ON THE ROAD WITH CAL FARLEY’S INTERNATIONAL CONSULTANT
Forty years ago today I walked in to a cottage on a residential program campus on the North Side of Pittsburgh; a place that would be my own primary residence for the next three years. I would live there five days a week working with twelve girls and boys. I just took the job as a place-holder until I started law school. It turns out that law school was not meant to be part of my story. I had no intention that this would be the beginning of my career. As it turns out, it was the most meaningful and important job I’ve ever had. It set the course of my life and was the gateway to my profession. As I looked forward to this anniversary, I have reflected a great deal on that time and place.
The teachers who have influenced my life cross a wide spectrum of fame, disciplines, experience and age. There were three great influences on my professional life in the earliest days of my career. First was the work of Nicholas Hobbs and what is known simply as Re-ED. His focus on wellness rather than pathology, on teaching rather than therapy, on the future rather than the past, and on the ecology of a young person rather than serving them in isolation guided me (us) from simplistic barbarian behaviorism to the promise of being teacher-counselors.
The second was my teacher-counselor colleagues who transformed with me. Some of whom I continue to count among my closest friends. We learned together and supported each other to take risks to apply what we learned. We committed to stay and continue to be learners. We pushed each other to be the best we could be in the inexact and evolving social science, mental health, education, and juvenile justice worlds that encompassed the lives of the young people and families we served. We wanted to be the teacher-counselors that Hobbs described in The Troubled and Troubling Child: “But most of all, a teacher/counselor is a decent adult; educated, well trained; able to give and receive affection, to live relaxed, and to be firm; a person with private resources for the nourishment and refreshment of his own life; not an itinerant worker but a professional through and through; a person with a sense of the significance of time, of the usefulness of today and the promise of tomorrow; a person of hope, quiet confidence, and joy; one who has committed himself to children and to the proposition that children who are disturbed can be helped by the process of reeducation.”
The third great influence were the young people themselves. One of the Re-ED principles we learned from Nick Hobbs is “Trust between and child and adult is essential, the foundation on which all the other principles rest, the glue that holds teaching and learning together…” While Hobbs eloquence inspired us, the young people taught us how to bring that to life. We worked with them for months and sometimes years and there were many battles. The battles were for power, place, influence and understanding. Hobbs told us but they showed us the significance of being a trusted other in the life of a child. They would let us in if we showed them we cared and we were willing to earn that trust.
Once, in the midst of a chaotic breakdown of order and safety throughout the entire campus, we invited all 48 kids to come back in and help us start a new order where they had more voice and ownership in how our program ran. It wasn’t a random or haphazard decision. We had been planning to transform our program using group process principles that were part of the Re-ED approach. We did it then because it seemed like a good time to try something different.
It worked. It worked for a couple reasons. First, we were as ready as we could be at the time to implement this change. Second, and most importantly, it worked because the kids accepted our invitation and were willing to try. The first one to come in was a girl in our cottage, Gina. She was young, maybe thirteen, and yet she had a presence and a toughness that gave her influence. After she led the way, all the other kids went back to their cottages and we began our new world order in that place on the hill on the North Side of Pittsburgh. In a recent post I mentioned Bonita and there were so many others; Anna, Donna, Kim, Missy, Garnett, Zena, Danny, Tarik, Sam, Brett, Joe, Bobby & Jimmy. Some of them want us to stay a part of their lives and stay in touch.
Among the abundant blessings I count in my life is the influence of those young people as teachers and constant reminders that our work has meaning, purpose and power. Now, forty years later, I am part of an organization begun by a different man, visionary in his own unique way, who said that kids “just need a shirttail to hang onto.”
Today, I heard from Steve Kozak, one of that group of teacher-counselors I mentioned earlier, who now leads a program that will move young people back in to Cottage 4 for the first time in 34 years. The place we used to live and work was transformed from a residential setting to offices and has been recently renovated to serve its original purpose.
I hope those young people find peace, hope and promise in the company of committed, passionate learners who live up to the honor of being teacher-counselors. As for me, I’m not done yet and I hope to have the chance to meet and work with you sometime soon