Tag Archives: teaching

If I’m Being Honest…

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If I’m being honest, I am a liar.  And that is not really a paradox, because I don’t always lie.  In fact, I often lie in order to reveal a deeper truth.  (I know, I know… rationalizations are simply another kind of lie.)  I lie because I used to be a school teacher.  You know that teachers have to be liars because you can’t say to a parent, “Your kid is ugly and stupid, and I have documented proof.”  You especially can’t say that if it really is provable.  Instead, you have to tell the lie that any kid can learn and do and be anything they want if only they are willing to work hard enough.  And you have to tell that lie often enough that the kid, the parent, and even you, the teacher, believe it to the point that it becomes true.

And now that I am retired and not telling the school teacher’s lie any longer, I have become a novelist, and I have now made it my business to make up fiction stories and compile lies into book form.  And though the people or characters are based loosely on real people I have known, they are really only a narrative trick to make the reader think about and possibly accept as truth the themes my writing puts forward.

(Boy!  I sure am an ugly old hairy nut-job, ain’t I? = a lie in question form.)

But if I’m being honest today, there are a few things I need to say truthfully, straight out without irony or falsehood or exaggeration.  Let me offer these truths.

  • In this political environment where partisan politics divide us to the point of attempted assassinations with bombs, I do not hate the other side of the argument.  I don’t hate Republicans and conservatives.  Some of my old friends in Iowa and some of my good friends in Texas are conservative enough to have voted for Trump.  I do not reject them as my friends because of their politics.  They are good people and worthy in too many ways to list.  And though they may be sympathetic to someone who threatens me because I have looney liberal ideas, I don’t expect any of them to send me bombs in the mail.  That kind of division is the opposite of what we need.
  • I know what statistics say about kids and learning potential.  I have worked hard during my lifetime to create educational achievement in places where it is nearly impossible.  I believe in the value of every student, and some of the worst behavioral problems and some of the most difficult learning disabilities helped me really get to know some of my all-time favorite kids.
  • I will continue to tell lies for the sake of education and art and all the things that matter to me.  Lies can be used for good as much as the truth can be used for injury and evil.  But my lies will always be soap-bubble hoo-haws, easily popped and seen through for what they really are meant to accomplish, never big black cannonball lies meant to rip people apart and destroy the fortresses they live in.
  • If I’m being honest, even though I am a liar, you can believe in me.

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Miss Terry G.

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Miss Terry Consuelo Guerra

As a school teacher, you will simply have to accept that, no matter what you do or say, some students are going to love you, and some students are going to totally hate you.  You can’t control that.  The only thing you can control is how you feel about them.

She came into my classroom that first day in August, and I knew from the very first glance that she was one of a kind.  She was very angular of feature, standing, walking, and sitting in a very stiff and upright posture.  She did not bend easily, in body or soul.

She insisted on having a front seat so she could learn, and I had to move one of the other girls who really didn’t care where she sat so that Miss Terry could have a front seat.  She was a note-taker who constantly noted practically everything.  I think she even noted down some of my jokes in the precise order that they were told.  Disorder had no place in her world, and she did not tolerate disorder even from a teacher.

And Miss Terry Consuelo Guerra (not exactly her real name) never smiled and never laughed.  So you can guess what my primary objective was whenever I had her intense little face in front of me.  She hated it whenever I made her smirk or lose control of a slight giggle.  And the few times I ever got a real, unguarded smile out of her, she was absolutely beautiful.

The little raven girl would often snipe at me when she answered in class.  She often told me that my discipline was too lax, that the lessons weren’t ordered in a way that was efficient, and that I really wasn’t as funny as I thought.  And I didn’t let that get to me.  I know from faculty lounge conversations that she often got on the nerves of almost all of her other teachers.  But I unconditionally loved her.  And I know I got to her more than merely once or twice.  If we were keeping score, I was winning.  But we were not keeping score, and I let her think she was completely in control of her own education.

Her senior year in high school, she and another girl whom I loved and was also graduating came back to visit my seventh-grade classroom.

“You know, Mr. Beyer, looking back on junior high, of all the teachers I had, your class is really the only one I remember.  I liked your class.”

Naomi, the girl who came with her, was also a little shocked by Terry’s pronouncement.  But she quickly added, “You were the best teacher we ever had.”

“Well, I don’t know…  Yes, I guess you are right,” the raven girl said.

“Thank you, that means a lot coming from you,” I said.  “By the way, who are you again?”

Her eyes got wider.  “You don’t remember me?”

I laughed.  “I tried hard to forget you.  But it didn’t work.  You are Homero’s little sister.  You were one of the best students I ever had, Terry.”

The smile I got from that lame joke was the best one.

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Filed under education, humor, kids, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Teachers in Space

This is another in my continuing series of Saturday night D&D posts, though it was written on Saturday morning and contains no Dungeons and Dragons information whatsoever.

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The Space Bear was a travelling space ship/school.

You see, in the early 1980’s, I got in trouble with Baptists for playing Dungeons and Dragons with kids from school because… well, demons and dragons are evil, right?  Apparently even the imaginary ones in games and illustrations. So I turned my attention to science fiction games.  Traveller was my rule system, and all science fiction was my campaign.  And then in 1986 Ronald Reagan and NASA decided to blow up the first teacher in space aboard the Challenger shuttle mission.  So, my Traveller game became less about “explore and conquer” and more about “teachers in space”.

gaijin1234aGed Aero was the player character of one of my favorite kids.  He was a psionic shape-changer who could transform into other animals, space creatures, and alien beings.  He became so powerful that he naturally inherited the job of leader of the Psionics Institute, a criminal teachers’ union that taught psionic skills to psionically talented kids. It was a criminal organization because the semi-fascist government of the Third Imperium had made psionics illegal.  He gathered students and taught them to use their powers for good.  The students were all non-player characters to start with, but as new kids from school wanted to play the game too, and player characters were needed, the students of Ged’s psionics dojo became player characters.

Junior Aero, a former student and the adopted son of Ged’s deceased brother Hamfast, grew up and became a player character himself. He taught psionics, being a telepath who could talk to computers and robots that were self-aware.  His wife, Sarah Smith Aero, also became a teacher.  She and Junior had twins, a boy and a girl, both genetically Nebulons, and both destined to be students aboard the Space Bear.

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Of course, you may have noticed a K’ung Fu sort of thing going on in the illustrations I am showing you.  That was because one time as Ged was in dinosaur form and fighting with a ninja swordmaster, he won the fight by eating the ninja.  His shape-changing power then absorbed all the muscle memories and martial arts training of the ninja he ate.  So, his students would not only become psionic masters of mind manipulations, but ninja warriors as well.

 

So, whether they liked it or not, my Traveller players had to learn to teach their skills to others, lead students through complex adventures and problem=solving situations, and basically do themselves a lot of the same things they saw me doing in school all as part of a role-playing game.  You see, that was one of the main dangers of playing role-playing games on Saturdays with that kooky English teacher in South Texas. The danger was, you might actually have to learn something.  Although, most of them probably didn’t realize that that was precisely what they were doing.  They thought we were just playing games, or junk like that.

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Why Do You Think That? (Part One)

I believe myself capable of rational thought.  It is that irrational and over-emotional conclusion that leads me to write a self-reflective post full of over-blown thinking about thinking like this one.

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The little Midwestern town of Rowan, Iowa, the place where I grew up, is probably the center of my soul and biggest reason for why I am who I am.

I was a public school teacher for 31 years.  It really seems more like 131 years for all the kids I got to know and lessons I got to teach.  I have lots and lots of experience on which to draw for the drawing of conclusions about education.  Here is a conclusion I drew (literally);

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All kids are good kids.

I can hear the debate from the teachers’ lounge already.  “What kind of an idiot thinks something as stupid as that?”  “It’s true that there are a lot of good kids, but what about Psycho Melvin or Rebel Maria?”  “Some kids are stupid.  I have test data to prove it.”

But I not only believe all kids are good, I think all people are good, even the bad ones.  I have large numbers of memories filed away of times I got to the bottom of problems with kids acting out in class.  Invariably the reasons for their bad behaviors would either make me laugh, or make me cry.  Edwin rammed the drinking fountain with his head because he was socially inept and starved for attention from the other kids.  El Goofy could make his whole head turn bright purple on command because it made the girls squeal and laugh and he had learned to manipulate facial muscles to make it happen because he liked the result.  Lucy yelled at me in front of the whole class because she was thinking about committing suicide like her mother had before her, and she needed me to stop her.  (I don’t use these kids’ real names for some very good reasons, but rest assured, Lucy made it to adulthood.)  (Sorry, I had to stop at this point and cry for 15 minutes again.) My experiences as a teacher have basically taught me that all people need love, and all people are worthy of love.  Someone even loved Adolf Hitler.

There are really two kinds of teachers.  There is the kind who teaches because they love kids and will literally sacrifice anything to benefit them.  The Sandy Hook incident proved that those teachers exist in every school.  There is also the kind who hate kids with a passion and believe themselves to be experts at classroom discipline.  Don’t get me wrong, teachers like that mold young people into upstanding citizens or championship-winning football or basketball players on a regular basis.  But they do it by polishing out the flaws in kids through punishment and rigorous efforts to remove every flaw because they actually detest the flaws in themselves that they see mirrored in students.  I could never be that kind of teacher myself, but I know they are just as necessary as the other kind. After all, all people are good people, even the bad ones.

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Doctor Doom really doesn’t like to be around me.  Still, he’s a good person too, even though he’s fictional.

After more than 500 words worth of this nonsense, and I realize I still have a lot more to say about this goofy topic, I must draw to a close.  And I know I haven’t convinced anyone of anything yet.  But let me threaten you with the prospect that I will pursue this topic again sooner than you would like.  I just can’t seem to stop thinking about why I think what I think, and why I am always thinking.

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Being a Teacher at Heart

Being a teacher at heart… I want to recommend that career…even though I know full well it is a super-hard crappy job of glorified baby-sitting that pays in literal peanuts and nobody in their  right minds recommends it to smart young up-and-comers as a glamorous choice… and it is only getting worse under a new anti-education administration.

Being a teacher at heart… I can’t help remembering how it all started for me.  The last thing in the world I imagined myself being when I was in high school was a teacher.  I wanted to be a cartoonist or a comic book artist.  I wanted to write best-selling science fiction novels and maybe direct a movie.  You know, the kind of thing millionaires line up to bestow on college grads with a degree in English  and a transcript filled with mostly A’s in my art classes.

But after my remedial master’s degree gave me a provisional teaching certificate, and my one and only interview for an illustrator’s job resulted in compliments on my portfolio and best wishes for my teaching career, I headed to Texas, one of only two states actually hiring teachers in 1981.  (The other was Florida, which it turns out it was a very lucky thing my family had already moved to Texas to help me make that decision.  Have you seen the education news coming out of Florida?  I now know where Satan gets his mail.)

Turns out the only job available in 1981 was all the way South on Interstate 35 in Cotulla, Texas.  I was there to teach English to 8th graders.  Mostly Spanish-speaking 8th graders.  And the previous year the 7th grade English teacher had run out of the classroom screaming after the little darlings exploded firecrackers under her chair and put scorpions in her coffee cup.  I was given her classroom and the same students that forced her to re-think her career choice.  El Loco Gongie, El Loco Martin, Talan, El Mouse, El Boy, El Goofy (whose one and only talent was to turn his whole head purple at will), La Chula Melinda, and the Lozano Twins  were the nicknames I had to learn because practically everyone was named Jose Garcia… even the girls.  Talan and El Mouse were the first ones to threaten my life.  They picked up a fence post on the way to lunch (we had to walk four blocks to the elementary school to get lunch because the junior high building had no cafeteria).  Talan said something threatening in Spanish that I didn’t understand and added the name “Gringo Loco” menacingly to whatever he said, and El Mouse pantomimed using the metal fence post as a sword to cut me in two.  All this because I was trying to get them to keep up with the rest of the class on our little hike in the 100 degree heat.  (I think I knew then why Satan moved to Florida.)  Fortunately they must’ve decided that murdering me wasn’t worth the hours of detention they would have to spend, and dropped the post.  Class was definitely disrupted when handsome El Boy and La Chula decided to break up, or rather, El Boy decided he like brown-eyed Alexandra better after she got blue-eyed contact lenses that made her eyes look yellow-green.  Girl fights are harder to break up than boy fights because girls fight to the death over matters of the heart, and they really don’t care who dies once the fight is started.

Now you may think my account of my first horrible year as a teacher must be exaggerated and expanded with lies because you know I am a humorist and that I went on to teach for many more years.  But I swear, only the names have been changed.  The nicknames and the incidents all are real.  (Yes, he really could contort his face in a way that turned his entire head purple.  It was freaky and made the girls scream.)    As I reached the spring of the year that year and had to decide whether or not to sign my contract for the next year, I really was planning to get out of teaching all together.  But I was standing on the playground one day that spring glaring at the vatos locos to prevent fights from breaking out again when Ruben came up to stand beside me and talk to me.  Ruben was one of the brightest and physically smallest of all my kids that year.  But he had such a charm about him that the bullies left him alone (except for the time he got in trouble for forging El Boy’s mother’s signature on a failing report card).  He said to me, “I want you to know, you are my favorite teacher.  I learned a lot from you this year.”  I had to bite my lower lip to keep from crying right there and then.  It was the moment when I decided I had to be a teacher.  They were not going to make me run away in defeat.  I was going to work at it until I knew how to do it right.  For Ruben.  And for all the other boys and girls like Ruben who liked me as a teacher… and laughed at my jokes… even the really corny ones… and needed me.  That made all the hard stuff worth it.

Being a teacher at heart… I recognize now that there was never anything else I was going to be.  It was what God chose me to be.  And my only regret about my choice is that I had to retire and can’t do it any more for health reasons.  I still miss it.

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Really Bad Jokes

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If you have the bad habit of reading this particular blog more than once, then you are probably aware that I used to be a public school teacher.  Even worse, I used to be a middle school English teacher.  Aagh!  Seventh graders!  It explains a lot about how life has warped my intelligence, personality, and world view.  It also explains somewhat where I found such a fountain-like source for some of the worst jokes you ever heard.

Now, as to the question of why I have chosen in my retirement early-onset senility to become a humor-blogger… well, that is simply not something I can answer in one post… or even a thousand.  But kids are the source of my goofball clown-brain joking around.

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Kid-humor, you see, is stunted and warped in weird ways by the time period you are talking about.  The eighties, nineties, two thousands, and the tens are all very different.  And those are the various sets of students that I attempted to learn moose bowling from by teaching them English.

Still, there are certain universal constants.

Potty humor really kills.  If you want to make a thirteen-year-old crack up with laughter, roll around on the floor, and maybe wet his or her pants, then you only need to work the “poop” word, or the “nickname for Richard” word, or the “Biblical word for donkey” word into the conversation.  Of course the actual words, even though we all know what they actually are, are magical words.  If you actually say them to kids in school as their teacher, those words can actually make you magically and permanently disappear from the front of the classroom.  All kids are big fans of George Carlin and his seven words, even though most of them have never heard of him.

And violent humor is popular with kids from all decades.  The most common punch line in the boys’ bathroom is, “… and then he kicked him in the Biblical word for donkey!” followed closely in second place by, “… and then she kicked him in the Biblical word for donkey!”  I am told (for I don’t actually go in such scary places myself) that in the girls’ bathroom the most popular punch line is, “…so I kicked him right in the soccer balls, and he deserved it!”   Why girls are apparently obsessed with soccer, I don’t know… or particularly care.sweet-thing

So my education in humor began with bad-word jokes, slapstick humor, put-downs, and rude noises coming from unfortunate places.  Humor in the classroom is actually a metaphorical mine field laced with tiger traps, dead-falls that end with an anvil hitting you on the head, or being challenged to a life-or-death game of moose bowling.  (Don’t know what moose bowling is?  Moose bowling is a very difficult game that, in order to knock down all the pins and win, you have to learn to roll a moose down the alley.)  Sounds like I spend too much time watching cartoons and playing video games, doesn’t it?  Well, there’s more.  And it gets worse from here.  But I will spare you that until the next time I am foolish enough to try making excuses for my really bad jokes.

 

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Mickey’s Red-State Blues

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I often struggle with depression.  Every member of my family has battled it at some point.  And it is a dangerous disease.  It can kill you.  I don’t like spending quaking, fearful hours in the emergency room.  I have had to do exactly that three times already.  And now Trump has attacked my most cherished issue… public schools.  I gave my life to them for 31 years.  There is not enough chocolate in the house.

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It is ironic.  I was already attempting to commit suicide by not taking my daily medication any more because of high drug prices that health insurance does not help with.  But that suicide attempt has actually failed already.  After two years of not taking blood pressure medication, a thing the doctor feared would kill me, I am now detoxified and actually feeling quite a lot better.  My blood pressure has not been high since 2001.

So, if I am compelled to end it all over the rise of Education Czar Betsy DeVos, I will have to use some of that creative problem-solving that we have not really been allowed to teach since the George W. Bush administration.  Something involving massive amounts of sugar water and thousands of man-eating butterflies would be appropriate, I think.

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If I had to teach this class, I would be tempted to flunk the orange-skinned kid in the middle just on principle, but that would be discriminating against a rich guy, which is against everything this new administration stands for.

Privatizing schools, another way of saying the “school choice” thing that Republicans love to promote, will mean you get exactly what you pay for in education.  Unfortunately, that means you have to be rich to get proper schooling.  Since governmental entities will be shedding the burdens of paying for schools, the good schools will only be able to pay for their resources by charging high tuition and fees, something that limited school vouchers will never be able to fund.  A majority of kids whose families cannot afford anything more than the vouchers will pay for will end up in underfunded discipline mills that will be far worse than the public schools we have now.  Those schools will be set up to prepare students for their future employment making license plates in State prisons even more so than public schools are now.

My Republican friends in Texas (and my birth State of Iowa too, for that matter) like to tell me that, “You can’t solve education’s problems by throwing money at them.”  But I would like to know what studies they base that conclusion on.  When in American history have we thrown money at schools?  Other nations that get better education results do spend more, especially on paying teachers better.  And they are not forced to teach Creationism in Science class to get those funds.

So, managing depression has not been easy since the recent election.  Recount efforts and rumors that the Electoral College may do what they were designed for and vote for the candidate that actually won the popular vote are just pipe dreams, and won’t actually amount to anything.  Betsy DeVos will be the next Secretary of Education.  Maybe I will try bucket-loads of stinky, sharp cheddar cheese and a lighter for setting off explosive cheese farts.  It would be a painful way to go, but the results might also be colorfully amazing.

P.S. – I would never actually commit suicide, and as someone who has spent time in the ER fretting for someone else, I would never really advocate that.  But I am certainly not above using it as a bit of hyperbole to discuss important issues that I really do see as life-or-death.

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Filed under angry rant, Depression, feeling sorry for myself, humor, politics, red States, teaching