Category Archives: teaching

A Pinch of This, a Pound of That

Nudists and naturists exist in real life, and some of them read my books!

Because I have characters in a few of my books who are nudists, based on people I have met in real life, my books have caught on with naturists, particularly naturists who write novels about naturism. Ted Bun, a naturist writer and operator of a nudist resort in France, has read and reviewed several of my books so far. You can find his reviews using the link below.

http://tvhost.co.uk/reading-writing-and-posting

It is a good thing to have your novels read by others. And I am sorta on the edge of being a member of the nudist community on Twitter myself. Of course, my days of comfortably going nude anymore is limited by psoriasis sores, ill health, and disapproval by family members. So, I guess I can only say I am a fictional nudist myself.

I have also been successfully spending time in schools (with all my clothes on) being a successful substitute teacher. I benefited yesterday from the efforts of an excellent teacher as I successfully conducted a U.S. History class with eighth graders all day long. It is rare to have a day when you don’t actively have to stop and redirect bad behavior at least once or twice during the day. But her well-taught series of classroom procedures made my day easy. I only had to tell them I was instituting her every-day discipline plan, and the classes seemed to almost run themselves. Especially in the two LEAP classes (Advanced Placement) . Those classes were heavily populated by students who are first or second generation Indian-Americans. Perry Middle School obviously has a nearby immigrant community of people who are originally from India. And probably smart, professional people too.

I am also still working on my next novel, A Field Guide to Fauns. I am currently at 8,672 words with 32 pages and three illustrations completed. I have been working on it for almost two weeks. It is the story of a boy trying to recover from psychological abuse while trying to fit in with his father’s new family, a stepmother and two twin stepsisters who are nudists, living as full-time residents of a nudist park. I hope the Twitter nudists will love it, but I am not writing it for them. As always, it is a book I am compelled to write.

I am also losing my eyesight. I have glaucoma. Bright lights now fill my field of vision with haze and blurry spots while floaters swimming in my eyes have me repeatedly swatting at bugs that aren’t there. I continue to have symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, including minor hallucinations. If school children I am trying to be a substitute teacher for ever find out, they will be repeatedly telling me that the misbehavior I am seeing is all a hallucination. So, finishing visual projects has a new urgency now.

My eldest son talked to friends in Oklahoma this weekend about acquiring cheap medical marijuana for my glaucoma. We shall see if I am to become a pot-head or not.

Anyway… this little essay is rather a mixed bag of ingredients, poured into a stew and loosely cooked together with poorly-written transitions. So, I now have done a pinch of this, a pound of that, and the stew must now marinate its very meat in weird broth. How do you like them apples?

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Filed under autobiography, feeling sorry for myself, goofiness, humor, novel plans, Paffooney, teaching

Easy Days

Today I had a good half day with well-trained, well-behaved accelerated sixth-grade English students. It is gratifying to be able to use my best teacher skills and have them work. It is a rare day for a substitute teacher. And it is always the work of superior classroom teacher that makes this happen.

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I Really Kinda Like That Kid

As a retired school teacher who retired for health reasons, I have a limit to how much I can teach. As I substitute, mostly for teachers who planned on being out for in-service training or special educational meetings, I can usually only do two jobs a week. That limits the number of kids you have contact with, especially the more gifted and talented sorts of kids. But that doesn’t really matter much. As a regular classroom teacher I always focused more on making connections with kids, especially the challenging ones. My two jobs this week consisted of sixth grade Science all day on Tuesday, and seventh grade AVID classes on Thursday.

Sixth graders are the rabid squirrel monkeys of the middle-school monkey-house. They are the ones who jump around the most, scream at each other the most, and swing from the light fixtures the most. And if you think of it as being only metaphorically true, you don’t really know much about sixth graders and modern education.

But the coach I was subbing for is very good at discipline. He gave them an article on the organ systems of the human body and told them to to use the annotation marks on his close-reading poster. Now, you and I both know that coaches don’t really walk sixth graders through note-taking and reading-comprehension drills regularly. There’s a reason coaches are more likely to teach Science, History, or even Math before taking on English or Language Arts teaching assignments.

So, I did a quick-teach using the two-page article on how to circle key words, underline main idea sentences, and how to do a SWBS (Somebody-Wanted-But-So Charts) analysis to summarize the article. They, of course, did not do that before in science class, or even in English that they could remember. I basically simplified his fifty-minute busy-work assignment into a simple twenty-minute reading assignment that would take the slow readers longer. So, I had to occupy the smart, quick, and evil kids with something else while I helped the stragglers finish. I drew a cartoon rabbit, a cartoon duck, and a Disney-esque Goofy on the white board, challenging them to copy it.

I got to work one-on-one with several slow readers. Xavier, a hyper, mouthy kid who had dyslexia was tickled pink to learn he could pick out and put together key words and main ideas. He was unable to write the summary, but he annotated correctly, possibly for the first time ever. And that was a break-through for him. I subbed with him in other classes where he was one of the awfullest chandelier swingers, so that connection made a huge difference for him for at least fifty minutes of his school life. Malik the Mouth who never does anything but insult the others, and gives somebody else’s name to the sub when he gets in trouble, actually kept his bargain with me from the last time he was baby-sat by me. He stayed in his seat and kept working all period. The only time I had to make him give me his name was at the end of class so I could leave a good-job note for the coach after class ended. I actually like those sorts of kids who other subs routinely blow up at and send out of class. Xavier and Malik (possibly not their actual names) are both a hoot to teach. And they help add to my list of funny classroom anecdotes when they lose control and get in trouble with me. I always try to turn those into teachable moments.

But when the coach came in at the end of his smartest class, saw everybody was done, and saw cartoons on his board, he got mad at them. I had to take the blame for them and explain why they were not simply blowing the assignment off and playing around. Coaches don’t usually understand that classroom learning can be fun.

Thursday I was subbing for AVID classes again. These are special classes where at-risk kids are put in college-prep courses and treated like gifted kids. The program is misused as a warehouse for failing discipline-problem kids by this school district. But the Field Middle School has their act together for this program. The kids were working with college-level education students as tutors, and had to fill out self-examination forms that evaluated how they were doing in working with their tutors.

These are well-trained, smart, and seriously funny kids. Xochitl (an Aztec name pronounced ZOACHIE for a Hispanic girl that I have suprisingly encountered more than once in Texas) was a giftred complainer and procrastinator who was too lazy to lift a pencil, yet did the actual work in a few short minutes when she finally got around to it. She had time to tell the kids at her table, one of the tutors, and me about a time when she knocked the head off of a cucaracha (a cockroach who speaks Spanish) and tried to wait for an entire day for it to finally die so she could pick it up and flush it. The thing is, a cockroach only needs its head to eat with and see with. It is perfectly fine otherwise until it starves to death or gets eaten by a rat. So, when she went to pick it up with salad tongs, it was still alive and wiggly. She pantomimed how she threw the thing across the kitchen in surprise, and when it landed in the sink, she nailed it with the garbage disposal. This girl is a gifted story-teller. She had us all laughing. And her school grades were all A’s and B’s.

I admit it. I love kids like that. They are the best things about teaching. And whether they are Aaargh! Sixth Graders! or Uggh! Seventh graders! (the chimpanzees of the middle-school monkey-house) I actually love them. (But PLEASE don’t tell them that!)

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Dibbletey Dobbletey Doo

On Wednesday I subbed again for a science teacher at Long Middle School. They were eighth graders, the chest-thumping apes at the top of the monkey-house food chain. There was an AVID class with too many at-risk and under-disciplined kids in it. And the Long ESL classes contain too many rabid monkeys who don’t understand monkey-English well and are liberally dispersed through-out the harried eighth-grade teachers’ day. In other words, the Wednesday job caused me brain damage from which I haven’t recovered from fully at this writing.

So, today I am obsessed with finding the magic necessary to avoid having any more teacher-meltdowns and brain injuries like that 6th period debacle. (“Debakkil” is a magic word, but it is an evil magic word),

In the Disney animated classic Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother uses a magic spell called (in a song) “Bibbety Bobbity Boo”. In the course of singing the song, the old F-G turns a pumpkin into a carriage and mice into horses, the swayback horse into a driver, and the dog into a groom. I need a spell like that to remedy the monkey-house meltdown syndrome that I was victimized by.

So, here is how “Dibbletey Dobbletey Doo” will work.

The spell is cast initially on a male student, a monkey-like being swinging from the light fixtures, but obviously smarter than the other male monkey-students. You could magically turn his raggy clothing into a ball gown and embarrass him completely (which would be true to the metaphor, but would turn him into your worst nightmare)… but don’t. Instead, tell him that he is smart enough to be a leader. Put him in a position of power, making him in charge of a group, and telling him his consequences will be either a reward for good leadership, or the blame for the bad behavior of the group. Remind him that he has natural leadership skills. If he speaks to others respectfully, they will be respectful to everybody. If he shows them how to behave properly, they will use him as a positive example. He will get the credit for the good things they will do.

“Dibbletey Dobbletey Doo!”

It works. We had a poster project to do in groups of four. They were supposed to create a diagram of the mechanics of the four seasons of the year, with a sun and four representations of the earth with its axis and equator tilted properly in relation to the sun. That’s the kind of assignment that can result in the explosion of the science lab or the total cannibalization of the substitute. But I made it successfully work in four out of five classes.

Why did it go wrong in that last period? 1. Classes that are out of control for the regular teacher are impossible for even the best sub to control. 2. Too many students in one classroom are impossible to control when you have more groups than work tables. 3. Supplies run out at the end of the day, and empty pens and markers become projectiles. 4. Eighth graders all need to take mandatory naps in the afternoon (using sedative darts and a dart gun when necessary) but no school or principal is aware of that fact. 5. Cranky afternoon baboons grow longer fangs than they had in the morning.

So, Mickey must revise and rework this particular spell for the afternoons. And he must refuse the next job coming from this particular teacher.

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Doing Dumb Discipline

Yes, I am writing this post in response to another hard day of substitute teaching. 6th graders! Aaargh!

But the real point of it is that most of the problems I had are due to every teacher’s daily nightmare… discipline management.

This is all that remains of my classroom rules poster from the 1980’s.

Teachers, even substitute teachers, are expected to keep an orderly classroom. But the truth is, no adult human being can make a twelve-to-eighteen-year-old member of the monkey house do anything… or refrain from doing the most harmful thing that occurs to the immature monkey brain.

It is just as Carl Sandburg once suggested in a clever poem. If you tell them not to put beans in their ears, the only thing they will definitely want to do is put beans in their ears.

So, this post is my list of excuse-a-mes for why the classes I taught yesterday all had bean-filled ears.

Excuse number one; 6th graders! Aaargh! Yes, I had four classes to teach, and three of them were made up solely of 6th graders. They are the squirrel monkeys of the middle-school monkey house. Unable to sit still and be quiet on their best days, they were super-stirred and hormone-activated. It is, after all, February, a week before Valentine’s Day, the hormonal-monkey holiday. It was a writing class and they had a writing assignment that they are supposed to be working on for the next week. And the generally accepted rule among monkeys; Do no work for substitute teachers, no matter their educational backgrounds in English and writing.

Excuse number B; To maintain discipline you have to know the kids. Here’s the most pernicious problem that substitute teachers are saddled with. I had never seen over ninety-five percent of these squirrel monkeys before… not in their natural habitat… not even in cages at the zoo. Boy, do the nerd-like teacher-pleasers who are actually classroom comedians and attack-monkeys in disguise really mount up in that particular saddle and ride you for the rest of the monkey-rodeo you thought was going to be a writing class.

Excuse-a-me Three; There are too many monkeys in the monkey house. Especially the Avid class of 30 super-heated seventh and eighth grade warm bodies that I had to teach as a bonus-penalty for being a “good” substitute. AVID is a special program for troubled and at-risk kids where you put them together with a good teacher and treat them like gifted students and set their lovely little monkey-feet on a path to college. Except, this under-funded special program that works spectacularly well in some schools, is basically misused and abused across Texas where practically all kids who are not white or not wealthy are at-risk for one reason or another. I got to walk into a classroom cold with these thirty high-risk monkeys because no other sub had signed up for this particular nightmare job. No lesson plans were available. No attendance sheets were ready. And it was a science lab, so the room was filled with kids who had helped themselves to rulers and yardsticks with which they were conducting sword-fights. The teacher next door who was giving a test found for me a stack of worksheets to give out. I located a class list to use for attendance. And then I proceeded to put them into seats with work to do and threatened several lives and put one overly-aggressive girl in temporary time-out and denied restroom privileges to scores of kids who probably weren’t going to actually explode into showers of pee. And I didn’t keep them quiet, but when the bell finally rang 50 hour-long minutes later, no one had died a horrible death. And they all had their clothes still on. And it appeared that the structural integrity of the classroom was still sound enough for one more class period. And I, of course, had to quickly rush back to the 6th graders for the worst class of the day.

Excuse-a-me Finale; The sub in the room next door was more incompetent than I was on this particular day. That isn’t really an excuse for my poor showing, but it at least made me feel sorry for someone besides myself. Some of his students came to me as their next official class, already charged up for a super-fun murder-the-sub day. Some of the students who came to me had to go to him for their next period and tried to stay in my room instead. Some of his students went for extended tours of the parts of the campus where they knew no assistant principal or security guard would be. There were fights in that class. They were banging on the the walls. They were noisier than my classes. The poor young guy had none of the substitute survival skills that I had, and I was too pressed to help him at all. But he was young and healthy. He had apparently been there for a couple of weeks as he was doing a long-term job for a history teacher who was having a baby. So, he will soon learn that he does not want to become a Texas public school teacher in his future.

So, as a disciplinarian, I was really dumb for a day. I do know how to handle these things correctly, and I will make future posts about the How-to-s of that. But for today, it is enough to say that I survived to teach another day.

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Other People’s Children

I was a substitute teacher for seventh graders on Monday. And I experienced a bit of the time-warp sensation that becomes a big part of the lives of old people… especially crazy old coots like me.

My whole-day sub job was definitely happening on the 3rd day of February, 2020. And yet it took me back to 1988, 1996, and 2002 all in the space of three 50-minute periods.

I was visited by three former students from the past. They looked almost the same as I remembered them. They definitely acted exactly the same. And they had exactly the same kind of classroom behavior as they did before. And what was equally confounding, they were all in the seventh grade yet again and in the year 2020, apparently inhabiting new bodies with new names attached and attending school again at Dan F. Long Middle School in Carrollton.

Raul was a feisty comedian-type kid, too lazy to do the actual work, but more than up for a titanic effort at disrupting a class in order to avoid doing the actual work. He was up and out of his seat repeatedly, harassing the resident weird kid to make him bellow, and then blaming everybody in the room except for himself about the paper-wads and mini paper planes that flew when I had my back turned (an old trick from ’88), He got in trouble yet again, though this time it was not me who would be calling his mother to explain the need for some capital punishment at home.

And in that same class, Heather, Cotulla cowboy cheerleader from my seventh grade class in ’96, sat two rows over from Raul. Secretly laughing at everything Raul did, and laughing even harder (though without actually making a sound) at every punishment I gave out.

And two periods later, freckle-faced Pearl from 2002 was sitting in her customary front-row desk, laughing at all of my jokes that the other kids in that Advanced-Placement English Class for seventh graders were not quite sharp enough to understand.

If you teach for long enough, you realize that you are really only teaching the same kids over and over and over again. Names change, the years change, the technology and society around us change, but the kids are always the same. Heck, on Monday, three of them even looked the same.

Teachers are routinely put in charge of other people’s children. As a teacher, you are responsible for the care and well-being of under-developed human beings which you not only have to keep safe and clean and diapered (well, figuratively only, hopefully), but you also have to spoon-feed them whatever curriculum the wealthy, white pettifoggers with no teaching experience (I’m talking about you and your kind, DeVos) have foolishly decided is the proper thing to stuff into their little under-developed brains. And the kids never really change. The names change, but nothing else that is important. The pettifoggers eventually change, but not enough to make any real difference.

So, there you are. You are left with the task of nurturing future people. And everybody criticizes. Except, usually, other teachers. And you have to learn to love other peoples’ children. And, I discovered I still do. I still love even the bad ones, even after I have given up the game and no longer have any class of my own. And I don’t love any of them inappropriately, either. I know better than to touch them, especially the radioactive ones. Unless it is about touching the heart and the mind metaphorically. I know I posted before about hating 7th Graders. But you have to know them better than a substitute gets to know them to hate them. Loving them generically is much better for the soul, and even as a sub, I can still do that.

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The Difference a Day Makes

A typical middle school Reading Class at the end of the period.

A second straight half-day of subbing at a middle school has smoothed out my ruffled feathers and damaged teacher-ego. It was, first of all, a different middle school. Blalack has better stewardship and more carefully worked-out standard practices. They handle misbehavior far better and the actual teachers are respected far more. I do not blame yesterday’s teachers or assistant principals. They were doing their jobs as best they could.

But today’s 8th grade Reading Classes were smaller. Twelve to fifteen students rather than almost thirty. They were given routines to follow every day in class that maximized their time on reading tasks and left students with little or no time to think of evil misbehaviors or acting out.

The differences in race, socioeconomic backgrounds, and cultures are practically non-existent. The kids I had a good time teaching today were no different then the ones I hated dealing with yesterday. The differences were all in how each set of kids are treated and managed every day.

So, we had a good day. Practically no student was involved in a reading-related death. No skulls of non-readers collected at the reading-raptor’s feet. Today teaching was fun.

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