Tag Archives: retirement

Like Pulling Teeth from a Chicken

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Life is hard here in the Kingdom of Paffoon where you labor hard at a labor of love and try to give birth to something eternal that ends up going nowhere… stacks of old writing litter my closets, and the prospects of being published grow dimmer and dimmer.  My book Snow Babies has a contract with a publisher, but, apparently they are not going to be able to publish it after all.  I am at the very least going to have to find another publisher for the rest of my books, both finished manuscripts and works in progress.

Blue and Mike in color (435x640)

I do intend to follow through and get published, though.  I can no longer teach, but I feel a powerful force pushing me towards the sheer precipice of authordom.  One way or another I am going to make it over the edge and plummet to the bottom of that cliff.  I am compelled by the need to tell stories, and I have a captive audience every school day no longer.

I used to tell my classes that doing impossible things was like trying to pull chicken teeth with pliers.  You know, impossible things like getting a book published or teaching a mostly Spanish-speaking student how to read in English…  every-day-sort-of impossible things.

“But, Mr. B, chickens don’t have teeth,” some bright-eyed student would say after realizing that “chicken” was the English word for “pollo”.

“Exactly!” I would say.  “That’s what makes it so challenging!”

And now I must put on my chicken-catching socks, find my tooth-pulling pliers, and get ready to make more novels happen.  After a brief bout of consternation and depression, I actually feel a bit better about the whole fiasco.  There are other publishers, and publishers seem to like my writing, even if they can’t publish it.  And I have waited two years to get Snow Babies published, all apparently for nothing.  It is time to stop wasting time.  And maybe to stop repeating repetitions too.

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Filed under humor, novel plans, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, publishing, self pity, writing, writing humor

Conversations With the Ghost of Miss M…

DSCN5148Beneath the old cottonwood tree there once stood a one-room school house.  My mother went to school there as a girl, a short walk from home along the Iowa country road.  Misty mornings on a road between cornfields and soybean fields can often conjure up ghosts.

I took this morning walk with the dog while I was visiting my old Iowegian home, and I was writing my fictional story Magical Miss Morgan in my head, not yet having had time to sit down and write.  I was reflecting on times long past and a school long gone, though Miss Morgan’s story is really about my own teaching experience.  Miss Morgan is in many ways me.  But I am not a female teacher.  I am a goofy old man.  So, why am I writing the main character as a female?

Well, the ghosts from the old school house heard that and decided to send an answer.

Miss Mennenga was my third grade and fourth grade teacher from the Rowan school.  The building I attended her classes in has been gone for thirty years.  Miss M herself has long since passed to the other side.  So when she appeared at the corner…  Yes, I know… I have said countless times that I don’t believe in ghosts, but she had the same flower-patterned dress, the glasses, the large, magnified brown eyes that could look into your soul and see all your secrets, yet love you enough to not tell them to anyone else.  Suddenly, I knew where the character of Miss Morgan had actually come from.  I also realized why I was drawn to teaching in the first place.  Teachers teach you more than just long division, lessons about the circulatory systems of frogs, and the Battle of Gettysburg…  They shape your soul.

“You remember getting in trouble for doing jokes in class when you were supposed to be studying your spelling words?”

“Yes, Miss M, but I didn’t make any noise.. they were pantomime jokes that I stole from watching Red Skelton on TV.”

“But you pulled your heart out of your chest and made it beat in your hand.  You had to know that was going to make the boys smirk and the girls giggle.”

“I did.  But making them happy was part of the reason God put me there.”

“But not during spelling.  I was trying to teach math to fourth graders.  You interrupted.”

“You made that point.  I still remember vividly.  You let me read the story to the class out loud afterwords.  You said I needed to use my talent for entertaining to help others learn, not distract them from learning.”

“I was very proud of the way you learned that lesson.”

“I tried very hard as a teacher to never miss a teachable moment like that.  It was part of the reason that God put you there.”

“And I did love to hear you read aloud to the class.  You were always such an expressive reader, Michael.  Do you remember what book it was?”

“It was Ribsy, by Beverly Cleary.   How could I have forgotten that until now?  You made me love reading out loud so much that I always did it in my own classes, at every opportunity.”

I remembered the smile above all else as the lingering image faded from my view through the eyes of memory.  She had a warm and loving smile.  I can only hope my goofy grin didn’t scare too many kids throughout my career.

10931430_1392374101067123_2624334665191497015_n I needed a post for 1000 Voices that was about reconnecting with someone.  I could’ve used any number of real life examples from everything that has happened to me since poor health forced me to retire from teaching  I could’ve written any number of things that would not make me feel all sad and goopy about retiring and would not make me cry at my keyboard again like I am doing now… like I did all through that silly novel I wrote… even during the funny parts.  But I had to choose this.  A debt had to be paid.  I love you, Miss M… and I had to pay it forward.

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Retirement Sinks In…

There comes a time in every career when the career is over and it has to end.  I spent 310 years teaching in Middle School and High School and loved every minute of it.  (Okay, divide the years by ten and subtract about twelve thousand minutes from the love… but I did love it.)  And I was good at it.  (At least, in my own confused little mind… I have photographic proof that I did help students get some quality sleep time in, but… hey, English is supposed to be boring.)

wonderful teaching

A year ago I was forced to make the decision to leave the job I loved.  Failing health and failing finances made it increasingly hard to do the job.  I was never a sit-behind-the-desk teacher.  I had to do the dance… up this row, down that one… lean over the spit-wad shooter before he could adequately aim and pull the stray cafeteria straw out of his mouth… suggest the verb needs to have an “s” on it if the subject of the sentence the student just wrote for me is singular…  stand in front of the boy who can’t listen to my wonderful teaching because the girl across the room is wearing a dress and block his view… and he doesn’t even like that girl, but she’s wearing a dress… you can see her legs… and he’s a teenager… you know, the dance of teaching.  When you walk with a cane and have a back brace on every single work day, the dance becomes harder and harder as the year wears on.  I got to spend my days with Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut and Maya Angelou and Robert Frost… and even more important I got to spend my days with Pablo and Sofie and Ruben and Rita and Keith…  I had so many more favorite students than I ever had those black-banes-of-a-teacher’s-existence kids that other teachers were always talking about in the faculty lounge.  (I rarely hung out in the faculty lounge because they tended to talk bad about kids I really loved and enjoyed teaching… and besides, I had crap to actually do before the next class came in.  Lounging was rarely an option.)

I confess that I have spent a good deal of this school year depressed and feeling sorry for myself.  No kids to talk to on a daily basis except my own, and even with them, only after school.  My wife is still teaching… so I rarely see her.  (Am I married?  I need to double-check.)  I fill the lonely hours with writing and story-telling and recollections of days past… and I am beginning to come to terms with my loss.  In retirement I can do more of the things that I always wanted to do… but never had time for.  I can draw and paint and write and sing (pray hard I don’t start posting videos of me singing!) and play with my toys… I have even decided to write a novel about people playing with toys.  Would I ever teach again if suddenly I was healthy and could do it again…?  YOU BETTER BELIEVE I WOULD!

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Missing the Mayhem

School is approaching.  A new school year.  Looming chaos.  And for the first time since 1981 I won’t be participating as a teacher.  I have retired.  I knew all the crying and goodbye-ing at the end of last school year was not the worst of it.  The worst is now.  No classroom to prepare.  No new names to learn.  No endless hours of in-service training where principals and experts blah-blah-blah endlessly.  (Okay, I don’t miss everything.)  But I am not dead, merely retired.  I should not have to feel so bad and left out.  Still, I linger in bed in the mornings, and I really don’t feel blessed by being retired.  I know many, many teachers who live for the day when they can retire.  They count the hours.  Not me.  I had to retire because of poor health and money woes.  But I taught long enough to get a full pension, and should not have to worry for whatever years I have left.  But it makes me sad not to be there.  I miss it.  And life will never be the same.

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One More Day…

So, I have three more classes on a day that ends at 1:00 tomorrow… Then no more being a teacher for the rest of my life.  Am I happy?  Ah, no…  I have been a teacher for 31 of the last 33 years.  I was a substitute teacher for the two years in between job two and job three.  I do not know how to regulate the rhythms of my life without a daily bell schedule, without hallway duty, without discipline referrals, without restroom passes and library privileges.  What will I do come Monday?  I guess I will remember how much it is in my blood… in my genes… in my very soul.  And I will never actually stop being a teacher.  I just will have no more class.           Ee-hee-hee-hee-hee (snort! Snort!)

Urkel

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June 6, 2014 · 12:19 am

Mr. B Gets Weepy

Mr BThey were going to make me cry sooner or later. I told you that. Today was the day. In the midst of trying to get everything done without actually teaching, they surprised me with a multi-level “We Will Miss You… And We Love You” poster. Current students and former students all signed it and lied to me in prose about how wonderful a teacher I have been. Drat their evil plots! Getting through the week without tears is now a lost cause. We took a lot of pictures, but teachers can’t post pictures of students on the web without violating FERPA guidelines and federal privacy laws. So I cut them out of this Photo Paffooney. Besides, the gentleman in blue to my right flipped the bird in one of the photos. I photo-shopped that finger off his hand. Ha-hah! If only teachers could do that in real life!  Oh, and I avoided photos of me crying.

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June 4, 2014 · 2:08 am

Creepy Times, the Second Chapter

Creepy Times, the Second Chapter

As a teacher, you always have to wonder who is pulling your strings, who is the puppet master? It is usually a principal, but today I think it was a colleague. She dumped another monster assignment on me. Individual test score conferences with all our ESL 10th and 11th grade students. They are taking my classroom away from me tomorrow, so I have no place to do the work, nor sufficient time. I apparently get half of the ninth graders too. Then I will called on the carpet if I don’t get this done soon… preferably tomorrow. This from a woman who has no classes to teach and no job beyond paperwork. Why can’t she do all of this extra work? She has the time and an available office. Another of the many reasons I am retiring in June. I love teaching, but nobody lets me do it any more… at least, not the right way.

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May 15, 2014 · 1:54 am

Teachers Must Fail (Educational Ruminations about Ruination)

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The fact is, being a teacher is the same as accepting the necessity of failure.  Yes, I know it is a sort of metaphorical nightmare to say that, and I don’t mean that I am planning to give F’s to kids.  I would prefer never to fail a kid, because it means I failed the kid.  Failure is, however, the ruling factor in teaching.

In my teaching Paffooney which I call “Reluctant Rabbit Teaches a Few Good Notes”, you see me as a teacher with my pack of very diverse and desk-hopping students doing what I do best.  I teach reading by making them read, reading with them and to them, helping them to ask questions about what they read and never answering those questions for them (after all, they learn better if they do the work rather than having me do the work for them).  I teach them to write by reading what they write and responding to it, and by writing myself and sharing that with them too.  Reluctant Rabbit teaches in these two ways by using his giant magic pencil of cartoons and music to create the Great Symphony of Learning.  It turns out that teaching like this is often considered a subversive act.

But teaching is all about failure.  In Texas Education, the powers that be have constructed a system of education designed specifically to make teachers fail.  It really began with Mark White as Governor and H. Ross Perot as the mad troll of education.  Back then they decided to get rid of incompetent and idiot teachers by giving State-wide teacher idiot tests.  They gave us basic reading and writing tests to determine if we were worthy to keep our jobs.  I remember trying to comfort a very wonderful Hispanic Science teacher who was worried that her language skills would take away the job she loved.  But what they didn’t realize about teaching is that if a teacher is not basically competent, then the students will eat them.  Teaching in the classroom will remove the incompetent teacher (though not necessarily the ineffective one).

When George Bush and then Emperor-for-Life Rick Perry took over the drive to make teachers fail, they added the notion that you had to give students idiot tests and punish their teachers for the fact that students are naturally immature and basically idiots.  Teaching became less about learning stuff and more about idiot-transformation.  Stamp out idiocy by teaching them how to pass the idiot tests.

When we reached the point we were about to master the TAAS  test (Texas Assessment of Donkey-hole Students), the State decided they had to change to the TAKS test (Texas Assessment of Kooky Stuff).  We closed in on mastering TAKS, and the State quickly switched to End-Of-Course STAAR Tests (Stupid Teachers Aren’t About to Rejoice).  What has been the point of all this testing?  It is like trying to measure your child’s growth with a ruler that is constantly getting bigger.  No matter how much progress you make, it will look like the child is shrinking.  This, of course, is exactly the goal of this red State’s education system.  Public schools have to fail so the Republican masters of profit can privatize and make schools run for profit (except for poor people’s schools which are intended to properly prepare poor people for prison).

It breaks my heart, but schools are increasingly places for boosting the rich and busting the poor.  Schools that have high poverty populations, like the schools I have worked for,  are left to struggle and die on their own, grinding up young and idealistic teachers as well as old and cancerously cynical teachers that don’t believe in following the rules.  My State is not the only State trying to do away with a free and valuable public education.

Consider the case of Ruben, one of my students I once tried to help and simply couldn’t save.    Ruben was a skinny Hispanic fourteen-year-old who wasn’t living with his parents.  He bounced from grandparents to aunts to uncles and back again.  He was extremely bright and fiercely independent.  But he wouldn’t do schoolwork and didn’t seem to care if he was dooming himself to a lifetime in the seventh grade. 

A boy from a better household, a more privileged boy, began picking on Ruben.  I caught Victor pushing Ruben around and trying to goad him into a fight, a fight he knew he could win because he was bigger, heavier, and training to be a Gold Gloves boxer.

“What can I do to help, Ruben?” I asked.

“No stupid gringo can do anything to help.  I can fight my own battles.”

He had a point.  I could stop the behavior from happening in school, but once he left campus, I had no authority and the police didn’t figure it was a police matter.  So, what would the outcome be?

Ruben took care of the problem by joining a gang.  The Town Freaks in San Antonio was actually a local chapter of the Bloods from Los Angeles.  They would go on to become the San Antonio Kingz.   When Ruben was being initiated into the gang, they stole a pickup truck in South San Antonio.  They got into a car chase with the police.  The truck rolled over under an overpass and everyone in the back of the truck was killed.  Ruben was one of those.

It still makes me weep to write about it, or even think about it.  If I had had any resources at all to help that boy…  If I could have … Why did I have to fail?  But blaming myself never gives me any comfort.  I learned to do whatever I could to help kids stay away from gangs, to learn in ways that were painless, and be able to talk to an adult instead of trying to handle everything themselves.  I mentored a number of fatherless boys, or boys who had alcoholic fathers and mothers, poor kids who had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.  We played computer games and Dungeons and Dragons, replaced by a science fiction role playing game when the Baptists objected to the original game.  I was even accused and investigated as a possible child molester because so many boys visited my apartment before I got married.  Of course, the authorities found out the truth (some of them knew before I was accused) and were a little bit embarrassed to be asking me such questions when so many people were willing to come to my defense.  I learned to dream the impossible dream.  You can actually save a kid from poverty and self-doubt.  One of my boys went to Notre Dame University.  Another went into the Marines and specialized in intelligence.  I recently learned that a couple of my former students have become teachers for the same school I labored at for over twenty-three years .

Okay, Mr. Rabbit, you have tooted your own horn, now.  Are you going to tell us that teachers don’t ultimately fail?

Sorry, I’m afraid that they do.  I am facing the end of my teaching career now.  With diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, and three more incurable diseases, I am trying to teach with diminishing energy, making a forty-five minute commute to my school across north Dallas twice every day that is going to kill me, and skills that are becoming somewhat shaky in the face of stress at work.  I am human.  I will not last much longer.  The State is busy trying to reduce the retirement that after thirty-one years I think I deserve.  It isn’t enough money to keep my family going as it is. 

And part of that failure is not entirely bad.  A new generation is bound to take over and carry on.  As I diminish, someone will rise up to take up the torch.  In fact, I need to vacate my position so someone who needs a classroom to start their career can begin to learn how to reach out to the Rubens they will encounter.  So, I apologize for promising humor and then trying to make you cry.  I probably only succeeded in bringing myself to tears.  Teachers ultimately fail just as all men eventually die, but the War on Ignorance is not yet over, and we will never have to admit defeat.

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Poorly Explained Bob Transformations

 

 

I haven’t posted yet this week because I was in a blue funk about finances and the general rottenness of life. I have worked incredibly hard as a teacher for thirty years, and all I have to show for it is a mountain of debt and more bills than a flock of flamingos on steroids.  As a writer I have been paid twelve dollars so far for my writing.  Considering the time and effort and expense Imageto get it edited and published and marketed, I’m at about minus six thousand, nine hundred and eighty-eight dollars.  I have to admit, I was not my usual sarcastically cheerful self. I have always been a pessimist for optimistic reasons. By that I mean I always prepare for the worst, so that I end up prepared if the worst happens, and pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t. I find that usually the worst DOES happen, so I am never truly disappointed. I appreciate all the supportive comments from those out there in the blogosphere who actually read anything that I write, but you need not worry about resourceful ol’ Mike. I have already done some things about the problems. I got doctored up to the point that I was no longer missing days of work due to illness.  Cutting down on salary dockings because my six incurable diseases keep me out of the virulent Petri-dish that is the modern classroom has made a big difference.  I was losing $900 a month for the months of March and April. But my wife did summer school and I got some overtime by working an extra week in June, the only benefit I received all year for being ESL lead teacher (a job with lots of extra work attached, but NO extra pay).  Now we are not doomed to lose the house and cars until next Fall. In fact, we were able to pay off the eight-year-old Ford Freestyle, so we won’t lose that at all, or have any more payments on it, and we can live in it this coming winter after we lose the house. Of course, it will probably break down at any moment now that it is paid for. And there is no way on earth that we will be able to pay for gas without selling the kids into slavery. Doom still looms, though further in the future now. See, I planned that well. So, my complaints and self-pity aside, I do have a plan in a typical, practical Mike-manner. Now, all I have to do is avoid getting the bubonic plague and other common diseases from the classroom where I teach, and in typical, pessimistical Mike-manner, I will be completely back on track. That is to say, if I can properly explain the current transformation I am undergoing from Mike-ism to Bob-ism. I was infected by Bob-ism when I went to the Aldrich-Hinckley Reunion this summer up in Lake Cornelia Iowa. My cousin Bob was there, healthy and happy, and living the life of no worries… hakuna matata! So now I shall endeavor to explain this Mike to Bob lycanthropy that I seem to be suffering from.

Let me tell you first what it means to be a Mike. Mike is not actually the name that my parents gave me; that was Michael. Mike is not the way I think of myself, because that would be Mickey. Mike is simply a state of mind. It is a practical-as-dirt sort of down-home-country-boy and slightly-redneck-though-not-really-prejudiced state of mind. Mike is a farmhand name. Mike is a practical, no-nonsense, fix-the-tractor-and plow-the-dang-field sort of name. Mike recalls two-fisted Mike Hammer and many other two-fisted Mike-isms from pulp fiction, TV, and other blatantly two-fisted sillinesses. A Mike is a guy in a white t-shirt to show off muscles and almost-muscles. A Mike is a well-named action hero from the comic strips, or a thug from the comic books, and tends to have a crew cut and less brains than any Brian, Al, or Chet. In Dr. Seuss, Mike rides on the back of the ole bike so he can push it up hill. (At least they LIKE their Mike!) Mike also has an impishly playful side as we can see in Mickey (himself) McGuire and even Mickey Mouse. If you tell a Mike, “An asteroid is about to hit the Earth, and we are all gonna die!” he will answer, “Okay, but I’m gonna give it a good punch in the nose first!” (I know an asteroid has no nose, but it is what gets said anyway, because, well… I’m a Mike, that’s all.) So being a Mike is probably not such a bad thing to be, as opposed to being a Gary or a Stan. I could live with it, but I am not completely a Mike. I am developing definite Bob tendencies.

Bob-ism has just got to be explained at this point. Being a Bob is something the world barely tolerates, but desperately needs. Bob is NOT practical. Think of Bob Denver or Bob Keeshan. Bob is not wise. Think of Bob Barker or Bob Dole. You don’t laugh WITH a Bob, you laugh AT him. Bob Newhart never laughs at all, and he is definitely a funny ole Bob. Bob does not give in to hardships. Bob endures. No matter how many times Bob falls on his face, landing in Mary Ann’s coconut cream pie, or loses an election to some dang Democrat, or gets ping-pong balls dropped on his head by Mister Moose, Bob still keeps right on going and doing all sorts of Bob things. Bob is capable of sacrifice. Think of what Bobby Kennedy did for equal rights and to organized crime. And think of the price he paid for doing those things. (Yes, I know we’re talking “Bobby” here. Little Bobby-boy. But Bob is to Bobby as Mike is to Mickey.) There is something admirable about being a Bob, even though there’s also something rather sad about being a Bob. My Mike-muscles are sagging down into Bob-like table muscles now. My Mike-like sarcastic wit is now becoming more of a Bob-like roll of the eyes. People are not laughing WITH me any more, they are laughing AT me. And, Bob-like, I am relishing it. People are always ready to put up their dukes and take a swing at Mike. Just ask Mike Tyson. But a Bob is not nearly so tempting a target. People tend to feel sorry for ole Bob, because, well… after all, he is a Bob. So, from now on… put me down as a Bob. It’s a whole lot easier than trying to “Be like Mike”.

So, now I’m sure you understand my cloying self-pity and recent lack of wit. It has to be as clear to you now as it is to me. The cause of all my troubles has been being a Mike. To solve my problems, I will just be Bob.Image

 

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