A bucket-list goal inspired by a remarkable teacher
Ever wonder if you’re making a difference in your students’ lives? Here’s an example that, many years ago, had a huge impact on shaping my career and life.
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In 1963, I started 7th grade at Heritage Junior High School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. On my schedule was a Social Studies class taught by a relatively new teacher, Mark Blasko. I loved his classes, especially the Geography and World Cultures parts. I loved studying world maps and by the end of that class could fill in the names of most countries, although at the time, I’d never been anywhere farther than a few hours from home.
Aside from a few specific memories—this teacher’s sense of humor, the suede patches on the elbows of his tweed jackets—what still resonates from that class fifty years ago, was the time he took to connect with us, and how I actually felt valued and respected in his class.
I’ve always been a bit of a compulsive doodler. It really is how I listen best (unless, of course I’m knitting, which really wasn’t an option back then). One day, Mr. Blasko “caught” me constructing a cross-word puzzle in class. (Yes, I went through a phase where I used to make up my own.) Rather than yelling or punishing, he got me a job on the school paper, where my puzzle was subsequently published!
Over the summer of 1964, I wrote him a letter, sent in care of the school to which he would be returning in the fall. And here’s the kicker: He wrote back—a handwritten letter on the kind of lined newsprint paper we used to get in school!
I never expected a response. I didn’t know that teachers did stuff like that. I was so surprised, and so touched by the fact that he took the time to write to me, that he valued the time and care I’d taken in staying in touch with him, that more than fifty years later, I still have that letter among my most treasured possessions, one of not-very-many things that have survived time and various moves around (and across) the country.
Years later, we reconnected in person. He was still teaching and if I have my timeline straight, I was working at the university doing teacher training in New Mexico. We stayed in touch after that, meeting for coffee when I was in town, and when I started traveling, I would invariably send him a post card from the road, acknowledging that I likely would not have been wherever I was had I not been bitten by the travel bug in his class.
When I set up this page on my last site, I dedicated it to him. A bit of a Luddite when it came to technology (to the end, his letters were written by hand and often on the same soft, lined composition paper), he had at least heard about the page through a relative who had come across it somehow.
Despite the fact that he probably never even saw this page, he knew it was here. He knew of my intention to visit 100 countries (a goal made somewhat more challenging by the fact that there are places I love to re-visit), and with his death in early 2012, I wanted to do more than just mention his name in a dedication on this page. Not just because he deserves it, but because it feels important to me to acknowledge the impact that we can have—as educators and citizens of this planet—to touch the lives of the people we meet on our journey.
So thank you, Mark. May you rest in peace, knowing I will forever take you with me on the road, in my thoughts and in my heart.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 24, 2012
The Original Blog Post
A few years ago, I set a bucket list goal of visiting 100 countries or more. I discovered an organization made up of people who have already achieved this goal (The Travelers’ Century Club) and while I’m not much of a “club” person, I have found their site, particularly their list of 320 countries (as of April 10, 2009), very useful in helping me focus my quest, and in acknowledging my progress. Perhaps when I have reached my goal, I will consider joining their ranks, but for the moment, it’s the travel and discovery that really grab me.
Because their list includes places that “have been included because they are removed from parent [main country], either geographically, politically, or ethnologically,” places like Alaska and Hawaii, for example, are included as separate from the mainland US are considered separate “countries.”
A few people with whom I’ve shared this goal have encouraged me to post a list on my site, perhaps so they could keep up with my wanderings, and perhaps in tribute to the importance of having and striving to reach goals throughout one’s life.
That said, here is where I’ve been, countries identified according to the Travelers’ Century Club country list. In some cases, my visits have extended for several weeks; in others they have amounted to a few hours.
- Czech Republic*
- Falkland Islands
- Faroe Islands
- Galapagos Islands
- Hawaiian Islands*†
- Indonesia (Batam)
- New Zealand†
- Puerto Rico
- Saint-Martin (France)
- San Marino
- Sint Maarten (Netherlands)
- South Korea
- St. Maartin
- United States (continental)†
- Vatican City
- Virgin Islands, US*
- Virgin Islands, British*
*Places I have visited more than once.
†Places in which I have worked with educators, counselors, parents, and/or other community members.
- Total countries visited (according to TCC list): 64
- Number of continents visited: 6
- Number of continents on which I’ve worked: 5
- Number of states in US visited: 50
- Number of states in US in which I’ve done presentations: 49
- Number of provinces/territories in Canada visited: 11 out of 13
- Number of Canadian provinces in which I’ve done presentations: 7
With a very special nod (and thanks) to Mark Blasko, my 7th grade Social Studies teacher (c. 1963) and dear friend today. Never underestimate the power of a teacher to influence and inspire, even if it takes years to show up. I take great joy in sending this man postcards from wherever I go.
Update, July 2012: I recently found out from Jean Blasko, Mark’s wife, that Mark passed away in February of this year. I knew he had been sick, but continued to send postcards from the road, as recently as our trip to Europe this past April. I plan to blog about this man, but I need a little time to process this loss. So for now, let me offer a slight, and very sad, change here as I now dedicate this page to the memory of an amazing teacher and good friend.