole evening was one our family will never forget.

As the 2014 Indiana Teacher of the Year, I have the opportunity to represent all the wonderful teachers and students of our state.  Of course, our teachers and students are themselves the product of their communities, so in a sense, I have all Hoosiers with me this week in Arizona and wherever my travels take me from here.  I don't have to worry about finding seats for everyone in the plane, though.  You travel with me as the genius Indianensis, and I am proud to tell everyone that "H" is for "Hoosier."    

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