Category Archives: Texas

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.

Supe n Sherry_n

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.

class Miss Mcover

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

Translating Texican

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I came to Texas from Iowa.  I was well-versed in how to speak Iowegian.  (I was, don’t-ya-know, and spoke it fluently, you-betcha.)

Then I arrived, fresh-faced and ready to change the world as a twenty-five-year-old teacher, and began working in a mostly Hispanic middle school in deep South Texas.  Dang!  Whut language do they speak?  (Yes, I know… Spanish.  But my students straight from Mexico couldn’t understand the local lingo either. South Texas Spanish and Castilian Spanish from Mexico are not the same language.)  I couldn’t talk to the white kids either.   It is possible to communicate with Texicans, but it took me years to learn the language.  It takes more than mere usage of “ya’ll” and “howdy”.

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You can probably see what I mean when you look at these fake quotes based on the things real Texicans actually once said to me.  Of course, I can be accused of being a racist by interpreting things this way.  Texicans are concerned that you understand that they are not racists.  They merely rebel against being “politically correct”.  Apparently the political-correctness police give them all sorts of unfair harassment about speaking their minds the way they always have.  I should note, however, that I had to use a quote from Bubba rather than Dave Winchuk.  Dave is so anti-political-correctness concerned that he regularly said to me things with so much racial heat in them that they would even melt the faces off white people.  Face-melting is bad.  If you don’t believe me, re-watch the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

redneck-friends

And to speak Texican, you must actually learn a thing or two about guns.  Yes, Texas is an open-carry State.  Apparently second amendment rights are the most important rights in the constitution.  My two sons grew up in Texas, and the oldest is a Marine.  Guns are important to them.  I have those same arguments with former students, too.  I have learned to say the right things so that they will tolerate my unholy  pacifist ideas about how the world might be safer if everybody didn’t have five guns in the waistbands of their underpants.  So gun-stuff ends up as a part of the Texican language I have learned to speak.

The point of it all is, language is a fascinating thing that grows and changes and warps and regresses.  I love it.  I try to master it.  And the mistakes I make usually sound purty funny.

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Filed under angry rant, education, gun control, humor, irony, kids, Paffooney, red States, self pity, strange and wonderful ideas about life, Texas

Getting Schooled on Testing

Florida Parents Sue Over State Testing

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The war has started.  The first shots have been fired in Florida by an irate group of parents in seven different school districts.  Their children were a part of the growing wave of “test-day opt-outs” that are occurring in every State that uses a high-stakes State test to determine students’ fitness for being promoted to the next grade, consideration for accelerated programs, and evaluating teachers for competence, ability, and possible execution.  State tests have developed such power over our learning lives that students and teachers obsess about them to the point of making themselves ill with stress.

The districts being sued have all decided that since the students who opted out did not take the tests, they have therefore not passed the tests, and have no right to be promoted to the next grade level.  So, a whole lot of sweet, pig-tailed little honors students that avoided super-stressful testing are now weeping over the prospects of still being in the third grade as their BFF’s now advance to fourth grade.  180+ days of instruction with a teacher does not apparently count at all towards advancement.  State tests are sacred.

You can tell by Florida Governor Skeletor Scott’s evil grin that he is quite satisfied with how State tests are working out.  After all, State tests provide aggregate data that public schools are failing in Florida.  Emperor Perry and the Crowned Prince Gregg Abbott of Texas have used them for the same purposes in the State where I spent my career teaching.  Low performing schools are taken over and run by a State agency.  Funds are cut to public schools.  Art and band and music programs are dropped in favor of remedial teaching and repetitive basic courses.  More money is given to private schools, magnet schools, and charter schools whose test scores prove they are more worthy of spending it (especially since the wealthier kids with fewer handicaps from their background are the ones going there, while kids from lower-income groups, minorities, special-needs students, and English language learners are generally kept out).

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And, of course, State tests can weed out the teachers that the State deems incompetent, unworthy, and, well… goofy because those teachers who don’t mindlessly engage in test preparation, don’t have students who score well on tests.  The State can use this means to get rid of teachers who are too innovative, popular among their students, creative, engaging and nice.  It can promote teachers who have “good discipline” because students constantly fill out test-preparation worksheets mindlessly in their classes all day.

But the numbers are there to prove the State is right about education.  Test data exists in black and white.  How can anyone argue that numbers don’t tell us which kids are stupid and which kids are acceptable?  How can I argue it?

Skoolgurlz

Well, it helps to be able to understand the endlessly boring hours of test analysis that teachers are subjected to by school administrators panicking about how poorly they are soon to do on the high-stakes test.  I happen to be smart enough to hear and understand how the tests measure what they measure, and what they actually mean.  For example, the reading portion of the State test emphasizes certain skills over other skills.  Inference, the ability to draw conclusions from the evidence given in the text and determine what is true by logic, is given more weight in the scoring than simpler abilities like factual recall or simple spelling ability.  Scores are not a matter of the percent of questions the student answer correctly.  They are based on which skills and sub-skills the student shows mastery (80% or higher success).  A student can get 80% of all questions correct and still fail the test.  And for some students with learning difficulties, developmental delays, or English-as-a-second-language difficulties, those more valued portions of the test are still beyond their current level of functioning.  I have worked for schools that received commendations for their tests scores.  I led a middle school writing program that topped expectations on writing scores through middle school and high school. I have also worked at schools who were punished for low test scores, and worked for good principals who lost their jobs because the scores were beyond their control.

I pray that the judge in Florida will support the parents and censure both the heartless school districts and the State testing program of Florida itself.  Darth Vader’s education system should not be winning.  We need to go back to the source and learn from Jedi Master Kenobi…. or even Yoda again.

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Filed under angry rant, autobiography, education, humor, marching band, Paffooney, pessimism, rants, teaching, Texas

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

Truthfully…

Animal Town212

Truthfully… I rarely ever tell the truth.  I am a retired school teacher who now spends a majority of the time left to me on writing fiction and drawing colored-pencil pictures.  Truth is not an asset for that kind of fantastical foolishness.  But that doesn’t mean that the truth is irrelevant.  In fact, after the last round of politics as usual (if 2016 even remotely qualifies for that) it is more important than ever to divine the trends and consequences for who we are about to elect.

If you look at the events in Flint, Michigan… the world becomes a scarier place.  What are the actual consequences of having Republicans in charge?  Because of cost-cutting measures by Governor Rick Snyder’s spend-less-on-the-people so we can give-more-tax-breaks-and-wealth-to-the-wealthy initiatives, the water system of Flint, Michigan has been neglected to the point of poisoning everyone who is poor enough to have to drink city water.  Reptile-man Snyder reassures people with a Republican grin that shows his fangs.  Then he lies, first about the water being safe to give to your children, then that he will do everything in his power to fix the problem… as long as it doesn’t cost actual money.  And the truth is every city in America is under the same threat.  Texas is a Republican-controlled paradise for billionaires. You can taste the taint in the Texas frogwater that comes out of the tap.  Plus, we have all kinds of fracking going on underground, pumping toxic stuff into the ground to pump shale oil out.  North of here in Oklahoma, the fracking has caused powerful earthquakes.  We have felt lesser shakes here in the Dallas metroplex.  The animals are so mad for meat in their feeding frenzy that even the ground under us is not safe from their appetites.

After the Iowa Caucus it became very possible that the Republican nomination could end up in the claws of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.  This shape-changing lizard man is the popular choice among the rabid evangelicals.  He is supposedly the most conservative and the most Christian of the Republican candidates.  But if you type into Google the phrase “Is Ted Cruz…” you get a result that says “the Zodiac Killer?”  Of course, he was not born at a time that allows him to be the actual mysterious serial killer who was never caught.  But people are searching this question for a reason.  According to the New York Times, in 1997 a young man named Michael Wayne Haley was convicted of stealing a calculator from Walmart.  The crime carried a maximum two year sentence.  Texas, the loving State that it is, mistakenly gave him 16 years.  When Haley tried to get the courts to fix the mistake, Ted Cruz was Solicitor General for Texas.  He took the case all the way to the Supreme Court to try to force Haley to serve the entire sixteen years.  The Supreme court ruled that Haley should be released for time served after serving six years of a maximum two year sentence.  The man has no compassion, no mercy, no Christian love in his reptile heart.  It is entirely possible that he could become President of the United States.  I confess, ttuthfully…, I am deeply afraid of that happening.  He is the Zodiac Killer.

So, I have run out of truth for today.  Telling the truth is hard to do.  Especially for a practiced liar like me.  But I promise you I will tell more truth in the days that are left to me.  Truth is important.  And the thing about writing fiction, especially humorous fiction, is the point of telling all those lies is to ultimately get at the truth.

 

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Filed under angry rant, humor, Paffooney, politics, Texas

A Letturr to the NRA

(This is satire… so, all you redneck friends of mine… don’t holler “YES!  He finally sees the light!”  Because I am being ironic, and trying to make fun of all the sensible and right-thinking things you believe, and cannot ever give up trying to make me believe also.)

rubber gun duel

Dear Mr. Wayne LaPierre,

You has done got the rite ideer about guns.  I agree whole-heartedly with all the love in my little black one-hunnert per cent ‘Merican heart that the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a bigger ‘n better gun.  My name is Lester Winchuk, and I is a good, God-fearin’ Texas good-ol’-boy.  And I have bigger ‘n better guns.  Now, my main guvvenner, the great an’ honorable Rick Perry of the grand State of Texas (may God ever bless her little black one-hunnert per cent ‘Merican heart) has suggested on the Fox News that since some of them insane mass-shooter dudes likes to go inta movie theeatters and shoot them up some innocent people, we all otter be takin’ our beloved guns to the movies with us so we can pertekt ourselfs and the other folk too.  In fact, I like the ideer of taking my bigger ‘n better guns to the movies with me.  I jes’ might need to shoot some folks when that there Minions movie plays at the dollar movies in Laredo.

We still has three of these here dis-integrator gun thingies left from the last alien invasion of South Texas, for sale cheap!

We still has three of these here dis-integrator gun thingies left from the last alien invasion of South Texas, for sale cheap!

I does has one question, though.  How does you aim proper at the bad guy’s haid or heart in a dark ol’ movie theeatter?  Does you has to wait for a daylight scene in the movie so you can draw a proper bead on the monkey-flipper?  (I doesn’t mean to actually say monkey-flipper, but I doesn’t know how to spell whut I actually mean, and thass the best the spell-checker thingy can do for me.)  I would like to suggest a common-sense solution to this problem.  I find that if you plug two or three… or six of the folks in the dark where you heard the first dang-old gun shots coming from, you will probably get him.  And gettin’ that old perpetraitor is the main and most important thing, right?  My brother Wayne (not actually named after you, but you is welcomed to be flattered by it) says maybe you shouldn’t plug any of the littler ones in case they may be innocent children or something… but I says, well, the shooter might be a midget, right?

I does has one old idjit English teacher, Mr. Beyer, who tole me I has gots to be more careful with my beloved guns.  He seems to think that whut I thinks about guns is somewhat downright immoral or some such nonsense.  But I tells him, I is always veeery careful with my beloved, bigger ‘n better guns.  In all my years of carrying my guns everywhere I goes, even into the showers at the campgrounds we uses for our Confederate Social Club meetin’, they ain’t never gotten one ding-dang little ol’ rust spot or scratch on any of ’em.

This lettur was lovingly and carefully writ to you by,

Lester D. Winchuk, son of South Texas…

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, satire, Texas