By Nick Bray, Contributing Writer
In front of an overflowing room, Associate Professor of Special Education, Dr. Rick Dale concluded the 19th annual Michael D. Wilson Symposium by giving his last lecture. In its fifth year, the last lecture is a yearly event at symposium, sponsored by Alpha Lambda Delta, which gives one retiring professor an opportunity to reflect and share life lessons with the community.
Titled “My Teachers,” Dale’s evening talk reflected on the authors, people and experiences which he has learned from throughout his life. Unlike most of the presentations given during the day of student talks, there were no audiovisual aids. “No powerpoint tonight,” Dale said. “Going old school, I do powerpoint way too much.”
Dale, a quiet and soft-spoken person, first shared that he has a tattoo. There was a feeling of surprise that lingered in the audience after Dale made that statement. He has a tattoo of the word “foghlaim,” which is a Gaelic word meaning both teach and learn. Dale’s talk emphasized that one can be a lifelong learner, and that it is important to reflect on the teachers which have shaped one’s life.
Among the authors Dale discussed was Fred Rogers, at which time he shared excerpts from a short piece Rogers wrote called, “What Comes First in Learning.”
“If you care about your students and you care about what you are teaching, everything else is a technical matter,” Dale said.
Another author Dale mentioned during his talk was Jack Kerouac, who taught him about the importance of spontaneity and passion. Dale could be considered an expert on the writings of Kerouac and the beat generation. He has written a book, “The Beat Handbook” and maintains a blog, “The Daily Beat” on the philosophies of the beat generation. For several years Dale has also taught a first year seminar course on Jack Kerouac.
One of his former students and secretary of Alpha Lambda Delta, Sarah Jenkins, introduced Dale before his lecture. She took his First Year Seminar and became inspired to travel out west. Jenkins made the trip earlier this year when she drove across country and visited Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. “I lived out of my car and wrote poems about the sights I saw,” Jenkins said. “I felt like a modern day Jack Kerouac.” Although she doesn’t give full credit for her trip to Dale, Jenkins says she never had an interest in going west before taking his class.
Included among the eight people Dale identified as teachers in his speech, was one of his supervisors from when Dale worked as director of special education for a regional service agency in Pennsylvania. His supervisor, only referred to as Ed, taught Dale to not allow people to put their problems on him. “Don’t let them do it, make sure they leave with their monkey,” Dale said, quoting his supervisor. At this time Dale was responsible for 400 staff and thousands of students. Dale made sure that staff presented three solutions to the problem they came to him with. This cut down on the number of issues Dale had to solve. “They often solved their own problem,” Dale said.
Of the experiences Dale learned from, living in a hotel was the most interesting. His father was the manager of a four-story hotel and his family lived in a first-floor suite. While living there, Dale learned the importance of spending time alone. He was constantly around people, employees and guests of the hotel. In one of the many light hearted moments of his talk, Dale shared a story about jumping down the laundry chute into the basement of the hotel. Don’t ask me about the hygiene issues associated with cavorting in guests’ dirty laundry,” Dale said. “You don’t think about such things when you’re 10.”
Along with the scores of students Dale has impacted over his 11 years at UMF, he also developed strong relationships with his colleagues. Dr. Lance Neeper, professor of special education has an office next door to Dr. Dale’s. In an email Neeper explained that he and Dale share many interests, including travel and music. Neeper keeps a box of things Dale has shared with him over the years. “Rick is always there if you need him, willing to listen and offer suggestions and guidance,” Neeper said. “He has an incredible specialization in law and policy an area of focus within special education that is rare and cannot be replaced.”
Upon his retirement, Dale ends a 39 year career in Special Education as a teacher, consultant, and administrator. Dale does not have many immediate plans, but his retirement gives him time to do things he doesn’t have much time for now. He and his partner are planning a trip to Europe in the fall, where they’ll be visiting family in France, making an excursion to Venice, and potentially concluding the trip in Ireland.
After a gap, Dale will likely be involved in education in some capacity. Dale has been a political advocate in the past, and will have more time to attend legislative hearings and speak out on bills concerning the regulation of special education and education in general. Dale may even get back into teaching. “This is going to sound unexpected but I’ve thought about substituting in public schools.” Dale said.