Category Archives: high school

Why Do You Think That? (Part One)

I believe myself capable of rational thought.  It is that irrational and over-emotional conclusion that leads me to write a self-reflective post full of over-blown thinking about thinking like this one.

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The little Midwestern town of Rowan, Iowa, the place where I grew up, is probably the center of my soul and biggest reason for why I am who I am.

I was a public school teacher for 31 years.  It really seems more like 131 years for all the kids I got to know and lessons I got to teach.  I have lots and lots of experience on which to draw for the drawing of conclusions about education.  Here is a conclusion I drew (literally);

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All kids are good kids.

I can hear the debate from the teachers’ lounge already.  “What kind of an idiot thinks something as stupid as that?”  “It’s true that there are a lot of good kids, but what about Psycho Melvin or Rebel Maria?”  “Some kids are stupid.  I have test data to prove it.”

But I not only believe all kids are good, I think all people are good, even the bad ones.  I have large numbers of memories filed away of times I got to the bottom of problems with kids acting out in class.  Invariably the reasons for their bad behaviors would either make me laugh, or make me cry.  Edwin rammed the drinking fountain with his head because he was socially inept and starved for attention from the other kids.  El Goofy could make his whole head turn bright purple on command because it made the girls squeal and laugh and he had learned to manipulate facial muscles to make it happen because he liked the result.  Lucy yelled at me in front of the whole class because she was thinking about committing suicide like her mother had before her, and she needed me to stop her.  (I don’t use these kids’ real names for some very good reasons, but rest assured, Lucy made it to adulthood.)  (Sorry, I had to stop at this point and cry for 15 minutes again.) My experiences as a teacher have basically taught me that all people need love, and all people are worthy of love.  Someone even loved Adolf Hitler.

There are really two kinds of teachers.  There is the kind who teaches because they love kids and will literally sacrifice anything to benefit them.  The Sandy Hook incident proved that those teachers exist in every school.  There is also the kind who hate kids with a passion and believe themselves to be experts at classroom discipline.  Don’t get me wrong, teachers like that mold young people into upstanding citizens or championship-winning football or basketball players on a regular basis.  But they do it by polishing out the flaws in kids through punishment and rigorous efforts to remove every flaw because they actually detest the flaws in themselves that they see mirrored in students.  I could never be that kind of teacher myself, but I know they are just as necessary as the other kind. After all, all people are good people, even the bad ones.

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Doctor Doom really doesn’t like to be around me.  Still, he’s a good person too, even though he’s fictional.

After more than 500 words worth of this nonsense, and I realize I still have a lot more to say about this goofy topic, I must draw to a close.  And I know I haven’t convinced anyone of anything yet.  But let me threaten you with the prospect that I will pursue this topic again sooner than you would like.  I just can’t seem to stop thinking about why I think what I think, and why I am always thinking.

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Filed under education, goofy thoughts, high school, humor, insight, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Classroom Clownery (Not to be confused with Sean Clownery… He’s James Blond)

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See Dick?

See Jane?

See Sally?

See Dick run?

See Jane run?

See Sally…?   Wait a minute!  Why don’t I remember Sally?

Did Dick forget to feed Spot and Spot was forced to kill and eat Sally?

No…  I had Dick and Jane books in Kiddy-garter and they did have Sally in them.  And Spot never killed anyone.  But with all the running she did, Sally did not do anything memorable.  If my teacher, Miss Ketchum, had told the Spot eats Sally story, I’m sure I would’ve remembered Sally better and learned to read faster.

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But I actually did learn to read faster because there was a Cat in the Hat, and a Yertle the Turtle, and because Horton the elephant heard a Who, and a Grinch stole Christmas.  Yes, humor is what always did it for me in the classroom.  Dr. Seuss taught me to read.  Miss Mennenga taught me to read out loud.  And in seventh grade, Mr. Hickman taught me to appreciate really really terrible jokes.    And those are the people who twisted my arm… er, actually my brain… enough to make me be a teacher who taught by making things funny.  There were kids who really loved me, and principals who really hated me.  But I had students come back to me years later and say… “I don’t remember anything at all from my classes in junior high except when you read The Outsiders out loud and did all those voices, and played the Greek myth game where we had to kill the giants with magic arrows, and the stupid jokes you told.”  High praise indeed!

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I think that teaching kids to laugh in the classroom was a big part of teaching them how to use the language and how to think critically.    You find what’s funny in what you learn, and you have accidentally examined it carefully… and probably etched it on the stone part of your brain more memorably than any other way you could do it.  And once it’s etched in stone, you’re not getting that out again any time soon.

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Humor makes you look at things from another point of view, if for no other reason, then simply because you are trying to make somebody laugh.  For instance, do you wonder like I do why the Cat in the Hat is trying to pluck the wig off of Yelling Yolanda who is perched on the back of yellow yawning yak?  I bet you can’t look at those two pictures positioned like that and not see what I am talking about.  Of course, I am not betting money on it.  I am simply talking Iowegian… a totally different post.

But the point is, humor and learning go hand in hand.  It takes intelligence to get the joke.  Joking makes you smarter.  And that is why the class clowns in the past… the good and funny ones… not the stupid and clueless ones… were always my favorite students.

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Filed under clowns, goofiness, high school, humor, irony, kids, philosophy, teaching, word games

School’s Out…

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“School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes”

-Alice Cooper

Once again it is that day that every kid prays for… The last day of school.

My daughter doesn’t really get it, though.  She doesn’t really understand the sentiment of the poor misguided school girl named Alice Cooper.  Kids are supposed to hate school.  Their teachers are supposed to be witches and warlocks who live for creating misery in the lives of their students.  My daughter should know that already, since her mother and I are both teachers.  (I am retired now, actually… and I do miss making kids’ lives total misery.)  She is actually going to miss her middle school and all her middle school teachers.

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She was up late last night using air-dried clay to make dragon sculptures to give to each of her teachers.  Her art teacher was recently telling me about how wonderful she is at art and how wonderful she is as a student during a recent scholastic awards dinner.  In fact, most of her teachers only have good things to say about her work in middle school.  And teachers are supposed to hate kids and hate teaching, right?  They are supposed to only be in teaching for the paycheck, marking time until they retire, living lives full of bitterness and revengeful interactions with children.

O, I am guessing that I am actually the problem here.   I never felt the way teachers are supposed to feel about kids.  In fact, I… like kids.  Oh, no!  The secret is out.  I miss being a teacher.  I miss the kind of devotion you get from the kind of students who stay up late making clay dragons for you as a goodbye gift.

While I was a teacher, we were not allowed to be Facebook friends with students.  Society frowns on teachers getting too close to students.  But now that I will never teach again, or be in the same room with any of them again, I have been saying yes to students’ friend requests.  So, I am now going to share with you pictures of former students that they have shared with me.  Of course, I won’t tell you their names.  I don’t want to embarrass them by revealing that they don’t hate all of their teachers the way they should.

So, there’s photographic proof that once I actually was a teacher.  And I know that it probably also proves I didn’t do a very good job of making their lives miserable and making them hate me the way I should have done.  But I miss it terribly.  And I would work harder at being bitter and crabby if only I could go back and do it some more.

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Filed under autobiography, education, high school, humor, kids, teaching

The 40-Year Class Reunion

This Goodwill rescue Barbie is stamped 1966, but an irate collector once pointed out to me that is no indication of when this doll was actually made and sold.

This Goodwill rescue Barbie is stamped 1966, but an irate collector once pointed out to me that is no indication of when this doll was actually made and sold.

One of the main reasons that I went to Iowa this Summer at the time that I did was because the Belmond High School Class of 1975 was having a reunion dinner for the 40th anniversary of the high school getting rid of all of our dumb behinds all at once, an entire class full of mooks and monkey-heads and minions.  I desperately wanted to see them again… for possibly the last time in our lives.  It has been 40 years.  Seven of us are gone (more than 10% of a small, rural Iowegian high school class).  And now I want to tell stories about them and relentlessly make fun of them… though I will change the names to protect the innocent… and the ones I like… which is all of them.

We had the hootenanny at the Belmond Country-Club and Golf Course (and no, we were not eating golf balls… the most favorite of all Belmond restaurants had been destroyed by a tornado not long ago, and is now re-opened at the Country-Club grounds).  I was really hoping to see my best friend there, Dr. Bilbo Bonaduce… the mook in the lobster shirt in high school that always got my jokes in Mr. Salcomb’s English classes, but never laughed… because he always needed to top them.  (That goof-ball was willing to say out loud in front of everyone the kind of jokes I could only whisper to him behind my hand… needless to say, I only basked in the laughs second-hand.)   Unfortunately, he was not there.  He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and may not even still be among the living.  It has been a decade since I last saw or heard from him.  Gee, this part of the story is not nearly as funny and uplifting as I had planned.  But, then, time and fortune are not universally kind.

I did get to see the boy I fell in love with in Junior High.  Now, that is not exactly what it sounds like.  Neither of us were ever gay, and both have children by the one and only wives that we each married.  I loved him because he was magical.  He relied on my big brain to help him in Math and History, and I relied on him as we played together, side by side, in football, basketball, and track.  As a teammate, he always made me better at what I was doing.  I tackled harder and shot the ball more accurately and ran faster because he was always there encouraging me.  I was actually the better athlete of the two of us (in my unbiased opinion), but he lettered in three sports when I did not letter in any.  He dated the girl I had the hugest crush of my life upon… for a while… and got all the glory.  But I shared in it because he was my friend and the “shiny” rubbed off on me.  He grew up to be the only farmer in our class who is still actually farming.  Still living the life we once knew.  God, Roger, I never envied you more, and I love you still.

This is a picture of Brent Clarke, not Roger Williams.  Character and inspiration?  Maybe.

This is a picture of Brent Clarke, not Roger Williams. Character and inspiration? Maybe.

I spent the most time talking to three people I had not talked to much in 40 years… Rachel McMichaels was one of the organizers of the dinner.  She was the brainiest girl in our class and the Valedictorian in high school.  The scuttlebutt was that if I courted and married Rachel, all our children would have frizzy white hair and mustaches like Albert Einstein.  She was as warm and caring as ever.  She asked all about my family and told me one or two things about hers.  There was never a flicker of romance between us in high school… probably because of all the teasing… but I do realize what a good thing was always there to be missed out on entirely.

Daniel Mastermill was there too.  We sat beside each other in the front row of the infamous Miss Rubelmacher’s seventh-grade Science class.  The terrifying Miss R sat us there together in her seating chart because of size.  Daniel, in seventh grade, was even shorter and scrawnier than I was.  At the reunion, he was telling me the story (which I had never heard before) of his family’s buried treasure.  It seems that his parents buried a treasure on their family farm, and told the children that it was there, but never gave them a treasure map, or told them what was in the treasure.  The old folks apparently died without telling where it was buried, and the children spent weeks digging up everything they dared to dig up looking for it before the farm was sold.  The treasure is apparently still there.

And I sat next to Reggie Simmery all during the meal.  Everybody talks to Reggie.  He was the class clown.  We were sitting across the table from Angela Oberkfell, the classmate who was also the Junior High School Principal’s  daughter, and listened to a recounting of several times Reg was subjected to paddlings, stern lectures, and even a couple of suspensions.  Reggie could never resist the temptation to say or do the most ridiculous, stupid, and pointless things his little peanut-butter-powered brain could think of.  And he always laughed about everything, even when Angela’s dad whacked him on the behind with a board of education.

The reunion was a disappointment because I didn’t see all the people I wanted to see.  Even the girl I had the greatest crush of my life upon was not there.  (Clever of her to avoid me.)  But I saw people I needed to see, and felt the things I needed to feel, about a time and place so long ago now, and my heart is full… re-filled to the brim.

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Filed under high school, humor, Paffooney