Tag Archives: school

On the Origins of a Vile Institution


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.



We Have a Runner!


I always loved the First Day of School when I was teaching. Something ALWAYS happened and the events ran the gamut from tragic to downright surreal. As good as my first day stories are; however, they can’t touch the stories Budge comes home with each and every year.

Budge teaches 4th grade six minutes from our house, which I always thought was extremely unfair, but these days it means more sleep for both of us. Anyway, she has a plethora of great tales because, well . . . let’s be honest, the little ones are a sight cuter than the older, bigger models I was used to dealing with.

One year, she and the rest of the 4th and 5th grade teachers were stationed at the intersection of their halls with the main hall directing traffic and making sure everyone got to the right room. The crowd had thinned out noticeably when one of the teachers, Mary, caught site of a backpack wearing a little boy. He couldn’t look up for the size of his shiny new Jansport pack, but he was obviously WAY too small for 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade and that was all that was down on this end of the building.

Mary stopped him and knelt down to look at him and she said, “Now what grade are you in young man?” He replied, and I’ll attempt spelling his pronunciation, “Kinoorgaren!” Apparently, he had been standing in the huge mass of students waiting for the instructions to start to class from the atrium holding pens when everyone started to move. Since he could only see the floor beneath his feet and just a few feet beyond, he fell in with one herd and followed along . . . to the COMPLETELY wrong end of the building. K5, 1st, and 2nd grades were on the other end of the main hall, at least a good football field away. When Mary and one of the other teachers gently turned him around and adjusted the straps on the bookbag so that he had a full field of vision, they pointed to his correct destination . . . and he sat down and began crying tears of heartrending grief. Budge said she felt so sorry for him because, to one his size, that was and expeditionary length hike.

Ruefully, he stood up, dried his tears, and set off towards the far reaches of Robert E. Cashion Elementary, a regular little Admiral Perry or Shackleton resigned to his fate. Luckily, he had been missed in his class and one of the dear, sweet, long-suffering K5 aides had been dispatched to recover him. She intercepted him about a third of the way into his journey and, taking the bookbag from him and extending her hand, which he gladly took, lead him to the land of coloring book, cookies, and sandboxes.

Now, as touching as that story was, this one is downright sidesplitting to me. I hope it doesn’t fall into the “you had to be there” category for all y’all.

This first day had gone without incident for the most part, but after lunch, the school secretary came on the PA in a somewhat strained if not downright panicked voice and said, “Mrs. Wagner (the assistant principal), please go to the first grade hall IMMEDIATELY.” Jen had gone to the same high school as Budge, albeit a few years ahead of her, and had run track. That fact, and the fortuitous choice she had made that day to eschew here usual high heels for more sensible flats, saved the day.

To quote several of my favorite students, “What had happened was!” Budge later found out was one of the first graders, a little boy, apparently didn’t care much for school. The day had progressed along quite well as the afflicted teacher pointed out. She’d been going over stuff, they’d had a bathroom break, and generally engaged in many of the time-honored tasks of the first day. One particularly diminutive tow-headed lad; however, had politely raised his hand at least three times and announced to the teacher, “Ma’am, I’d like to go home now, please. I don’t much like it here.” Well, she had been kind to him and explained that he’d need to stay since he was a big boy now and had many things to learn.

Lunch had come and gone and the class was back to working when the little one again said, “Ma’am, I really would like to go home. I’m tired of sitting.” Again, his new status as an engaged learner on the way to becoming a productive citizen was pointed out to him upon which he nodded and the teacher went back to going from student to student engaging in some task. Her teacher radar went off and she jerked up just in time to see the classroom door quietly click shut while a sea of horrified first grade eyes looked on.

Normally, this wouldn’t be cause for alarm, BUT, this particular classroom was next to one of the six emergency doors in the school. Sure enough, she heard the buzzer go off as someone tripped the alarm. Obviously unable to leave the ninety and nine to go look for the one lost lamb, she called the office in an absolute state of mortification resulting in the aforesaid PA announcement and Mrs. Wagner’s re-entrance into the world of distance running.

When Jen got to the classroom, the teacher gave an instantaneous summary of the foregone events and out the door Jen went. Just in time as it turned out. Even though this little one was quite short of leg, he was determined in his course and steadfast in his decision– having asked nicely four times and being refused — to GO HOME. Budge’s school sits about fifty yards off a main county road. Fifty yards is a long way for a little guy, but e’en so, his new school sneakers had already touched asphalt and he was looking both ways to get his bearings by the time Mrs. Wagner caught up with him.

Being an extremely well-mannered youngster, he didn’t put up any fuss when Jen called his name and held out her hand. He merely took the pro-offered palm with a sigh only the thwarted can know, and allowed himself to be lead back to the office. Lest you be worried for the child’s safety, he was not punished. Mama was called and excused herself from work long enough to come to the school and sternly, firmly, but very lovingly explained to our erstwhile adventurer that he must, in fact, remain in school for the majority of the next twelve years. She praised him for being polite but reiterated that, polite or not, he was NEVER to duplicate his actions again. Then, with a hug and kiss on the forehead, Mama returned to her office and the little lad, in the company of Mrs. Wagner, returned to class, where he did, in the end, have a good year and proved to be a capable and intelligent student who was eventually quick with the answer — from the back corner of the room opposite the door.

After all, no need to take chances!

Have a great year all teachers.

Love all, y’all and don’t forget to wash those feet!