Category Archives: kids

Good Versus Evil in Today’s World

Innocence, Purity, and Courage are Good

It is the goal of those who write humor to reveal truth and make you laugh about it. Unexpected truth is funny. It is also the main reason that far-right political kooks have no sense of humor Simply put, for the evil and stupid people who are taking over this country, truth is not funny. It is the enemy.

The fact that so many who are quick to argue cannot be quieted by a joke anymore means that the conversation can’t end until they’ve owned the libtard, or punched him in the face… or worse, shot him dead with their beloved Second-Amendment Rights.

And a source of that evil is the whole conservative-bubble propaganda wheels that never stop turning on Fox News, Breitbart, One America News, and Stormfront publications.

They take up arms against the things they fear. And they fear those people that their propaganda wheels identify for them as the “other.” That means people of color, Democrats, liberals, ANTIFA (which stands for anti-fascists, and as far as I can tell are mostly fictional… which prevents me from joining them,) and intellectuals (meaning anybody that is smarter than they are… specifically me.)

Yes, White Priviledge is real, though they will complain you’re being racist if you say it out loud.

The most frustrating thing about the armies of evil is that they are made up of good, basically God-fearing, fine-hearted people who would do anything for you if you are identified as a member of their group by the color of your skin or your support of their glorious leader Don Cheetoh Trumpaloney. Unfortunately the consumption of propaganda from their fear-centered and conspiracy-theory-prone propaganda wheels stimulates the fear centers of their amygdalas (also known as their lizard brains) and suppresses their natural empathy to the point of being able to do violence in the name of leaders who are basically robbing them, conning them, and laughing about it behind their backs.

Enthusiasm for an idea like this… good or evil?

And the leaders who are doing all of this, they are the primary beneficiaries of corporate greed and control of politics to the point that they can make more profits than ever from fossil fuels at a time when the planet is dying from green-house gasses that cause fires in the western States and the ferocity of Hurricane Ian in Florida.

So, what are people who would rather see good happen than have the world die in fire and a hail of bullets going to do about it?

We can vote. Here are the names of some people who support evil ideas and have made lots of money in their respective offices; Ron DeSantis (Mickey Mouse’s new nemesis), Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Greg Abbott (Evil Emperor of Texas,) Marco Rubio (enemy of immigrants everywhere,) and basically anyone who rules with a Maga hat on, or calls himself a Trump Republican.

We have to keep fighting for public education, fair and equal and well-funded, free of book banning in school libraries that target classic works of black authors, gay authors, truth-tellers, and authors of science books that include climate change and evolution as scientifically established, and willing to treat kids as valuable learners no matter what color, religion, ethnicity, culture, or sexual orientation they are blessed with. Kids are kids and deserve love and respect (even the naked ones, though I am not advocating for nude schools… that’s just a joke.)

We have to treat the aggrieved and fearful members of the evil armies not as evil, but as our misguided brothers and sisters, neighbors, useful members of society, and people who can be reminded that they do have good hearts, and only cold-hearted lunatics and despots are truly evil.

And I will continue trying to open eyes and hearts with humor. Hopefully the kind that brings smiles and laughter. But also the kind that brings tears and self-examination as necessary. (Of course, I can’t promise to be good at it. Funny is in the brain of the laugher after all.)

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Filed under angry rant, education, empathy, feeling sorry for myself, humor, irony, kids, politics, red States

Children of the Land

Children are a resource that we, as a people, cannot live on without.

If we stop having children, nurturing children, raising children, providing children discipline and education, entertaining children, guiding children, and, most of all, loving children, in eighty or so years, human beings will be extinct in this universe.

How many universes are there with humanity being extinct in them? It is impossible to answer. But if there is more than one universe, there is more than one.

When I was a child myself, family farms were still the rule in Iowa. Couples would try for lots of kids to help with the farm work. Chores! I fed animals. I went with my grandfather to the feed store, the hardware store, and the hatchery. I drove a tractor. I walked bean fields and pulled weeds. I mucked out a hog house once (and believe me, once is enough for a lifetime.) I have slopped hogs. I shingled a house and a garage. I painted the family house (in town, not Grandpa’s farmhouse.) As a child, I helped my uncles who were farmers, and worked for other farmers in the area. I was just as important as fertilizer to the maintenance of the world I lived in. (I did not say I was important to USE AS fertilizer. They would’ve had to kill me to use me that way. But my work was a part of what made the land yield plenty.)

I was left, as a child, with the distinct impression that we were meant to live in the land as a part of the land. Nature was our friend. We didn’t cut down all the trees and pave over everything like the city folks did. The kid who never went skinny dipping was rare indeed.

There once were people who knew they lived with the land, and they were good stewards of the land. They knew if the land was not living well and healthy, then neither would they live well and healthy.

But I am not arguing that we should go back to the world of the 1960s. The work I did in the land back then is now mostly mechanized and done by machines, computers, automation, and factorization. But we can teach our precious children the values of old to use in new ways. If we don’t, well… I hope the AI Terminator Robots of the future will have a happy life without us.

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Filed under artwork, farm boy, farming, humor, kids, Liberal ideas, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, wisdom

Recognizing What is Good

We have to have a reason to keep going from day to day. Sometimes people you would never expect to give up, real balls of intellectual energy and cultural importance give up and end their own lives. Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Robin Williams come to mind with no mental effort..

There has to be an undeniable goodness hidden somewhere in reality that makes life worth living. The real question, then, is how we find it. And in order to find it, we need to be able to recognize goodness when we see it.

A problem arises, though, when we realize that even the worst villains in history see themselves as the good guys, the heroes of their own stories in the annals of history. ,

There are many things in life that are seen generally as bad or evil that can, over time and with factual input come to be seen as a general good. I was more or less taught as a boy that if you masturbate, you are doomed to go to hell when you die. I was taught this after I had already been sexually assaulted and tortured. I tried really hard to completely resist the urge, going so far as to burn myself whenever I felt a desire to do the deed. But when the Methodist minister told our confirmation group the actual facts of life, he also taught us that masturbation is a natural function for both boys and girls. And that it was necessary to learn how your body actually works. And how to approach it with maturity and the realization that in later life you will probably need that practice to maintain a healthy love life based on mutual love, respect, and desire. And as an adult, I would actually reach an understanding that that particular practice was a useful thing for maintaining prostate health, avoiding depression, and helping both your immune system and your sense of satisfaction with life. It is a good thing that is hard to recognize.

I would also learn in my role as a teacher, especially when I taught middle school kids in their “Wonder Years,” that there really are no bad kids or evil kids. When they act out in class, being defiant, disobedient, unruly, inappropriate, and every other kind of stinky behavior that kids do, you can’t just throw them on a trash pile and get rid of them. That only leads to more of the same and a trash pile of monumental size. Rather, every instance of misbehavior has a root cause. And if you take the opportunity to talk to the juvenile offender, you can get down to those root causes where you can solve problems, extinguish bad behaviors, and instill good behaviors. You get to know the kid for who they really are. And I have to admit, by the sixth grade, some kids are so damaged by life there is literally nothing within your power to heal what’s wrong. You can still work with those kids, though, and benefit them in the long run. I had some amazing accomplishments with some kids that other teachers had on their trash piles. There is startling good in some of them, if only you are willing to search for it.

So, what is my reason, as the insufferable know-it-all who is giving you this unasked-for advice about life, for getting up and going on every single day?

Well, I am a pessimist by philosophical habit, and yet, I find more really good and worthwhile things to pursue in this life than bad things to avoid or arm myself against. In fact, I can focus on the good things and ignore the bad (at least until I have a bad week like last week where multiple terrible things happen all at once and screw up everything. I fear that may have been what happened to Robin Williams.)

I can see good coming from all the things the former orange-skinned leader of our government is doing or has done that are basically evil. (There is real evil in the world.) He is busily leading all the evil lemmings in the Republican Party off a cliff that will go a long way towards cleaning up corruption in Washington.

I am still fundamentally a pessimist, but I do recognize;

It is far better to live in the sunlight where you can see what is good and what is evil than to try to hide yourself in the darkness and hope the wolves that are hunting you simply never sniff you out.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, education, empathy, humor, kids, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Found Poetry

by Sergio Aragon├ęs

Found poetry begins with three found things

Picked up at random

Like three pictures from my internet gallery

Plagiarized from somebody’s fandom

oil painting by Maxfield Parrish

And then you have to sit and have a thought

About how it fits together

To make a stupid poem you’ve wrought

That’s not about the weather

Movie image by Woody Allen featuring Woody Allen

You must pretend the very best you can

There’s sense in what you’ve found

And it fits together as if you had a plan

That was always quite profound.

———————————————————————————————–wow!-a-weird-divider————————-

Writing a found poem

Okay, this is the essay part. That first part is a terrible poem written by me to illustrate how to make your own found poem. Of course, you should know that I was not a natural-born poet. I am among the lower percentages of America’s worst-possible poets. Right there somewhere between the poetry books of Farley Bumbletongue and the Collected Musings of Hans Poopferbrains of Snarkytown, Wisconsin.

But I take great pride in my abilities as a terrible poet. You see, what I mainly was, truly was, was an English teacher of middle school and high school kids. And found poems were an activity in the classroom intended to teach writing skills, creativity, and an appreciation of what a poem actually is.

I needed a large usable picture file cut out of Christmas catalogs, Walmart advertisements, newspapers, magazines (“What are those?” is the most common comment you would get out of today’s classrooms,) grocery-store bargain flyers, outdated calendars, and any other non-pornographic picture sources available.

I would hand out three random images pulled out of the picture file without looking at them to each student (or small groups of students) and then require them to create a poem of at least twelve lines with an optional rhyme scheme and rhythm.

I would have to remind them not to eat the pictures, even if they were pictures of food. And with middle school students I would have to have extra pictures for the next class to replace the ones they ate anyway.

I would tell them there was a time-limit, specified to be much shorter than the actual time I planned to give them, and then let them create horrible poetry. Near Vogon quality in its horribleness.

When all of this was done, we would have a good long laugh by sharing the pictures and poems, and find out who the truly wacky and perverted poets were.

Now, don’t go telling parents that we teachers are wasting their children’s precious learning time this way, but it is not I lesson I created. Simply a lesson I used at least once every year.

But the real question on my mind is, “Given three random pictures, what kind of poem would you write?” Feel free to share.

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Filed under education, humor, kids, poem, poetry, teaching

A Memorable Day at School

**Please note** This is a fiction story. It absolutely did not happen in real life. So, no real-life school administrators should be fired over it. And the author is a RETIRED school teacher, so it is not necessary to hire a hit man to protect future students from evil ideas like the ones presented in this story.

Rudy was miserable as he sat in the counselor’s office staring at the note from his teacher. Miss Nactarine. the sympathetic young counselor, sat behind her desk praying silently that the poor boy would be able to overcome his extreme shyness for long enough to explain what the problem really was.

“Well, um… you see, Miss…. I, uh…”

And then, once again, he simply stopped talking. She waited for several minutes.

“Rudy, just take a deep breath and let it all come out. You were sent here for sleeping in class. Tell me why that happened.”

“Okay, Miss. I been having bad dreams.”

“Oh? They’ve been keeping you from sleeping at night? What are the bad dreams about?”

“Um, well… In my dreams, I keep forgetting to put my clothes on before coming to school. I end up having to give a speech in Miss Burkett’s class standing naked in front of everybody. And the girls were laughing.”

“Oh, I see. Hmm. And what do you suppose is causing these dreams?”

He didn’t hesitate even for a moment. “P.E. Class!”

“Why P.E. Class?”

“Well, because… when it’s over, sixth graders have to take a shower. You have to get naked and go into the shower room where everybody can see.”

“But there are only other boys in there.” She knew as soon as she said it why that didn’t matter to Rudy. Even as she said it, she could see this shrinking-violet child trying to disappear in his chair.

“What do you think we should do about this problem?” She was thinking swim-suit for showers or something.

“Can we cancel P.E. Class?”

“Honey, that’s State-mandated curriculum. You can’t pass to the seventh grade without taking that class.”

“Can we cancel showers?”

“Young men in the sixth grade begin to have body odor. You know how that smell would affect learning?”

Rudy was dissolving in front of her.

“You are a vary brave young man. The best way to overcome this problem is to simply make up your mind not to let it affect you. The next time you have to take a shower, just face your fears head on. Take your clothes off and act like you want everybody to see you naked. Once you have endured the worst that can happen, you won’t have that bad dream anymore. You will know that you can do anything by being brave enough to try.”

Miraculously, Rudy seemed to brighten up, as if he had finally come to terms with the problem.

“Thanks, Miss. That helps a lot.”

As she dismissed him back to class, she couldn’t help but congratulate herself on saying the right thing at the right time.

The next morning, as students who walked to school from the neighborhood gathered in front of the school, Rudy showed up striding purposefully towards the front door wearing only a hat.

Most of the girls squealed in response, and then broke out into laughing conversations.

One of the most popular seventh-grade cheerleaders said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “I think he looks really cute like that! I wish all the boys were brave enough to come to school like that.”

“We would if all the girls did too!” hollored some invisible boy from somewhere in the back of the crowd.

Principal Eirohnee quickly brought both naked Rudy and Counselor Nacterine into her office.

Rudy was very comfortably nude as he stood in front of the principal’s desk and explained.

“It really cured my problem,” Rudy said. “From the time I made up my mind to do this I have felt nothing but confidence. If I can come to school naked, I can do anything!”

“Intend to go to all your classes today naked, do you?” asked the Principal.

“Yes, if you let me. If you don’t, it was still worth it.”

Full of pride for her part in Rudy’s transformation, the Counselor said, “I think we should allow it.”

“Well, isn’t that precious. Why don’t we just change the dress code for the day and have everybody go to school today naked?”

“I’d be willing to try that,” Miss Nacterine said.

**Author’s note** You could argue that the Counselor was fired for not understanding what sarcasm was, but, more likely, it was because of how the majority of the students showed up the following day.

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Filed under dreams, education, humor, kids, nudes, Paffooney, satire, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Generations Gone Before

Of the people in the school picture from Rowan Rural School #4 (a one-room schoolhouse from Midwestern history and lore) all the ones who survive are octogenarians. Three of the survivors were at our family reunion for Great Grandma Hinckley’s descendants. My mother and uncle were there. Their cousin was also there. The school house stood on the Aldrich corner, near the house where my Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived, the farm house of a farm that’s been in the family for over a hundred years. My mother and Uncle Don and Uncle Larry could easily walk there. The rest came from country miles around by horse-drawn wagon.

This is not a school-bus wagon, but rather, an oat-seed spreader. So, almost the same.

Uncle Larry is now gone, but they have survived from the time of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the time of Criminal President Doofenschmertz Jehosephat Trumpennoodle. Things have changed. The house I now sit in was, back then, a place with a windmill and hand-pump for water, an outhouse for bathroom chores, and a radio for entertainment.

If they hadn’t endured through World War Two, and Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, and the assassination of JFK, we wouldn’t even be here. We are the children of hardship, endurance, and conviction of the rightness of life on Earth.

We saw progress through the creation of Disneyland, landing the first man on the surface of the moon, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Scooby Doo, and the Pink Panther… Nixon and his Watergate break-in, Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk, Laugh-in… President Ford falling down stairs, Saturday Night Live, the Peanut-farmer President, Reaganomics… the Iranian hostage crisis… Saved by the Bell, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones… The invasion of Panama… Operation Desert Storm… the second war in Iraq… the downfall of Saddam Hussein… Thundercats, Jerry Seinfeld, Friends, the Wonder Years…

I am especially impressed that they lived through all those Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons. And Leisure Suits… Aagh!

Mother’s entryway table with pictures of Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich in the back

And their time is not completely up. Mother and Dad and Uncle Don still move on and go to reunions and bury loved ones… and tend to the needs of grandkids and great-grandkids… And pass on the good things to the next generation… and the next. So it goes, towards times not yet dreamed of.

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Filed under autobiography, family, humor, Iowa, kids, photos

The Writer’s Own Opinions

Every writer, especially a fiction writer, has an opinion about what his or her work really means.

Of course, their readers have their own opinions of what it means. And the two different flavors of opinion, author sauce or reader ragu, rarely are the same flavor, and often work at cross purposes to spoil the whole stew. Look at how the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird went over with readers for Harper Lee. Or how J. K. Rowling’s opinions about trans people have affected the most recent movie trilogy made from her works of fiction.

So, maybe I should clarify where I stand on certain issues before anybody threatens to make a movie from, or ban and burn any of my books.

(As if either of those things are ever going to happen.)

Trans People

In Texas now, it is generally agreed because of laws passed and pronouncements made by Fox-News-influenced Republican leaders, that trans people are 20-or-30-year-old male perverts putting on dresses and trying to get into middle school girls’ locker rooms, or worse, trying to play and win female sports with the advantages that come with testosterone and male aggressiveness.

My opinion on this issue is… you don’t get to have an opinion on this gol danged issue unless you yourself are a trans person. This is based on knowing two trans people in the entirety of my thirty-one-year teaching career. Not enough to make me qualified to open my stupid mouth about it, but more than any Texas Republican knows about it despite the large amount of foul-smelling opinion-gas they fill their speech balloons with in public.

One of these two people whose real names I will never utter was a confident and highly competent young lady whose sexual identity you could never doubt. I only knew about it because I was the teacher tasked with sitting in on her ARD meeting (a Special Education status update that she needed only because her situation qualified her as a Special Education student under the Emotionally Disturbed category.) She was at the meeting, so she knew that I knew. She would later warn me not to tell anybody, because it was no one else’s business what shape of genitals she was born with, and her hormone therapy and entire life experience made her a girl. Other teachers had leaked her secret in the past, and that was unfair to her. She was definitely a female in mind and personality. She was sweet, intelligent, witty, and capable of laughing at my classroom jokes… if they were funny. I suspect only a few if any of her classmates knew she was actually trans. She was all girl. I never told anyone. I never heard another student bad-mouth her. Although she did tell me that bad things had happened to her previously in elementary school. Nothing she was forced to endure was in any way deserved. And I am confident she is doing fine now.

The other trans student I was aware of, didn’t have it so good. I will call him a “he” because he never transitioned. But he was actually a girl. He had a penis, but it was only on the outside. His interior plumbing included a uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. His hormones were, judging by what puberty did to his body and behavior, mostly feminine. But he didn’t have the other girl’s advantages of being from a wealthier, big-city family with relevant health services available to him. He was a member of a poor, Hispanic family that lived in a small rural Texas town. He was not treated as a trans person. He was considered a homosexual. And Hispanic culture in South Texas is not kind to homosexuals. He had serious mental problems. He tried to talk to me about his problems late one Saturday night. But the conversation ended when he tried to proposition me, and I rejected his advances. I was not a homosexual either. Months later I found him crying in the hallway and bashing his forehead against a metal doorpost. I got help from the Reading teacher to get him to the nurse. He wasn’t in class very often after that. He did not pass any of his classes that year. And he didn’t come to school at all the next year. I heard rumors that he went to Laredo and became a drug dealer and a prostitute. I also heard from one of his relatives that he had attempted suicide more than once. At this point, I feel sadly certain that he never got the help he needed and is probably now dead.

I have now told you everything I actually know about the subject of trans people. And I can safely say I had no measureable effect on either one. I still cry about one of them. I still feel a small bit of pride about the other one. As a teacher I loved both of them, but not the kind of love he asked me for on that late Saturday night when I probably should not have opened the door to him. But I am not entitled to have an opinion. It is not my business no matter how much I care.

One of my favorite characters that I have used in multiple stories, Blueberry Bates, is a trans girl. How realistic she is as a character is probably still up in the air. I have revealed what I know about trans people that she is based on. But I love her, just as I loved the two of them. I think people like that are worthy of love and whatever you have to invest in them to be of help to them. I do not think they need to be legislated against. Their lives are hard enough as it is.

My glitchy computer published this before I got to write the conclusion. But having opinions is a matter of glitchiness anyway. And if you find you need to cancel me for my terrible opinions, you don’t need my permission to do it. I doubt you would even think about asking anyway. I hope I have made what I think clear. These are my writer’s opinions. And it is obvious from this essay that this is probably not the last one I will inflict on you.

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Filed under angry rant, autobiography, education, kids

Another “Oops!” School Story

Eating pencils when you are supposed to be writing something isn’t a recommended learning strategy, but is more useful in South Texas than having blue hair.

When I was a rookie teacher in the Spring of 1982, I had to take two busloads of eighth graders nearly a hundred miles to see the State Capitol in Austin for their annual 8th Grade Field Trip.

If you don’t see the potential for disaster in that, well, you are in for a tougher life going forward than the one I am about to complain about.

Anyway, it was an extra-warm sunny Texas day and we had an endless-hours journey in an un-air-conditioned bus with sixty kids and four teachers per bus. And I was the new teacher filled with sizzling rage from enduring eight months and fourteen days worth of get-the-new-teacher tricks by fourteen-and-fifteen-and-sixteen-year-old kids (I didn’t have to rage at the eighteen-year-olds on the field trip because the same things that kept them in the eighth grade until they were eligible for Medicare were the things that disqualified them from going on the field trip). And because the principal was convinced that you could prevent death by throwing things on a bus by having a teacher sitting near the perpetrator, or the potential target, the teachers had to spread out and sit with the kids. Of course, our bus had 59 perpetrators and one potential target (Tomasso, the kid nobody could stand). And the coaches got to sit by the vatos locos most likely to fling metal and hard food. I, of course, got Tomasso.

So, I sat for five hours on the way up to Austin practicing trying to kill apple-core tossers with my best teacher’s stink-eye while ducking gum wads, wrapper balls, and half-eaten Rice-Krispies Treats. And I was also listening to Tomasso’s endless weird questions and comments about penguins that made him the popular target. I got extra practice recognizing bad words in Spanish and resisting the urge to call them “pendejos” in return.

And we got to Austin tired, sweaty, and hungry because it took extra time in both San Antonio and San Marcos traffic, and we missed our lunch connection in a parking lot in central Austin. The kids were mostly not hungry. They were full of chips and hot Cheetos and other salty, unhealthy snack food. Instead of hunger, they were dying of thirst. And while the History teacher in charge of the trip and the coaches were consulting maps and trying to reach the lunch connection with a walkie talkie, I spotted a herd of students going over a wall into a nearby parking garage. I followed to see them walking over the hoods of parked cars to get to a fire hose that they were using as a watering hole.

We were, of course, unable to single out any individuals for punishment. They were dying of thirst, and it was a three-hundred-degree-in-the-sunshine parking lot where we were waiting.

We got to the Capitol and walked around, bored by the tour guide, and found the one entertaining fact about the Texas Capitol Building. Governor Hogg once had two daughters named Ima and Ura. Their pictures hang in an upstairs display case. Kids laughed and called them “pendejos”. Even the white kids.

Then, the way home took an additional seven hours. All of the coaches fell asleep on the way home, and I was the only teacher awake and standing between unpopular nerds and death by de-pantsing. I was told that somewhere in the middle of the writhing masses of eighth grade arms and legs and ultra-loud voices, a shy kid the teachers all liked lost his virginity to one of the more sexually aggressive girls while the other kids close enough to see in the general darkness watched. Was it true? When he got asked in the classroom, he just grinned.

I remember a lot of “Oops!” School Stories happening on field trips. I went on more than twenty of the big trips like that one, and I only remember a handful that went smoothly. But this one stands out in my memory because it was the first. And first experiences set the standard the rest are judged by. And I tell you this because, this time of year, if things were still like they used to be, and there was no pandemic, field trips to hell like that one would be going on for first-year teachers.

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Filed under autobiography, education, humor, kids, Paffooney, teaching, Texas

Pencil, Pencil, Pen, Pen, Pen…

Yes, students actually eat pencils in class.

My daughter forgot her pencil case in school over the weekend. Now, for normal students, this is no really big deal. But for the Princess, like it is for me as an amateur artist, the pencil case, with her colored pencils and pens in it, is one of the most necessary things for life.

Of course, we did not have an opportunity to go back to school for her pencils and pens. So, panicky, she texted her teacher whereupon the pencil case in question was found and put aside for her until early this morning. She then stole my pens and pencils for the weekend, depriving me and causing me to be the one with the anxiety disorder and heart palpitations.

Of course, pens and pencils were always a critical issue when I was a teacher for 31 years, plus two years as a substitute teacher. Unlike the Princess, students in an English classroom NEVER have a pen or a pencil to write with. I swear, I have seen them gnaw pencils to pieces like a hungry beaver or termite. And they chew on pens to the point that there is a sudden squishy noise in their mouth and they become members of the Black Teeth Club. (Or Blue Teeth Club for the more choosy sort of student.)

A piece of an actual classroom rules poster.

Having students in your class who actually have pencils and pens to learn with is a career-long battle. I tried providing pens for a quarter. I would by cheap bags of pens, ten for two dollars, and sell them to panicky writers and test takers with a quarter (and secretly free to some who really don’t have a quarter). I only used the pen money to buy more cheap pens. But that ran afoul of principals and school rules. A teacher can’t sell things in class without the district accountant giving approval and keeping sales tax records. Yes, the pencil pushers force teachers to give pens, pencils, and paper away for free. I finally settled -on a be-penning process of picking up leftover un-popped pens, half-eaten pencils, and the rare untouched writing instrument apparently lost the very instant the student sat down in his or her desk. These I would issue to moaning pencil-free students until the supply ran out (which it rarely ever did) at no cost to myself.

I also tried telling them repeatedly that they had to have a writing instrument, or they needed to beg, borrow, or steal one. And if they couldn’t do that, I’d tell them, “Well, you could always prick your finger and write in blood.” That was a joke I totally stopped using the instant a student did exactly what I said. A literalist, that one. And it turns out you can’t read an essay that a student writes in actual blood.

But, anyway… My daughter is safely in school now and no longer panicking because she has her precious pencil case back in her possession. And she probably will not ever make that same mistake again. (And she will probably not return my pens and pencils either.)

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Filed under humor, kids, Paffooney, pen and ink, self pity, teaching, Uncategorized

Another “Oops!” School Story

Eating pencils when you are supposed to be writing something isn’t a recommended learning strategy, but is more useful in South Texas than having blue hair.

When I was a rookie teacher in the Spring of 1982, I had to take two busloads of eighth graders nearly a hundred miles to see the State Capitol in Austin for their annual 8th Grade Field Trip.

If you don’t see the potential for disaster in that, well, you are in for a tougher life going forward than the one I am about to complain about.

Anyway, it was an extra-warm sunny Texas day and we had an endless-hours journey in an un-air-conditioned bus with sixty kids and four teachers per bus. And I was the new teacher filled with sizzling rage from enduring eight months and fourteen days worth of get-the-new-teacher tricks by fourteen-and-fifteen-and-sixteen-year-old kids (I didn’t have to rage at the eighteen-year-olds on the field trip because the same things that kept them in the eighth grade until they were eligible for Medicare were the things that disqualified them from going on the field trip). And because the principal was convinced that you could prevent death by throwing things on a bus by having a teacher sitting near the perpetrator, or the potential target, the teachers had to spread out and sit with the kids. Of course, our bus had 59 perpetrators and one potential target (Tomasso, the kid nobody could stand). And the coaches got to sit by the vatos locos most likely to fling metal and hard food. I, of course, got Tomasso.

So, I sat for five hours on the way up to Austin practicing trying to kill apple-core tossers with my best teacher’s stink-eye while ducking gum wads, wrapper balls, and half-eaten Rice-Krispies Treats. And I was also listening to Tomasso’s endless weird questions and comments about penguins that made him the popular target. I got extra practice recognizing bad words in Spanish and resisting the urge to call them “pendejos” in return.

And we got to Austin tired, sweaty, and hungry because it took extra time in both San Antonio and San Marcos traffic, and we missed our lunch connection in a parking lot in central Austin. The kids were mostly not hungry. They were full of chips and hot Cheetos and other salty, unhealthy snack food. Instead of hunger, they were dying of thirst. And while the History teacher in charge of the trip and the coaches were consulting maps and trying to reach the lunch connection with a walkie talkie, I spotted a herd of students going over a wall into a nearby parking garage. I followed to see them walking over the hoods of parked cars to get to a fire hose that they were using as a watering hole.

We were, of course, unable to single out any individuals for punishment. They were dying of thirst, and it was a three-hundred-degree-in-the-sunshine parking lot where we were waiting.

We got to the Capitol and walked around, bored by the tour guide, and found the one entertaining fact about the Texas Capitol Building. Governor Hogg once had two daughters named Ima and Ura. Their pictures hang in an upstairs display case. Kids laughed and called them “pendejos”. Even the white kids.

Then, the way home took an additional seven hours. All of the coaches fell asleep on the way home, and I was the only teacher awake and standing between unpopular nerds and death by de-pantsing. I was told that somewhere in the middle of the writhing masses of eighth grade arms and legs and ultra-loud voices, a shy kid the teachers all liked lost his virginity to one of the more sexually aggressive girls while the other kids close enough to see in the general darkness watched. Was it true? When he got asked in the classroom, he just grinned.

I remember a lot of “Oops!” School Stories happening on field trips. I went on more than twenty of the big trips like that one, and I only remember a handful that went smoothly. But this one stands out in my memory because it was the first. And first experiences set the standard the rest are judged by. And I tell you this because, this time of year, if things were still like they used to be, and there was no pandemic, field trips to hell like that one would be going on for first-year teachers.

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Filed under autobiography, education, humor, kids, Paffooney, teaching, Texas