Category Archives: teaching

Drawing on Possibilities

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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.

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Mickey and the Mother of Invention

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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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

The Super-Sucky Start To School 2017

Four years ago now I started school for the last time as a teacher.  I didn’t know at the start of the year that it would be the last.  I had planned to teach until I died if possible.  But it wasn’t possible.  By March I had to make a hard decision and report to the administration that I was going to retire.  Because of deteriorating health and family difficulties with finance and schooling for the kids, I had no other workable choice.  I really doubted four years ago that I would still be alive four years later.

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Today, I dropped my daughter off to start her sophomore year in high school.  This is actually the second week for number two son, who can now drive himself to school, saving further wear and tear on my aging, disintegrating self.  Will I still be alive next year to start a fifth year of retirement?  Does it matter?  I am already victorious in ways in which I didn’t believe I would be.

And then, Hurricane Harvey decided to show up and remind us that we are all mortal and none of us have a guarantee that we will get to start another school year.  Of course, the hurricane is not directly threatening me.  It is in Houston, and I am a long way away in the Dallas area.  But it still has an effect.  I have former students and their families living in the Houston area.  One of them told me she was safe on Facebook, but she was shaken by the devastation she saw around her.  She wanted to help in rescue efforts.   I told her to please take care of herself first, that she could only help others after she was firmly okay herself.  She told me that she always loved my class and made me cry.  I know she will probably be all right, but she will take risks and act all heroic without regard for herself.  That’s just who she is.  And I have other former students in that area just like her that I haven’t heard from yet.

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And while the hurricane gives him cover, the orange-faced Bozo in chief has had a great couple of weeks encouraging racists and pardoning racist criminals and possibly even sending my number one son to Afghanistan in a surge that goes against campaign promises to not get us more involved in foreign wars.  Now he wants to take Afghan resources and enrich himself and the evil corporate slugs he works constantly to enrich.  Jabba the Trump in his full glory.  I didn’t vote for this parasite, but despite the fact that I have no voter guilt to overcome, I am definitely not happy with him.  And how much more damage does he have to do before somebody stops him?  The party in control hates him too, but they can do all the evil they want and he’ll ultimately get the blame, so their voter-suppression tactics will continue to let them hold on to power.

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But, even though I still have to remove the swimming pool or risk losing the house, and I have to finish the paperwork for becoming bankrupt, school has started one more time… in spite of the fact that everything around it really, really sucks… in the sense of a vacuum cleaner.

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Filed under angry rant, battling depression, feeling sorry for myself, humor, irony, Paffooney, politics, teaching, Texas

Why Do You Think That? (Part One)

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

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

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

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All kids are good kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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Fact or Opinion (It’s a Teacher Thing)

“Climate change is a hoax by the Chinese.” 

That, unfortunately, is not an opinion.  It is a fact.  It is a FALSE FACT.

Facts are statements that can be proven or disproven.  There are studies by government agencies and university science departments all over the world that provide evidence to back up the theory that the climate is drastically changing in ways that threaten our existence.  The studies are repeatable, peer reviewed, and thoroughly “vetted”, to use the new word that Republicans embrace so deeply and lovingly for immigration issues.  On the other side of the question, you have scoffing congressmen who bring snowballs into the capitol and say, “See?  The science is not proven.”   That is not a fact.   Where is the evidence which is not anecdotal and based on a misunderstanding of the difference between “climate change” and “weather change”?  That is by definition an opinion.  And it is not even an informed opinion.  Opinions are not equal to facts.  Comparing the two is like comparing apples to onions.  No, that is not even correct.  You can eat both of those things.  It is more like comparing apples to planetary moons.

After a long and heated Facebook debate about immigration between me, a Texas teacher, and an Iowa Republican Trump supporter I went to high school with who doesn’t even know if he ever met an illegal immigrant, I have pretty well proven to myself that a big share of the divide between liberals and conservatives stems from the unwillingness of one side to avoid equating facts and opinions.  Apples and moons.

So give me a moment to do what teachers do.

Here is a non-political lesson in Fact versus Opinion.

Who do you prefer?  Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny?  The answer doesn’t matter to me.

I can give you a quick and dirty lesson on fact and opinion using these two cartoon characters.  And it doesn’t even matter who you like more.

Here are some obvious facts about the two of them.

They are both cartoon characters.  They are both anthropomorphic animals.  They both wear gloves most of the time.  They both have a thumb and three fingers on each hand.

These things are observably true.  You can prove them by looking at the illustrations I have already provided.

Other things may not be as readily apparent, but no less provable.

Both of them are heterosexual and both of them have one main love interest.  Neither of them have ever been married, but neither of them really are playboys and even though there are no legitimate bits of evidence that either one has ever had sex with their respective girlfriends, Bugs has kissed Lola on more than one occasion and Mickey has kept company with Minnie for longer than most old married couples.

These things are provable by watching the cartoons and observing a preponderance of evidence.  There is no contradictory evidence.  But the possibility of contradictory evidence doesn’t change these things into opinions.  A disproven fact is still a fact.  It is merely a false fact.  Over time the relationship between Bugs and Daffy Duck may become clearer and the fact that Bugs is gay may pop out of the cartoon closet.  It does however, require proof, so it is a fact, not an opinion.

Here’s another fact you know the evidence supports.  Bugs Bunny is a nudist.  He almost always appears in cartoons naked.  Mickey, however, believes in wearing clothes.  Even when he gets out of the bath tub, he clutches the nearest towel, and you never get a look at whether he has cartoon genitals or not.  Mickey does hang out a lot with a duck who wears no pants, but that’s an irrelevant fact.

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The notion that Mickey and Bugs are very different personalities because they had very different creators, is an opinion.  It is a opinion offered by people who have studied the characters and their creators, and therefore can give you an informed opinion.  But it still can’t be proven.

Walt Disney made Mickey into more or less of an every-man sort of character whom audiences can identify with.  Things happen to Mickey Mouse, and the comedy comes from him trying to deal with those external forces, be they wind storms during music concerts, Donald Duck’s raging temper, or the evil plots of Black Pete.  Walt never said this was so to prove it, but it is not unreasonable to think it.

Bugs Bunny, on the other hand, was created by several great animators like Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett.  And Bugs tends to make things happen to other characters.  Think of how he plays Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and even his pal Daffy for laughs.  He is more of a Groucho Marx type character than an every-man.  We don’t identify with him.  We only laugh at his victims (because they always deserve what he gives them).  That too is an opinion.  And even if one of his creators were to say that this was the intent, it still is not proven until all of them agree.  And they all had very different ways of doing things.

But these are only informed opinions.  You cannot be proven wrong whether you agree or disagree with them.  You are entitled to your own interpretations and opinions because they are not provable facts.  There is no one way to view any opinion.

Opinions, even un-informed opinions and religious beliefs are never either wrong or right.  You don’t make a mistake when you have an opinion.  It only becomes a mistake when you try to use it as a fact, or mistakenly believe it is a fact.

So, there is my lesson for those Facebook arguers who never seem to know the difference.  It’s all color-coded and everything.  So try using this new knowledge when arguing with me, rather than calling me stupid, or making your point IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!

 

 

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Filed under angry rant, artists I admire, cartoons, commentary, education, Mickey, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

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

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See Dick?

See Jane?

See Sally?

See Dick run?

See Jane run?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Being a Teacher at Heart

Being a teacher at heart… I want to recommend that career…even though I know full well it is a super-hard crappy job of glorified baby-sitting that pays in literal peanuts and nobody in their  right minds recommends it to smart young up-and-comers as a glamorous choice… and it is only getting worse under a new anti-education administration.

Being a teacher at heart… I can’t help remembering how it all started for me.  The last thing in the world I imagined myself being when I was in high school was a teacher.  I wanted to be a cartoonist or a comic book artist.  I wanted to write best-selling science fiction novels and maybe direct a movie.  You know, the kind of thing millionaires line up to bestow on college grads with a degree in English  and a transcript filled with mostly A’s in my art classes.

But after my remedial master’s degree gave me a provisional teaching certificate, and my one and only interview for an illustrator’s job resulted in compliments on my portfolio and best wishes for my teaching career, I headed to Texas, one of only two states actually hiring teachers in 1981.  (The other was Florida, which it turns out it was a very lucky thing my family had already moved to Texas to help me make that decision.  Have you seen the education news coming out of Florida?  I now know where Satan gets his mail.)

Turns out the only job available in 1981 was all the way South on Interstate 35 in Cotulla, Texas.  I was there to teach English to 8th graders.  Mostly Spanish-speaking 8th graders.  And the previous year the 7th grade English teacher had run out of the classroom screaming after the little darlings exploded firecrackers under her chair and put scorpions in her coffee cup.  I was given her classroom and the same students that forced her to re-think her career choice.  El Loco Gongie, El Loco Martin, Talan, El Mouse, El Boy, El Goofy (whose one and only talent was to turn his whole head purple at will), La Chula Melinda, and the Lozano Twins  were the nicknames I had to learn because practically everyone was named Jose Garcia… even the girls.  Talan and El Mouse were the first ones to threaten my life.  They picked up a fence post on the way to lunch (we had to walk four blocks to the elementary school to get lunch because the junior high building had no cafeteria).  Talan said something threatening in Spanish that I didn’t understand and added the name “Gringo Loco” menacingly to whatever he said, and El Mouse pantomimed using the metal fence post as a sword to cut me in two.  All this because I was trying to get them to keep up with the rest of the class on our little hike in the 100 degree heat.  (I think I knew then why Satan moved to Florida.)  Fortunately they must’ve decided that murdering me wasn’t worth the hours of detention they would have to spend, and dropped the post.  Class was definitely disrupted when handsome El Boy and La Chula decided to break up, or rather, El Boy decided he like brown-eyed Alexandra better after she got blue-eyed contact lenses that made her eyes look yellow-green.  Girl fights are harder to break up than boy fights because girls fight to the death over matters of the heart, and they really don’t care who dies once the fight is started.

Now you may think my account of my first horrible year as a teacher must be exaggerated and expanded with lies because you know I am a humorist and that I went on to teach for many more years.  But I swear, only the names have been changed.  The nicknames and the incidents all are real.  (Yes, he really could contort his face in a way that turned his entire head purple.  It was freaky and made the girls scream.)    As I reached the spring of the year that year and had to decide whether or not to sign my contract for the next year, I really was planning to get out of teaching all together.  But I was standing on the playground one day that spring glaring at the vatos locos to prevent fights from breaking out again when Ruben came up to stand beside me and talk to me.  Ruben was one of the brightest and physically smallest of all my kids that year.  But he had such a charm about him that the bullies left him alone (except for the time he got in trouble for forging El Boy’s mother’s signature on a failing report card).  He said to me, “I want you to know, you are my favorite teacher.  I learned a lot from you this year.”  I had to bite my lower lip to keep from crying right there and then.  It was the moment when I decided I had to be a teacher.  They were not going to make me run away in defeat.  I was going to work at it until I knew how to do it right.  For Ruben.  And for all the other boys and girls like Ruben who liked me as a teacher… and laughed at my jokes… even the really corny ones… and needed me.  That made all the hard stuff worth it.

Being a teacher at heart… I recognize now that there was never anything else I was going to be.  It was what God chose me to be.  And my only regret about my choice is that I had to retire and can’t do it any more for health reasons.  I still miss it.

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