I first started teaching overseas with the MAET program in 2006. At the age of 30, this was the first time I had ever ventured overseas (beyond Canada.) While many of our students talk about how transformational the experience is (even for seasoned overseas travelers) I might argue back that it was equally if not more transformational for me as well – and that is all because of the amazing human beings I had the privilege of working with. Michael Hughes is one of those humans.
Bindu (his amazing wife, fellow MAET grad, and another incredible human) messaged me Saturday to let me know the devastating news that Mike unexpectedly passed away on Friday, June 10th. My heart stopped. Mike’s memorial is today, and I cannot be there in person, so I am honoring him the best I can with this tribute.
As I started culling through photographs and emails, it became difficult to see through the tears. MAET Overseas is an intense and joyous Masters program for teachers – it’s 9 credits, in-person, over 4 weeks of 8am-4pm Monday – Friday. Teachers come to the program from all across the globe. When Mike and Bindu were in the program, the majority of teachers were from international schools and we had growing cohorts of students from the US joining. This mix of teachers was like nothing I had ever experienced. The seasoned international school teachers in the program often served as informal mentors to the US students, and many went on to expand their own teaching horizons overseas. In the program we lived together, worked together, learned together, ate together, and celebrated together – often spending more intense time with each other than our own family and friends. When Mike went through the program, it was located in Plymouth, England. He was always the center of joy and wisdom in our classes and he was a consummate lifelong learner. Mike and his cohort graduated in 2009.
Anyone who has been an educator knows the joys of receiving an “out of the blue” email from a former student – it always brings a ray of sunshine to my (usually mundane and sometimes fraught) inbox. Mike, Bindu, and I formed a continuing bond and I would receive messages frequently post graduation. As I was looking back through emails, this one started the flood of tears and I think keenly represents the incredible educator that Mike was:
My school just admitted its first 100% deaf student, sixth grade, my homeroom. How cool of an opportunity is that?
I’m now searching out ways I can learn to sign, and wonder if there is anything you know of that would help me. Anything from MSU, or Berlitz or anything else?
I’m excited and searching.
Thanks for any suggestions,
This was the first of many years of emails related to his quest to learn and support ASL. Fast forward to 2013 – Mike was no longer in a formal teaching position because of the rules in his country that required educators to stop teaching at the age of 60.
Hello Leigh and Punya,
I wanted to catch up and let you know what an MAET grad does once he’s no longer in the formal classroom.
When my knowledge of eBooks combined with my contact with the deaf community, it set off a buzzer in my head. Every child sitting on the lap of their parent deserves to have literature delivered to them in their first language. Ok, that is generally quite possible…unless the child is deaf.
The deaf 3 year old who’s struggling to learn sign language could not experience sign in a paper book. From their earliest days, deaf youth are learning one language to make their way in the complicated world, and yet another language to decipher written text.
Along comes the eBook with the inclusion of video–a game changer for this young child. Now the youngster can page through the eBook on an iPad, seeing their first language coming back to them in the form of video.
This is what I am doing, producing eBooks for the deaf/signing community.
Attached is the flyer I’m sending with my letter to organizations of deaf persons. I’m getting results. This idea is gaining traction.
Please feel free to forward this info on to anyone you know who would be interested in ASL eBooks as well as maybe promote the effort a little bit.
Creating eBooks for the deaf/signing community
Mike and Bindu eventually moved to the US in 2016 once they were both fully retired. We would zoom every so often and nothing delighted Mike more than sharing with me how amazing Bindu is and he would also share with me his new passion of learning leather making and how he was giving back to his new community in Durango – continuing sharing his love and talents with the world, making people feel welcome, human, and loved in a unique way that I have never experienced and that I will carry with me in perpetuity.
When I am sad and grieving, I often seek solace in poetry as I don’t feel my own words are ever quite enough. One of my favorite poets John O’Donohue always seems to capture emotions in a way that brings me a bit of peace. Bindu, and Mike’s family and friends – I hope this poem can bring an ounce of comfort to you in a time when our hearts are shattered.
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives,
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of color.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.
Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the alter of the heart,
Your mind always sparkled
With the wonder at things.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was alive, awake, complete.
We look toward each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our souls gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Besides us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.
By John O’Donohue
To Bless the Space between us