Tag Archives: teaching

Of Blind Hogs and Acorns

Standard

https://i2.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

Standard

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

Standard

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.