Tag Archives: teaching

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

Eight years 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 I have to 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 or work.  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!  In fact, I was able to be a substitute teacher again from the Fall of 2019 to the start of the pandemic in 2020.  IF ONLY IT COULD’VE LASTED A LITTLE BIT LONGER!

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Filed under autobiography, humor, photo paffoonies, teaching

Boo Boo Testing

Blue and Mike in color

I miss being a teacher.  But even if I was suddenly healthy enough again to return to the classroom, I would have to think twice… or three times… or twelve times about it.  I know excellent teachers who are being driven out of the education field by the demands of the job in the current educational whirlpool of death and depression.  My own children are very bright and capable, but they face State of Texas mandated tests this next couple of weeks because that’s what we do in Texas, test kids and test kids and test them some more.  If we don’t stress them out and make them fail on the first round of testing, there will be at least two more to get the job done.  And believe me, the real reason for all the testing is to make kids fail.  It sounds harsh, and like one of my loony conspiracy theories, but the Republican legislature of this State has discussed in earnest how test results prove our schools are failing, and how we must certainly need to fund more private schools and schools for profit, and stop teaching kids on the taxpayer’s dime (although they don’t really care about my dimes, only the dimes of millionaires and billionaires which we have more of in Texas than we have ever had before).  Of course, these private schools they speak of will be for the children of well-to-do families, particularly white Anglo-Saxon protestant families.  Public schools will be okay for everyone else, preferably built next to for-profit prisons where the public-school kids will move after graduation.

in the wild

Arts and humanities-type class offerings are becoming increasingly rare.  We don’t teach them to be creative any more.  We have to focus on core subjects, Reading, Writing, History, Science, and Math.  And not the high-level stuff in any of those areas, either.  We test them on the minimum competency stuff.  But we make it harder every year.  Back in the 80’s it started when Governor Mark White let H. Ross Perot spearhead a school-reform drive that began with idiot-tests for teachers.  The Mad Dwarf of Dallas was convinced that the biggest problem with Texas Education was incompetent teachers.  But we didn’t test them on classroom management skills, or skill at motivating young learners.  We took basic English tests where the teachers weeded out were mostly black and Hispanic.  I helped one very gifted Science teacher pass the test which she nearly failed three times (the limit before contract non-renewal) since she was taking her teacher test in her second language, not her first.  When they finally got it through their heads they were only weeding out the good teachers with test anxiety, they changed the tests to make them harder.  They stopped giving life-time teaching certificates and made you prove that you were not an idiot every five years.

Teacher

It was Governor George W. Bush (a Forest Gump clone with DNA mixed in from Bullwinkle the Moose and Elmer Fudd) who decided that teachers needed to be weeded by demanding that their students perform to a certain level on standardized State tests.  If you watched the John Oliver video, you have a clear idea already of the value of that.  We worked hard for a number of years to do better on the alphabet tests.  The TAAS test became passable by most of the State, including the poorer districts, and so they replaced it with the TAKS test, a criterion-referenced test that they could provide all new and harder questions for every single year.  I sat on a test review board for two years as the representative of the Cotulla District in South Texas.  I got to see some of the horrendously difficult question before they were asked.  There were very real cultural discriminations among those questions.  Why should a Hispanic child in South Texas be required to know what “galoshes” are?  And when teachers began teaching to the tests well enough to get a majority of students passing, Emperor Rick Perry, the permanent Governor of Texas after Bush, decreed we needed STAAR Tests that students had to pass in order to graduate to the next grade level.  And, of course, we had to make them harder.

sweet thing

When I started teaching exclusively ESL kids in high school (English as a Second Language) that special population was mostly exempt from taking the alphabet tests.  After all, it takes at least five years to gain proficiency in a second language even for the brightest among us, and all of those students had less than five years of practice speaking English or they weren’t qualified for the program.  But scores on the TAKS and then STAAR tests were generally too high.  So ESL and Special Education Students were required to take them too.  And, although the passing standards were lower for ESL students than they were for regular students, the passing standards were ratcheted up every single year.  And we eventually did worse than the expectation.  Our ESL Department got a lot of the blame for Naaman Forest High School in Garland, Texas losing its perennial recognized school status.  (We got the blame even though our scores were high enough to be rated exemplary on the sliding scale… it was actually the low socio-economic students in Math that lost us our yearly recognition… just so you know.)  The paperwork nightmares I had to fill out for our ESL Department were one of the reasons my health got so bad I had to retire.  Healthy teachers can’t take it any more either.  We are looking at a crisis in Education in Texas.  Teacher shortages in Math and Science are already apocalyptic.  We are intentionally doing away with Art, Band, Chorus, and other artsy-craftsy things… things that are good for the brain and the self-esteem and the creative problem-solving abilities of students.  Teaching has become a nightmare.

I hope you will take me seriously over my conspiracy-theories and lunatic teacher complaints.  I have been told too often that you can’t solve education’s problems by throwing money at it (though I do not remember the time they speak of when money was actually flying through the air).  I have been told too often that teaching isn’t a real job.  You just sit around all day and talk to kids and you have the summers off.  How hard can that be?  And I have been told too many times that Johnny can’t read, and it is apparently my fault as a Reading teacher… it can’t be anything politicians have done, right?  It certainly isn’t anything that politicians have done right!

God help me, in spite of all that, I really miss being a teacher.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, pessimism, teaching, Texas, Uncategorized

Those Were the Days

FrontPagePhoto1Cotulla,_TX_Historic_District_sign_IMG_7715_1_1_1

Pictures from picturehistory.comwww.edb.utexas.edutexasescapes.com, and lbjmuseum.com

My personal history as a school teacher begins in the 1981-82 school year in a little town in South Texas called Cotulla.  Without realizing it, I was following in the footsteps of former U.S. President LBJ.  Really!  It’s true!  To prove it, here is a picture from the LBJ Museum showing the big-eared, jug-headed goofball with his class of Mexican American Cotullans.

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His class looked a lot like my first class, only a lot smaller.  I was hired by the new junior high principal to be the 8th-Grade English teacher for Frank Newman Junior High.  The school had basically imploded the year before.  Gus the janitor told me that the previous principal had been robbed several times, with kids breaking into the main office in the middle of the building during the middle of the night.  They even broke open the safe.  Some of the same kids I was supposed to teach had been arrested for assault the previous year, and some of the kids were caught making babies in the school cafeteria.  I went into the same classroom that the previous year’s seventh grade class had used to drive poor Miss Finklebine out of teaching for life.  They had set off firecrackers under her chair.  They threw erasers and chalk at each other.  They almost got away with murder…  In fact, they may have gotten away with it.  Miss F was never heard from again, and I found a very long list of self-destructive rantings (in the form of discipline reports that had apparently never been turned in) in her desk that threatened the lives of several students whom I knew for certain had survived because they were in my eighth grade classes that year.  I don’t think they tracked her down and got her… but what they did to that poor woman’s mind may have pushed her over the edge.  I had a tough year that year.  The two boys who threatened to beat me to death with a fence post they picked up when I was marching kids in a line to the cafeteria, El Mouse and El Talan, both went to prison within five years of being in my class.  Both of them are now deceased.  El Mouse by suicide after the Texas Syndicate wrecked him in prison, and Talan was shot and killed by a rival drug dealer while his wife and family looked on.  I hope you are not laughing at the moment.  I do often exaggerate for humorous effect… but that is not what I am doing here.

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Cotulla was once a wild west town, probably worse than anything Hollywood ever put up on the silver screen.  Former Mayor and descendant of the town’s founder, Bill Cotulla, once told me that they had six-gun shoot-outs on Front Street in the 1880’s.  I met Mr. Van Cleve the former Texas Ranger whose picture is in the Waco Texas Rangers’ Hall of Fame because of the border machine-gun shoot-out in the 1940’s.  In fact, I taught English to his grandson.  The school, just like the town, was a tamable thing.  I spent the next 23 years of my life there teaching mostly Spanish-speaking kids about the wonders of English, literature, and writing.  I saw the school go from a rough-and-tumble wild beginning into a program that routinely out-performed other small schools our size in everything but Math.

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I know that you may find this part difficult to swallow… in the same way a goat has never managed to swallow an entire school bus… but my fiction books about school kids in Iowa are really mostly about characters I knew and taught in Cotulla, Texas and only slightly merged with the white-bread Iowegians I grew up with in Rowan, Iowa.  Texas and Iowa have more in common than you might think…  Me, for one thing.

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Filed under autobiography, Cotulla, teaching, Wild West

On a Frosty Morning

Frosty Morn

Yes, there was frost on the ground in the Dallas suburbs today.  A bit of fog too.  And I mean that both literally and figuratively, in a very Robert Frost-ian sort of way.  The air was clean and cold and crisp for a change.  I could see, hear, breathe, and think well for a change in this gawd-awful city of death and decay.  It was poetically, virtually, and monumentally a moment of clarity… such clarity that only three adjectives could possibly be enough to provide the complex understanding of my Robert Frost moment.

My typical apology for living, and for writing this, and for making you read it comes in the second paragraph today.  You have to forgive me for being so much of an English teacher.  Do you know who Robert Frost is?  Frost is a great american poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry four times in the 20th Century.  Does that really tell you who Frost is?  Of course not.  Only this does;

The Road Not Taken

a poem by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,,
And that has made all the difference.

Yes, like Robert Frost, I took the road less traveled by in life.  Having a gift for creative writing, drawing cartoons, and generally being seriously silly and obtuse (and claiming that meant I was funny), I chose to not  be a novelist and cartoonist when I was young.  I chose to be a school teacher.  Of course, if you pin me down and ask me, requiring me to answer before you let me up, and threatening to spit on my nose if I don’t answer, I will tell you that God really decided I needed to be a teacher.  After all, I developed arthritis that effected how often and how long I could spend drawing.  I had the usual novelist’s problem of a keen awareness of how to write, and no real life experiences to write about.  But even though it was a holy mission from God, it was my own decision to become a teacher.

And look what I got from it.20150216_152544  This is a picture of Freddy.  I started this picture in 1986, drawing the portrait from a photo and from real life.  Freddy was a vato loco from Cotulla.  He is the sort of kid that teachers dread.  He is the kind that if you let him sit in the back of the room, he will shoot spit-wads into the girls’ hair… but if you put him up front, he is constantly putting on a show, a stand-up-sit-down-again comedy routine for the entire classroom.  And I had the honor of being his favorite teacher both in his seventh and eighth grade years.  He made me laugh almost as much as he was laughing at me.  He claimed he was a Mexican even though he was born in the U.S. and has always lived in the U.S. and if he goes to Mexico, they won’t understand his Texican version of Spanish without an interpreter.  (Now, you probably already know that I never use real names of people I write about in order to protect the innocent… or in Freddy’s case the only-mildly-guilty.  But I haven’t actually revealed his name in this post.  Alfredo Giovanni is such a common name in Texas that you will never be able to find him through research.  And Alfredo Giovanni is a name I made up anyway.)  By the time I actually put the color on this picture, Freddy will no longer look even remotely like this.  He’s in his late forties and Hispanic.  He probably weighs at least ten times what his tiny self did back in 1986.  But I was honored to know him and teach him, even though I have more than a few gray hairs on my head that he specifically caused.

And that brings me to my final movement in this classical opus.  Here is the difference I have made by choosing the path I chose.  Now that poor health has forced me to retire from teaching, and I have a limited time left to me to pick up the novelist/cartoonist thing again, I have done so with passion and insight that I would not otherwise have had.  I have crafted a novel in The Magical Miss Morgan based entirely on my experiences as a classroom teacher.  It is the best thing I have ever written in my life.  And one of the main characters, the rapscallion leader of the Pirates’ Club, Timothy Kellogg… is Freddy in fictional form.556836_458567807502181_392894593_n  Oh, it is true that the character is the son of a high school English teacher in my story, and he does have a lot in common with my own oldest son… but he is actually Freddy.  The things he does and says (translated from Texican into Iowegian) and thinks and feels, are all Freddy.  And how do I know what Freddy thinks and feels?  Come on!  I was Freddy’s favorite teacher.  There is no way I would still be alive and sane unless I could read minds.

Two roads diverge on a frosty morning pathway in the park… One over the bridge into an entirely different life that I didn’t choose… and one that leads straight on into the new dawn… whatever the consequences of following it.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, philosophy, teaching

People All Have Worth

2nd Doctor  I know that you are probably immediately listing all the reasons that my title is totally wacky monkey-thinking in your head.  And if you want to lay into me in the comments, you are more than welcome.  But the reality is that teachers have to develop the mindset that all kids can learn and all people have value… no matter what.  That can be hard to accept when you factor in how corrupted, warped, and badly-taught so many people have turned out to be.  It honestly seems, sometimes, that when faced with the facts of how people act… being violent, or greedy, self-centered, thoughtless, un-caring, and willfully stupid… that they really don’t even have value to others if you kill them, let them rot, and try to use them as fertilizer.  The plants you fertilize with that stuff will come up deformed.

But the Doctor I have pictured here, the Second Doctor played by Patrick Troughton always seemed to find Earth people delightful.  Alien people too, for that matter, unless they were soulless mobile hate receptacles in robotic trash cans like the Daleks, or mindless machines powered by stolen human brains like the Cybermen.  There is, indeed, music in every soul, even if some of it is a little bit discordant and awkward.  And people are not born evil.  The classic study done on Brazilian street kids showed that even with no resources to share and living empty, hopeless lives, the children helped one another, comforted one another, and refused to exploit one another.  As a teacher you get to know every type that there is.  And there are stupid kids (deprived of essential resources necessary to learning), and evil kids (lashing out at others for the pain inflicted upon them), and needy kids (who can never get enough of anything you might offer and always demand more, MORE, MORE!)  Sometimes they drive you insane and make you want to resign and leave the country to go count penguins in Antarctica.  But the Doctor is right.  No matter what has been done to them, if you get to know them, and treat them as individual people rather than as problems… they are delightful!  Andrew

So let me show you a few old drawings of people.

Cute people like Andrew here.

Or possibly stupid and goofy people who never get things right.

Harker

Or long-dead people who made their contributions long ago, and sacrificed everything to make our lives different… if not better.DSCN4448

Supe n Sherry_nOr young people who live and learn and hopefully love…

And try really hard at whatever they do… whether they have talent or not.

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And hope and dream and play and laugh…

And sometimes hate… (but hopefully not too much)…

And can probably tell that I really like to draw people…

Because God made them all for a reason…

even if we will never find out what that reason is.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, humor, Paffooney, philosophy

Teaching Los Vatos Locos

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I have spent the majority of my teaching career teaching Spanish speakers in South Texas.  So, believe me when I say that for a gringo like me, there has to be some kind of art to it.  I have taught so many surly, excessively macho boys and very feminine, but definitely aggressive girls, that I think I may have found an insight or two on how to do it.

First, you must be brave.  And you must recognize that bravery means remaining outwardly calm while on the inside your heart is pounding wildly and you are fighting not to wet your pants.  My first year we had to walk our eighth grade boys to and from the cafeteria four blocks away on another campus.  I, being a rookie teacher, was given the delightful job of forcing the two most evil vato locos (crazy dudes) to return to classes and schoolwork after lunch instead of wandering off for the afternoon.  I had to face down El Mouse and El Talan and convince them to catch up to the rest of the class without killing me.  I have to say, at that point I did not have a forceful personality and could not give the laser eye of death that all South Texas teachers need to develop.  I didn’t make the mistake of saying please, but implied I could actually do something to them to make their lives more miserable if they didn’t let themselves be herded along like cattle.  El Talan picked up a metal fence post as if it was a baseball bat, and I got the chance to review my whole short life for a few tense seconds.  But they relented.  I didn’t show fear, and they put down the post and sauntered on with their lives.  I got them back to the corral for afternoon classes.  Both of them went to prison after dropping out of school.  Both of them are dead now.  One was killed by a rival drug dealer.  I made the mistake of telling that tale to my mother.  At the time, she nearly submitted my resignation for me.

Second, I learned you must have a heart.  Veteran teachers told me that I should not smile before winter break, and even then, I should only smile at students’ misfortunes.   That advice turned out to be a vat of puppy doo.  I learned early on that students are people.  They have feelings.  They will return what they get.  Unfortunately they often dish out what they get from other teachers, from parents, and even from local law enforcement.  But more than once I was given a kid that everyone else said was a bad kid, and I treated that kid like a human bean… er, I mean being… and was forever after that kid’s favorite teacher, and someone that they would do anything for.  I was one of those teachers who kids return to visit.  Faces would appear in my doorway often like so many blooming flowers, blossoms lit up with sunshine.  They would be high school kids who came back to get an encouraging word, or graduates coming by to tell me how successful they were.  Often they came because of something they remembered from class.  They felt they had to share their sunshine.  Believe me, sometimes it was vital to me to be able to continue to get a little of that sunlight in the midst of daily darkness.

I have to confess, I did not reach every kid.  Some have made poor choices and died from them.  Some have turned to the dark side of the force and are unrepentantly Darth Vader.  Some I could not stand and did everything in my power to extinguish their bad behaviors with punishments that never worked.  Some that I could not stand were among the ones that came back to visit too.  Funny how you can do everything you possibly can to defeat a kid, and they will still come around, still tell you that you were their favorite teacher, and the only thing they remembered about middle school was something that happened in your classroom. It’s not even always something you want them to remember.

The kid in today’s Paffooney was not one of the bad ones.  Manuel was the son of a border patrol agent.  He was smart.  He knew what was right and what was wrong.  I don’t know where he is now, or what he is doing, but I believe in him, and I know he was worth every effort I ever put into teaching him.

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My School-Teacher Soapbox

It has been more than a semester now that I have not been a teacher.  I am missing it mightily.  I even miss the yelling and screaming, the name-calling and the crazy-eyed threats against life and limb.  And that’s just me.  I miss what the kids always did too.  This was driven home to me as I tried to move my middle child from one school to another.  We were hoping to get a bit of a break on his placement.  He is a gifted child with a penchant for bizarre and long-lasting obsessions.  He has a talent for building huge, monumental structures in Minecraft.  He is very computer-nerd and history-wonk.  (Yes, I know those are not pure predicate adjectives, but I am a retired English teacher and just don’t care any more.)  I was hoping they could overlook his burnout/blowout eighth-grade brain meltdown from the previous year and give him the chance to be a ninth grader for at least half a year.  No.  Arbitrary rules must be obeyed.  (That isn’t even how she said it.  More like, arbitrary rules MUST be obeyed).  That meant of course that he has to continue to repeat the mindless indoctrination of year number 9, (eight numbered grades plus K), (And Pre-K, come to think of it.)  Make that year number 10.  No high school yet, though he is more than mature enough, intelligent enough, motivated enough, and sweet-natured enough.  We are not loving and forgiving people.  We are strict and by-the-book people!  Forgive me, Lord.  I am writing my own book.  (In more ways than one.)

This is what we are doing wrong in Education;

1.   We are putting people in boxes.  (Little people.  Kids mostly.  We are calling those boxes things like ADHD, Special Education, trouble-maker, learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, disobedient, truant, and “in need of alternative education”… here meaning kid-prison.)

2.  We are sealing those boxes with heavy-duty red tape.  (Read special or remedial classes as waste-baskets for keeping the rabble and the riff-raff out of the good teachers’ hair.)

3.  We are routinely handing those boxes to the box-bangers and package manglers.  (The semi-incompetent teachers who have discipline problems because in teacher college nobody tells you what to do with the kid who sits in the corner and sings to himself instead of paying attention, or the girl who gets out of her seat every time the teacher turns his back to go flitting around the room like a bumble bee going flower to flower (except that it is a more hormonal attraction and goes boy to boy); or the competent teacher like me who incurs the principal’s disfavor for having classes that always make noise and are given such classes in boxes as a punishment because that kind of principal is too limited in intelligence to understand that those kinds of boxes are not really a punishment if you merely take a moment to examine the treasures they contain.)

4.  We keep the boxes air-tight so that no oxygen or light gets in.  (To suffocate learners under piles of worksheets and endless drill and practice is murder.  We are killing the precious learners with boring stuff and teaching them to be zombies who all act alike and hate learning because their brains are rotted masses of goo.)

This is what we must do instead;

1.  Open the boxes up again and thoroughly mix the contents.  (The rich suburban parents will resent the heck out of having their precious honors student sitting in class next to the poor black kid from the projects, but studies show that both kinds of learners do better when they are mixed together.)

2.  Notice, we don’t need two any more, because learners are already distributed to different and diverse boxes based on what they individually need and want to learn about and have talent for.  Groups should be more like the Shakespeare-loving group or the talkative-socializing group or the Tinker-toy builders group or the vampire-literature-writing group and less like groups of kids all the same color or all the same culture or all the same age.

3.  All the teachers need to be trained to handle all the possible… no, make that probable problems that may come up in the classroom.  Every classroom needs a proven veteran teacher and an enthusiastic young apprentice teacher.  Neither one should have to face the evil hordes alone.  And most important of all, any teacher who doesn’t love working with kids (and doesn’t love the kids in a way that will not lead to a prison term) needs be utilized in some way other than as a classroom teacher.

4.  Every classroom is a laboratory and every teacher is a creative and daring mad-scientist-type intent on trying new things and only re-doing things that really work well.  Forget this nonsense about standard curriculum goals and common core curriculum.  Those are only buzz words for suffocating learners and being too lazy to think on your feet in the middle of the every-day classroom battle in the on-going War on Ignorance.

Now you see… I have all the answers and I know everything.  The only mystery is… why don’t more people listen to me?

Tabron

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, teaching

Time For Wasting

wonderful teaching

When I was still alive and still teaching, maximizing and managing time was an incredibly important part of the day.    You had to activate learners with an attention step, a lesson focus that grabbed them.  Usually that had to follow a warm-up, something you got them to do as soon as you had smiled at them at the doorway, offered to shake their hand, and then pulled them into the classroom to do some work for you.  fifteen minutes at the start of the class to rev up mental engines and get the gears turning… shake out the rust and the cobwebs that accumulate the instant the final bell rang in the previous class. I timed that part of class down to the second with my pocket watch… or phone in later years.  Then, once the engines started, the focus is in place, you introduce the learning objective.  Never more than ten minutes… timed to the second… you give the explanation, the road map of the day ahead, the instruction.  Then for the next ten to fifteen minutes you let them discover stuff.  In groups, with a partner, teacher to class, student to class, or (rarely) individually, they must apply what you pointed out and figure something out.  It could be complicated, but probably it was simple.  All answers are welcome and accepted… because all answers will be evaluated and you learn more from wrong answers than you do from correct guesses.  Evaluation comes in the five to ten minutes at the end when you evaluate.  “What have I learned today?”  You try your hardest to pin something new to the mental note-board hanging on the brain walls of each and every student.  Depending on how much or how few minutes you are given before the final bell kills the lesson for the day, you have to put the big pink ribbon on it.  That tightly-wound lesson cycle goes on all day, repeated as many times as you have classes.  In that time you have to be teacher, policeman, friend, devil’s advocate, entertainer, counselor, psychotherapist, chief explainer, and sometimes God.  And you time it to the second by your pocket watch.

Teacher

I miss being the rabbit holding the BIG PENCIL.  Now that I am retired, I am no longer on the clock… no longer subject to careful time management.  My pocket watch is broken and lying in a box somewhere in my library.  I live now in non-consecutive time periods of sleep and illness and writing and playing with dolls.  I have entered a second childhood now.  Not really a simple one because of diabetes and arthritis and COPD and psoriasis and all the other wonderful things that old age makes possible.  But a childhood free of school politics and mandates from the school board and from the State.  A childhood where I can once again dream and imagine and create and play.  That’s what this post is if you haven’t already figured it out.  I am playing with words and ideas.  They are my toys.  Toys like this one;

turtleboy

This, of course, is Tim, the turtleboy of irony, holding his magic flatiron that he uses for ironing out irony.  He is flattening it out now with a cartoony Paffooney and wickedly waggled words.  Ironically, I have often taught students to write just like this, making connections between words and pictures and ideas through free association and fast-writing.  Have you learned anything from today’s retired-teacher post?  If you did, it is ironic, because you were never meant to from the start.

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Monkey Mathematics

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(colored pencil, pen, & ink – entitled “Math Monkey” – by Leah Cim Reyeb (my name backwards))

It has been said that if you have an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters, and unlimited time, they will reproduce all the works of William Shakespeare.  Not only that, they will produce every other work of literature in every language on Earth that has ever been written… and that ever will be written, for all time.  Not only that, but every version of Hamlet that has one misspelled word, two misspelled words, three misspelled words… and so on to infinity.

I was having an argument recently with a boy from Brazil who insisted there was no God and Creator.  He claims to be an agnostic, but argues like an atheist.  He was trying to “save” me from my erroneous belief that there is an underlying intelligence and purpose to all of creation.  His intentions were good, but he failed to convince me before sailing off back to Sao Paulo.  Alas, I am unrelentingly still convinced that I am not wrong, as he apparently believed all school teachers are by definition.  Yes, it is written that way in the teenager’s guide to life, the universe, and everything.  “Teachers are clueless and only teach you the wrong stuff” – page two hundred and three, in Chapter Twelve, Adults are Always Wrong.  And, of course, I’m blaming it on the monkeys.  It’s always those danged monkeys and their typewriters.

I tried to explain that the whole infinite-monkeys thing is based on flawed math.  After all, math was invented by enraged Greeks who danced around naked in caves worshiping circles, squares, and right triangles.  Pythagoras must’ve really hated school kids.  He gave them all this froo-frah to learn about whole numbers, integers, algebra, and geometry and stuff, and then threw in theorems and equations to give them something to mind-numbingly practice at their desks in Math classes until they were no different from infinite-monkey typists. 

If you take a pile of bricks up to the top of a mountain and then throw them off, even if you throw them an infinite number of times, how often will they actually land in the configuration of the Parthenon?  …And the Parthenon with one brick out of place, and then two bricks, and …wasn’t the gol-danged Parthenon carved out of marble, not bricks?  If you believe all of reality is based on random chance, then you obviously are figuring that out with infinite-monkey math.  I’m not saying the Theory of Evolution is wrong.  That is ordered and principled in ways that fit Occam’s Razor and is probably just as correct as the Theory of Gravity (which we don’t fully understand, either, yet we don’t go flying off into space with each rotation of the Earth).

“Wait a minute!” screams the head monkey.  “Are you saying you believe in Evolution, or in Creation?”   (I am constantly hearing nearly-infinite monkeys screaming that nowadays.)

Shoot, I think both things are true.  You can’t deny what science offers proof for, fact or theory.  Yet, God speaks to me and comforts me, even though he doesn’t actually answer prayers.  The evidence of God is in all that he created, including the process of evolution, the monkeys, the typewriters (well… man-made is made by God too if he created man with inventive capabilities, right?), and even the voices in my silly head that I interpret as God talking.  Am I guilty of Infinite-monkey math?  I try not to be.  But I also try not to argue with Brazilian teenage agnostics about the existence of God.  Oh, well… can’t win ‘em all.

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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.

wally

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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Filed under autobiography, humor, irony, kids, satire, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, word games, wordplay, writing humor