Tag Archives: teachers

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

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https://i0.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://i2.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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

Coo coo ca choo, Mr. Brady!

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Mr. Brady circa 1989. He taught me Algebra II and Calculus. Finest math teacher ever.

Fate, if you believe in it, is an odd and capricious thing.

If Larry Brady had been able to fold proper paper airplanes, I would never have learned calculus in high school, so I would have been forced to take it in college — most likely with a thickly accented professor — and failed it miserably thereby not finishing my degree and likely dooming myself to a life of more misery and failure than I already have endured.

I guess one could safely say I owe a lot to Mr. Brady.

Budge and I were talking about math last night. Why, I don’t know. It’s one of those strange conversations married people have. Anyway, Budge HATES math. I blame Dad. Patience is not one of Dad’s cardinal virtues. He scarred her for life when he tried helping her with her algebra homework.

So we were talking about different kinds of math and Budge mentioned that she didn’t understand trigonometry. In about 15 minutes, I’d explained to her what it was, who used it, and why. I also gave her a rundown on mnemonics for the main trig functions. She wanted to know why it was so easy for me to learn and remember all this when she’d had such an impossible time with her high school math classes.

I answered her, “That’s easy; you never had Mr. Brady for a math teacher.”

As he explained to us in class in one of the precious few moments we managed to bump him slightly off topic, had Mr. Brady managed to conquer paper airplane origami at North Carolina State University, he would have pursued a degree and career as an aeronautic engineer. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the hang of folding the paper the way this particular professor wanted it folded so he changed his major to mathematics and ended up, somehow, as a teacher. I’m not certain on the mechanism of fate, but I do know that fortuitous alignment of the stars resulted in a generation of math students at Laurens District 55 High School being blessed without measure by putting one of the most gifted instructors to every pick up a blue Marks-A-Lot overhead pen into the classroom.

Lest anyone reading this think Mr. Brady was so memorable because he was easy, happy-go-lucky, loosey-goosey, and tried being our friend, PLEASE get a grip. Mr. Brady had a dry sense of humor, genuinely enjoyed teaching, and loved three things above all else — basketball, math, and his two daughters, one of whom was my classmate.

He was friendly, but he was a teacher first. He was one of the most organized human beings I ever met — at least in the classroom. Most of all though, he was decidedly NOT an easy teacher. Earning Cs in his class was honorable, Bs were a sign of hard work, and As — well, As in Mr. Brady’s class were the Maltese Falcons of the LDHS55 math department.

What made Mr. Brady unique was his ability to teach any concept, no matter how abstract or outrageous, to anyone. I am convinced, within two semesters, he could teach a lab rat to play “Ode to Joy” on a miniature grand piano. He knew no less than five ways to do any problem. If, by chance, a brain-dead stoner in one of his classes couldn’t “get it” using one of those five ways, Mr. Brady didn’t get mad or frustrated — he made up a sixth way on the spot, just like he made up all his classroom examples — on the spot. Now, in case that doesn’t impress you, try making up a problem involving L’Hopital’s Rule on the spur of the moment to get an answer that is neat and easy to use as a teaching example.

He was amazing.

Lest anyone think Mr. Brady was one of those Ivory Tower Birds who could only teach the cream of the crop, be advised that he taught EVERYTHING in the math department. Remedial Mathematics to AP Calculus, he taught them all with the same passion and expertise. He was one of the minuscule fraction of teachers who could — and would — teach all students well and without complaint.

We spend a lifetime trying to forget some teachers. Others, we remember, but for all the wrong reasons. We recall many personalities, but precious little of the subject matter they once imparted to us. Mr. Brady wasn’t like that at all. I suppose the best way to finally impress upon you the man’s ability as an educator is to reveal that I made a 3 on the AP Calculus “AB” Exam at the end of his class. I can’t remember how many of us passed with a 3 or better, but it was a typically phenomenal ratio for his calculus classes. He taught me so well and so thoroughly that I still maintain some knowledge of calculus today — 21 years later — having never found a reason to use it.

The man was good. He was a teacher par excellance and I hope that, wherever he is today and whatever he’s doing (he’s retired, but that’s all I know), he’s reaping a generous reward for making two otherwise unbearable years a little brighter for me.

Good on ya’, Mr. Brady, wherever you are!

Love y’all and don’t remember to wash your feet.

Author’s Update September 6, 2006: When I first published this entry on my blog, I sent a copy to Mr. Brady’s daughter, Sally, to pass on to her dad since I didn’t know where he was living or any of his contact information. Sally wrote me back telling me how much she appreciated the tribute, but that she would be unable to pass it on to her father. Unbeknown to me, and to my great and lasting sorrow, Mr. Larry Brady — finest math teacher ever to pace the classroom — passed away in January of 2006 after a series of strokes. I had no idea.  Resquiescat In Pace, Mr. Brady, and thank you so much.