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Confessions and Reflections of a Crank Caller


When I was a kid, back in the late 1970’s and 80’s, we had two telephones in my house.

One was upstairs and was a tabletop rotary phone, the other was a wall-mounted rotary phone with a super-long cord that you could get all tangled up in as you talked and walked as far as it would allow you to go before it would pull back at you just enough to remind you that you were about to pull the phone off the wall. Telephones then had just one function: voice calls.

There were no fancy screens, or built-in cameras, no weather apps or social network apps, no maps or GPS, no TEXT messaging, just a headset and a rotary that you stuck a finger in one of the holes that had the corresponding numbers that you needed to dial in order to complete the call. It was magical, really. You would dial this number, the phone would ring in the home of whomever you were calling, they’d pick up the receiver and you’d get to talk to whomever you were trying to speak with, well, most of the time.

Back in those days, the days before text messages, if you wanted to call the girl or boy you were crushing on, and you happened to get ahold of their digits, once you finally worked up the courage to call them, you still ran the risk of speaking to a parent, or a sibling, or some other gatekeeper of some sort. Today, while we still call these things “Phones”, and while you can still talk on them, they have so many other functions that it seems that a new name may be in order.

They are still designed to connect with people.

And now we do that in so many different ways; texting, social networks, video chatting, and the like, and yet while we use these devices to connect with people, we can also be so connected to the device that we sometimes fail to connect with the people right in front of us!

This was also before the days of “Caller ID”, the function that allows you to know who the caller is so you can decide whether you wish to answer the phone or not. Anyway, the point is, once you dialed the number and it magically rang (if it wasn’t a busy signal!) in the house of the person you were calling, and someone would pick it up and there you were, connected to someone over whatever distance it was, and you were able to talk with them almost as if they were right there with you.

30 Years Later

Fast forward thirty or so years to an Experiential Education conference where a workshop leader posed a question to the group:discuss something we were really great at in our youth. Most people recalled a sport they excelled at or a musical instrument, or hobby. I was a good athlete and a creative and musical kid with lots of hobbies, but, back in those days before Caller ID, I used to crank call people like it was my job. And I wasn’t the quick hitter, getting someone on the other end and saying things like, “Is your refrigerator running?

Well you better go and catch it!” and quick one-liners like that, no, I was all about keeping people on the phone as long as possible. I would create a character and situation and then adapt the story to engage the person on the other end of the line in my storyline and literally just improvise, trying to keep them on the call for as long as I could. It was great and was mostly harmless fun, albeit at the expense of the poor unsuspecting person on the other end of the call.

The second part of the workshop facilitator’s question was what spurred my thinking, both in the workshop, and to write this blog post now, about twelve years later. He asked,

How has, whatever you’ve identified as your skill that you excelled at, contributed to and helped shape what you do now in your life/work?

At first I thought, oh good job Justin, your desire to go out of the box with your answer has made it impossible to answer the second part. However, after sitting with it for a moment, I realized that my crank calling days really did help shape what I am good at in my work today as a group facilitator and teacher.

Because I was one who wanted to keep people on the phone as long as possible, I needed to be able to think quickly on my feet and be willing to go where that person would take me if I wanted to continue the call. In order to do that, I needed to have a quick ability to tap into the other person and try to read them. These skills are paramount to my success with groups. I often go into a group with a plan in mind, but upon meeting the group and seeing their affect, body, and behavior, I may just improvise and switch gears entirely, in order to give the group what they need and in a way that they need it.

As out of school time educators and professionals it is so very important to reflect.

to take time to reexamine ourselves in order to bring our best selves to the groups with which we are working. We are creating learning moments and opportunities all the time that are the things the youth we work with will look back on as adults and potentially identify as skills that contributed to their effectiveness and successes as adults.

What was something you were awesome at, and truly enjoyed as a youth, and how has that shaped how you lead or work today? How do you bring those passions from childhood, those things you were great at then, that are so important and have become part of the blueprints of who you are now, into your work and daily life?

For breakfast this morning I enjoyed a whole grain English muffin with crunchy peanut butter and guava jelly and a big cup of delicious French Roast coffee, black.

Author Profile: @justinmcglamery

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