Tag Archives: teachers

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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Welcome to the Monkey House (Unfortunately, not by Kurt Vonnegut)

In my effort to create a proper field guide to all the critters and flitters and animals you find in the modern schoolroom, I can’t neglect to talk about the Monkey House.  I was, after all, a middle school teacher for 24 of my 30 years in teaching.  One simply cannot take that many blows to the back of the head from spit-wads and other assorted classroom projectiles without going a little bit ape-happy.  (I once knew an eighth grade science teacher who liked to use the ape-happy expression to describe student behavior.  But he didn’t actually say “happy”.  He substituted the magic s-word.  It is magic because no matter how many times the teacher hears, or over-hears, or gets assaulted by that word in the classroom, the teacher can never say it himself… It will make him disappear… permanently.  I know it’s true.  It happened to my friend the science teacher.)  Sorry, I digress sometimes.  Too many spit-wads to the back of the head.

In the Monkey House, especially the seventh grade version of it, there are certain essential behavioral characteristics that you have to be aware of.  First of all, and with malice aforethought, the monkeys like to throw poop.  Now, I don’t mean that literally… (Although in one case I remember about fourteen years ago…  No, wait, I don’t really want to go back there again.)  It is only in the figurative sense.  The monkeys have big monkey eyes.  They see everything.  And what they see, they will TELL you about… in all capital letters.  If your fly is open, especially if you’re the teacher, they will tell you about it, loudly, “YOUR FLY IS OPEN!” at precisely the same moment that the gung-ho lady principal and the curriculum director with the scary glare walk in together to view this innovative teaching style they’ve heard so much about in faculty lounge.  In a Texas Monkey House like the ones I’ve taught in, kids will tell each other to be quiet in the rudest possible way in the loudest possible voice.  They say it Spanish, which of course, both the principal and the curriculum director spoke as their first language.  They say it in words that literally mean “shut your dog-mouth”.  And they add the magic p-word in Spanish for good measure.  (The students will all tell you that the magic p-word really just means “stupid person”, but to translate it more accurately, it means “one who routinely thinks only with that body part that only boys have access to”, or possibly, “your brains are full of poop!”)  And they don’t only throw their poop out of their mouths.  They can also fling it with fingers, especially that one magic finger, but also in rude gestures, using both hands, the elbow, and even throwing around gang signs that can get you killed in the wrong parts of San Antonio or Dallas.

The second behavioral characteristic in the Monkey House is the ability to be the dumbest dumb monkey in the classroom.  Nobody wants to be smart.  That is the kiss of death.  Bullies beat you relentlessly throughout the school day and for the rest of your natural life (as short as that will probably be) if they learn that you are a smart monkey.  Even the girl monkeys adhere to this rule.  To be smart makes you a “teacher’s pet” and a potential stool pigeon.  To be smart makes you radioactive, and likely to get anyone around you killed as well.  A smart girl will never have the necessary boy friend because what boy wants to hang around with a girl that knows too much and can probably out-think him?    A smart boy had better keep his head down, and in the classroom, his hand down.  The universal truth is this… the big monkeys EAT the smart monkeys.

The third, but most important characteristic in the Monkey House is that somebody has to love the monkeys.  Monkeys don’t thrive in a pack, or left to their own devices.  They don’t just live in the Monkey House at school.  Their home life is just as crazy.  The monkeys at home throw just as much poop, and they also EAT the smart monkeys (all in capital letters… truly).  Somebody has to be willing to talk to the monkeys, to learn their language… to deal with them one on one.  They need somebody to understand them and sympathize with their horrible monkey lives.  Somebody has to show them how not to be a monkey… even if they’re one of the big ones who eat other monkeys.  Monkeys have value.  They make you laugh and they make you cry.  (Sorry.  I didn’t mean to make you cry too.  You weren’t ever a monkey, were you?)  So you teach in the Monkey House and the principal doesn’t fire you for having no proper classroom discipline and for having monkeys who misbehave, because if the principal is any good at her job, she realizes that you are the kind of teacher who loves the monkeys and the monkeys need you.

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The Liar’s Club

I am a teller of lies.  Yes, I can’t help it.  I do it for a living.  Telling stories is simply what I do.

Now, for those of you who know the secret, that I am employed by a Texas public high school as a teacher of English, I must confess that Texas teachers are all expected to be liars.  Not merely the tellers of small, innocuous white lies, but big, powerful, dark black hoo-haws that would curdle the innards of those you have to tell them to if they ever found out the truth.  In Texas, all teachers must tell these particular lies by State mandate; 

  • Texas values education.
  • We put the students first and make our decisions based on what is best for them.
  • We only put smart people in charge of education in our state.
  • We only put smart people in charge of our state.
  • We don’t let politics affect the quality of our education.

If I just shot down your illusion balloons of sacredly held beliefs, I’m sorry, but you must not have paid attention when our State Emperor for Life tried to step down a notch in his career and run for President of the U.S.  The man with all the tact and wisdom in Texas said that he wanted to do away with the Department of Education at the federal level.  At least, I think he said that… or was that the one he forgot during the debates?  I don’t remember.  Oops.  I guess it rubs off. 

Teachers in Texas have had to deal with billions of dollars in cuts in our education budget.  Yes, I actually meant BILLIONS.  I know the difference between M and B.   And, of course this exercise in thriftiness comes at the same time that the yearly state test by which all programs are evaluated, trimmed, and ultimately obliterated is being morphed into a harder test of higher level thinking skills, and multiplied by four core subjects so that high school seniors will have to pass not one, but TWELVE (or possibly sixteen, the state has not made up its mind yet about what number will do the best job of improving graduation rates) high stakes, pass-or-no-diploma tests.  Sorry, I meant to say TESTS.  We have to shout things in Texas education or no one listens…  No, that’s wrong too.  No one ever listens.

So teachers are professional liars.  That’s the truth of it in the modern world.  You have to go into the classroom every day and tell lies right and left.  You have to say things like; “Welcome to English class, all thirty five of you.  Ask me any question at any time because I have to make sure each one of you individually understands each and every one of the three thousand points of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.  I am happy to see all your smiling faces.  Don’t carve your name in your desk with your Bowie knife or I will have to call the principal, knowing I dare not lay a hand on you or your property, and confident that the administration will back me up and do something about your behavior instead of lecturing me about classroom management skills (assuming I survive this) and sending me to the teacher re-teaching center to re-teach me how to handle dangerous, aggressive, un-motivated, belligerent, and bad-smelling students with learning disabilities (who are not more than eighty per cent of the student population.)

Now that I am old, and parts of me are drying up and falling off, I am seriously trying to take my talent for lying like a rug and turn it into a new career, a fiction author for young adults.  I mean, I do have some knowledge of youths and adolescents, having taught them for a quarter of a century plus half a decade (sorry, thirty years for those of you who are used to actually being listened to when you talk).  I am also very good at telling narrative lies from having to recount what happened when we had the fight in the classroom because Bozo looked at Bozina from behind and she went into a screaming fit because he’s a creepy guy and she could feel his eyes on her behind even when she was only looking at the girl ahead of her, Bozolette, who was turned around talking to her without permission about how ugly Bozinga is whenever he has to wear shorts for Phizz Ed Class.  Of course the principal sends me to the teacher re-teaching center for more re-teaching even if he believes my little black hoo-haw.  Therefore I hope that means that I really ought to be able to mash together a bunch of my brilliant, witty hoo-haws, put a nice pink ribbon on them, and sell them as a young adult novel.

So, there you have it.  I am a liar.  I freely admit it.  And I am trying to make the transition from one liars’ club to the next before all my parts dry up and fall off.  Dang!  There went one leg already!Image

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