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Learning

by Mick Fleming

Back when I was a prep school teacher in Buffalo, we fine young educators collected and curated a collection of misunderstandings we labeled “History According to Students.” This mimeographed publication was indeed hilarious, but of course we failed to realize that the joke was on us. If these kids didn’t know stuff, the fault was clearly ours. But still, some of the answers…

“Barbed wire was critical to westward expansion because it enabled settlers to keep mosquitos out of their sod huts.”

“Mr. Fleming, I understand that the Spanish king sent the armada, but which king sent the typhoon?”

“Africans were suited for slavery.”

Sometimes when I’m trying to fathom the depth of issues ACCE members face in their communities, I feel a little like one of those eighth-graders attempting to translate the teacher’s lecture from last week into my own vocabulary and early teen context.

Here’s what I mean:

“Mick, I have to tell you, the TIF model never works in these single-block developments, you know what I mean?”

“Half the bankers want deposit-based dues schedules, while others opt for per capita, or elite packages. Basically, we use modified tiers, except for the giants.”

“Net on one-off gigs is the only way to go in Year One, but we normalize the expenses in year two and beyond.”

“A CRM package would be nice if our data guys would deliver it, but until then we’re stuck with Excel.”

“The state won’t guarantee a maintenance of effort clause, so the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) from the tribe may have to cover the STEM program.”

“Our ambassadors cut ribbons, but they don’t help after hours.”

“Our YP program doesn’t handle YEA! We leave that to WorkKeys.”

During most meetings with chamber professionals and volunteer leaders, I do a lot of nodding early in the conversation, hoping to get additional clues as the conversation continues. I’ve been at this a while now, so I can usually grasp any comments that might arise, unless you mix subject areas (“On the fly-in, the chairman may not talk about slots at JFK.”). Or maybe your specific geography pops up (“We can toll for bond retirement here, but the bridge spans more than a river.”). At those times, I want to ask who sent the typhoon!

Sometimes we’re the teacher; sometimes we’re the student.

I have been in your classroom for the last 16 years and I appreciate what you’ve taught me. More than that, I thank you for not getting upset when I stare blankly after you finish an explanation. I’m grateful that you seldom call me on my ignorance when I am nervously laughing along at something I clearly don’t understand.

Fortunately, I have a few more months to learn because I’m still trying to progress . . . onward.

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