Category Archives: From My Teaching Career

#TBT: Manny and the Possum

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My! What big teeth you have!

I originally published this July 5, 2010.

Manny (that’s what we’re calling him) and I attended the same church for several years and one Sunday between Sunday School and preaching service, he asked me about replacing a door in an oven. Now that was a bit of an unusual request and he could tell I thought as much once he saw the look on my face. Before I could ask why he needed to replace ONLY the door, he added, “All I really need is the glass.”

Apparently, Manny had engaged in some sort of mayhem and when I pointed this out, he turned beet red and spilled the beans.

The previous Friday night, in the wee hours of the morning sometime after dark o’clock, Manny’s new lovely wife Vicky (not her Christian name either) shook him from a sound sleep with news of an intruder of some stripe currently invading their home. Wide awake now, Manny lay still listening and, from the kitchen of the double-wide, came the sound of someone knocking over items.

Manny is not an especially brave man and he’s not an especially big man, but his wife was looking at him with big doe eyes that begged him for protection and, it WAS his house so, after a bit of deliberation, Manny reached under the bed where he kept his Ruger Single-Six .22 pistol. He cringed a bit when he remembered it only had the Long Rifle cylinder installed instead of the much more powerful .22 Magnum cylinder. He felt a bit cold as he realized he was going to be facing down a crazed and hardened, albeit toothless meth-head with little more than a pop gun. Still, he WAS the man of the house and this was one of those times he could shine in his new wife’s eyes.

He eased down the hall with his 6 D-cell Maglite in one had and his Ruger cocked and ready in his other. He could feel sweat sliding down his back and puddling atop the waistband of the ridiculous silk boxers Vicky had given him on their honeymoon. Entering the great room, he cursed the open floor plan he had insisted on buying, and dropping to his stomach, did a reasonable imitation of a commando crawl around the perimeter of the room until he reached the entrance to the kitchen. Then, adrenaline coursing through his veins; his heart pounding in his ears and throat, he leapt to his feet and brought the pistol up and switched the Maglite on, aiming both at the spot it sounded like the noise was coming from. At the same time, he bellowed out in his best NYPD Blues voice, “Freeze, you scumbag!!” He later told me “scumbag” hadn’t been his exact word, but he was relating this story in front of two deacons when he told it to me. Anyway, the tremendous beam of the Maglite struck the intruder squarely in the face and lit up two alien green glowing eyes.

It was a possum. A really, really big possum. It had apparently entered through Max’s doggie door, knocked over the trash can, and now was sitting on the kitchen table eating potato chips and leftover crusts from Little Caesar’s pizza.

Folks, at this time I need to bring two things to your attention. One, contrary to everything you’ve ever been told about North America’s only marsupial, “playing dead” is NOT the possum’s first line of defense. Her first line of defense is to suck in poop-tons of air to puff her body up nearly twice its normal size before letting out an unearthly sound of hissing while simultaneously baring some pretty impressive teeth. Two, she often waits to put on her defiant show of force, preferring to see what YOU are going to do first. Well, Manny’s first reaction was panic. He didn’t grow up in the country and pretty much thought possums were born dead in the middle of the road. Still, it WAS his house so he took a step forward and gave a strangled squeak intended as an intimidating war cry designed to send the toothsome creature scurrying back out the doggie door.

Apparently, the possum felt this was a threatening posture and so she did the suck-in-the-air deal with the open mouthed hiss, and she added a little twist of her own — she leapt off the table in Manny’s general direction.  Fearing for his life at the onslaught of this ravenous possum, Manny swung the Ruger up to shoot but in his panicked state, his fire discipline left something to be desired, so his shot flew low . . . into the oven door glass which responded as glass in oven doors usually does when shot and exploded into millions of pea-sized balls of tempered glass.

The possum, being no great fool, took the moment to ease on out the doggie door and disappear into the gloom, leaving Manny, silk boxers now wet on the back AND the front, to sweep up the glass of the shattered oven door while figuring a way to explain the preceding proceedings to Vicky.

Take care, y’all.

Love you and remember to keep those feet clean. 🙂

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley

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https://i2.wp.com/vetmed.duhs.duke.edu/Photos/cutebrownmouse.bmp I just tucked Budge in after an adventurous first day of Summer Vacation for her and the rest of the county’s teachers. Now I’m sitting here mulling over what would have happened if my plans hadn’t gang agley, as dear Robert Burns says. I know this much; if Plan F had managed to grow from seed to fruit, yesterday would have closed out my second full decade as a teacher. I was an emergency hire at Woodmont High School in October 1994 for the 94-95 academic year. A teacher who moonlighted at a retail store in the mall got a sweet promotion to full time district manager in another state and my resume’ was the one Dr. Susan Hoover-now-Achilles picked, I think at random, from a pile on her desk.

I realize now I’ve started in medias res so to catch everyone up, Plan A was to follow my dream to become a Midshipman at the US Naval Academy, marry my high school sweetheart at the USNA Chapel after graduation, make rank, win medals, and have pretty babies. As to the first part, I had the grades. At that time, I had the fitness ability. I had a sweet 1380 on the SAT (back when that meant something). What I didn’t have was an appointment. Ignorant babe that I was, I didn’t know one does not simply walk apply and get accepted into Mordor The United States Naval Academy; one must be “appointed” by a US Congressman from one’s home state. A few other shortcut ways exist, but I didn’t meet any of them either. Apparently, I didn’t impress either secretary enough to even get an interview with the august men so, NO NAVAL ACADEMY FOR YOU!https://i1.wp.com/www.sposabellaphotography.com/blog/2011/brittany/naval%20academy%20wedding_009.jpg

So, I did what I always did. I dropped back ten and punted to Plan B which was to enlist in the United States Marine Corps after graduation, marry my high school sweetheart after basic, get deployed, make rank, win medals, come home, and have pretty babies. Unfortunately, I’d wrecked my ’79 Mustang the summer before my junior year and a piece of bumper went through my left quadriceps right down to the bone. The wound got infected and turned into a cantaloupe sized subdermal hematoma which I delayed getting taken care of until it had seriously messed up the muscle surrounding the wound, the end result being a 5″x5″ puckered, sunken spot on my thigh with a direct tunnel of nasty scar tissue running right down to the bone. I went to my Armed Forces physical (MEPS) at Fort Jackson and was doing great until one of the doctors did something no one else had ever done . . . he put his finger right in the center of the scar mass and pushed. I hit the floor like a crack dealer during a Saturday night SWAT raid. He pointed out any enemy who captured me would do the same AND that spot was going to swell up tight whenever I ran, which he was right about — the swelling, not the capture — because my junior year wrestling i had to ice that spot after every practice. So, I spent the longest five hours in history on a bus back to Greenville from Columbia just to tell my very unhappy Gunnery Sgt. recruiter I was a medical washout.

So, dropped back ten more and punted to Plan C which was to go to college, marry my high school sweetheart, get a degree, and have pretty babies. Well, Plan C went down in flames one day in the spring of my senior year when my high school sweetheart announced to me at my locker on a Friday right after final bell, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is, ‘IT ISN’T YOURS'” then turned and walked out of my life forever to become the wife and punching bag of an odious Georgia redneck. On the positive side, once I finally woke up Monday morningish, I understood with perfect clarity what a “Lost Weekend” is.

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So, dropped back ten more and punted to Plan D which was to go to college . . . and after that things got a little hazy but, as you can tell, I’ve never been one for planning the details. So I went to college, became an engineering major for a total of two hours, and came out on the other side with a degree in Secondary English Education. I and my country bumpkin accent and grammar were off to become a high school English teacher. That was in 1993 and by the end of the summer, I’d lost any hope of getting a teaching job so with the aforementioned Plan D in tatters, I took the aforementioned job at Kufner Textiles. That year of 93 to October of 94 was a long, strange trip involving lots of adventures I may tell some other time, but not here.

Welcome to Plan E. Here, I worked as many hours per week as I could doing whatever, but mostly dyeing cloth dark blue, jet black, or sometimes whorehouse red. Whenever I changed lots, I had to climb into the dye vats and wash down the rollers and flush out the tanks. It was hot, wet, and absolutely miserable work, but those adventures I was having made it bearable for awhile. Then, on October 10, 1994, while in the middle of a change from blue to red, I got called to the public phone in the breakroom, Dr. Hoover of Woodmont High School wanted to see me for an interview as soon as I got off that afternoon.

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/smurfs/images/8/8d/Smurfette-original.png/revision/latest?cb=20130824204416That interview was a hoot.https://avikstudio.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/hellboy_001b.jpg?w=160&h=219

Dr. Hoover forbade me from going home and changing so I walked into her nice spiffy office looking like the bastard love child of a giant Smurfette and Hellboy. As always happened when I cleaned dye vats, I had blue dye in my hair, on my face, and all over my clothes. I splashed red dye starting up the second lot so I had red mixed in all over as well. I tried to get her to let me stand on the sidewalk outside her office, but she knew nothing about how strong industrial cloth dye is and I knew nothing about what a raging, control freak, diet obsessed hellcat she was so I came in and plopped my happy dye covered ass down on her brand new office couch and crossed my legs. When I stood up again, I had the job, starting the next day. So that led to Plan F where I would teach like some of my favorite high school teachers had taught and stay in the same room teaching two and a half generations of children for thirty years and retire with a luncheon and a cake shaped like a book of Shakespeare Plays to write the great American novel. Somewhere along the line, I’d get married and we’d have pretty babies.

Well, I got my Budge, several ex-students now friends, but only ten good years of memories rather than the thirty I’d planned. I could go into detail and I have in a previous post as to what led to Greenville County Schools and me parting ways in a most unfriendly fashion, but I don’t feel like digging up those bones tonight. It’s in the archive. So ended Plan F. Funnily enough though, the day I left the school ten years later, you could still see the outline in blue of someone sitting, legs crossed and arm extended on the arm rest as clear as a mountain stream on that office couch. https://postmediamontrealgazette2.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/a-empty-teachers-desk-is-seen-at-the-front-of-a-empty-classr.jpg?quality=55&strip=all&w=660&h=495&crop=1

An old proverb, maybe Jewish, says, “Man plans and God laughs.” I’ve fought my way through a few more plans until Plan I finally took over after I was unceremoniously let go from my last chance teaching job six years ago now. Still, IF things had worked out, I’d be two thirds of the way to retirement today along with some of the best friends I’ve never heard from again. Funny thing my daddy used to say about that word “if;” he said, “If a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass every time he took a step either.” Ah the plans of mice and men . . .

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Of Blind Hogs and Acorns

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https://i0.wp.com/www.boommybusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Blind_Hog-200x300.jpgIt’s been six years since I left my career in education and I have a confession to make — even though I loved my students and did the best I could by them, I pretty much sucked at being a teacher and I wasn’t much better as a school librarian. It wasn’t for lack of trying or preparation; I joined NCTE and read English Journal faithfully the entire time I was an English teacher. When I was a librarian, I payed for School Library Journal out of my own pocket instead of using the school’s funds. I tried to help my kids and my fellow teachers, but I just didn’t have the gravity and ability so many of my colleagues did. My students never gave me any trouble and I always had one of the lowest discipline incident records each year, but I’ve never managed to shake the nagging feeling in the back of my mind — even after all this time — that I was subjecting students to a type of slow torture by force-feeding them Beowulf and Macbeth or short stories and poetry.

I wanted to get them writing, so I tried some writing workshop tactics without anywhere near the success Nancy Atwell promised me I would have in In the Middle. I just wanted them to find their own voices. Teaching research papers wasn’t much better. After I worked and worked with them on finding information and warned them about plagiarism, I still got at least one paper each time containing “see illustration on pg 103” somewhere in the middle of uncited sentences containing words I knew my young ones couldn’t define with a dictionary and a scientist to help them out.

The kids didn’t drive me out of the classroom and the library though. That was my own lack of political ability and tact. I never was a “good little solider” able to do what someone told me without comment. So, I butted heads with authority time after time after time and inevitably, I ended up allowing my battleship mouth to run over my rowboat butt. So I finally hung it up after being shown the door six years ago in my last position.

I’ve lived daily with the feeling of failure. I had every intention of staying in one room at one school and retiring after teaching grandchildren of former students or when they condemned the building around me, whichever came first and it just didn’t happen. Still, even a blind hog finds a nice juicy acorn every now and then and when I was feeling particularly low yesterday, a former student of mine replied to a post I’d made on Facebook about the ten most influential books in my life. Once I read it for the tenth or twelfth time I got to thinking maybe I wasn’t quite as horrible as I thought I was.

Here is what one of my boys — who I remember as a chunky little freshman with a complete inability to sit still very long at all — wrote on my Facebook wall. As you read it, keep in mind I had no idea he was fighting some of the battles he was waging and though I remember him well, I can’t recall giving him the book no matter how hard I try but he sure does.

Coach, I figured out why back in school I hated to read and you were the only teacher to actually take the time and say I have a book you might like to read and it was J D Salingers Catcher in the rye. Think thats how you spell it. After all these years and quite a few books and audio books cause i still struggle with reading. That book always sticks out in my mind. Oh the reason was im Add and Dyslexic. My favorite author now is Dean Koontz. I have alot of his books and alot of his audio books. I think if it wasnt for you showing me that book and how interesting books can be that I wouldnt read or listen to books now. You opened my eyes and encouraged me to read and open myself up and let my imagination make the words come alive and paint a picture of what I was reading. I have a 13 yr old son who is ADD and Dyslexic and he is the same way I was. He’s in the 8th grade now and i think next yr im going going to get that book and let him read it because it was the 9th grade when you gave me that book to read. I saw this post and figured i would comment. Thanks coach hope all is going well with you and your family…https://i0.wp.com/www.planetthoughts.org/userfiles/image/2011/Aug/starfish.jpg

You really don’t know . . . you really just never know. Maybe I’ve been a little hard on myself. Maybe never having a “Teacher of the Year” plaque on my wall isn’t as important as I thought. I still think I pretty much sucked as a teacher, but looks like I managed to get one starfish back in the water. Funny how the biggest boosts sometimes come along at the lowest ebbs.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

An Anniversary that Won’t Be

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EmptyClassroomBudge started back to school Tuesday. She’s got a week of meetings, preparation, and parents before the new crop of fourth graders arrive. I’ve helped her get her room ready for six years now, so she and I went up to her school a couple of days last week to get stuff on the walls and set the desks in order. As much as I enjoy my time with Budge, I always get a little melancholy when I’m helping set up though because the only reason I’ve been able to help her is I don’t have my own room or library to get ready anymore.

If my life had worked out differently, I’d be starting my 20th year in education. I was a late hire taking over for a woman whose part-time job had worked its way into a full-time job at double the pay she made as a teacher. I’d pretty much given up on ever getting a teaching position by then. I’d been out of college for eighteen months and spent a mint on stamps and nice paper sending out my resume’ all over the state without so much as a nibble at a job.

Luckily, one of the boys I’d grown up with had a father who worked in the personnel department of Greenville County Schools. He dropped my name when that late position opened up and the principal called me in for an interview. When I got the call, I was at my job in a local textile plant soaked in an indigo dye. She wanted to see me RIGHT THEN. I asked her if I might go home and change first, but she was adamant I come STRAIGHT OVER. So I did — dyed skin, work boots, and all. I looked like a giant mutant Smurf, but after that seriously awkward interview, I was a teacher at Woodmont High School near Piedmont, SC.

I spent nine and a quarter years at WHS as an English teacher teaching mostly sophomores and seniors with a smattering of freshmen and juniors every now and then. At that time WHS was a pretty small school — about 625 students in 9-12 — so I taught several students more than once. In fact, I had three runs of students while I was there whom I taught 10th, 11th, and 12th grade English. At one point I started asking them for their Social Security numbers telling them, “I’ve been with you so long, I figured I might as well claim you on my taxes!”

I coached wrestling, a little football, and even a year of soccer. To this day, I have the best single season record at WHS in soccer — of course, they haven’t had another player like Bruno the Brazilian since my one season either. It was a good time and I enjoyed it. Then, some bad things happened. I let my mouth, pride, and ego write a check my ass, resources, and connections couldn’t cash. A six-week suspension and one school board hearing later, and I was doing time on the unemployment line.

I figured my teaching career was over. I’d never heard of anyone getting hired after being fired from another position. Providence had other plans for me though. My high school alma mater needed an English teacher on short notice and the principal and two assistant principals had been my teachers back in my glory days. They hired me without references and a week later, I was teaching English again in the same room where I was a senior in AP English . . . the job was welcomed but the memories were not.

I had an awkward year that year. Among other things, I discovered several teachers I’d thought were raging assholes when I was a student actually WERE raging assholes no matter which side of the desk I was on. If I’d had sense, I’d have stayed at LD55HS for at least a few more years to repair my resume, but I’d just finished my MLIS degree at USC and I wanted to be a librarian — the career I’d dreamed about as a child. So, when Laurens 56 posted a middle school librarian’s position, I leapt on it and got hired because the then-principal knew me . . . and, I found out later, I was the only applicant.

I worked five good years at Bell Street MS. Turns out later other people didn’t think they were so good. I revamped the collection, overhauled the computer lab, and got the parent calling system to work when the IT department couldn’t. I worked with the IT department every summer without pay to help them get caught up. I had a wonderful assistant named Chris, a terrific office, and a mural on my library wall I loved. Oh, and I broke my back for my teachers and administrators. Unfortunately, I didn’t know my broken back was also acting as a sheath for a couple of knives.

The simple story is the district shut a school and gave the librarian my job since — in the grand tradition of the union-less South — I was the last hired so the first to be let go. The IT department head offered me a job as a computer technician at a fraction of my teacher’s pay scale. Again, if I’d had sense, I’d have taken it, kept my mouth shut, and waited for better times. By then though, I was too far gone mentally and emotionally. Papa John hadn’t long died, I’d had my first trip to the mental hospital, and Mama was starting to decline as well. In the heat of emotions, I said some impolitic things to my principal, an assistant principal, AND the superintendent of the district. By impolitic, at least in the case of the superintendent, I mean, “You know what you can do with that f%&*ing iPad and I’ll be glad to help you!”

It did not end well. I finished the year on suspension, again, and that was all she wrote for my career in education. After six months of trying, I faced the fact that I was a broken man with way too many emotional issues. I applied for my SS Disability and I qualified. So that’s where I am now. The very last students I ever had any contact with are graduating this year. I knew them as 6th graders at Bell Street where some of them were my library helpers. As sad as it makes me, I know in my heart, I have no real chance of ever teaching or being a librarian again. My certificate expired June 2013.

Anyway, love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Those Who Can, Do; Those Who CARE, Teach

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Atlanta school snow“Teachers get paid entirely too much!”

“Teachers only work half as much as everyone else!”

“It must be nice having summers off!”

“Teachers couldn’t handle a REAL job!”

“Education students couldn’t handle a REAL major!”

I spent fifteen years in public education as a high school teacher and a middle school librarian; my wife is currently in her 11th year as a fourth grade teacher, and statements like these are just some of the hurtful barbs I’ve had hurled at us over the years. Public school teachers make wonderful policy whipping boys. Regardless of what is wrong with the country, be it a stale economy, high crime, unemployment, or any other issue — regardless of how tangentially the connection may be — blaming education and teachers is a sure fire way for a talking head to get some applause.

It doesn’t matter what the problem is. It doesn’t matter many decisions by people who last saw a classroom when Ancient History was Current Events. The song remains the same — if it’s broken, blame the teachers. The Left takes potshots at us as being too conservative and teaching “ignorance” like Intelligent Design, even though WE didn’t elect the people who passed the law. The Right blasts us for being in the pockets of the “radical ____ agenda” and filling their children’s heads with all kinds of socialist, communist drivel. You can put whatever you want in that blank as well. I’ve heard “anti-family,” “pro-abortion,” “homosexual” and others I can’t put in here even if Mama isn’t around to read my blog anymore.

But we teachers are still here and we’re still teaching (well, not me anymore, but anyway.)

When Winter Storm Leon (one quick tangent — whose the idiot who thought naming winter storms like we do hurricanes was thing? And they say TEACHERS waste taxpayer dollars!) slammed into Atlanta — totally by surprise OR after many unheeded warnings, depending on who you want to believe, nothing short of chaos ensued. All over the city, people stranded in cars took off hiking home. Some sheltered in the stores of compassionate managers and owners. Many, many teachers were not among those. They had work to do.

Once it became obvious the storm was getting worse and the traffic was hopeless, principals and teachers realized many of their pupils wouldn’t be getting home that day. With no prior preparation, schools all over Atlanta became de facto Hotel 6’s as educators prepared to take care of “their” children for the night. Many of these teachers had children of their own who needed attended to, but duty was calling louder than even motherly (and fatherly) instincts. A storm was raging and Atlanta’s educators rose to meet the monster with gym mats and cafeteria food, stage curtain blankets and bedtime stories from principals.

Just for a moment, please put yourself in the shoes of a child in K4 and yes, we do send them to school THAT little these days. Mommy put you on the bus this morning like she always did and told you she’d see you at home in the evening. You’ve never spent a night away from home; you haven’t had a sleepover yet that didn’t involve grandparents. Now, it’s getting dark. The bus you got on you thought was going to take you home has taken you back to school and you are just about to go into K4 meltdown mode.

Then, you see her — it’s Mizziz Smif’. This woman and her steadfast aide beside her have watched over you for the last 100 days as if you were their own. You are still terrified and most likely hungry, but you feel a little better. The lady from the office who usually terrifies you takes you out of a line of your classmates and puts a phone in your hand. Mommy is on the line. “Sweetheart,” she says, “You are staying at school tonight! Won’t that be fun?” Well, you don’t know about “fun” but now you know two things: 1) Mommy knows where you are and that’s a BIG HONKING DEAL to a four-year old and 2) you are somewhere the people know you and have done everything but swear oaths to take care of you. This may be scary, but you think it may turn out alright.

Stories have come in from all over Atlanta of teachers reading bedtime stories to children, of principals organizing early morning snowball fights to take the children’s minds off the gravity of the situation, of cafeteria workers staying to make sure the children had hot food to eat.

In. Loco. Parentis. Yes, it’s a legal term dripping with all the crap an army of lawyers can hang on it, but at the heart it means exactly what it says — “In the place of a parent.” It’s what every teacher worthy of the title holds closest to his or her heart whenever he looks at the young lives in his or her charge. For the 8 to 10 hours a day these children are with their teachers, their teachers ARE their parents and most of the time consequences be damned. People who think teaching is about 7 to 3 with summers off have no clue. The teachers in Atlanta who did not sleep so their children could weren’t thinking about the summer vacation. Teaching is more than that.

Happily, the debacle in Atlanta has passed with no children harmed . . . except maybe from a snowball to the nose, but teachers everywhere have stood in the place of parents and given the last full measure of devotion with no worry about what was to come.

Victoria Soto wasn’t worried about Common Core when she put her own body between a madman and her precious Sandy Hook first graders — taking bullets meant for them. Professor Liviu Librescu wasn’t thinking about his tenure hearing as he held the door of his Virginia Tech classroom shut even as the deranged gunman fired shot after shot through the door and into the Holocaust survivor’s body. The Sisters of Charity who taught at St. Mary’s Orphanage in Galveston, TX were not champing at the bit to get home on that dark September day in 1900 when all ten perished — each with her portion of the 90 children in her charge tied to their waists with clothesline as The Great Galveston Hurricane drowned the island.

All teachers. In loco parentis.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

 

Ten Years or Another Lifetime? Most Nights, I Don’t Know.

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Read ’em and weep. I know I did.

I was on my way to being very chipper and upbeat this morning until I looked at the calendar and saw the date was October 23. I had almost forgotten . . . the key being ALMOST.

Ten years ago this afternoon, at 1:00 PM to be precise, life handed me the mother of all lemons. Actually, that’s a little too “cutesy.” The long story is ten years ago this morning I took one of the Magnificent 7, which is my euphemism for the seven events that radically changed my life for the worse. Each of the seven were hammer blows against my emotional well-being and each of the seven — in seven different ways — shattered me mentally and emotionally as easily as a cinder block dropped from a highway overpass will shatter a vehicle’s windshield and with about as much warning. Ten years ago today, following a short and slanderous hearing at 301 Camperdown Way, I was summarily and officially dismissed from my teaching post at Woodmont High School.

The short story is I was lied to and about, publicly humiliated, then fired from teaching. I’d been exiled from the one place where I’d normally felt safest, happiest, and strongest. For the first time in my life, I had been kicked out of school.

I plan to post all the documents I still have from the hearing and the aftermath. When I do, you can read them for yourselves. I don’t have the mental energy to type out that story here. I love this blog. It’s not much, but it’s mine and I’ve tried to steer clear of controversy and painful memories, but to deny the scars is to deny the events which caused them and any event that makes you seriously question whether or not you really want to go on living in a world where things like this can happen to you is much too important to be ignored.

I haven’t had many things happen to me that have affected me as much or as long as getting fired did. It was two years before I was able to get back into teaching for good and I wouldn’t have gotten a break then except my alma mater needed an English teacher and the assistant principal had been my Geometry teacher and the principal had student taught my senior class in something or other. They knew me personally so they didn’t really look at anything from “The File.”

It wasn’t the same though. For one thing, Thomas Wolfe was absolutely right when he said, “You can’t go home again.” Teaching in what had been my AP English classroom in my senior year forced me every day for 180 straight days to confront ANOTHER one of the Magnificent 7 so when a library job opened up one district over, I took it.

So, it’s been ten years and the pain is just as fresh in my mind now as it was then. I can still taste the metallic tang of pure adrenaline fueled fear in my mouth when I think about the hearing. I can still see the faces of the “witnesses.” More than anything though, I can still hear the thunderous silence of the people I had called friends and colleagues for almost nine years. I had helped these people in more ways than I can imagine. I’d tried to be there for them, but when I was strung up and dangling, none of them . . . NOT A SINGLE ONE bothered to vouch for my character.

I remember leaving the district office with Budge in tears and Mama in a rage like I hadn’t seen on her face since I was a third grader and Ray Bates’ mother (God rest her soul) grabbed me by the collar and shook me because I had finally stood up to Ray’s bullying. People have asked me if I was angry and I always tell them I was too concerned with keeping Mama and Budge from getting locked up to be angry. I just wanted to get home.

Thirty minutes after leaving the pillory, I went back to the school and to the room I’d called home for so long. It was a mess because the string of subs who had kept the class during my six weeks suspension while I awaited a hearing hadn’t been able to control my hellions or my brilliant AP History students. While I was gathering my things, the assistant principal who had been the main “detective / witch hunter” for my case came into the room and asked me “So how’d things go?” I still thank God and 300 mg of Effexor CR for not decking her in her smug little mouth right then. As it was, I snatched my posters from the wall, took a few folders from my filing cabinet, and collected my most prized belongings from my beautiful desk that my friend Brian Ashley had helped me restore five summers before , then I walked out.

I’ve never been back.

Now as a sorry excuse for a Christian, I do not believe in karma, but sometimes it is tempting when I consider this. None of the three students whose complaints against me triggered the whole debacle ever graduated from high school. The principal who threw me under the bus didn’t make it through the year herself but was dismissed in disgrace partly because parents complained to the district office about her attending home football games about “two and a half sheets to the wind” as we say in the country. The superintendent who was such a jerk over the entire thing was fired by the school board within a year, partly over allegations of misconduct with a couple of female principals and partly for just basically being an ass of the 33rd degree. Finally, the district lawyer who prosecuted my case was fired and arrested a few years later after a district computer technician found alleged child pornography on the computer in the lawyer’s office. The child porn charges were eventually dropped because no one could prove the boys were underage, but the computer crimes stuck and he may still go to jail.

Coincidence or karma? You decide.

Love y’all. Keep the faith and the feet clean.

Another of the Good Ones Dies Young

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I apologize for anyone who’s expecting another installment of my soccer stories. Unfortunately, something terrible has come up.

Seventeen years ago I started my first teaching career at Woodmont High School with two classes of English IV and four classes of English II. One of the students in one of those sophomore classes was a little slip of a girl. She was blonde and blue eyed and cute as a button. She didn’t have much to say on the first day, and to be truthful about it, she wasn’t very talkative the entire time I knew her. Her name was April Pruitt and because of a quirk in scheduling, she and many of her classmates from that first sophomore class would be in my English III class the next year and would finish up with me in English IV the year after that. I guess about a third to a half of the WHS class of 1998 had me for English as sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They were the first of my favorite students and quiet, short, but smiling April stood tall among the ones nearest and dearest to my heart.

April wasn’t college bound. She graduated and went into the workforce. From all I’ve been able to ascertain, she held down her job well. Like many of my former students who stayed in this area, I would run in to her at the grocery store or WalMart from time to time. When Facebook came out, she was one of the first of my former students to “friend” me and using that wonderful network of Mr. Zuckerberg’s, we kept in touch over the last few years. Like a great many of her classmates at Woodmont, she never married, but she did have a devoted boyfriend and two beautiful little boys who looked remarkably like their mother.

I never heard anything from or about April these last seventeen odd years to worry me like I had to worry about so many of my former students. She steered clear of drugs as far as I can tell. The picture at the left was taken in April and her face shows none of the ravages an addiction would create. She wasn’t a heavy drinker or a wild party girl.  I don’t even know if she smoked cigarettes or not. Every picture in her Facebook album shows her happy and laughing with friends or, even more often, with her two boys who were obviously the apples of her two eyes. I was more than a little proud of her because she was successful in the quiet, steady way that is so typical of a Southern woman. She was 32 and doing well for herself and her boys.

Until a week ago Friday when she had her accident. From what I can gather through Facebook and other channels, she and her boyfriend were riding his four-wheeler — sans helmets, of course and unfortunately — when they lost control of the ATV while going at a pretty fast rate. Apparently, her boyfriend was able to hang on to the machine and let it bear the brunt of the crash, but April was thrown from the back and flew some distance through the air before landing hard on her head and neck. She was rushed unconscious to the hospital where she spent the last week in a coma with swelling on her brain. I planned to go to see her in the hospital every day last week, but something constantly seemed to come up. Now, I won’t get the chance. April passed away early this (Sunday) morning. She fought hard, but she never regained consciousness.

For several years, I kept a list written on an Olive Garden napkin of all the students and former students I had lost over the years. It was on such a medium because several of my former colleagues and I were at Olive Garden on the last day of school discussing the “Woodmont Curse” which seemed to take at least one or more of our students each year. In just the shortntime I was at WHS, I put nearly 20 names on the list. By the time the napkin disappeared, it held over thirty-five. If I still had it, the total would be somewhere around 42. Forty-two lives cut tragically short by disease, accidents, suicide, and several other reasons.  I knew each one personally and very few of them were nearer and as special to me as April.

I wish her family, especially her boys, able to find peace. I don’t pretend to have anything wise and transcendent to say. I don’t have the answers I once thought I had. All I know is one more little sliver of my heart will join many others in graves, tombs, and even at sea in places far and near and the world will be all the poorer for having lost such a lovely and smiling light.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Resquiescat In Pace, April. Coach Wham will miss you.

Friday Night Lights Shine on the Friday Night Blues

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In the five years since my last teaching contract renewed and I left education, I have endure a crippling wave of sadness during the first week of “back to school.” That sadness is never more acute and I never have to struggle harder to keep bullets out of my head, poison out of my system, or my car at the top of cliffs rather than the bottom than at six o’clock on the first full schedule Friday of high school football.

If you’ve never taught in a high school, I can’t adequately describe for you how important Friday nights are, especially here in the Southland. Any school with a football team is a beehive all day on Friday as the guys (and a girl or two) walk the halls in their jerseys and the cheerleaders wear their non-dress-code-conforming uniforms to school. The day is spent making plans for who is riding with whom to where and who is bringing the illicit substances to the bonfire or house party after the game.

I used to eat up every moment of it. Every Friday for the fifteen years I taught, I was young again for ten Fridays in the fall and as long as my school’s team managed to stay in the playoffs. The kids used to take me back to the Friday nights when my friends and I were the ones planning. From my freshman year through my junior year, I went to more games than I missed. I even went to a game or two my senior year even though the taste of bile and ashes had replaced the once-sweet euphoria by then, but that’s another story.

Several of my friends of those days were football players and one of my lasting regrets is never having tried to get on the team. I was acquainted with many of the cheerleaders and wrote essays for more than one of them so they could keep good enough grades to stay on the squad. My best buddy at the time, Robby, was first trumpet in the band, so I always sat as close to the band as possible. Another regret is never trying to get in the band. I guess I can chalk up my lack of participation to a few things. Some are gifted with athletic prowess and some with musical talent. My gift was, and is, memory. Some call it a gift; I lean more towards curse and agree with the Absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett when he says

“Memories are killing things. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

God knows I don’t miss much about high school, but I do miss Friday nights. For those aforementioned years in education, I got those Friday nights back, especially the few years when my schools were desperate enough for warm bodies to ask me to be an assistant football coach. I have a painfully entertaining story of my first game as a JV football coach which involves me, an away game, and a whistle. Maybe I’ll tell the entire story sometime, but for now suffice it to say we lost the game and the night in general was a cascade of fiascoes one atop another. Actually, that phrase pretty much describes my whole football coaching career. Still, it was a lot of fun.

Now though, I’m a civilian. Here it is 6:30 on the first big football Friday. Oh, I know I could go to a local game anyway, but it’s not the same. Something about plunking down your teacher id and walking in the gate for free just adds a special sweetness to the night. The greatest reward, though, is the smiles on the faces of the boys on the field when they catch sight of you on the track or in the stands. Little Johnny may have been the bane of your existence in second block all year, but come Monday, when you tell him how awesome his one tackle of the night was, you’ll have him in your back pocket. Trust me on that one . . . I know from experience.

Go out and pull for your favorite teams and take care everyone.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

On the Origins of a Vile Institution

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Gloria Steinem famously quipped, “The truth will set you free . . . but first, it will piss you off.” Hopefully, this will stir some emotions in any of my former colleagues who may still read me from time to time. I’m saying what you can’t so print this out and leave where the “right people” can find it. Because, my teacher and librarian friends, TADA! It’s back to school time and that can only mean one thing — days of MEETINGS and, even worse, INSERVICES!!

Never a good sign of productivity ahead.

Probably the most hideous part of any year for a teacher is the “Read the Handbook” Meeting on the first or maybe the second day of school. If you’ve ever taught, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s where the principal gathers everyone together in — usually — the library and serves stale doughnuts and OJ or weak coffee. After a little small talk, he or she says, “We’ve revised some policy this summer so if you’ll open your handbooks . . .” and three hours of droning monotone, the verbal equivalent to the Chinese water torture, begins. Geological ages later when everyone is finally released to get rid of the coffee or OJ borrowed earlier, the only policy change is tennis shoes are now allowed on Fridays with “school spirit related” t-shirts — but still no jeans.

Have principals never heard of this wonderful invention called EMAIL? Anyway, no one really cares about the morning meeting because they are all headed in a mad dash to the two or three restaurants to grab a bite of lunch with their respective cliques so they can get back for a “very important and informative inservice” that will last the rest of the day and most of tomorrow.

Beginning of the year INSERVICES! You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. In my 15 years of mediocre teaching, I dreaded BOY inservices and meeting worse than a proctological exam. At least the doctor gives you a little “magic pill” to reduce the pain and degradation of the experience.

So, for the last few years since I “retired” from teaching, I’ve tried to trace the source of these instruments of the devil and I’ve finally found out enough to publish my findings. I hope you help me pass the truth along so others can be as pissed of as we are at the monumental wasting of our time.

Typical BOY meeting

First, we have to consider the birth of the inservice. I’ve concluded from my research that inservices are born out of desperation and/or greed. Some teacher struggling along somewhere puts together a unit or tries a made up classroom management system and — glory be, Jehovah — the dad-blasted thing actually works! It works so well a couple of other teachers on her hall try the idea and, OMG! It works for them as well. This is about the time someone says to the original teacher, “You know, this is SO brilliant! You should write a book or make a DVD lecture series so other teachers all over the world can share in this Red-Sea-parting level miracle of pedagogical genius.” So the teacher does just that very thing and six months to a year later, voila! A brand new educational “idea” is born and marketed as “the next great new thing.”

I was and remain cynically skeptical of any educational “new thing.” I desperately want to see these places where all this amazing teaching and learning takes place. If you dig around long enough, you find the majority of these authors have something in common — their schools aren’t anything like yours. They’ll pitch their goods to “poor” schools because their program was developed “the deep inner city.” Well, technically that’s a true statement but they leave out the part where the school is actually a magnet school or a charter school or something other than a real, live tough as nails inner city school.

Still, all these books would remain on the shelves of professional libraries everywhere for brand new teachers struggling to buy with those first meager paychecks hoping to catch lightning in a bottle if it were not for the second member of this dastardly duo — principals, ap’s, or vp’s. The school or district administration finds these programs and that’s when the trouble starts.

See, here’s the thing about administrators in the majority of schools most people don’t like to talk about — they couldn’t teach. I know of exceptions, but they are exceptions. For the most part, the average assistant principal is a former teacher who was really just not very good in the classroom. Usually, they know this fact about themselves but by the time they get it figured out, it’s four years, a mortgage, a car payment, and a kid or two down the road. They have neither the time nor the money to pursue another career which would need a totally different degree so they scrimp and sacrifice for three semesters and two summers to get their principal’s certificate.

Okay, great for them. I admire them for staying some course, but here’s the problem — once they leave the classroom, they almost immediately forget what it was like being a teacher. To make matters worse, if said AP is good enough at “butts, buses, and books,” he or she is probably going to get a school of her own to run. By this time, you have a person eight to ten years out of the classroom (where they pretty much sucked anyway) but they are making decisions affecting what every teacher in the building is doing!

I once swore I’d never use a lolcatz in my blog, but sometimes you just take what they give you!

In a worse case scenario, you have an ex-coach who’s a likeable enough guy but he majored in PE twenty years ago and will gladly talk your ear off about being the backup running back on his high school’s state championship team or about walking on to the Clemson University football program and he actually got in a game in the 4th quarter of a rout and TACKLED someone! Now this guy, who knows much more about whistles than literature, gets word from the district he has to provide X number of hours of inservice for his teachers. So he picks something based on what he saw at a conference or a seminar somewhere. The package was awesome and the presentation was slick and, after all, IT WORKED FOR THEM!! So, we’ll bring everyone in for coffee and doughnuts and drag them eye-rolling and head-shaking through HOURS of what might be an excellent program — IF our school was LIKE THEIRS!!

So there you have it in a nutshell — you have to sit through hours of BOY inservice totally irrelevant to your teaching situation while the whole time you are dying a little inside because “Meet the Teacher” night is two days away and yesterday was the first day you could get into your classroom because the waxing and painting crews from the district ran two weeks behind this summer! You have nothing run off that you need and your room is a mess, but your AP found this “great” program at HIS conference or seminar and showed it to the REST of the administration . . .

So here you are . . . miserable, tuned out, and desperately wanting to get your desk in order so you can be ready to do your JOB on Wednesday when the children (anyone remember THEM?) come back.

Folks, you have my sympathy. Know that, as always, I love y’all.

Keep those feet clean and good luck.

 

 

Today is Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day

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I’m not at all a politically correct person . . . just ask Budge or spend ten minutes around me, but I am so glad that the term “retard” is now a sure-fire ticket to a PC beat down by anyone around with an iota of sense. One of the things I miss most about being in education is the chance to interact daily with the “special students.”I’m no fool or naive and I know these children can be difficult to deal with at times, but more often than not, they are the sweetest and kindest group of children in any school. At my last position as librarian here in the Upstate, I was blessed to have met Drew. Drew was born with Down’s Syndrome, which is medically called Trisomy 21, which further means he has THREE copies of his 21st chromosome instead of the required TWO. As a result of his genetic condition, Drew has easily recognizable features including a slightly webbed neck and a mildly enlarged, slightly protruding tongue.

Without fail, Drew would come in to the library with the rest of his class after lunch. More often than not, he was sporting a smurfy tongue and blue Kool-aid smile from nose to chin thanks to his predilection for blue raspberry slurpees from the cafeteria. The dark blue of the slurpee stains were a complement to Drew’s sparkling blue eyes behind the glasses that were forever slipping down and teetering on the end of his button nose. Instead of sliding them up his face with a knuckle to the bridge, he would grasp one of the lens and place them back on a more useful part of his face. As a result, his glasses stayed a greasy, smeary mess and I often wondered how he could see out of them at all.

Having me clean his glasses after lunch became a favorite routine of his and if anyone else tried to help him out by clearing away a layer or two of grime, Drew would stop them and say, “Mr. Wham. He clean them in a minute.” Of course, “a minute” was anywhere from immediately to the end of the day, but it didn’t matter. I cleaned his eyewear once at the beginning of the year and that was it . . . I was the windex man.

Meet my buddy, Drew. If this precious expression can't put a smile on your face, you might not be breathing.

Now somewhere along the line, Drew had come to equate affection with sitting in one’s lap. While I’m sure this was cute and easily accomplished when he was a young fry, by the time I met him, he was about 4’6″ tall and about . . . well, 4’6″ around. He was pudgy, almost always happy, and determined to sit on my lap. Aside from being inappropriate, my poor knees wouldn’t hold him. So, after a lot of wrangling and “no Drews” and even a tear or two, we came to a compromise. He would sit cheek by jowl with me on the couch by the reading center and lean his head on my shoulder while I cleaned his glasses. It was inevitably the highlight of my day.

I miss Drew and the rest of his class. They are all in high school now. Laura works in the library there and she keeps me posted on how he and the rest are doing. So far, he’s not had many bumps in the road, but people tend to forget that he’s a boy in his late teens, Down’s Syndrome or no, and that means hormones are raging. He loves the ladies, and that’s been a matter of work this year, but he seems to be adjusting. I’m glad he’s happy because he always managed to put a smile on my face.

So today is Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day. It’s 3 – 21 – 12, which mirrors the fact that Downs causes 3 copies of chromosome 21. If you know one of these precious children, give him or her a hug for me and help them keep their feet clean.

Love y’all.