Steve Jobs lost his fight with cancer, and our world has lost an inspirational voice.

Steve Jobs: 1955 - 2011

Inspired by Eric Schmidt, Walt Mossberg, Kent Brooks and others, I’m moved to share a few words about how Steve inspired me to dream big again.

In the mid-1990s, life for me was pretty bleak. My dreams of being a career Air Force officer and pilot had been dashed against the rocks. In my mid-twenties I was having to re-invent myself and figure out who I really was if I couldn’t wear that blue suit or that green flight suit anymore.

1991 christmas card

I decided to become a teacher. I’d had some incredible teachers who had inspired me to become a scholar and a change agent, and I figured public service could take another path… one without a uniform this time. After wresting with VA employees over educational benefits I found myself enrolled in a “post-bac” teacher certification program. Needing money, I actually completed training as a bus driver but ended up taking a job as a teacher’s aide supervising In-School-Suspension at a high school in Lubbock, Texas. From the heady dreams of Fulbright studies in Mexico City and pilot training in a sub-sonic, acrobatic-capable jet aircraft, it was a long fall from the dreams of childhood. Thanks to the support of my family, friends, and my church family in Lubbock, however, I was on the way back up. A wonderful student teaching experience, a new Master’s degree in Education, and a job as a 4th grade classroom teacher opened the door to a new understanding of how I could make a difference in the world. One child at a time, one conversation at a time, one day at a time… I could share my love of learning and passion for life with kids who looked up to me. I loved teaching, and I’d found a new path forward.

Working in the computer lab

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I discovered Apple Macintosh computers. My uncle had been telling our family for years Apple computers were superior, but I never took him seriously. The world used Microsoft systems, right? Why would I waste time and energy on an Apple? Then I had an opportunity to actually use an Apple computer during student teaching. It was a Mac 580. I learned to create math curriculum in ClarisWorks draw, and even got a part time job digitizing hand-drawn math curriculum for our school district. I bought my first Apple desktop computer, a Performa 6300. It had a modem. I learned to use PINE email. And the Lynx web browser, which was all text-based. Those were heady days, and Netscape wasn’t out yet. I had a Mac, and a new computing world opened up for me. A few years later my parents bought me my first Mac laptop. I think it was a 5400 and cost $5000. 32 MB of RAM as I recall, and a SCSI drive I could connect to a 100 MB zip disk drive. I could take it down to our district’s “Advanced Technology Center” where they had a T-1 line, and download NASA videos to show my students in class. We watched the space shuttle blast off one year in the cafeteria at our elementary school LIVE, and I dreamed big dreams with my kids.

Here’s where Steve comes in. You see, I had lost my faith in myself to dream big. I had big dreams, but they had blown up. I had new dreams, but I was scared to make them big. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to think that way. Maybe big dreams are the stuff of fairy tales, and in the real world beyond the classroom we’re not supposed to think that way. But Steve told me big dreams weren’t just ok. They were the dreams I was supposed to have. Because I wanted to change the world, and that’s what people who change the world have: Big dreams.

'Think different! (1600x1200)' photo (c) 2005, Lars Strojny - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

So I become an Apple true believer. In a school district where Macintosh computers had been banned for purchase by everyone except the special education department, I found ways to get used Macs from our university’s used equipment distribution center. Or have PTA use funds to purchase them from CompUSA. I remember recording an incredibly amateurish and not very compelling video about the ways my students and I were using Alphasmart keyboards and HyperStudio on our Mac 580s to write and do research. I edited it on the VHS recorder in my classroom. It’s probably somewhere in my garage today. Perhaps someday I’ll digitize it for a reminiscent laugh.

Becoming passionate about educational technology and student engagement wasn’t a laughing matter for me, however. It was a serious calling, and I started writing articles for TCEA’s TechEdge magazine. An early article, “Wagging the Dog in Educational Technology: Elevating ‘IT’ Into the Classroom” landed me in a meeting with our district superintendent and my building principal. “That man will never advance or go anywhere in our school district,” the superintendent had told my principal later in private. I had stepped over the line. I had the audacity, as a lowly 4th grade classroom teacher, to criticize our district’s computer purchasing policies which prohibited anyone outside of special education from buying Mac computers. Like everyone else, I was expected to use Windows computers and our Novell servers and not gripe. The world of Apple wasn’t an option. We were an all-Windows district, and there was not going to be any discussion or protest. Reminds me a little of far eastern and Middle Eastern countries I’ve visited this fall. Dissent was not only prohibited, it was met with swift punishment.

Thanks to Apple and Steve, however, now I knew another world “was out there.” Steve and the inspirational marketing campaigns of Apple… targeted at teachers and parents like me, who believed my kids deserved and should have more powerful tools to create, share, and develop… had convinced me to THINK DIFFERENT. And so I did. A few years later, when I was working at a university, I had an opportunity to write several grants for local school districts so they could go “1 to 1″ with laptops for students. There was no question about the operating system we’d write for with our West Texas schools. Working with Apple employees, I setup a meeting with area superintendents who were able to hear directly from a San Antonio-area superintendent who had just rolled out MacBook laptops to his high school students. Several superintendents were on board, and a few months later shipments of Apple MacBooks arrived in Floydada and Post, Texas, along with professional development opportunities for teachers and staff. The learning revolution was underway in West Texas, and I was proud to been a small catalyst for those changes.

My eyes were opened even wider to the amazing potentials for collaboration and engaged learning when Apple selected me for the “ADE Institute” in 2005. In San Jose, California, I met amazing educators like Marco Torres, Tim Wilson, Carol Anne McGuire, Tim Tyson, Mike Lawrence, and Larry Anderson. We got to hear Jonathan Ive, the designer of every Apple ‘iProduct’ to date, talk about creativity and his design process. I learned “the failure bow” from an incredible woman who works with Pixar Studio animators. I learned there were lots more passionate educators LIKE ME in the world, who believe in bringing a DIFFERENT experience to kids in our classrooms and know Apple technologies are the platform best suited for that transformation. It’s an understatement to say I’ve never been the same since.

Bob Sprankle, Wes Fryer, & Marco Torres

Steve Jobs was not just a great salesman who turned around a floundering company. Steve was a man of passion and inspiration who gave permission to people like me to dream big dreams. Steve invited me to see a world so much bigger than my classroom or even my community, and imagine that I could play a role in helping open up doors of opportunity via technology that students wouldn’t have opened otherwise. Steve inspired me to think differently, and THAT has made all the difference in the world.

Here’s to the crazy ones. That’s me, and Steve is a big reason a count myself among their number.

As my man Robert Frost wrote so well:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. My prayers are with your family and loved ones who miss you dearly. Thanks for the inspiration and thanks for the dreams.

The world is a better place because you told me, “Dream BIG.” I shall not lose my faith again in our capacity to change the world, one conversation at a time.

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  • Charlie

    Dear
    Mr. Wesley Fryer,

    My name is Charlie and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama.  I found your blog post about Steve Jobs to be
    very interesting.  I really enjoyed
    reading your journey as an educator with technology.  Even when the schools did not want anyone to
    use a Macintosh, you still found ways to get used ones for your students.  I am glad that Steve Jobs refueled your
    passion to dream big.  I enjoyed reading
    about your passions and your tribute to Steve Jobs, a man that has changed the
    world forever.

     

    Charlie

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