Tag Archives: education

New Teachers in September

I am going to tell you a story.  It’s a true story.  It’s a horror story.  And it is replaying itself somewhere even now.  It is the story of how human sacrifice is made repeatedly every September, with lots of blood and screams and tears… in the classrooms of rookie teachers all across the United States.

Cool School Blue

You see, the longer this whole misery factory of teaching and learning goes on while under the control of evil, blood-sucking politicians who have never been in a classroom and have no idea what they are asking young, enthusiastic people of twenty-two to twenty-five years of age to do, the more innocent, normal humans are going to be eaten alive by the maniacal, monstrous monkey house.

I started teaching a lifetime ago in 1981.  I was thin.  I was twenty-five.  I had a Master of the Art of Teaching Degree from the University of Iowa, so I knew everything I would ever need to know about teaching.  And I had a class of eighth graders in deep South Texas.   Mostly Hispanic, mostly poor, and I knew they were going to be the greatest kids in the world, especially after I had revealed all the necessary secrets of learning and life to them through my wonderful teaching.

Blue and Mike in color (435x640)

And then, at the end of August, I was standing in front of them, six groups of between fifteen and thirty-two kids.  And they were all looking at me.  And they expected me to know what to do.  And they smelled funny.  And my classroom was the same little windowless classroom where the year before these eighth graders had, as seventh graders, driven the unfortunately named Miss Hilda Fokkwulf out of Texas screaming for the crime of trying to teach English. I tried to learn their names, but they laughed at me every time I said a Hispanic name.  I honestly don’t believe I was pronouncing every syllable incorrectly, but they weren’t going to let me know that.  Not even the white gringo kids who had the same problem and were grateful for someone else to be the focus of linguistic ridicule.  And the names…  The scary looking eighteen-or-nineteen-year-olds in the back of every row were named El Loco Gongie, El Mouse, El Loco Talan, and El Loco Martin.  And a shy girl in the front row whispered to me that those were not their real names and “El Loco” meant “the crazy”.

And these kids had unusual talents.  El Goofy was able to tense the muscles in his face and head to turn his entire head purple.  Wow!  I had never seen that talent before, and, honestly, I haven’t seen it since.  El Boy was cute and charming and had fifteen girlfriends at the same time.  I honestly liked him too.  But he could get away with murder even with the toughest teachers on campus.  And little Emmett Moolazonger, a scrawny little gringo kid, was known for destroying the school’s water fountains by ramming them with his head.  There were girls with talent, too… but that part of the story makes me blush and is best left for another day.  (But don’t get the idea that I’m covering up anything here… I would never… and some of them never covered up anything either.)

By September I was throwing up every morning before going to school.  I had had my life threatened and made the mistake of mentioning that to my mother, who almost came to school to drag me home and make me live there the rest of my life.  I had learned that it is practically impossible to get kids to stop talking.  And even harder to get them to stay seated.  Chalk, spitwads, and boogers flew through the air.  Parents complained to the principal about kids freely using bad words in my class, but the words were in Spanish, so how was I going to prevent that?  And of course, Mr. Wizoll, the History teacher who had sixteen years of experience tried to show me how you made them sit down and shut up, but he could do it just by walking in the classroom door and being present.  Well, what are the steps necessary to get from where I was to where he was in that matter?

“You can’t,” Mr. Wizoll said.

And it is true.  Teachers when they start out are tossed into a classroom without a single “this is how you do it” demonstration.  They are expected to learn it entirely on their own.  Principals say, “I will support you when you have trouble.”  But that really means, “I am going to yell at you for not doing this thing that no one ever actually taught you how to do correctly.”  And you either learn to do it entirely on your own, or the kids are going to peg you down to the floor, cut you up into little strips, and eat you.  Or you could use the Miss Fokkwulf method and scream at the top of your lungs all the way to the San Antonio Airport.  This happens every year.  Every year there are new teachers being eaten in unobserved classrooms.  I saw it with my own eyes when I was still teaching high school in 2014.  My wife was telling me about a young teacher in her school being eaten alive in her classroom this year.  Oh, the humanity!  When will we ever offer a little bit of help and sympathy to a young, enthusiastic, idealistic new teacher, who has no freaking idea what is going to happen to them before this month ends?

Teacher

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, teaching

Badfinger

Yes, there is a James Bond villain who has targeted Texas freeways, liberal politics, and Facebook in general.  He is a bad, bad man who likes to inflame arguments, create racial tension, and fan the fires of road rage.  So, this is my attempt to call this bad man out and make you aware of at least some of what he’s doing.

redneck friends

First of all, I know a way that you can prevent Badfinger’s minions from driving on Teexas roadways.  You can cut off the middle finger of both hands, and those minions don’t know how to drive any longer.  I saw that in action today as I took my number two son to the oral surgeon to have four wisdom teeth extracted (and yes, I know that is probably a bad idea, but he didn’t really have that much wisdom with the teeth still in, anyway).  To get into the proper turning lane, I chose a spot I thought I could get into.  I pulled up to the spot with my turn signal on so the driver in that lane could clearly see my intention.  He zoomed up to close the opening and gave me the middle-finger-indication of his approximate I.Q. as measured by driving habits.  So, I decided to go behind him.  But he immediately, without signaling, tried to ram his way through to the lane I was patiently waiting in.  I had to back my car up while sitting, waiting for the light to change.  The guy behind me felt he needed to signal his I.Q.   But he was apparently smarter by one than the other driver as it took both hands to accomplish this feat.  When the light turned green, the minion in front of me reminded me of his I.Q. again and zoomed into my lane and passed three cars in the lane he was originally in, then forced his way back into the lane to make the turn.  This bit of gracious roadway etiquette accomplished two things the driver probably didn’t intend.  One, he nearly got his precious BMW dented by the car he cut in front of, and two, his mad swoop left a void in his lane that I could get into so that I might safely round the corner on the next green light.

John Kasich flipping the byrd at teachers.

John Kasich flipping the byrd at teachers.

Another minion of Badfinger is a politician that, until recently, I thought was one of the least evil of the toxic clowns in the Republican Volkswagen, John Kasich.  He proved to be an enemy of mine because recently he put the finger on the entire problem with education, teacher’s lounges.  Apparently it is not enough to take strong union representation away from teachers.  He doesn’t want evil communist teachers getting together to complain about class sizes, increasing teacher layoffs, reduced funding, and increasingly draconian testing rules in bastions of communist union power, which he believes are the insidious teacher’s lounges.  I’m not sure why he thinks he’s punishing teachers by taking that cramped little misappropriated closet space away from us.  What will we lose?  A place to make copies on the xerox machine?  Our departments have no money for paper or ink.  A place to put our lunches in an antique refrigerator which may or may not prevent spoilage at temperatures a little warmer than room temperature?  Most of us can’t afford the slice of our fifteen minute lunch hour to walk all the way to the other side of campus and go up two flights of stairs.  But he doesn’t want us to have a place to bad mouth the government that exists only to make our lives harder. And he doesn’t realize that most teachers save their gruesome and evil plans for rebellion until they can meet together at Hop Xing’s Bar and Grill (now with Karaoke) at a time of day when it no longer matters if they get totally schnockered, or if they burst into spontaneous karaoke versions of Journey songs.  Teachers will continue to do the job even without the lavish teacher lounges that don’t actually exist anyway.

So, what am I proposing we do to combat Badfinger and his multiple minions in the fight for God and country and a little respect?  How about an anti-bloviator ray gun that we can disguise as an ink pen?  It might  prove useful against Donald Trump and other Republicans that are our potential next President and chief vilifier of rogue educators.  How about a secret politeness pill that we can slip into the drinking water and make everybody, Badfinger’s minions included, into nicer people?  I’m sure those things will never get voted for… primarily because we really need them.

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Filed under education, humor, Paffooney

Making Mickey Happy

lil mickeyI have to admit to being a little blue yesterday.  Not “literally blue” because most days I look nothing like my Paffooney portrait here to the left.  I said a little blue, as in slightly depressed.  Not weeping and roaring with sorrow depressed… more like needing to softly sing to myself sort of depressed.  I wasn’t depressed for valid reasons.  I was mistaken about the writing contest results.  The dental insurance also covers more of what we are going to owe for the privilege of having teeth than I was at first led to believe.  So my deep blue hole yesterday was imaginary and all see-through-y if I had been sane enough to look properly.  But, Mickeys are like that sometimes, getting all bothered about things they really shouldn’t get bothered about.

So, today, determined to still be sad for a reason, I began to list other things that I could conveniently be sad about.  There was school news about an 8-year-old boy in Kentucky being handcuffed by an officer in school and crying because it was hurting him.  That social media outrage led me to an article about school discipline.  “Schools as Punishing Factories”  Reading that made me bitterly depressed.  I have witnessed the truth of that article in Texas where teachers can get in trouble so easily when they try to advocate for kids, especially black and Hispanic kids.  I have seen talking back to the teacher, throwing spitwads, and disrupting lessons become reasons for students to be escorted away in handcuffs.  I like to pretend it is because principals and policemen and community businessmen can be rather stupid sometimes, and not because there is a concerted effort to use the school experience as training for black and Hispanic, as well as poor kids to prepare for the second part of their life, the life they will lead inside prisons for profit.  As a teacher who loved kids, even the bad ones, I am truly depressed about this trend in America.  I have white friends in both Texas and Iowa that want to tell me that I am the one who is wrong, not the system.  Their conservatives beliefs are stronger than any eye-witness evidence I can give them.  So… even darker blues and more depression.  My contest novel is about a teacher like me trying to fight the way things are and teach the way teaching should be done.  I must comfort myself by telling myself that my book will change peoples’ minds and make the problem get solved.  If I just lie to myself hard enough, like those friends who tell me “throwing money at the problem of failing schools will not fix the problem” lie to themselves… a lie I know is false but want desperately to believe anyway, then I can make it true.

So, how do I make Mickey happy?  Well, luckily Mickey is goofy.  I went to Walmart and finally found the doll on sale that I had been searching for.  I bought Operetta. the daughter of the Phantom of the Opera to add to my Monster High collection for only $9.95.  And Mickey is seriously addicted to doll collecting.  It makes him happy and turns him away from despair when other things probably can’t.  I am not forgetting about the education fight.  Oh, no!  Mickey’s dander is up on that.  And he will bombard you with his writer wrath about that another day.  But forgive me.  I need to be happy a little right now.  And Mickey needs to play with dolls.

20150806_105839

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Teacher-Wise

So, does this title have more than one meaning?  Of course it does.  This post is about being a teacher and having wisdom.  And I know you will immediately think, “You dumb guy!  I know teachers who aren’t wise at all!  Some teachers are stupid!”

namaste_out_of_control_cover

You are especially saying that if you are a student.

You are not wrong, either.  Some teachers have no business being teachers.  It is especially difficult to find good science and math teachers.  After all, those who are good at math and science can make so much more money in the private sector, that they would have to be born to be a teacher… and realize it, to go into teaching.  There are very good science and math teachers out there, but many of them are wilting under the weight of a difficult job being made constantly harder by social pressures like truly dumb people who say things like, “You can’t solve our education problem by throwing money at it!”  I guarantee no one has ever thrown money at the problem.  If teachers were paid what they were worth so that we could retain good, competent teachers, you would see education make an amazing amount of progress in a very short time.  What Wall Street firm fails to pay their star players what they are worth?  Do bankers and lawyers get punished for doing a good job by asking them to produce more with fewer resources for less pay?  Those folks in finance and law always pay the price for the best because that always produces the best result.  If you want schools to routinely produce critical thinkers and problem-solvers, why would you complain that we are spending too much money per kid?  Of course, there are those with the money and the power (especially in Texas) who really don’t want more students coming out of schools with the ability to think and decide for themselves.   Smart people are harder to control and make a profit from. (Out of Control is a book they don’t want you to read.)

class Miss M2

So now I have totally proved the point that smart people who are looking out for their own interests should never go into teaching.  Still, among the unwashed, unloved, and incompetent that do make the mistake of going into teaching, there is still a great deal of learning and gaining of wisdom going on.  After all, if a fool like me can become a good teacher, anybody can do it.  You just have to learn a few bits of wisdom the hard way that have very little to do with what we call “common sense”.

As Dr. Tsabary points out in the book I plastered on the front of this post, discipline is not what you think.  We all remember that teacher we had that nobody listened to.  She was always yelling at us.  She made threats.  She punished us.  And even the good kids in class would shoot spitwads at the back of her head.  Why did we not respect and learn from this teacher?  Because she never learned these profound truths.

1.  Kids are people.  They want to be treated with respect and even love.  Their ideas matter as much, if not more than the teacher’s ideas.  Good teachers will;

a. Get to know every kid in their class as a human being, knowing what they believe in, what they care about, where they come from, and who they think they are.

b. Ask them questions.  They will never have an original idea if you do not make them think.  They have insights and creativity and strengths as well as weaknesses, bad behavior, and wrong ideas.  You have to emphasize the former and minimize the latter.

c.  Laughing and talking in the classroom is evidence of learning.  Quietly filling out worksheets is evidence of ignorance, and most likely the ignorance of the teacher.

2.  Tests don’t matter.  This is always true for these reasons;

a.  Tests are a comparison, and nothing is gained by comparing kids.  Comparing the scores of my bilingual kids in South Texas with upper class rich kids in Chicago and college-bound kids in Tokyo has no value.  Their lives are completely different and so are their needs.  If we don’t score as well on the tests as the kids in Tokyo, what difference will that make to what time the train arrives in the station in Paris?  (Especially if Pierre has chosen the bullet train that goes south at a rate of 200 miles per hour.  No trains in Texas go that fast without crashing and blowing up.)

b.  If I spend time in class teaching students how to read and making them practice reading critically, they will do just as well as the kids who drilled extensively from specially made State materials preparing for the test on the reading and vocabulary portions.  The only way that outcome changes is by cheating and giving them the actual test questions before the test.  (I should point out that teachers caught doing this last thing are shot in Texas and buried in a box full of rattlesnakes.  Dang old teachers, anyhow!)

I know I started this little post by convincing you that I am not wise, and very probably mentally unbalanced.  And now that I have made my arguments, you know for sure.  But over time, there is wisdom to be learned from being a teacher.  You don’t have to believe me, but it’s true.  (I don’t know how many times I used that phrase out loud in a classroom over 31 years, but I am guessing you couldn’t count them on fingers even if you used the hands of every kid I ever had as a student.)

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Doing the Devil’s Dance

mad

We live in world that is profoundly unkind to non-conformity, weirdness, or even basic differences.  How do you explain to a child that his school doesn’t want him there any more because his uniqueness is too much of a bother, a pain to deal with, an issue too complicated for a school administrator to get their little gray minds around?  I can’t tell you the details of what we are going through right now.   Too many privacy and legal issues get in the way of complete candor.  But Texas school systems do not handle issues of exceptionality well.   They are designed to crush originality and individual differences and grind out a workforce that will be compliant, that won’t complain when they are underpaid or mistreated, that will all be alike in many important ways.  They would also like to turn out students who vote Republican, but it is all right if they turn out to be the type of citizen who won’t or can’t vote.  Your life can be turned upside down over minor infractions.  It is a law that Texas students must be in attendance over 90% of the time.  If not, they are going to hound you, fine you, take you to court and even jail you.  Because students must all fit into the same mold.  No square pegs allowed.  They do make exceptions for health problems… but only the right kind of health problems.  Stomach cancer. okay, panic disorder, not okay…  There are laws in place to protect those of us with special handicaps… but this is the de-regulation State.  The city of West, Texas blew up in a fireball because too many regulations means lower profit margins.  Of course, they don’t hesitate to apply regulations against me and mine.  That is another matter (and the profits flow the opposite direction, offender to State).

So, what will I do now?  I will do the best I can.  I complained about it here to the best of my ability.  The child even remarked that one day he will be wiser and more experienced than others because he went through this.  There are other means of education, even if I have to do it all myself.  And I can take the frustrations and turn them into future funny fables that will ring true, because they are.

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Teacher! Ooh-Ooh! Teacher!

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I have the privilege of being a public school teacher.  Or maybe I should use the word “cursed”.   It is no easy thing to be a teacher in the modern world.  Regressive State governments like Texas mandate that teachers do more with less.  We have to have bigger classes.  We have to show higher gains on State tests.  We have to do more for special populations based on race, disability, language-learner status, and socio-economic status.  Of course, we give money to private schools to be “fair” to all, so a majority of the well-funded and advantaged students are removed from the public school system, even though studies show that their presence in classes benefits everyone.  When the majority of students are low-income in a single classroom, even the gifted minority perform less well.  When higher-income students are at least fifty per-cent of the class, then even the low-income and learning disabled make higher gains than the minority gifted in the first example class.  So, there’s my triple-downer bummer for this post.  You might think that I would agree with Republicans in this State that the lower classes are not worth investing in.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is, my fondest memories from thirty-one years as a public school teacher come from the downtrodden masses, the poor, the oddballs, the disadvantaged, and even the truly weird.

Okay, so here’s the funny and heart-warming part.  I have a Hispanic English Language Learner right now who looks at the beard I have grown and calls me, “my friend Jesus”.  I have to constantly remind him that, “If I were the son of God, my son, then I would be using lightning bolts for discipline a little more often.”  He grins at me and answers, “Yes, my Jesus.”  He’s a sneaky sort, more dedicated to games and messages on his i-phone than learning.  He is more into working with the girls in small groups so that he can come out appearing much smarter without putting out very much actual work.

I remember one particularly challenged boy who didn’t talk in class at all.  He could make sounds, however.  Constantly during classes with this student in them, there would be numerous “meows” and birdcalls.  Grunts and groans and whistles would fill the air.  Most of the noises came from him.  The ones that didn’t, came from those who imitated him.  It reached a point that I was having to teach a classroom full of Harpo Marxes .  When asked about it, he claimed he had a sore throat all the time and just couldn’t talk.  Many of his teachers thought he was merely sabotaging class so he wouldn’t have to do any work.  But just like when you put a harp in front of Harpo, this boy had hidden talents, and just was not being engaged on his own level.  He was really quite bright if you could learn to communicate with him in Harpo Marxian.

I had another student who read all the existing Harry Potter books forward and backwards, and inside out.  He even looked like the actor who played Harry in the movies, glasses and all.  He was treated like a radioactive being by his classmates, and although he was charming and funny and had a natural talent for manga-style drawings of people, nobody seemed to treat him like a friend. (The paffooney picture I drew for this post was inspired by him.)    He was a jovial loner.  I was able to tap into his natural abilities for the Odyssey of the Mind creativity contests we participated in during the early 2000’s.  I helped him find nerd friends who also knew all the words to the Spongebob Squarepants theme. 

I have a Chinese girl in class who shared the Spongebob boy’s fascination with manga-style art.  She’s a different bird all together.  She gets my jokes and thinks I am funny.  But she never laughs.  She never even cracks a smile.  She is so careful and complete in every assignment that it is very nearly painful to watch.  Grades are serious matters to her.  If her grade drops from 100 to 98, she wants to audit the teacher’s grade book to find out why.  She does everything in class in beautifully crafted Chinese writing, and then translates it all word-for-word into English.

I owe my teaching career to kids like these.  When I started my career in 1981 for $11,000 per year, I was employed by a school that had total disciplinary meltdown the year before.  I had to deal with hostility, impossible behavior-modification tasks, fire crackers in the classroom, student fights, bullying, and a language/cultural gap wider than the Grand Canyon.  That first year, I was planning to resign at the end of the year and try to figure out what else I could do with my life when a small Hispanic boy with a Scottish family name came up beside me on the playground one March day and said, “Mr. Beyer, I hope you know you are my favorite teacher.  You are the reason I liked school this year.”

I didn’t let him see that there were tears in my eyes.  I told him something about him being my favorite student.  And I gave up thoughts about giving up.  I lived the next thirty years of my career for him.

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