It was the late 70’s or early 80’s. (My memory doesn’t serve me well when it comes to dates.) I was a young English teacher and was carpooling with a teacher from the elementary school. Her day ended an hour after the HS, so I had an hour a day to kill before being picked up to go home.

Laird  and one of his friends poked his head in my door late one afternoon.

“Mr. Reilly, can we come in?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“We were down in Mr. McCarthy’s office (the principal) a few days ago and we saw two boxes stacked there. They were computers.”

Now, for you younger folks reading this, you have to understand that there was not a single computer in the school district at this time. No labs, no classroom computers, no office computers. There might have been a terminal in the central office that connected to a mainframe for payroll; but maybe not.

“We asked Mr. McCarthy who ordered them and he didn’t know. He said he needed a few days to find out what was going on. We went back today and he said he still doesn’t know who ordered them or who they were for. We asked him if we could open the boxes and set them up somewhere. He said he’d be okay with that, if we had a teacher to supervise us.”

I knew what was coming next.

“Mr. Reilly, would you supervise us? We’d bring them up here after school and set them up and stuff, and leave them in your room. We’ll come after every day and figure out how to use them.”

To be honest, this sounded interesting. I’d never seen a computer other than in magazines.

“Sure, Laird. But you’ll have to leave when my ride comes.”

“No problem, Mr. Reilly. Thanks! Thanks a lot!”

With that Laird and his quiet friend disappeared. Laird was one of the most interesting kids I knew. He was a free thinker, quirky, and really smart. He had shaggy brown hair with bangs cut a little longer than the Beatles. I knew this would be a bit of an adventure. And it was.

The next day, the two of them showed up and unpacked the two Apple IIe computers. This was the black Bell and Howell model, retrospectively called the “Darth Vader” model. I hovered behind them as they slipped the large computer disks into the disk drives and turned the computer on. The drives made loud grinding noises and I thought they might be breaking the machine; but I kept my mouth shut. Suddenly, on the monitor green words appeared.

[HELLO}  Magic!

Each day they showed up and began to play with the machine. I sat at my desk correcting papers but I was really more interested in what they were doing. They had the Basic programming manual open and were figuring out ways to make the machine “beep” and play music. More Magic!

One day, out of nowhere, they appeared with a game, Asteroids, or something like it, that they had copied. Now, neither of them had a home computer, so I have no idea how they did this. This still baffles me to this day. They called me over to play and I did.

I began to integrate into their world just a bit. They taught me a little about programming in Basic. They showed me what a Word Processor was…another copied version from ‘who knows where’. They took time to make copies of programs for me to keep.

The three of us explored and played…and learned, for the remainder of the year.

Sometime during the next year or two I ordered a couple of more Apples and volunteered to teach programming during one of my prep periods. Whenever I didn’t know how to do something, I’d call on Laird to explain it to me.

It doesn’t seem possible; but I owe my whole career in educational technology to two curious students staying after school… to learn on their own.

Laird, eighth grader…inquisitive explorer…

…teacher of teachers.

in gratitude,


12 thoughts on “Laird

  1. Pete, i hope Laird stumbles on this post. Through him, your career changed and through you, the instructional technology experience of countless other student’s changed. You know they say what a difference a single teacher can make in a child’s life. Here it’s the other way around.

  2. As a teacher you know the students bless your life, just as you may bless theirs. It is just not a whole lot of people outside of being teachers themselves realise this.

  3. Jody,
    Parents are the other group of people who get to experience and realize that we have as much (or perhaps more!) to learn FROM our children as we have to teach them.

    I have, at times, been so grateful that my children don’t always listen to me – because I would sometimes teach them my fear or learned limitations. In those moments, I’m so glad that I can learn from them about being open and trusting! I wrote about one such occasion here:

    I am a parent, I work with teachers – and I get so excited about the passion that we share. We both do what we do (raise and educate children) because we care.

    When we work together, support each other and build relationships together – the kids benefit!

    Thank you to every teacher out there – because you have chosen a profession that lets you put what you care about into action every day! I recently wrote about that too – check it out if you’re interested:

    Pete – thanks once again for sharing your heart (and your art) with all of us out here – I learn so much from you!

  4. Jody and Heidi,
    I want to thank you for the kind and thoughtful words. As a writer, it makes a difference to know that someone ‘gets’ what you’re work.

    My favorite subjects are the people I have encountered during my life’s journey.

    The two of you have been very supportive…for that and your work on behalf of children, I am deeply appreciative.

    As always,

  5. Beautiful thing, Pete.

    “Bishops” are not that hard to find. Like good ideas, they tend to float under our noses. We are not always ready for them. Imagine if every staff member found one “Bishop” during the year, regardless of the grade level or direction of the inspiration. This is what I continually share with my colleagues, not in large meetings, but eye to eye. Imagine a school with this attitude. I am closer to experiencing this now than ever before. Funny how things turn out.


    I carried that exact model around for a few years, both work and home. Can still feel how heavy it was.

  6. It is amazing what you find when you search for your own name.

    Mr. Reilly, I may be 42 now, but it still just seems strange to call you Pete. I am really humbled to know that I had this effect on your career path, especially since your willingness to supervise the work we did with computers that year set the course for mine.

    I remember staying after school to work on the computers every night that year until the janitor kicked us out to lock up, and I also remember getting the occasional phone call from you at home. I have related the story many times in my career, but in my version it was always you who changed the course of my life.

    I remember the following year that computer science was added to the curriculum and of course I signed up, but I was disappointed by two things; that you were not my instructor, and that they had these other computers made by IBM with which I was not familiar. To my later regret, I dropped the class, and it was years before I returned to computers professionally. I always wonder where I might be now had I stuck with it.

    Still, the love of computers which you instilled in me that year always stuck with me, so much that a little over a decade ago I “retooled” at a local school and graduated a program in “Network Engineering Technology and Administration”. I am now the Senior Desktop Architect for Guaranty Bank based in Austin, TX. I am responsible along with my team lead and a fellow desktop architect for ensuring the manageability and compliance of around 3000 workstations in our environment, as well as providing scripting and automation services in support of the other technology teams.

    I want you to know that running across this post made my day. I will be getting in touch with you soon to catch up.

    Laird Bishop

    P.S. The other student was Dan Mecklenberg. As my older sister ended up marrying his father, he is now technically my nephew in spite of the fact that he is older than me. I ran into him at the wedding, and at the time (8 or 9 years ago?) he was a Cobol programmer in Saranac Lake. I think it is safe to say that you influenced his career path too.

  7. I too remember the old Apple II computers, though I came into them a couple years later and at that time they were in Fred Short’s classroom. Scott O’Connor and myself were the students of that year that spent all our free time on the computer learning about BASIC programming and computers in general. It was likely those early adventures in computing that led to my career choice in engineering.

    I also remember Dan Mecklenberg’s Radio Shack TRS-80 which I believe had a tape drive. Dan had coded up a text based adventure game on the TRS-80 based loosely on Tupper Lake High School of old (back when it had an annex building).

    I remember you too, Mr. Reilly, as the teacher that first instilled a love of paper folding (Origami) to me… a hobby that I still enjoy in my (albeit limited) free time.

    Thanks again for all the positive influence in my life.


  8. Mr. Reilly,

    I wanted to contact you but have been unsucessful in locating your email address. If you run across this, please visit my link and use my email found there to get in touch with me. I would love to catch up!

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