Category Archives: teaching

Another Brick in the Wall

I sincerely hope I never appeared in any way to be like the teacher in the video of Pink Floyd’s rock opera The Wall.  That teacher represents everything wrong about education and everything that looms over us as a coming darkness if the conservative privatization movement continues to move forward with their evil sausage-factory plans.

20150305_083438

In the video you see the teacher making fun of a student for writing poetry instead of participating in the rote recitation about math that the class is engaged in.  The school is portrayed as a factory that puts masks on the students, makes them march in a line, and eventually pitch forward, face first into the sausage grinder.

The song was written by Pink Floyd’s bassist, Roger Waters. It was written in the long ago 70’s as a protest against rigid education systems in general, and British boarding schools in particular.  But old problems can come back to haunt us.

Here’s the evil being protested.  Schools should never be used to suppress creative thinking and enforce conformity.  While it is true corporate America is hot for education that treats educating students like baking bricks, with attention to precise shapes and uniform size and color, that is not how kids learn.  They have to be treasured for what they are, unique individuals, no two alike, and all possessed of varied strengths, skills, and talents.  The idea of education is to help them add to what they are born with, use what they are born with, and fit into the jigsaw puzzle of working with and getting along with others.  We cannot teach them by pressing them into molds with standardized high-stakes tests, or taking their individual faces away by always trudging through the same low level thinking skills year after year just because a textbook written in conservative Texas says so.  Learning in the classroom needs to be through guided discussions, activities, and interactions.  Not through filling in all the blanks on a worksheet.

My own children, for the most part, have been cheated by the public education system in Texas.  They are bright kids, but have humongous school troubles stalking them like monsters, boredom, disengagement, and feeling like the young poet betrayed by the teacher in the video.  While I always, in my teaching, fought to creatively present learning opportunities, I found good teaching to be a rare thing in Texas.  It was sometimes actively discouraged.  And it is getting rarer.  The people who think teaching English means diagramming sentences and circling the adverbs are winning the battle for young minds.  I am left at a point of futility where the only thing I can do about the brick-making is write rants like this one about it.

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos should be pleased with themselves.  The sausage factories in our schools are turning out sausages.  Sausages don’t think for themselves.  Sausages are easy to control.  And when the time comes, some corporate fat cat will eat them and become fatter (hopefully only in the metaphorical sense).  And I am guessing here, but I’ll bet sausages make up most of the Republican voting public.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under angry rant, commentary, education, feeling sorry for myself, rants, red States, teaching

Reading Other Writers

20180103_073738

Nobody who wants to be a writer gets by with just writing and never reading anything by anybody else.  It is too easy to devolve into some kind of human mushroom that way, thinking only thoughts a mushroom could think, all fungus-like and having no chlorophyll of their own.  You never learn to decode other people and other people’s thinking if you don’t read other people’s thoughts crystallized in writing.

And not every other writer is Robert Frost.  Or even Jack Frost who thinks he’s  Gene Kelly.  There has to be some interpretation, some digging for understanding.  What did that writer mean when she said political correctness was like a tongue disease?  And what does it mean when a commenting troll calls me a nekkid poofter?  Is that how he spells “exceptional genius”?  I think it is.  Trolls are not smart.

20180103_082315

I know people have to make an effort to understand me.  When I write, I am writing under the delusion that I can produce literary quality off the top of my head.  In fact, I can barely produce hair off the top of my head, and it is gray when I do it.   See what I did there?  It is the kind of joke a surrealist makes, pretending the idiomatic expression you use is to be taken literally when it doesn’t literally make sense.  That kind of nonsense is what my readers have to put up with, and probably also the reason why most of them just look at the pictures.  If you have to think too hard when you read, your brain could over-heat and your hair could catch fire.  I like that kind of purple paisley prose that folds back in on itself and makes you think in curlicues.  But most people don’t.  Most people don’t have fire-proof hair like I do.

20180103_082404 Of course, there is the opposite problem too.  Some writers are not hard to understand at all.  They only use simple sentences.  They only use ideas that lots of other people have used before.  You don’t have to think about what they write.  You only need to react.  They are the reasons that words like “trite”, “hackneyed”, “boring”, and “cliche” exist in English.  But simple, boring writing isn’t written by stupid people.  Hemingway is like that.  Pared down to the basics.  No frills.  Yet able to yield complex thoughts, insights, and relationships.

20180103_082341

Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a word to make the point.  For instance, why, in the picture, is Fluttershy trying to drink out of the toilet in the dollhouse bathroom?  For that matter, why does a doll house even need a bathroom?  Applejack doesn’t even fit in that yellow bathtub.  I know.  I tried to stuff her in there for this picture.  And, as you read this, doesn’t this paragraph tell you a lot about me that you probably didn’t even want to know?

20180103_082248

When I am reading the writing of others, I am looking for a cornucopia of things.  I want to not only understand their ideas, I want to detect the limping footprints across the murder scene of their paragraphs and come to know the deeper things about them as well.  I spent years decoding and trying to understand the writing of preliterate kids in my middle school English classes in order to be able to teach them to write better.   And I learned that no writer is a bad writer as long as they are using readable words.  I also learned that very few writers are James Joyce or Marcel Proust.  Thank God for that!  And given enough time I can read anything by anybody and learn something from it. I read a lot.  And it may not always make me a better writer to read it, but it always has value.  It is always worth doing.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, education, goofy thoughts, humor, irony, photo paffoonies, photos, reading, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism, teaching, wordplay, writing, writing teacher

Teachers in Space

This is another in my continuing series of Saturday night D&D posts, though it was written on Saturday morning and contains no Dungeons and Dragons information whatsoever.

gaijin123456789

The Space Bear was a travelling space ship/school.

You see, in the early 1980’s, I got in trouble with Baptists for playing Dungeons and Dragons with kids from school because… well, demons and dragons are evil, right?  Apparently even the imaginary ones in games and illustrations. So I turned my attention to science fiction games.  Traveller was my rule system, and all science fiction was my campaign.  And then in 1986 Ronald Reagan and NASA decided to blow up the first teacher in space aboard the Challenger shuttle mission.  So, my Traveller game became less about “explore and conquer” and more about “teachers in space”.

gaijin1234aGed Aero was the player character of one of my favorite kids.  He was a psionic shape-changer who could transform into other animals, space creatures, and alien beings.  He became so powerful that he naturally inherited the job of leader of the Psionics Institute, a criminal teachers’ union that taught psionic skills to psionically talented kids. It was a criminal organization because the semi-fascist government of the Third Imperium had made psionics illegal.  He gathered students and taught them to use their powers for good.  The students were all non-player characters to start with, but as new kids from school wanted to play the game too, and player characters were needed, the students of Ged’s psionics dojo became player characters.

Junior Aero, a former student and the adopted son of Ged’s deceased brother Hamfast, grew up and became a player character himself. He taught psionics, being a telepath who could talk to computers and robots that were self-aware.  His wife, Sarah Smith Aero, also became a teacher.  She and Junior had twins, a boy and a girl, both genetically Nebulons, and both destined to be students aboard the Space Bear.

aerox12

Of course, you may have noticed a K’ung Fu sort of thing going on in the illustrations I am showing you.  That was because one time as Ged was in dinosaur form and fighting with a ninja swordmaster, he won the fight by eating the ninja.  His shape-changing power then absorbed all the muscle memories and martial arts training of the ninja he ate.  So, his students would not only become psionic masters of mind manipulations, but ninja warriors as well.

 

So, whether they liked it or not, my Traveller players had to learn to teach their skills to others, lead students through complex adventures and problem=solving situations, and basically do themselves a lot of the same things they saw me doing in school all as part of a role-playing game.  You see, that was one of the main dangers of playing role-playing games on Saturdays with that kooky English teacher in South Texas. The danger was, you might actually have to learn something.  Although, most of them probably didn’t realize that that was precisely what they were doing.  They thought we were just playing games, or junk like that.

Leave a comment

Filed under characters, Dungeons and Dragons, education, high school, humor, imagination, kids, Paffooney, science fiction, teaching

Wielding the Big Pencil

20150807_135323

The guy holding the big pencil used to be me.   I know you are thinking, “But, Mickey, you are not a rabbit!”  Well, that’s true, but it is also true that the whole thing is a metaphor, and metaphorically I was always Reluctant Rabbit, pedagogue… teacher… the holder of the big pencil.  It is a writing teacher thing.  The best way to teach kids to write is to have them write.  And the best way to show them what you mean when you tell them to write is to write yourself.  You learn to read better by reading a lot.  You learn to write better by writing a lot, reading what you wrote, and reading what other people wrote, especially if those other people were holding the big pencil in front of the class.

blue-and-mike-in-color

I was recently reminded by people who know me that once I held the big pencil in the front of the class.  They both asked me, “Really?  You were a teacher?”

I suppose it is hard to believe when once you’ve gotten to know me, at least a little bit.  I don’t strike people as the sour-faced, anal-retentive English-teacher type.  I smile and laugh too much for that.  They can’t believe that someone like me could ever teach.

But over the years, I got rather good at holding the big pencil.  I learned, first of all, that anyone can be a good teacher.  You only have to be competent in the subject area you are trying to teach, and open to learning something new about teaching every single day for the rest of your life.

skoolgurlz

Here’s something you have to learn about teaching to be any good at it; Discipline is not about making kids behave.  You can shout, stamp your feet, and hit them with a ruler and you will never get them to do what you want to them do.  It has to be about limiting the choices they have for what they will do.  Yes, one of those choices is to be removed from the classroom to go have fun sitting in the uncomfortable chair next to the assistant principal in charge of discipline’s desk, but the good teacher knows you should emphasize that they can either sit like a lump and imitate a rock, or they can participate in the activities presented.  And in my classroom, activities led to jokes and laughing and trying new stuff… some of it hard, but most of it easy.  Kids don’t end up having a hard time making the right choice.

Cool School Blue

Here’s something else you absolutely have to learn to be any good at it;  You have to like kids.  Not just the well-behaved teacher-pleasers, but also the class clown who’s too smart to sit still for stuff he already knows, the shrinking violet who is a wonderfully complex well of deep thoughts who is only a little bit too scared to actually speak in class and share her thoughts, and the dark snarky demon who is quietly plotting the next outburst that will make your life a living hell so he or she can spend time with their old and dear friend, the chair in the assistant principal’s office.  If you don’t like them, you can’t teach them, and driving dynamite trucks in war zones is an easier job.  It pays better too.

I often try to picture Donald Trump teaching English to seventh graders.  What a slapstick comedy that would be.  The man doesn’t know anything.  He is always angry.  And he hates everybody except his daughter Ivanka.  My fourth period class wouldn’t merely eat him alive, they would skeletonize him faster than a school of piranhas could ever hope to match.  And it might be entertaining to watch (assuming it was metaphorical, not literal).

And I sincerely wish I could hold the big pencil in front of class again.  It was the act that defined who I was and what purpose I had in life.  But it isn’t gone since I was forced by ill health to retire.  I held the big pencil for over two thousand students in the course of thirty-one years.  And I will always hold the big pencil in their memories of it.  It is a sort of immortality for teachers.

goopafootootoo

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, autobiography, humor, metaphor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, writing teacher

Dr. Teeth

dr-teeth-and-the-electric-mayhem-the-muppets

Today I had to take my daughter to the dentist before dropping her off at school.  A simple teeth cleaning and an exam for future tooth work they are recommending resulted in a fifty dollar charge.  I could pay for it, but it comes out of the monthly food budget.  And I have no idea where the three times that amount that the future tooth work will cost is going to come from.  Let alone the property tax due at the end of the year which is now three times what it was in 2006.  I have lost control over my life because of increasing expenses and decreasing income.  And it makes me lament, “Why can’t I control ANYTHING?”

Animal-The-Muppets

You would think that having been a teacher for so many years I would know how to control practically everything, right?  I mean, if a teacher can control the ultimate chaos engines of the average junior high school classroom, he ought to be able control anything… while doing nuclear physics on the side.

DrteethMAHBut that, of course, is not how it works in real life… even without the nuclear physics which was an exaggeration for humorous effect.

The secret is, a good teacher doesn’t control the behavior of students.  The teacher manages behavior by adjusting what he is in control of, his own reactions and behavior.

To make a metaphor, it is like juggling handfuls of sand.  They will slip between your fingers, bounce, and fly apart completely before the first revolution is complete.  But if you are smart, and have a small ceramic bowl in each hand, and a convenient big bowl of sand to dip into for new handfuls, you can throw and catch and guide the handfuls of sand through their amazing performance, at least three handfuls.  Maybe as many as seven, though that would take some really fast hands and years of practice.

ElectricMayhemWithClifford

The point is, I think in my stupid little head, that I should not be trying to control the chaos my life has become.  The art is to manage the opposing forces, guide them back into the over-all flow of it, and prevent any single thing from overwhelming me, interrupting or wrecking the music of existence.

So the lesson here is, even though this post started out being about dentists and cost control, that I can’t control anything in life but myself.  So I might as well keep playing my figurative banjo and get into a figurative Studebaker with figurative Fozzie just to see where the road song will take me.  I will play the music and try to keep it all in tune and following the beat, no matter how many wrong turns and hitchhikers happen along the way.

2 Comments

Filed under commentary, education, humor, metaphor, music, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Drawing on Possibilities

C360_2017-09-16-09-19-32-640

I am seriously working on adding videos of me using a dry-erase board to teach goofy stuff that I like to teach.

I am really looking forward to that.  People listen to stuff better than they read stuff.  It just means I have to learn how to use technology more than I did in the classroom.

Leave a comment

Filed under announcement, goofy thoughts, teaching

Mickey and the Mother of Invention

Cool title, right?  No? It needs a lot of further explanation?  All right, here goes.

DIlY5AEXkAQhKmw

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist of creating out of void, but out of chaos”—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Whether you prefer the stealer of Tesla inventions or the author of Frankenstein for invention quotes, you have to admit they are both right.  Those of us who think creatively try with all our might and mind to take the wreckage life has given us and make something new.  Preferably we make something that is good for us and improves our situation.  But sometimes it turns out that it only makes matters worse and creates monsters of the mind.

Buster 3

When I was ten, I was sexually assaulted by a neighbor boy who was older and stronger and decidedly crueler than me.  It split my world into pieces.  I retreated into fantasy worlds and lived in my imagination far more than the real world.  The monster in my memory was locked away in a tightly sealed forget-me box.  I repressed the memory successfully until I was twenty-two.  My creativity and inventiveness turned to fantasy art and fanciful fiction.  I worked at having a good sense of humor, being a tough athlete on the high school football field, and trying to force people to accept me as the brainiac weird kid who always knew the answers in science class and could do practically anything except successfully talk to girls.

Surprisingly my greatest invention would turn out to be me.  I reinvented myself.

I would’ve never believed when I was young that I was made to be a teacher.  I lived inside my own head.  How could I be a teacher and control a classroom and make people listen to the various shards of nonsense that I was completely full of?  But, through gradual problem-solving, I learned to be an effective public speaker.  I learned how to be an engaging presenter.  I did a few magic tricks.  I told more than a few jokes.  Some of them were even funny.  I learned how to put ideas in front of children in visual displays and organization charts.  I learned how to teach people to read.  And more than that, I learned how to teach people to learn.

I honestly don’t think I would’ve learned to do all of that if my childhood psyche hadn’t been broken and hidden away in brain boxes when I was ten.  I might still have been an artist.  But not the teacher and story-teller I ultimately became.  Without the mountain to climb, a boy can never become a mountain-climber.  Without a star to see and study, he can never be an astrophysicist.  And without a brain filled with broken brain bits, a man can never learn how to put himself back together again, let alone teach others how to do it.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men are no help with this endeavor.

faerytales

Have I now explained my terribly tilted title?  Does this help you see how I have sung the songs taught to me by the Mother of Invention?  Probably not.  I am a rather dense little goof and the work of making me into me is not yet finished.  I crashed and burned again a couple of years ago when I had to retire from teaching.  I had to invent myself again as something new.  I am certainly not done hitting the metal work with a big black hammer.  But, perhaps, you can see the tool-marks on this blog and learn something from it too.

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, colored pencil, humor, imagination, insight, mental health, Paffooney, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching