Category Archives: teaching

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

Spinning Wheels of Thought

Picture borrowed from; https://www.townsends.us/products/colonial-spinning-wheel-sp378-p-874

I start today with nothing in my head to write about. I guess I can say that with regularity most days of the writing week. Sundays in particular are filled with no useful ideas of any kind. But I have a certain talent for spinning. As Rumpelstiltskin had a talent for spinning straw into gold, I take the simple threads of ideas leaking out of my ears and spin them into yarns that become whole stories-full of something to say. And it is not something out of mere nothing. There is magic in spinning wheels. They take something ordinary and incomplete, and turn it into substantial threads useful for further weaving.

Of course the spinning wheel is just a metaphor here for the craft of writing. And it is a craft, requiring definable skills that go well beyond merely knowing some words and how to spell them.

My own original illustration.

The first skill is, of course, idea generation. You have to come up with the central notion to concoct the potion. In this case today, that is, of course, the metaphor of using the writing process as a spinning wheel for turning straw into gold. But once that is wound onto the spindle, you begin to spin yarn only if you follow the correct procedure. Structuring the essay or story is the next critical skill.

Since this is a didactic essay about the writing process I opened it with a strong lead that defined the purpose of the essay and explained the central metaphor. Then I proceeded to break down the basic skills for writing an essay with orderly explanations of them, laced with distracting images to keep you from dying of boredom while reading this, a very real danger that may actually have killed a large number of the students in my writing classes over the years (although they still appeared to be alive on the outside).

My mother’s spinning wheel, used to make threads for use in porcelain doll-making, and as a prop for displaying dolls.

As I proceed through the essay, I am stopping constantly to revise and edit, makeing sure to correct errors and grammar, as well as spending fifteen minutes searching for the picture of my mother’s spinning wheel used directly above. Notice, too, I deliberately left the spelling-error typo of “making” to emphasize the idea that revising and proof-reading are two different things that often occur at the same time, though they are very different skills.

And as I reach the conclusion, it may be obvious that my spinning wheel of thought today spun out some pure gold. Or, more likely, it may have spun out useless and boring drehk. Or boring average stuff. But I used the spinning wheel correctly regardless of your opinion of the sparkle of my gold.

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Filed under humor, insight, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, Uncategorized, writing, writing teacher

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

The Education of Poppensparkle… Canto 2

Canto 2 – Aargh!  Teachers!

The sunroom was built into the hollow in the heights of the willow tree, almost at the level of the tallest tower.  A Fairy-glass ceiling let the yellow-green sunlight in and kept the snow and rain out.  The walls were covered in elaborate cross-stitch tapestries depicting famous moments in Tellosian history like the death of the former Erlking, Wotan, the killing of the evil dragon Darvon Redsoul by the Mouse from Cornucopia, and the final battle of the Gingerbread War.

“So, this is the new student I am saddled with.  The last time we crossed paths, she tried to take over my body using the soul of that horrid Necromancer.  The first mistake she makes, she gets executed.  I’ll add her head to the collection of my worst enemies.”  The booming voice, of course, was her new master, Pippen, the High Wizard of Tellosia.

“Master, you must be patient with her.  The White Stag will be mad if you cut her head off for a flimsy excuse.  Besides, she was given to you as an apprentice because she possesses great potential power, and the Stag will remind you of the lesson Eli Tragedy taught you the hard way; No student ever learned anything after their head was chopped off.”  Tod was on her side, at least.  But it didn’t escape her notice that in Zauberin, his name literally meant “Death.”

“She’s a pretty little one.  I promise to keep her in line and make her behave,” said the beautiful adult Butterfly Child, obviously the one named Glittershine.

“I don’t understand why I have to put up with such nonsense.  Before the White Stag filled in as interim Erlking, I was doing fine administering this kingdom for him.”

“Yes, but taking too much responsibility into your own hands is the reason he wants to relieve you of some of your burdens.”  Tod was very diplomatic.  That was a particularly oily way to tell the burly, golden-haired wizard that he was becoming too much of a hated tyrant.  But he did it with such practiced mastery.

The fifth person in the room was Prinz Flute.  He was Pippen’s own half-faun son and  really quite handsome.  He was, however, much older than he looked.  

He was the size and shape of an eleven-year-old Fairy boy, even though Poppy knew he had to be at least twice her age, and she was sixteen-Fairy-years old.

Flute had been silent for the initial round of complaints and soothing, placating lies to answer those complaints.  He had merely been watching Poppy intently.

“Are you going to undertake actually teaching this girl magic?” Flute now asked.

“What?  Well… I guess I must.  At least long enough to accuse her of something worth executing her for.”

“Have you tested the girl with the Magical Drassylic Script Test?”

“Oh, right.  Magic reading.  That will prove if she’s worthy to continue to live or not.”

Flute moved to a desk piled high with magical scrolls.  He plucked one out of the pile and handed it to Poppy.

“Please read that aloud, what it actually says, not whatever might be whispered to you from the background.”

Poppy unrolled the scroll, looked at the squiggly-lined gibberish it contained, and almost instantly began to read and understand.

“The fool transcribing this document is using a magical cheat to understand it, and so he is writing down what he thinks it means, The beginnings of the deep language begin with the elvish, Quenyan, but the truly deepest of the deep comes from the Draconic Drassyl…

“Enough!  That is not what it says!  I transcribed that myself.  I…”

Flute interrupted Pippen before the anger caused his blond hair to turn to flames.  He took the scroll from Poppy and handed it to Glimmershine.

“Did she not read it correctly?” Flute asked.

“Oh, my.  She did indeed read the correct Drassylic, not the Quenyan cheat text.”  Glimmershine blanched as she looked at Pippen after testifying to the reveal.

“Father, this magic student is beyond the capabilities of most to teach.  I am personally impressed by the depth of her understanding.  And to thoroughly teach her, I believe it will take a group effort.”

“A group effort?”  Pippen seemed stunned.

“Yes.  Tod can teach her the ways of the royal court.  Glittershine and I can take care of the routine teaching of magic skills, and we will come to you with matters that require such great skill that only you can handle the teaching of it.”

“Yes, that plan makes sense… Are you sure we shouldn’t just cut off her head?  You know, to be on the safe side…?”

“Oh, no… this one is a rare talent.  You cannot imagine how upset the White Stag will be if we don’t develop her skills to our maximum benefit.”

“Well, okay… But you and Glittershine will be doing the most work.  And you will hardly need me at all for the first year…”

“And that’s just how the White Stag wants it.  You remember… you have too many responsibilities and you must concentrate on where your skills are needed most.  Not… you know… wasting them.”

“Yes, I see that now.”  Apparently satisfied at last, he took the Drassylic Test Scroll from Glittershine and walked out of the sunroom looking at it and muttering to himself.

Tod was immediately kneeling before Prinz Flute.  “Oh, my Prinz, you have saved both Poppy and me.  How can I repay you?”

“By doing exactly the education plan I outlined to my father.”

“But that means you will be teaching Poppensparkle when you should be doing magical research for the White Stag.  Won’t that cause you problems of your own?”

“You don’t know what my research is all about, do you?”

“No, I guess not.”

“And believe me, I have not failed to notice how attractive this young Fairy is.  My interest in the education of this one is not only about the good of the people.”

Poppy began blushing at that.  Flute looked to be several years younger than her, and yet, she knew he was actually several years older than she was.  He was definitely not unattractive himself.  But it would be weird. Interesting… but weird.

Prinz Flute

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Filed under fairies, humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, teaching

Retirement Sinks In…

There comes a time in every career when the career is over and it has to end.  I spent 310 years teaching in Middle School and High School and loved every minute of it.  (Okay, divide the years by ten and subtract about twelve thousand minutes from the love… but I did love it.)  And I was good at it.  (At least, in my own confused little mind… I have photographic proof that I did help students get some quality sleep time in, but… hey, English is supposed to be boring.)

wonderful teaching

Eight years ago I was forced to make the decision to leave the job I loved.  Failing health and failing finances made it increasingly hard to do the job.  I was never a sit-behind-the-desk teacher.  I had to do the dance… up this row, down that one… lean over the spit-wad shooter before he could adequately aim and pull the stray cafeteria straw out of his mouth… suggest the verb needs to have an “s” on it if the subject of the sentence the student just wrote for me is singular…  stand in front of the boy who can’t listen to my wonderful teaching because the girl across the room is wearing a dress and I have to block his view… and he doesn’t even like that girl, but she’s wearing a dress… you can see her legs… and he’s a teenager… you know, the dance of teaching.  When you walk with a cane and have a back brace on every single work day, the dance becomes harder and harder as the year wears on.  I got to spend my days with Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut and Maya Angelou and Robert Frost… and even more important I got to spend my days with Pablo and Sofie and Ruben and Rita and Keith…  I had so many more favorite students than I ever had those black-banes-of-a-teacher’s-existence kids that other teachers were always talking about in the faculty lounge.  (I rarely hung out in the faculty lounge because they tended to talk bad about kids I really loved and enjoyed teaching… and besides, I had crap to actually do before the next class came in.  Lounging was rarely an option.)

I confess that I have spent a good deal of this school year depressed and feeling sorry for myself.  No kids to talk to on a daily basis except my own, and even with them, only after school or work.  My wife is still teaching… so I rarely see her.  (Am I married?  I need to double-check.)  I fill the lonely hours with writing and story-telling and recollections of days past… and I am beginning to come to terms with my loss.  In retirement I can do more of the things that I always wanted to do… but never had time for.  I can draw and paint and write and sing (pray hard I don’t start posting videos of me singing!) and play with my toys… I have even decided to write a novel about people playing with toys.  Would I ever teach again if suddenly I was healthy and could do it again…?  YOU BETTER BELIEVE I WOULD!  In fact, I was able to be a substitute teacher again from the Fall of 2019 to the start of the pandemic in 2020.  IF ONLY IT COULD’VE LASTED A LITTLE BIT LONGER!

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Recovering from Chaos

I was forced to retire from my career as a teacher by ill health, caused by years of juggling the chaos of a classroom (24 years of it in the middle-school monkey house. Aargh! Seventh graders!) I went into a school in 1981 as a rookie teacher for $11,000 a year. I was expected to take over a class that chased the previous teacher out of teaching permanently with firecrackers under her chair and nearly destroyed the school. The principal and half the teachers were new that year at Frank Newman Junior High. And I was on my own with discipline that year as everybody was scrambling to do their own jobs. The other English teacher was also a rookie.

As a group, we organized an effective faculty. Most of us were there for years as we stabilized the chaos. I personally broke up more than 35 fist fights in my teaching career, more than half of them at that middle school, and more than half of those by myself. I got punched in the back of the head twice, faced down a kid with actual razor-sharp throwing stars as a concealed weapon, and had my car tires slashed twice and car window broken once all because I was a teacher who wanted them to learn how to read and write better.

I built the English department, writing curriculum for three different grade levels to respond to three different State Tests. I was the department head for eight years, in charge of the gifted and talented program, and I helped us achieve a commendation for writing skills on the TAAS Test in the late 90’s. Of course, what I built was torn down and rebuilt more than twice because, well, Education is all about managing chaos.

A typical Texas school bus.

People often say that teachers don”t really earn their pay.because all they do is talk to kids all day and then get three months off in the summer. But I never heard a fellow teacher make that claim.

So, now I am retired, working hard at just staying alive. Retirement is supposed to be a quiet, calm, and restful time of life. But in my now-going-on eight year retirement, I have had a heart problem complete with a week in the hospital with no diagnosis, a five-year Chapter Thirteen Bankruptcy which I finished paying off in November of 2021, a two-year-going-on-three-year Covid 19 pandemic, the loss of both of my parents (neither one because of the pandemic,) and now, a war in Ukraine that could turn into nuclear Armageddon.

So, what am I supposed to do to recover from the chaos?

Maybe stuff hollyhocks in my checkerboard baggy pants. Or maybe just be satisfied with fictional worlds and living in my head.

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Filed under angry rant, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Boo Boo Testing

Blue and Mike in color

I miss being a teacher.  But even if I was suddenly healthy enough again to return to the classroom, I would have to think twice… or three times… or twelve times about it.  I know excellent teachers who are being driven out of the education field by the demands of the job in the current educational whirlpool of death and depression.  My own children are very bright and capable, but they face State of Texas mandated tests this next couple of weeks because that’s what we do in Texas, test kids and test kids and test them some more.  If we don’t stress them out and make them fail on the first round of testing, there will be at least two more to get the job done.  And believe me, the real reason for all the testing is to make kids fail.  It sounds harsh, and like one of my loony conspiracy theories, but the Republican legislature of this State has discussed in earnest how test results prove our schools are failing, and how we must certainly need to fund more private schools and schools for profit, and stop teaching kids on the taxpayer’s dime (although they don’t really care about my dimes, only the dimes of millionaires and billionaires which we have more of in Texas than we have ever had before).  Of course, these private schools they speak of will be for the children of well-to-do families, particularly white Anglo-Saxon protestant families.  Public schools will be okay for everyone else, preferably built next to for-profit prisons where the public-school kids will move after graduation.

in the wild

Arts and humanities-type class offerings are becoming increasingly rare.  We don’t teach them to be creative any more.  We have to focus on core subjects, Reading, Writing, History, Science, and Math.  And not the high-level stuff in any of those areas, either.  We test them on the minimum competency stuff.  But we make it harder every year.  Back in the 80’s it started when Governor Mark White let H. Ross Perot spearhead a school-reform drive that began with idiot-tests for teachers.  The Mad Dwarf of Dallas was convinced that the biggest problem with Texas Education was incompetent teachers.  But we didn’t test them on classroom management skills, or skill at motivating young learners.  We took basic English tests where the teachers weeded out were mostly black and Hispanic.  I helped one very gifted Science teacher pass the test which she nearly failed three times (the limit before contract non-renewal) since she was taking her teacher test in her second language, not her first.  When they finally got it through their heads they were only weeding out the good teachers with test anxiety, they changed the tests to make them harder.  They stopped giving life-time teaching certificates and made you prove that you were not an idiot every five years.

Teacher

It was Governor George W. Bush (a Forest Gump clone with DNA mixed in from Bullwinkle the Moose and Elmer Fudd) who decided that teachers needed to be weeded by demanding that their students perform to a certain level on standardized State tests.  If you watched the John Oliver video, you have a clear idea already of the value of that.  We worked hard for a number of years to do better on the alphabet tests.  The TAAS test became passable by most of the State, including the poorer districts, and so they replaced it with the TAKS test, a criterion-referenced test that they could provide all new and harder questions for every single year.  I sat on a test review board for two years as the representative of the Cotulla District in South Texas.  I got to see some of the horrendously difficult question before they were asked.  There were very real cultural discriminations among those questions.  Why should a Hispanic child in South Texas be required to know what “galoshes” are?  And when teachers began teaching to the tests well enough to get a majority of students passing, Emperor Rick Perry, the permanent Governor of Texas after Bush, decreed we needed STAAR Tests that students had to pass in order to graduate to the next grade level.  And, of course, we had to make them harder.

sweet thing

When I started teaching exclusively ESL kids in high school (English as a Second Language) that special population was mostly exempt from taking the alphabet tests.  After all, it takes at least five years to gain proficiency in a second language even for the brightest among us, and all of those students had less than five years of practice speaking English or they weren’t qualified for the program.  But scores on the TAKS and then STAAR tests were generally too high.  So ESL and Special Education Students were required to take them too.  And, although the passing standards were lower for ESL students than they were for regular students, the passing standards were ratcheted up every single year.  And we eventually did worse than the expectation.  Our ESL Department got a lot of the blame for Naaman Forest High School in Garland, Texas losing its perennial recognized school status.  (We got the blame even though our scores were high enough to be rated exemplary on the sliding scale… it was actually the low socio-economic students in Math that lost us our yearly recognition… just so you know.)  The paperwork nightmares I had to fill out for our ESL Department were one of the reasons my health got so bad I had to retire.  Healthy teachers can’t take it any more either.  We are looking at a crisis in Education in Texas.  Teacher shortages in Math and Science are already apocalyptic.  We are intentionally doing away with Art, Band, Chorus, and other artsy-craftsy things… things that are good for the brain and the self-esteem and the creative problem-solving abilities of students.  Teaching has become a nightmare.

I hope you will take me seriously over my conspiracy-theories and lunatic teacher complaints.  I have been told too often that you can’t solve education’s problems by throwing money at it (though I do not remember the time they speak of when money was actually flying through the air).  I have been told too often that teaching isn’t a real job.  You just sit around all day and talk to kids and you have the summers off.  How hard can that be?  And I have been told too many times that Johnny can’t read, and it is apparently my fault as a Reading teacher… it can’t be anything politicians have done, right?  It certainly isn’t anything that politicians have done right!

God help me, in spite of all that, I really miss being a teacher.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, pessimism, teaching, Texas, Uncategorized

Those Were the Days

FrontPagePhoto1Cotulla,_TX_Historic_District_sign_IMG_7715_1_1_1

Pictures from picturehistory.comwww.edb.utexas.edutexasescapes.com, and lbjmuseum.com

My personal history as a school teacher begins in the 1981-82 school year in a little town in South Texas called Cotulla.  Without realizing it, I was following in the footsteps of former U.S. President LBJ.  Really!  It’s true!  To prove it, here is a picture from the LBJ Museum showing the big-eared, jug-headed goofball with his class of Mexican American Cotullans.

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His class looked a lot like my first class, only a lot smaller.  I was hired by the new junior high principal to be the 8th-Grade English teacher for Frank Newman Junior High.  The school had basically imploded the year before.  Gus the janitor told me that the previous principal had been robbed several times, with kids breaking into the main office in the middle of the building during the middle of the night.  They even broke open the safe.  Some of the same kids I was supposed to teach had been arrested for assault the previous year, and some of the kids were caught making babies in the school cafeteria.  I went into the same classroom that the previous year’s seventh grade class had used to drive poor Miss Finklebine out of teaching for life.  They had set off firecrackers under her chair.  They threw erasers and chalk at each other.  They almost got away with murder…  In fact, they may have gotten away with it.  Miss F was never heard from again, and I found a very long list of self-destructive rantings (in the form of discipline reports that had apparently never been turned in) in her desk that threatened the lives of several students whom I knew for certain had survived because they were in my eighth grade classes that year.  I don’t think they tracked her down and got her… but what they did to that poor woman’s mind may have pushed her over the edge.  I had a tough year that year.  The two boys who threatened to beat me to death with a fence post they picked up when I was marching kids in a line to the cafeteria, El Mouse and El Talan, both went to prison within five years of being in my class.  Both of them are now deceased.  El Mouse by suicide after the Texas Syndicate wrecked him in prison, and Talan was shot and killed by a rival drug dealer while his wife and family looked on.  I hope you are not laughing at the moment.  I do often exaggerate for humorous effect… but that is not what I am doing here.

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Cotulla was once a wild west town, probably worse than anything Hollywood ever put up on the silver screen.  Former Mayor and descendant of the town’s founder, Bill Cotulla, once told me that they had six-gun shoot-outs on Front Street in the 1880’s.  I met Mr. Van Cleve the former Texas Ranger whose picture is in the Waco Texas Rangers’ Hall of Fame because of the border machine-gun shoot-out in the 1940’s.  In fact, I taught English to his grandson.  The school, just like the town, was a tamable thing.  I spent the next 23 years of my life there teaching mostly Spanish-speaking kids about the wonders of English, literature, and writing.  I saw the school go from a rough-and-tumble wild beginning into a program that routinely out-performed other small schools our size in everything but Math.

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I know that you may find this part difficult to swallow… in the same way a goat has never managed to swallow an entire school bus… but my fiction books about school kids in Iowa are really mostly about characters I knew and taught in Cotulla, Texas and only slightly merged with the white-bread Iowegians I grew up with in Rowan, Iowa.  Texas and Iowa have more in common than you might think…  Me, for one thing.

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Filed under autobiography, Cotulla, teaching, Wild West

Cranky Old Coots Complain and Don’t Care

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Yes, I am a coot.  I became a coot in 2014 when I retired. I have the hair in the ears to prove it.  I sometimes forget to wear pants.  The dog is learning to hide from me on days when my arthritis makes me cranky.

So I am a practicer of the ancient art of being a cranky old coot.  I have opinions.  I share them with others foolishly. And I am summarily told to, “Shut up, you danged old coot!”  And, of course, I don’t shut up because that would be a violation of number five in the by-laws of cootism.  Obnoxiousness is our only reason for still being alive.

Lately, my group of coots on Facebook (who call themselves a “pack” like wolves, but, in truth, a group of coots is called an “idiocy”) are talking about politics… very loudly salted with firmly held opinions, beliefs, and bad words in several languages.  I mean, it’s texting each other on memes we disagree about, but we do it LOUDLY, like that, in all caps.  We also do it in such an infuriating manner because, if no one ever bothers to tell us to “Shut the hell up!”  we will begin to suspect we have actually died and gone to purgatory where we are still being obnoxious, but nobody knows we are doing it.  That is rubbing coot fur in the wrong direction.

The radical right (otherwise known as coot paradise) have been cooting up a storm about school shootings and gun control of late.  They have more or less turned their ire on me because, knowing I was a school teacher, they have seized on the Coot in Chief’s notion of arming teachers to protect schools.  Obviously a majority of old coots agree that requiring a few “volunteer” teachers to conceal carry and learn how to handle a school shooter crisis situation with a gun instead of the way teachers are actually trained and practiced on handling such a situation, is the only economical way to defend schools from crazed lunatics with assault weapons.  Of course, it is definitely more economical than hiring full time police officers to handle security because “volunteer” teachers does not mean that they are necessarily willing to do it, but rather that they are doing it without pay.  And of course they shout at me things like, “Why don’t you just admit that you are too scared and unpatriotic to carry a gun as a teacher, and cowardly allow some female teacher with a big pistol to step in and do the job for you?”  That is a very coot thing to say, and is hard to adequately counter, because if you try to argue using logic other than coot-logic, like the notion that since a majority of teachers in this country are female, you are asking women who are fierce enough to do the job (and I have known more than a few who would take it on no matter how hopeless their prospects) to take a handgun that the principal bought at Walmart with money from the Coke machine in the hall and face down a suicidal maniac with an assault rifle, you will not even be heard over the cacophony of coot braying and chest-thumping, let alone be understood.

And, for some reason, coots love Trump.  Maybe because they feel he is truly one of them.  He is older than dirt.  He has an epicly bad comb-over to hide his bald spot.  He says bad words very loudly in front of women, children, and everybody.  He says, “Believe me,” a lot, especially when telling lies.  And he’s not afraid to fart in public and blame it on the dog.  I admit to insulting Trump in front of them only because I like to see coot faces fold up in extra wrinkles, and coot heads turn various shades of angry red and apoplectic purple.

So, yes.  I am a coot.  Not proud to be one… that I can remember, but a coot never-the-less.

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Filed under angry rant, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, foolishness, goofy thoughts, grumpiness, gun control, humor, Liberal ideas, oldies, Paffooney, teaching