Category Archives: education

Being Excessively Creative

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It is an unusual position to be in as a kid in the school room to be the creative kid.  First and foremost because you will forever be known as the weirdo, the spaceman, the egghead.

How do I know that?  Because I was that kid.  And I grew up to teach that kid.  And now that I am retired as a teacher, I am still that kid.

If there was a problem to be solved, a picture to be drawn, a group assignment that required somebody to actually think, I was the kid that everybody wanted to be in their group or be their partner.  (That time that Reggie and I blew up the test tube of copper sulfate in Mr. Wilson’s chemistry lab doesn’t count because, although I am the one who dropped it, he’s the one who heated up my fingers with the blowtorch.  Honest, Mr. Wilson, it is true.) But if it was picking teams on the playground, I was the last loser to be called, even though I was pretty good at softball, pretty good at dodgeball, great at volleyball, and usually the leading scorer in soccer (of course we are talking an Iowa schoolyard in the 60’s where soccer was a sport from Mars.)  And as an adult, I enjoyed teaching the creative kids more than the rest because I actually understood them when they explained what they were doing and why, and I was even able to laugh at their knit-witty jokes (yes, I am including those jokes made of yarn with that pun).   Creative kids speak a language from another world.  If you are creative too, you already know that.  And if you aren’t creative… well, how foo-foo-metric for you.

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And another unfortunate side effect of the creative life is that you make stuff.  You don’t have to be seriously infected by bites from the cartoon bug or the art bug to be like that.  My daughter is making a suit of armor for herself from a flat sheet of aluminum that she is pounding out by hand, painting with spray paint and painter’s tape, and edging with felt.  After she’s done with it this Halloween, it will go on one of the piles of collections and models and dolls and stuffed toys and… Of course, sooner or later one of those piles is going to come to life and eat the house.  There is no place left to display stuff and store stuff and keep stuff that is far enough away from potential radioactive spider bites.  I have scars on my fingers from exactor knife accidents, oil paint, and acrylic paint and enamel permanently under my fingernails.  Shelves full of dolls rescued and restored from Goodwill toy bins, dolls collected from sale bins at Walmart, Toys-R-Us, and Kaybee, and action figures saved even from childhood in the 60’s are taking over the house and in an uproar, demanding to be played with rather than ignored.  (Didn’t know dolls can actually talk?  Haven’t you learned anything from John Lasseter?)

Anyway, it is tough to go through life being excessively creative.  I have art projects growing out of my ears.  And book publishers are calling me because my award-winning book is not generating sales in spite of two awards, 5-star reviews, and generally good quality, but the only solutions they have cost ME money I don’t have.  Oh, well, at least it isn’t boring to be me.

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If I’m Being Honest…

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If I’m being honest, I am a liar.  And that is not really a paradox, because I don’t always lie.  In fact, I often lie in order to reveal a deeper truth.  (I know, I know… rationalizations are simply another kind of lie.)  I lie because I used to be a school teacher.  You know that teachers have to be liars because you can’t say to a parent, “Your kid is ugly and stupid, and I have documented proof.”  You especially can’t say that if it really is provable.  Instead, you have to tell the lie that any kid can learn and do and be anything they want if only they are willing to work hard enough.  And you have to tell that lie often enough that the kid, the parent, and even you, the teacher, believe it to the point that it becomes true.

And now that I am retired and not telling the school teacher’s lie any longer, I have become a novelist, and I have now made it my business to make up fiction stories and compile lies into book form.  And though the people or characters are based loosely on real people I have known, they are really only a narrative trick to make the reader think about and possibly accept as truth the themes my writing puts forward.

(Boy!  I sure am an ugly old hairy nut-job, ain’t I? = a lie in question form.)

But if I’m being honest today, there are a few things I need to say truthfully, straight out without irony or falsehood or exaggeration.  Let me offer these truths.

  • In this political environment where partisan politics divide us to the point of attempted assassinations with bombs, I do not hate the other side of the argument.  I don’t hate Republicans and conservatives.  Some of my old friends in Iowa and some of my good friends in Texas are conservative enough to have voted for Trump.  I do not reject them as my friends because of their politics.  They are good people and worthy in too many ways to list.  And though they may be sympathetic to someone who threatens me because I have looney liberal ideas, I don’t expect any of them to send me bombs in the mail.  That kind of division is the opposite of what we need.
  • I know what statistics say about kids and learning potential.  I have worked hard during my lifetime to create educational achievement in places where it is nearly impossible.  I believe in the value of every student, and some of the worst behavioral problems and some of the most difficult learning disabilities helped me really get to know some of my all-time favorite kids.
  • I will continue to tell lies for the sake of education and art and all the things that matter to me.  Lies can be used for good as much as the truth can be used for injury and evil.  But my lies will always be soap-bubble hoo-haws, easily popped and seen through for what they really are meant to accomplish, never big black cannonball lies meant to rip people apart and destroy the fortresses they live in.
  • If I’m being honest, even though I am a liar, you can believe in me.

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Aeroquest… Canto 39

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Canto 39 – the Wisdom of Solomon

The Palace of One Thousand Years was empty save for five people.  Ged Aero was about to teach his first official class.  With him were three students, Junior Aero, Sara Smith, and the quiet Gaijinese boy of ten known as Shu Kwai.  Junior and Sara wore only silken loin cloths.  Shu Kwai, in the Gaijinese tradition, would wear no clothing he had not earned.  His light orange skin was bare to the single sun, the Old Man.  The three students were kneeling on the practice grounds.  On a bench three hundred feet away sat Dr. Naylund Smith, watching intently.

“I may disappoint you three,” said Ged softly.  He pulled the brim of his fedora down to completely shield his eyes from the bright sun.  His ceremonial robes flapped slightly in the breeze.  It was the unconscious pose of the hunter… or perhaps the wary predator.  “I have thought a lot about what to teach you this day, but I haven’t a clue.”

Shu Kwai had not spoken a word since his parents had brought him to the palace.  Now he raised his brown eyes to Ged and looked at the master without changing his solemn expression.  “Aero-sensei, you are the White Spider.  Anything you say is destiny and probably the Word of God.”

Ged laughed softly.  “No pressure here, huh?”

Junior and Sara looked at each other and grinned.  Shu Kwai focused like a laser on Ged’s every word.  The grim boy did not smile or move a single face muscle.

“Well, here goes…  My mother back on Questor used to read from the Christian Bible to Ham and me.  We took many important lessons from it.  I know you three probably have not studied it, or even heard of it, but it was the greatest book ever written on the planet Earth.”

Sarah nodded.  The two boys showed no signs of recognition.  Ged knew he would have to have a sharp memory to carry this off.

“The secret, I think lies in wisdom and discipline.  These are two of the qualities that a wise king named Solomon used as major themes in his book of Proverbs.  In Chapter 3 he said about discipline “the discipline of Jehovah, O my son, do not reject and do not abhor his reproof, because the one whom Jehovah loves he reproves, even as a father does a son in whom he finds pleasure.”

“I find pleasure in having the three of you as my students.  I will provide not only facts for you to learn, but discipline as well.  If I correct you, it is because I know a better way and it shows evidence only of my love and respect for you.”

“Who is Jehovah?” asked Junior.

“According to the Bible my mother read, that was the name of the one God, the creator of the universe.”

“What if we believe in the Tao?” asked Shu Kwai.

“I will try to teach you better, but I will not argue with what you believe.  All I am saying, students, is that if I must offer discipline, it will be only loving reproof.”

“What will you say about wisdom?” asked Sara.

“Solomon said about wisdom… “Happy is the man who has found wisdom and the man that gets discernment, for having it is better than having silver as gain and having it as produce is better than gold itself.  It is more precious than corals and all other delights of yours cannot be made equal to it.”

“What wisdom will you teach us, Sensei?” asked Sara.

“I don’t know everything yet.  I am supposed to teach you about what I already know, and what I am learning about being a Psion.  You three all have the powers of a Psion?”

“Junior and I are both telepaths,” said Sara, “but he can talk to machines and computers, while I’m a healer.”

“I’m a telekinetic and a telepath,” said Shu Kwai.  “I nearly burned the house down in the night when I was dreaming.  I threw a candle across the room and made logs fly out of the burning fireplace.”

“How interesting!” said Ged with a fixed smile.  “You are all mind-readers, and I am not.  I am a morph.  I’m a shape-changer.”

“The best that ever lived, I heard,” said Shu Kwai.  “My father said no shape-changer ever changed size before as you did in the arena against the Black Spider.”

“My father says you came to save us,” said Sara.  “He said you have the discipline and the morality it takes to help us avoid becoming a monster from our Psion powers.”

“I will do what I can, but as I said, I really have no idea how to teach you.”

Naylund Smith came walking over to them clapping his hands.  “That is one of the finest lessons I have ever heard, honored Ged-dono.  Wisdom and discipline!  This whole planet needs that.  If they all had it, perhaps the plague of bandits and black spiders would end.”

“I hope I don’t let you all down.”

“You cannot,” assured Dr. Smith.  “The boy is right.  You are destiny.”

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Miss Terry G.

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Miss Terry Consuelo Guerra

As a school teacher, you will simply have to accept that, no matter what you do or say, some students are going to love you, and some students are going to totally hate you.  You can’t control that.  The only thing you can control is how you feel about them.

She came into my classroom that first day in August, and I knew from the very first glance that she was one of a kind.  She was very angular of feature, standing, walking, and sitting in a very stiff and upright posture.  She did not bend easily, in body or soul.

She insisted on having a front seat so she could learn, and I had to move one of the other girls who really didn’t care where she sat so that Miss Terry could have a front seat.  She was a note-taker who constantly noted practically everything.  I think she even noted down some of my jokes in the precise order that they were told.  Disorder had no place in her world, and she did not tolerate disorder even from a teacher.

And Miss Terry Consuelo Guerra (not exactly her real name) never smiled and never laughed.  So you can guess what my primary objective was whenever I had her intense little face in front of me.  She hated it whenever I made her smirk or lose control of a slight giggle.  And the few times I ever got a real, unguarded smile out of her, she was absolutely beautiful.

The little raven girl would often snipe at me when she answered in class.  She often told me that my discipline was too lax, that the lessons weren’t ordered in a way that was efficient, and that I really wasn’t as funny as I thought.  And I didn’t let that get to me.  I know from faculty lounge conversations that she often got on the nerves of almost all of her other teachers.  But I unconditionally loved her.  And I know I got to her more than merely once or twice.  If we were keeping score, I was winning.  But we were not keeping score, and I let her think she was completely in control of her own education.

Her senior year in high school, she and another girl whom I loved and was also graduating came back to visit my seventh-grade classroom.

“You know, Mr. Beyer, looking back on junior high, of all the teachers I had, your class is really the only one I remember.  I liked your class.”

Naomi, the girl who came with her, was also a little shocked by Terry’s pronouncement.  But she quickly added, “You were the best teacher we ever had.”

“Well, I don’t know…  Yes, I guess you are right,” the raven girl said.

“Thank you, that means a lot coming from you,” I said.  “By the way, who are you again?”

Her eyes got wider.  “You don’t remember me?”

I laughed.  “I tried hard to forget you.  But it didn’t work.  You are Homero’s little sister.  You were one of the best students I ever had, Terry.”

The smile I got from that lame joke was the best one.

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The Wolf in My Dreams

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Rosemary Hood was a bright, blond seventh grader who entered my seventh-grade Gifted English class in September of 1998.  She introduced herself to me before the first bell of her first day.

“I am definitely on your class list because my Mom says I belong in gifted classes.”

“Your name is Rosemary, right?”

“Definitely.  Rosemary Bell Hood, related to the Civil War general John Bell Hood.”

“Um, I don’t see your name on my list.”

“Well, I’m supposed to be there, so check with the attendance secretary.  And I will be making A’s all year because I’m a werewolf and I could eat you during the full moon if you make me mad at you.”

I laughed, thinking that she had a bizarre sense of humor.  I let her enter my class and issued her copies of the books we were reading.  Later I called the office to ask about her enrollment.

“Well, Mr. Beyer,” said the secretary nervously, “the principal is out right now with an animal bite that got infected.  But I can assure you that we must change her schedule and put her in your gifted class.  The principal would really like you to give her A’s too.”

So, I had a good chuckle about that.  I never gave students A’s.  Grades had to be earned.  And one of the first rules of being a good teacher is, “Ignore what the principal says you should do in every situation.”

But I did give her A’s because she was a very bright and creative student (also very blond, but that has nothing to do with being a good student).  She had a good work ethic and a marvelous sense of humor.

She developed a crush on Jose Tannenbaum who sat in the seat across from her in the next row.  He was a football player, as well as an A student.  And by October she was telling him daily, “You need to take to me to the Harvest Festival Dance because I am a werewolf, and if you don’t, I will eat you at the next full moon.”

All the members of the class got a good chuckle out of it.  And it was assumed that he would. of course, take her to the dance because she was the prettiest blond girl in class and he obviously kinda liked her.  But the week of the dance we did find out, to our surprise, that he asked Natasha Garcia to the dance instead.

I didn’t think anything more about it until, the day after the next full moon, Jose didn’t show up for class.  I called the attendance secretary and asked about it.

“Jose is missing, Mr. Beyer,” the attendance secretary said.  “The Sherrif’s office has search parties out looking for him.”  That concerned me because he had a writing project due that day, and I thought he might’ve skipped school because he somehow failed to finish it.  When I saw Rosemary in class, though, I asked her if, by any chance, she knew why Jose wasn’t in class.

“Of course I do,” she said simply.  “I ate him last night.”

“Oh.  Bones and all?”

“Bone marrow is the best-tasting part.”

So, that turned out to be one rough school year.  Silver bullets are extremely expensive for a teacher’s salary.  And I did lose a part of my left ear before the year ended.  But it also taught me valuable lessons about being a teacher.  Truthfully, you can’t be a good teacher if you can’t accept and teach anyone who comes through your door, no matter what kind of unique qualities they bring with them into your classroom.

 

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Telling Teacher Stories

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Here’s a secret that is only a secret if you are one of the well-over-six-billion people that don’t know I exist; I loved being a public school teacher.  I taught for 31 years.  24 years of that was in middle school.  I taught more than 1000 different seventh graders.  And I loved it.

Please don’t reveal this secret to any mental health professionals.  I like my freedom.  And I am really not dangerous even after teaching that many seventh graders.  I promise.

But it has left me with a compulsion.  I confess it is the reason I write humorous young adult novels and why I continue to write this blog.  I have to tell teacher stories or I will surely explode.

I have to tell you not only about the normal kids I taught, but the super-brainy mega-nerds I taught, the relatively stupid kids I taught, the honor students, the autistic kids, the kids who loved to sleep in class, the classroom clowns that tried to keep them awake, the kids who loved my class, the kids who hated my class, the times I was a really stupid teacher, the times I achieved some real milestones for some wonderful kids, the kids I still love to this day, the kids I tried really hard to love, but…. (well, some kids not even a mother could love), the drug dealers I had to protect my class from, the kids who talked to me about suicide and abuse and horrible things that still make me cry, the kids I lost along the way, and, well, the list goes on and on but this is an epic run-on sentence and the English teacher inside me is screaming at the moment.

You get the idea.  Like most writers… real writers, not hacks and wannabees, I write because I have to.  I don’t have a choice.  No matter what it costs me.  And what do I have to talk about in writing except being a school teacher and the almost infinite lessons that experience taught me?

I loved being the rabbit holding the big pencil in the front of the classroom.  And that metaphor means, as crazy as it sounds, I loved being a teacher.

 

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I’m a Kangaroo Kid

Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, would not like my title.  He wanted them to be referred to as “children” not “kids”.  The reasons were obvious.  “Kid” refers to a baby goat.  It’s all about the words.  It’s all about respect and propriety.

4e087cfa232cf.image But Bob Keeshan, though a TV personality, was much more of a teacher than anything else.  His show went on air before I was born, and I don’t remember a moment in my childhood that he wasn’t a part of it.  He was like Mr. Rogers, but came into our lives even before Fred Rogers appeared on the scene.  I watched the show in the mornings before school started, at a time when I walked all the way across our little Iowa farm town to get to school.  He taught me important early lessons in life that were just as impactful as the math and language and social skills I was getting later in the day.  Of course, I had to leave home for school before the show ended at 8:00 a,m. But just like school, watching and participating in any part of it was capable of teaching you something good.

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A lot of what I was able to do successfully as a teacher is a result of how Captain Kangaroo taught me.  He taught me to deliver information in small bites that a young learner with a short attention span could fully digest.  He taught me how to capture attention.  He did it with puppets, a moose, a bunny, and a dancing bear all thanks to Cosmo Allegretti, a versatile and multi-talented performer.  He could focus attention by letting Mr. Moose drop ping pong balls on his head.  Whatever came next after the moment of mirth was something I paid attention to.

He also helped us learn science.  Mr. Greenjeans in his low-key, deadpan way would teach us about eating vegetables, how farmers cultivate plants, and how to handle various small animals like kittens, rabbits, and even ferrets.  Mr. Greenjeans got seriously bitten by a lion cub on camera.  He simply stuck his bleeding finger in his pocket and went on with the show.  Yes, the man was a veteran in more ways than one.  (He was a Marine in WWII.)

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And Captain Kangaroo taught me how to share a book.  I became very good at reading aloud to students because Bob Keeshan and the crew that worked for him showed me how to read with expression, separate dialogue from narration, and build the excitement with pace and voice modulation.  They were experts at reading aloud.

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So, I say this with no disrespect, only veneration.  “I am a Kangaroo kid.”  I watched the show and internalized it.  I developed deep pockets like the ones in Bob Keeshan’s jacket that gave him the name Captain Kangaroo, and I stored many treasures from the Treasure House there that I would later share with my students.

 

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