I am on the third day of a severe cold… or possible flu. Yesterday I couldn’t even write. Body aches, chills, fever, cough, and sore throat, All those things I used to enjoy so much as a kid, because it meant a day off from school, even though I had to suffer royally to get it.
I remember my mother used to think I was faking it if she couldn’t actually see the symptoms. And, of course, she would often take me to the doctor to get a shot in my behind if I actually did have them. She was a professional registered nurse, so you couldn’t get away with faking it, or even get a day off for a mild case.
Yesterday I was supposed to substitute for an English teacher at Perry Middle School. Seventh graders, I think. I actually thought about faking being well so I could make the money for the day and get a chance to take out my grouchy ill humor on seventh graders. That in itself always used to make me feel a little better. Yelling at kids for their evil behaviors is medicine for the soul.
So, I ended up giving them the gift of a day off from me, one of meaner subs who actually expects kids to work when the regular teacher isn’t there. Of course, I had a fever of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so I didn’t really have the option to go in and infect everybody and give them heckfire from a cranky old man. The school district frowns on teachers who intentionally spread the flu, small pox, or the Black Death to their students. So, I stayed home and uncomfortably suffered quietly and alone.
I am spending Thanksgiving week at home in Texas by myself, except for the dog. The rest of my family is having a Thanksgiving meal together in Iowa (hopefully, if the weather doesn’t have other plans) or on a road trip to Central Florida, a trip I was supposed to also attend. I simply cannot travel to either place. My arthritis is too bad to sit for long car rides, and in the Trump economy, school teachers can’t afford air travel. So, I had to practice being selfless once again. They needed to do these things, and I had to talk them into doing these things without me. My misfortunes can’t be allowed to ruin my family’s grace and peace, not when I can still give gifts of myself by allowing them to go and do without worrying about me.
I can’t actually say that I learned to be selfless and encouraging from Fred Rogers. He was really only one of many such teachers, a list headed by my maternal grandfather. But in a way, he is responsible for giving me the tools I use to make things like that happen.
Yesterday I went to the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” at the Music City Mall in Lewisville. I can drive those few miles. And I freely admit to crying through a good portion of the movie. It is not really a sad movie. It is not actually a biopic. It is based on a real article in Esquire magazine by journalist Tom Junod. It is a partially fictionalized story about how the innate goodness of a man like Fred Rogers has a profound impact on the journalist, and all of the rest of us as well, through that act of caring and loving and gentle being-just-the-way-you-are. There is no doubt about it, when Tom Hanks, channeling Fred Rogers in the restaurant scene, asks for one minute of silence to think of all those people who have had a hand in making you who you are, he looks directly into the audience, he looks directly at me individually, and the entire theater is dead silent as everyone is doing exactly what the movie character is asking you to do. It was a singular moment in cinema that I have never experienced before. It touched my soul.
I left that movie theater feeling amazingly fulfilled. Was it because it was an excellent movie? It definitely was excellent. Was it because of the wonderful way Tom Hanks brought Fred Rogers back to life even though he looks nothing like him? He definitely made that happen. Or was it because the movie invoked a true angel, a once-living hand of God now gone from this world? Because Fred Rogers was that for so many kids for more than 800 episodes.
I must confess, when I was a teenager, I didn’t think much of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood“, though I saw some of those first black-and-white episodes, back when King Friday and Daniel Striped-Tiger were new. If I had to watch kids’ shows on PBS, which I often did because of younger siblings and cousins, I much preferred the color and the Muppets in “Sesame Street”.
But when I had been a teacher for a few years, and had to search hard for ways to communicate and teach for use with South Texas middle-schoolers, I began to see the true genius of Fred Rogers. He never talked down to kids. He never lost patience, even when things went wrong. He was always trying to keep it simple, even when the point he was making was as metaphorical as talking about keeping a “garden in your mind”. He was understandable. He was welcoming and relentlessly nice. And it wasn’t a TV character. It was really him.
I can’t really say this was a movie that changed my life. But maybe it did. I cried silently during a large portion of it, not because of the sad parts in the movie, but because I recognized so much of myself in the journalist waking up to the need to be as real and honest and able to connect to other people as Fred Rogers always did.
So, my conclusion to this essay that may be a movie review, or possibly an homage to Fred Rogers, is really quite simple. Thank you, Mr. Rogers. I really like you, just the way you are.
Yesterday I went once more into the breech, willingly, stupidly, but also bravely. I put in a whole day of Pre-AP English classes for 8th-grade smarty-bunnies. I know those kids are supposed to be the good bunnies. And many of them were. But Pre-AP classes can also contain many little snarky bunnies who are smart enough to carry out evil plans and do truly sinister and wicked things.
Yes, snarky bunnies can eat you, and some will not even spit out the bones when they are finished.
A good share of the problem was that the weather had turned rainy and cool in the early morning hours. That cranks up the pain input on my arthritis meter and makes me feel cranky and out of sorts. That also makes it harder to control what stress does to my diabetic blood-sugar levels. Yelling at kids makes the blood-sugar levels shoot upwards, and then my stressed body chemistry will make everything crash. Bummer. Pity the snarky bunnies. I took it out on them. (I should here point out that I am one of those teachers who calls it yelling when I quietly recite a sin-list to a snarky-bunny perpetrator and run down the menu of possible consequences just to make him or her squirm before taking them back out of the hallway after forcing them to choose the behavior they will excel in rather than suffer the appropriate consequence. They often don’t realize their actual peril because I tend to smile and enjoy pronouncing sentences.)
I actually only had a handful of snarky bunnies to sharpen my teeth on. Too many good bunnies inhabit Pre-AP classes. But there were two in 3rd period, and a handful in the last 7th-period class.
I told them the story of how English teachers, especially old ones, are often afflicted with Lycanthropy. (That is… werewolf disease. I had to define it for them, as well as the word, “afflicted”. Pre-AP students, yes, but only 8th-grade little ones.) I told them that they didn’t have to worry because the full moon was last week and that I hadn’t actually eaten a misbehaving student since 1863 (at least, as far as I could remember.)
“Are you threatening to kill us?” one bright snarky bunny said.
“No, of course not. I am just warning you that I do not like afternoon misbehavior, and I am capable of growing my fangs in the late afternoon class.”
They were mostly quiet and busy little bunnies. But two of them, who were actually best friends, started arguing with each other just after the last bell. Instead of scurrying home to afternoon carrots and gruel, one pushed the other with two hands, and then that bunny lost control and hit the other on his shoulder-blade with a slap-fist. I got to keep them after class for more sin-lists, confessions, and good-behavior-vows.
So, all in all, I had a good day at Field Middle School. I enjoyed chewing on some snarky bunnies. And I thanked the teacher thoroughly for being out and giving me the chance. Oh, and I think I earned at least a couple of dollars for doing it.
I have been doing most of these Saturday art posts from my WordPress library of images. I generally try to organize around a theme. Having exhausted myself at Vivian Field Middle School yesterday, school-ish pictures are my theme for the day.
I have a tendency to think in pictures, and these are all school thoughts of one kind or another.
Some of my favorite students over the many years in the classroom were major nerds.
I liked them mostly because they were the same exact species as I was when I was a monkey-house-aged student.
Monkey-house is a synonym for Middle School.
Wally shared my obsession with Japanese anime and could draw them better than I could. He was a major nerd. And a totally enthusiastic learner whom other students treated like he was radioactive. I always had time for him when he needed to talk to someone. He was a teacher’s kid at a time when my own son was still little.
Yes, I am doing Mickey stuff to recover from a multiplicity of bad stuff happening to poor ol’ Mickey.
My computer had a brain injury and is no longer capable of connecting to WiFi. I am now tethered directly to the modem via an Ethernet cable. It limits where I can do my writing, internet surfing, and other computerized gymnastics. My favorite writing space upstairs is now out of reach.
But I have moved to a location right next to the table where I set up my paints for miniature figure-painting. That leads to a temptation to do things besides writing.
I put paint on Princess Persimmons’s Castle while writing this very essay.
It is easy to move back and forth from table to couch. From tiny figures and paint to the computer keyboard and more Mickian wordification. (A made-up word that here means putting Mickian nonsense into the form of purple paisley prose. Like this comment as a convoluted, many-worded parenthetic expression.)
You can see that I even managed to paint the Princess herself as I switched seats between loopy paragraphs.
She is obviously eating a persimmon as I painted her.
As you may have read yesterday, I had a miserable teaching day on Tuesday, and a better, but longer and more tiring day teaching on Wednesday. So, yesterday for me was a rest and recuperation day, as well as a feel-sorry-for-myself and licking-my-wounds day. For my daughter, however, it was a creative day in which she wore the suit of armor she made for herself to school on Halloween.
I am impressed by her creative abilities. Wherever could such a thing come from? It must be from her mother’s side of the family. Me, my creative urges go into writing stories, painting little stuff, and playing with dolls.
Next week I intend to do another book promotion. I made $0.04 on book royalties in October. Of course, giving away free e-book doesn’t even make that much. But Mickey does what Mickey has to do. And he will continue to do Mickey stuff laced with both good and bad substitute teaching days until the day comes when he can do no more… of anything.
You know that old saying, “There are no bad students, only bad teachers?” Yeah, that one that Betsy DeVos keeps pinging off of Trump’s brain?
Well, only idiots and educational administrators actually believe that. And I had three full classrooms of proof of this Tuesday while subbing sixth-grade Science classes.
Yes, they were bad kids. And apparently, the last time they had a sub before me, they killed and ate her, after eating her lunch in front of her. They were not merely bad kids. They were vile and noxious, unrepentant Spawn of Hell.
They were, in fact, laying in wait for me, testing every way a vile and noxious sixth grader knows to get the sub off track, dazed and confused, and turned from teacher into a helpless prey animal.
The very first class in the door immediately chased each other around the room instead of having a seat. Jamika stole a package of pencils off the teacher’s desk, ate one, and threw the plastic package in the trash. Seferino chased her around three of the tables and pinched her on the butt. And Jaden threw three different pieces of a pink eraser in three different directions at once at about three different girls, hitting two, in about three seconds of time. These aren’t their real names. But I know their real names because I had them sign my sin-sheet with first and last names before I even went through roll call. I tell them, “Sign your name so I can report what you did and, hopefully, also leave a note for the teacher that you were much better behaved for the rest of the period.” Two of the three were actually better for a majority of the period. Jaden got the Golden Turkey award at the end of the fifty minutes.
The next class had four names on my list before roll call ended, and they never did completely settle down. In fact, the teacher across the hall came in at the end of the period and jumped all over them about “Unacceptable behavior!” and vent a little heat and hatred on a few of the star players whom she knew by name and had for Math class. It wasn’t just that she thought I was an incompetent sub, but she deeply disliked some of the bad behavior that was a part of both the varnish on the surface of these kids, and the taint in the marrow of their bones. Ah, sixth graders! Thy teachers do not love thee, and yet thou keepest on screwing aroundeth! And I know the teacher I was subbing for. She taught number two son and the Princess both. She is no slouch as a teacher and is not to blame for the condition of the class.
And then the last class sauntered in behind Mr. Evil-in-a-small-package. Yes, the last class of 28 kids was under the complete control of one self-centered, manipulative, emotionally-disturbed little man. The teacher I was subbing for had warned me about him and had arranged for the Special Teacher of Special Edwards to come and take him to his special quiet place because they knew he was so special and the special things he would do if they left me at his mercy. And, of course, something went awry with the arrangement. I was left at his mercy (of which he had none.)
He would not sign his name to the paper. Or sit in his assigned seat. Or stop talking. Or stop saying inappropriately sexual things to the girls. I tried to phone the office, but the number of the assistant principal’s secretary would not ring through. I asked the teacher across the hall, also a sub, to call for me. The science teacher next door came in just in time to see Mr. Evil give me the one-finger salute. He immediately began arguing that he would not be removed from “his” class. He wanted me removed instead. Then an assistant principal showed up. He began hollering and screaming about being touched as the AP shoved him out of the classroom through the lab door. It was a total meltdown. And the fumes and melted wax of it affected the behavior of the rest of the class for the rest of the period. I yelled at them (a pointless thing to do, but it made me feel better). The science teacher next door came back in and yelled at them for making me yell at them. And everybody ended the day feeling terrible. A couple of well-behaved girls apologized to me for the behavior of the class, saying that that kind of thing happened almost every day. A cute little black kid who got in trouble too that period ended the day by almost crying and telling me that he was basically a bad kid. I told him I knew him just well enough to tell him he was not, that he only needed a little more self-discipline and he could be among the best kids in that classroom. (And I don’t believe that was completely a teacher-lie either.)
So, I had a bad day at being a sub. Not merely a bad day, but the kind of bad day that makes a teacher want to give up and never sub again. The sub that got eaten before me probably did that very thing. But, me… I’ve had bad days like that before. Worse ones, in fact. So, I will not give up.
I had an excellent day teaching yesterday at a different school. I can still teach, no matter what lasting scars Mr. Evil gave me. And there really are bad kids in the world. Somebody needs to actually feed them to alligators, not just threaten them with being fed to alligators. Then they will finally know how their substitute-teacher victims feel.
Friday, October 25th was my first full-day substitute teacher job. I was supposed to cover for the assistant band director at Barbara Bush Middle School in Irving, Texas. It was a long day of work, but it was supposed to be an easy day, watching the band director conduct his classes and doing whatever little helpful thing the band director asked me to do.
Easy is not a word that is normally associated with teaching. So, naturally, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and a few things that couldn’t go wrong went wrong just for good measure.
The day started with rain. It was a slogging jog from home to my daughter’s high school, dropping her off early to get some extra project work time in before school. Then I had to drive all the way through Coppell to the eastern edge of Irving which somehow gets to be in our school district even though it is two cities to the west away. Dallas drivers in the rain… eeeyaaah! I almost died on the road twice, missing only by inches.
And, of course, when I got there, the secretary in charge of subs was not there. I was given the wrong sub folder by the other secretary. It turned was out that the band director himself was out too. So, there were two non-musical subs for six classes of music and a homeroom. And band directors have no idea how to provide work for kids when they can’t use their instruments. We were given an assignment online for kids to do on their Chromebooks. It was an assignment that, at best, would last for five minutes out of the fifty-minute class periods. Well, they did tell us to let them amuse themselves with games on the Chromebooks when they were finished (because, of course, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders never misuse the internet, meaning lots of walking around looking at screens to identify those things that SHOULD NOT BE THERE).
My co-sub was a very polite Indian lady who was working her first sub job and had no teaching experience.
So, with the potential for total chaos and disaster set, I had to basically take over and manage the baby-sitting festival for the day. We did get one significant break. The high school band director from the high school associated with Bush came in to direct the two concert band classes, and they worked on their music. Band directors of high schools are all masters of the art of teaching. We watched him work for two hours, 3rd and 4th periods. It was fantastic. He could stop off-task behavior with a mere look. He only had one horsey bunny give him any trouble, and he basically stapled that kid to his tuba with mere words and threats of that special band-director-kind that only band students can truly imagine to the full extent of its potential horror. Both of us subs congratulated him on his impressive teaching skills and thanked him for the pain and sweat he saved us from.
In the meantime… that mean time when we had to keep sixth graders full of bouncy-bunny Friday energy in their seats and unable to damage anything, kill anybody, argue with pocket knives and stabby pencils, or any other nightmarish thing that fevered little bunny brains could potentially conceive, we kept them in their seats (mostly), settled disputes (without yelling at them or hitting anybody), dealt with uncharged and non-working Chromebooks (mostly thanks to band hall outlets and the chairs near them), and kept them busy (at one point challenging kids to drawing contests in which I gave them paper and shut them up with my cartooning skills).
It was an exhausting day. But also wonderful, in its own way. One girl thought I looked like Santa Claus on the old Coca-Cola Christmas ads. Two or possibly three kids were smart enough to laugh at my jokes. And the day was completed with no casualties. I look forward to doing it again next week.