CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS

“Cause this is thriller, thriller night. And no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike….” I had to turn on the TV and hear this on Halloween morning. Now it’s going to play in my head all freaking dayyyyyyyy! Happy Halloween to me…not!

As much as I have heard and seen “Thriller” way toooooooooooo much, I dearly love an old horror movie. Specifically old movies where most of the horror takes place off camera and the special effects are created in your own head. Not the newer, more blood and swimming pools full of gore, movies. Bela Lugosi nibbling at necks, Colin Clive hovering over Boris Karloff manically yelling “It’s Alive,” or Vincent Price grabbing you by the throat from the “Oblong Box.” I even loved the humor of Marty Feldman as Igor extorting Gene Wilder to “Walk This Way!” in “Young Frankenstein” or Christopher Lee licking his lips as he watched a bathing Sharon Tate in “Those Fearless Vampire Hunters”…a few less bubbles please. I loved them even though they really didn’t scare me. There WAS that disturbing scene with The Monster and the little girl. My fear was reserved for another generation of films that probably began with Michael terrorizing Jamie Lee in “Halloween” and “Carrie” burning down the town. Yes, I did scream during the final scene.

The one movie that absolutely terrified me beyond any reason was a 1972 low budget film called “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.” Snappy title. I found out later that it had been filmed in fourteen days and believe me it looked it. A theater group of attractive young people find themselves on an island filming a horror film. Using Satan’s own “book or the dead” they accidentally raise an island full of dead former criminals and the attractive theater group ends up dead, torn apart by living dead zombies who end the movie by getting on a boat headed toward a nearby city to continue eating. “More Brains Please!”

It shouldn’t have been that scary and probably wasn’t but I haven’t had guts enough to rent it. After Friday night football games I always found it hard to sleep and usually tried to put myself to sleep by watching Turner Broadcasting on cable. This particular TBS was the old version that was still owned by Ted Turner, featuring Saturday afternoon wrestling after an all-night horror fest of reasonably new films, sandwiched around cartoons and such. Being in the early Eighties, “Children Shouldn’t Play…” was reasonably new, only a decade old or so. I was alone, my roommate brother out for the night participating in an evening of “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” I am sure. My significant other…there was no significant other at the time as I was still waiting around for the love of my life to ask me out. You really should not watch a horror film at two in the morning without someone to snuggle with or at least call in case you need to be talked down from your fear.

It wasn’t the movie…the plot was too predictable. You just knew that as soon as they finished their “raise the dead chant” bad things were going to happen and that the black guy would be the first victum. He was and was soon followed by the two amorous youngsters who had snuck off for a little quality time alone. I actually laughed…until that damn music started. It really wasn’t music, it was more like a million fingernails being drug over a chalk board or a million out of tune violins being played with a cross cut saw. With the hair standing up on the back of my neck, the bodies started popping out of their graves like daisies in the spring sun. That should have been laughable…except for that damn music!

“Who you gonna call?” Not “Ghostbusters” because it had not been released yet. Well at least that theme is running through my head instead of “Thriller.” Happy Halloween!

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WHAT I TRULY HATE

I hate it when South Carolina is on the national evening news because it is rarely news that it is good. North Charleston, Emmanuel, the thousand year flood, all were horrible and showed the worst and the very best that South Carolina and her population have to offer. I really hate our population has to continually “step up” to meet these challenges. Seeing the “body slam” that took place at Spring Valley High School was like adding a cherry to the top of a really messy banana split. Am I comparing dozens of deaths to a body slam? Absolutely not but I was a teacher and this troubles me to no end….

Despite what has been written, posted or openly argued, my own personal OPINION, which is based upon forty plus years of teaching, is that ninety percent of the students in our state, and in most states, are upstanding youth who sometimes make mistakes but truly want to learn. Could we do without the other ten percent, probably but what do you do with them. Put them in jail so they can learn a real trade? Do we have an erosion of authority in schools? I will answer that with another question. Do we have an erosion of authority in society? The answer then should be easy. Why would we expect our schools to be any different than our society?

Nothing has really changed over the years except for the bandwagons people have jumped on. There was always the one or two “little Johnnies” in every class that at the end of the day made you shake your head, take a deep breath and say, “If it wasn’t for so and so, fourth period would be a great class.” There were also a few classes that I wondered what the computer was thinking when it spit out my class roster. The difference today is that social media plants “so and so’s” face all over the web or on wide screen televisions and allows us to pontificate about what the underlying causes are and anonymously call students, teachers and police officers whatever descriptor we desire.

There is rarely any good news posted because good news doesn’t sell commercials or internet advertisements. There were other videos posted right after the Spring Valley video came to light so that right wing trolls could point out the decline of society caused by the libtards running the country…or was it vice versa?

What I really hate is the way we jump off of cliffs before any of the facts are available. We make our choices on which side we are going to support and refuse to accept any other course because our choice fits into some preconceived notion that we have. I admit to have fallen into this abyss on occasion. Does the un-named young lady bear any guilt? Yes, but posters were still saying that her parents needed to “tan that butt” hours after it had been revealed her parent had died and she had just been recently put in foster care. Does that give her a free pass? No! Should it be a consideration? I guess it depends on how heartless or bleeding heart you are.

I believe the teacher and the administrator bear guilt to. I don’t know what her discipline record is, AND YOU DON’T EITHER, but I cannot for the life of me believe that the teacher and administrator could not have found a way to defuse the situation before Officer Fields was called in. Teaching is tough and teaching in a big urban high school is tougher but that shouldn’t give people a free pass, and how you handle issues starts at the top and works down.

For those of you who have never set foot in a high school since graduation you may want to curb your suggestions until you get a degree and try it yourselves or maybe try and affect change in your own households. I find it interesting that when it comes to teaching and coaching, any doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, or person, breathing or not, has a better idea on what you should be doing in a classroom. Yes that’s another thing that I hate.

I have toiled at four schools that had SRO’s and found each and every one of those officers to be competent, caring and wearing their badges in the right place. I was always glad to have them, used some of them in my social studies classes when studying law, made cop and teacher jokes with them, and found them to place the students in their care just one small step below their primary function which was to insure safety for all. I believe each and every one would risk their lives to save those same students or teachers. Are there bad apples? Again, are there bad apples in society? Sure, but are we to throw out the baby with the bath water?

Unlike the young lady’s record, Officer Field’s steps and missteps are right out there for all of us to read and comment on. A kind of Dr. Jekyll and Officer “Slam”, he has been decorated and disciplined and we have jumped right out there to suggest his body building led him to PED’s and the “roid rages” that their use implies. None of us have the right or information to comment…but it doesn’t stop us because it is our “opinion.” I was with Officer Fields right up until the body slam and the body “chunk” across the room. DO TRY and explain to me why a two hundred pound plus body builder needed to do that to a sixteen year old who may or may not have slapped at him.

There are no winners in this. Officer Fields has lost his job and a student, who should have acted better, got battered, bruised and probably suspended for her efforts. Well, maybe her lawyer will win a tidy sum for the both of them. All we get to do is debate racism, police brutality, teacher incompetence and the decaying society that we call the United States. That is what I hate the most because while we are able to see the symptoms of our fall, like our government, we are unable to suggest a cure…or maybe suggest too many.

THE ANGRY YOUNG MAN

The following is an excerpt from “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…” and one of the reasons that teachers live to teach. Should you wish to purchase a copy it can be purchased in book form or downloaded at the following link: goo.gl/dO1hcX
THE ANGRY YOUNG MAN
As a student, Leroy was no great shakes unless you compared him to a 1.0 earthquake. It would become apparent as time went on that he was a lot brighter than he was letting on but it would take several years for his intelligence to truly manifest itself. After telling him to complete an assignment and get back on task, he tore off a piece of tape, put it on the palm of his hand and said, “put this agin’ your ear and see if you can hear this tape telling you Hell No!” For creativity I would have to give it a ten. For stupid things to say to your teacher and coach, also I give it a ten. As a hush fell over the class, a flush of heat rushed from my feet to my ears. I calmly turned to the door and asked him to step outside with me. I was hoping that by taking time to walk out I would calm down. It didn’t work. When we got to the hallway, I turned and grabbed him by the throat while pushing him against a locker. In my mind I can clearly hear the hollow metal thud that the locker made, and the rattle of disturbed locks. I do not know what I said, which is not a good thing. From past history I would reason that I probably used the F word a lot and probably used it in ways it was never intended to be used. Luckily I came to my senses, realizing that not only had I picked him up off of the floor but that I was choking him. As I gazed upon his reddening face and into his saucer like eyes I decided that I probably should let him down and did. I was not proud of myself and for the next week cringed every time my classroom door opened. I fully expected the men in blue to show up to arrest me or Mr. Rhodes, my principal, to fire me. It did not happen and interestingly, Leroy’s brightness began to show a flicker of dim light. Please, I would like to make an observation to all budding young teachers; this is not a good motivational tool.

Leroy was also a baseball player of sorts. Two for four at the plate is great but as a career not so much. In the four years that I had him as a player he was able to complete just two of those seasons, his freshman year and his senior year. In between there was an issue with eligibility his junior year but before that, there was an issue with me and his anger his sophomore year. Small, quick and wiry, Leroy possessed a howitzer for an arm although, at times, it was somewhat inaccurate. As a freshman I used him as a pitcher, short stop and outfielder and he distinguished himself enough to make the varsity team his sophomore year. Unfortunately, Leroy had a huge hole in his swing. Anything that curved or bent avoided his bat as if it had some sort of perilous disease. My tiring of repeatedly saying, “Out in front and over the top” caused me to bench him in favor of another player. People on the bench have at the very least, two issues; one, they don’t like being there and want to play more. I understand this and really do not want a player that doesn’t want to play. Two, they do not like to chase foul balls. To a player chasing foul balls is demeaning. I agree with them that it is demeaning but I don’t care, it has to be done. Being Leroy, the anger kept building until finally he could not take it anymore. When I told him to “hop on” a foul ball he did not move even though I knew he had heard me. “Leroy, the ball will not grow legs and come back on its own.” His comeback was, “It’ll have to before I go pick it up!” My calmness surprised me. “Leroy, either get the ball or go get out of your uniform and don’t come back.” Unable to get past his anger you can guess which option he chose. I found his uniform hanging on the door knob of the athletic office. The ball did not return itself either.

Because I primarily taught freshmen, I saw very little of Leroy his junior year. Some would say this was a blessing and at the time I would have agreed. Due to his grade problems I did not have to deal with him during baseball season and did not expect him to come out his senior year. As usual I was incorrect. Like a bad penny, he kept turning up. What did I have to do to get rid of this kid? When I saw him sitting at a desk in the first organizational meeting of the year, my first thought was “You’re cut.” As the meeting came to a close, I noticed Leroy hanging back. As soon as everyone had exited, Leroy was at my elbow. “CaCaCaCoach Miller,” he stammered while looking at his shoes, “You don’t owe me anything but can I come out for baseball?” I was somewhat taken aback that he had even asked. “Why should I let you come out Leroy? We have not exactly Gee-Hawed.” Again looking at his feet Leroy finally looked up and said, “I’m not the same person. Can you give me a chance to prove it?” With “No way!” on the tip of my tongue I instead said sure. I am such an old softy. I did not totally lose my mind, I gave him quite a few parameters to adhere to and he did; to a Tee!

Leroy’s season was a good one for him on the worst team that I had at Riverside. He still had the hole in his swing but so did everyone else. In between innings I found him sitting next to me talking about the game that was in progress or cutting up with his best friend, David Brissey. He seemed to be less angry and much happier. At practice he was usually the first one out to the field and since he lived near my route home I began to taxi him home. In other words, I was seeing way too much of him. Seeing and participating in the turn around in Leroy’s personality helped make the season more successful than it really was. He was still an angry young man and at times gave in to the anger. Mostly he used his anger as a tool for success and for some reason Leroy had decided that I was responsible for that success.

As Leroy’s senior year drew to a close I found myself being invited to many different family functions, including graduation celebrations, graduation itself and an impromptu evening fishing expedition over spring break. As we sat in his grandpa’s old and beat up Jon boat Leroy told me that the best thing that ever happened to him was being jacked up against a locker and being kicked off of the baseball team. He had done some type of self-analysis his junior year and realized that he was headed down a long, bumpy and unhappy road if he did not change his ways. Not bad for a seventeen year old. It was as if he had become self-aware; then he dropped a bomb shell. He was going to go to college. I did not want to throw ice water on his dream but to myself I contemplated the likelihood of his success with the grades that I knew he had. They would not reflect the type of student usually pursued by institutes of higher learning. I am glad I didn’t and was once again was proven incorrect. Leroy took remedial and transfer courses. On a recommendation from me, he began his career at North Greenville University and if memory serves, somehow ended up at Furman University. If Furman were up north it would have been a member of the Ivy League and mentioned with Yale and Princeton. He not only ended up there, he graduated. Leroy traveled a little farther down his road and picked up a Masters Degree and even ended up teaching at the collegiate level for a while. I try not to wish bad things on good people but I fervently hope that he had a student that was just as big a hemorrhoid as he was. I also sincerely hope that if Leroy had such a student that the student turned out just as successful as Leroy did. Leroy, even though I’m not sure why, I consider you to be my biggest success story. Hope you are well!

A LITTLE BIT OF EDUCATION…

This is an excerpt from the book “Pathways” which will be released in mid-November.

I have joked to my classes that I went to the the only elementary school, called a primary school back then, that had a student parking lot. I did, but it was because I went to Indian Land School where kindergarten through twelve was housed in the same building that had just one parking lot. A long low brick building similar to all that were built in the late Forties, it sat on the top of a small hill overlooking Highway 521. The primary school was housed downstairs on one end while the junior high was up the stairs above it and separated from the high school by huge double doors. For my first eight years the only time we ventured into the realm of the upperclassmen was the occasional trip to the library or auditorium and daily, having lined up like Clementine’s little ducklings, when we quietly marched to the cafeteria for lunch. The only sounds allowed were the taps and clicks caused by hard soled shoes on the highly polished hardwood floors.

In order to meet the needs of a modern world, a gymnasium was built adjacent to the high school wing. Other buildings had been added to accommodate such non-core classes as Ag, shop and band, and to house sports facilities in the form of football and baseball locker rooms. These rooms surrounded a cannery that was opened in the summer months and used by all of the families… make that all white families in the area.
There was no kindergarten during those years either. In those days, parents were still responsible for teaching basic ABC’s, numbers, and colors and such – things that kindergarten teachers are now saddled with because parents are way too busy to teach them.

My kindergarten education was year-round and administered not only by my parents but also by my grandmother, Nannie, who was an exacting taskmaster. Even during the summer months between sessions of school my education continued. While other children frolicked, romped, hither and yon seemingly doing nothing educationally, a bookmobile would show up at Pettus’s Store. Every two weeks, like clockwork, my grandmother would take me by the hand and walk me down to Pettus’s Store “to meet the bookmobile,” a vehicle which looked a lot like a converted school bus of a great age. Inside, instead of seats, there were shelves with rows and rows of books on every subject. I would pick out three books that interested me and Nannie would pick out three books that she thought might interest me. Of course the books she picked were of some type of educational value like say Einstein’s Guide to Quantum Mechanics. That gave me a total of six possible books to read over a two week period.

There really wasn’t anything possible about it because I did not seem to have a choice. Sit your self down under yonder shade tree and read or walk yourself out to yonder hot sun and corn row and pick up a hoe. There did not seem to be anything to debate so I became an avid reader and still have not found a hoe that comfortably fits my hand…not that I am actively looking. At any time, while sitting under that shade tree, I might be called upon to read aloud and could expect to be quizzed with a Moon Pie as a treat instead of a carrot strung onto the end of a fishing pole. I did not realize how much I would appreciate that later…much later. During the winter months, activities might be changed due to the weather but still were focused on the three R’s and a healthy dose of Biblical study that went on 24/7 it would seem.

Because all children did not have the benefit of my grandmother and because “Some Children Are Left Behind”, regardless of what a former president might have passed into law in the far distant future, we could have had an elementary school with a student parking lot because the concept known as social promotion was several years down one of those pathways in South Carolina. That’s right – no social promotion! The good side of that equation was that there was no compulsory attendance rule either. Good side? I have been on both sides of the coin. I was a student when there was no social promotion or compulsory attendance and then a teacher under both systems. So which do I prefer? Unh-Unh! That is my secret but there are reasons why South Carolina’s education system ranks so low today and why we had no social promotion or compulsory attendance rule at the time.

Those reasons are connected. We are still trying to shake off and remove the cobwebs from the years when I was a public school student and cotton textiles were still king in the New South. I am not implying that it was the intent of mill owners or their politicians, held firmly in owner’s pockets, purposely to keep the state “stupid.” Well, maybe I am. One did not need a particularly “globally aware” or educated workforce to produce the raw materials and finished products associated with textiles. Remember, an educated workforce might actually ask for a raise or, worse, mention the word—union. You really did not need to know your multiplication tables to do most jobs in a cotton mill although I did, in fact, have to use a slide rule in one. Yeah and I still have yet to use Algebra in the last fifty years. I keep hoping my education was not for naught!

Textiles also provided the ultimate “alternative” school. Where does a “left behind” fourteen-year-old sixth grader go when he decides to drop out of school? In my day, they became solid, tax-paying citizens who labored in the lower recesses of the cotton mills doing those jobs that were highly repetitive, back-breaking and lower paying until they taught themselves something else that would elevate them to another highly repetitive, back-breaking but higher paying “low paying job.” Understand, these low paying jobs still provided a higher level of poverty than the rest of the world enjoyed. We were still taught that education was important and that a high school diploma was the only way to get the “better” jobs in the mill. The problem today is that we do not have that “alternative” school any more and there are only so many shifts at “Mickey Dee’s” or the like.

WHEN LITTLE JOHNNY WAS A REAL PERSON AND NOT A JOKE AT ALL

If you are a teacher you have heard Little Johnny jokes. Enjoy.

For some reason a teaching friend of mine decided that her Self Contained Special Education children should have access to the Industrial Arts lab and to the same experiences as any other student. This was very progressive thinking for the Seventies and inexplicably the powers-that-were agreed with the special education teacher, much to the chagrin of the Industrial Arts teacher. Also inexplicably I was somehow convinced to lend another pair of eyes to help monitor the proceedings. It did not begin well.

I am sure many of you have heard of the little Johnny jokes. They may have been created specifically with this young man in mind. Johnny was not just little, he was scrawny and I am sure underfed. Johnny was also unkempt. Longish “bed” hair stuck out in all directions framing a narrow face with a narrow hooked nose that was a very prominent feature. Dressed for the month in jeans and a well-used tee shirt, he was not an attractive young man. He was also not very bright or sweet. After receiving instruction, the class’s task was to build a blue bird house which would require everyone to use a table or band saw. Johnny did not want to use either and was very vocal about it. In his slow, whiney drawl he loudly stated, “Ain’t gonna use the damn thing! It’s too damn loud!” After much cajoling from his teacher, Johnny finally strode over to the band saw, turned in on, placed his measured one by six in position and with some forethought cut the end of his index finger off. Proudly showing his bloody nub, he said, “Told you I didn’t want to use the damn thing! It is too damn loud!”

Several months after school had adjourned for the year I drove to the gym to do my summer weight room supervision and was met by an unusual sight. Resting on the hill overlooking the baseball field was a hang glider. Not something you see every day or even once in your lifetime on a high school campus. Buckling himself into the contraption was Johnny “the nub” from Industrial Arts fame.

“My, my Johnny that is a fine hang glider. What are you going to do with that thing?”
“Gonna fly off Glassy Mountain.”
“Johnny, you are a long way from Glassy Mountain, I don’t think you can fly that far.”
“Coach Miller, I gotta practice to fly off from there.”
“Johnny, I am sorry. You can’t practice here. Ms. Koon (our principal) would have both our butts if I let you fly off here.”

I should have been a little clearer about what ‘not here’ meant. An hour into my supervision I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. As I looked out over the baseball field, motion to my right caught my attention. To Johnny, ‘not here’ meant that he should move to the hill that the football stadium was built into, and I was too late to abort his takeoff. To add to the excitement, he had drawn a crowd of football players and band members who decided to cheer him on. I took off at a ”sprint”, yelling all of the way. Johnny just grinned, waved and took off on his own sprint and then leapt into the sky as he got to the beginning of the hill’s decline. It was pretty anticlimactic. With feet tucked up under him, his toes might have been two feet, ten inches off of the ground. I estimate this because the field restraining fence was three feet tall and his toes did not quite clear it. With toes hung on the fence, forward momentum was changed to downward momentum causing the nose of the hang glider to “staub” up into the ground with Johnny’s toes acting as the fulcrum. By the time that I got to him he was out of his harness and painfully jumping from foot to foot, softly saying “oh, oh, oh, oh!” I don’t know if Johnny ever got to fly off of Glassy Rock. Since I have heard of no fatalities, I would guess not.

“I HEAR OF TEACHERS CRYING ON THEIR KITCHEN FLOORS”

This was an article that caught my eye earlier today. If you are interested you can read if you so desire at the following link. https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/%E2%80%98i-hear-teachers-crying-their-kitchen-floor-because-stress%E2%80%99

Being a retired teacher it would be natural that this headline might catch my eye. I can say that during my forty plus years teaching I never cried on my kitchen floor due to stress…I would be more likely to pass out on my kitchen floor from stress. Hey, Jack Daniels would be a great reliever of stress if it wasn’t for the health and emotional issues of alcohol addiction…and those blinding headaches.

What have we done to our teachers? It would be natural to think that this was some poor first year teacher who really wasn’t cut out to teach. It would be reasonable to think this but that wasn’t the case. We were all first year teachers at one time and I assure you many times during my first year, and during the next forty, I wondered if I was cut out to teach or to coach. When I stepped into my first class, I was a blank slate. A clean canvas, blanker and cleaner than the freshly erased and washed chalk boards located in my classroom. I wasn’t much better the second year when a relative of mine congratulated me for “graduating” from teaching junior high school to teaching senior high school. No I didn’t attempt to explain it to her.

I am going to discount my six weeks of student teaching and my first year of actual teaching because I learned little until my second year of teaching. That year I learned that young teachers get the classes that older, more seasoned teachers are glad they don’t get. For about ten years that seemed to be pretty unfair…then I started getting the good classes and it seemed infinitely fairer. I was fortunate to have had a lot of help becoming a better teacher. Great mentors and great people. I remember walking into Nita Leatherwood’s class at the beginning of my free period early my second year. Just so you non-teachers know – THERE IS NOTHING FREE about a free period. It is actually known as a planning period, though because of department meetings, teaching team meetings, conferences or a dozen other meetings, it is actually a time in which teachers get to do little planning. If you are lucky you have time to grab a cup of coffee and a quick trip by the “facilities.” I really believe that my bladder issues occurred because…anyway, I digress.

As I walked in to Ms. Leatherwood’s classroom, I found myself amazed at how well-behaved her class was. My classes resembled cats on amphetamines until I was able to calm them down. That usually took about fifteen minutes longer than the class itself. I tried to use the technique of boredom to put them to sleep but that didn’t work either. Her class was talking quietly and she was joining in. Books and notebooks were open and displayed on their desks, pencils poised at the ready. You could almost hear them thinking, “What are you waiting for? Teach Meeeeeeee!” More amazing, she was smiling to, wait…she was even laughing at something one of her students had said.
Sometime early in my first year, a coach or teaching peer advised “Don’t even think about smiling until after Christmas and then only do it infrequently!” This led to a developing philosophy called the “Vince Lombardi/Attila the Hun” school of instruction…and coaching. Not much fun for my students or for me. Ms. Leatherwood gave me what would become the first step of my teaching philosophy staircase when I asked about her classroom management and how it related to smiling. “You do realize this is an upper level chemistry class and not the barrel of monkeys you teach. It’s taken me twenty years to get a reputation…and classes like this. They came in this way on their own.” I didn’t believe her but then she asked me, “Are you teaching who you are?” My confused look convinced her to continue, “You have to teach within your own personality, not someone else’s’.” It took a while but I did get that one down. Later that same year Jay Lunceford, our head coach, punched me on the shoulder and said, “Quit yelling so much!” Before I could ask why, he added to my philosophy by explaining, “If you yell all of the time how do they know you are pissed off? Besides, you are going to give yourself a headache…and everyone else.” Between the two of them I put the “Lombardi the Hun” philosophy of education to bed…for good.

I’m not sure you get to teach “who you are” in today’s educational landscape and if I were in a position to be a mentoring teacher, I’m not sure I would have the time to tend to anything other than my own “beeswax.” I am also unsure that I would be able coach and teach if I were starting out today. It’s all about the bottom line…the gospel according to TEST SCORES and how to improve them. My last year of teaching was spent trying to figure out how to teach to a test that was kept under lock and key in the deepest recesses of a locked vault, heavily guarded, eight million lightyears away in a parallel universe. Get it. You are attempting to play a game you have never seen and have no instruction in and the only rules are to make sure you are kept in the dark. Although you have meetings several times weekly to try and figure it all out, the people who you are meeting have no more of a clue than you do. I have never seen teacher moral at a lower level than that last year. Thankfully “No Child Left Behind” is being left behind. Unfortunately, I don’t know what is going to replace it and sometimes a known evil is better than an unknown one. Common Core?

That second year of teaching, my first at Mauldin, the guidance department did me no favors when they put together my sixth period class, the last period of the day each and every day. The Class from Hell? No it was the Vampire Killer Clown Class from Hell. I went to my principal quizzing her about what I should do. They couldn’t read a Dick and Jane book or do basic math and had an attention span the size of an amoeba’s penis. I know, amoebas do not have that particular accoutrement and my class had no attention span. I had one child that could not write his name. How could I teach him science? You know what she said? “That’s where you start.” “Your lesson plans should reflect teaching him to write his name.” Not sure you would get that advice today and if a teacher can get that done and raise test scores, that teacher is an exception and not the rule. By the way, Earnest finished the year able to write his first, middle and last name and I felt like a master teacher.

According to Jim Henson of Muppet fame, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” I hope he is right and I hope these new teachers are remembered for more than crying on kitchen floors and teaching to a test. Good luck my former compadres, known and unknown.

TEACHER CREATIVITY GOES AWRY

Sometimes teachers can be more creative than they intend to be and sometimes their best laid plans do go asunder. There was one student teacher from Bob Jones University who had her students create flash cards to assist her student’s review of material for an upcoming test. Questions were written on one side with the answers on the other. This is something that most all teachers do to assist their students as they learn new material. I only mention that she was from Bob Jones University, a fundamental Christian university, because quite a few of their student teachers were not very…well…worldly. Most became very good student teachers once they realized the games that high school students sometimes play. This one student teacher may have been worldlier than she let on, but from all accounts she was not a very good student teacher. As she held an in-class review, the student teacher asked, “This American activist crusaded on the behalf of the mentally insane in the late 1800s, who was she?” After giving her students time to search for the answer, she then asked “if everyone had their Dix out?” Okay say it slowly and out loud. “Do you have your Dix out?” If you burst into laughter you now know what her class did.

Early in my career I also tried to be creative. Actually, I tried to be creative late in my career but was smarter about it…. Well maybe not; I just remembered making a pickle light up, blowing up hydrogen balloons and demonstrating a potato gun. One of my favorite demonstrations was to show the behavior of the metal sodium when placed in water. As I look back on this time I realize it might not have been a smart thing to do because the reaction produces heat and hydrogen, along with a caustic base, and there is a potential for an explosion and therefore some danger. I would drop a very small beebee sized amount of sodium into a lab sink with a small amount of water. Everyone would be wearing safety googles as we watched the sodium spark and smoke as it ran around on the surface of the water like a “scrubbing bubble.” If we were lucky, the spark would ignite the hydrogen and would cause a small “pop” that might get a few people wet. All of this was strictly monitored by yours truly. I had to quit doing this demonstration when a group of student lab assistants decided that they would recreate this demonstration in the sink located in the chemical storage room. Using the logic that kids and not so bright adults sometimes employ, if a little is good, then a lot would be great. Instead of dropping a beebee sized amount of sodium into the water they dropped a golf ball sized amount. As the reaction progressed all was fine until one of the other science teachers walked in on them. In an attempt to cover up their crime, they pulled the plug in the sink to dispose of the evidence and this is where the dangerous fun began. All plumbing fixtures in a science lab are made of glass to prevent chemical reactions involving corrosive acids and metals. They are also connected to each other. When the sodium hit the trap, it had no where to go and exploded. Luckily no one was injured but the same could not be said for many of the interconnected glass traps. Also, a few students standing near to lab sinks got unexpected baths in what could be described as a toxic brew of water. While no one was injured, the old saying that “it is all fun and games until someone loses an eye” still applied.

Another of my favorite activities was the end of year “water rocket” project. Who knew that a two liter soft drink bottle with fins and nose could fly so far? Filled with water and pumped with a bicycle pump to eighty or so pounds of pressure we had one fly from the front lawn of Mauldin High, over the school and to the far side of the football stadium. Granted, there was a stiff wind blowing but the designer was smart enough to cut his fins in such a way to impart spin. It flew and flew and flew. Most didn’t. Quite a few just barely got into the air, which was the one requirement to receive a passing grade. Get off of the pad for a ‘D’! For a dozen or so well-designed rockets, you might have thought of the movie “October Sky.” Because we flew them from the front lawn during the late day classes, parents waiting to pick up their kids in the car line were given a show and many left their cars in order to have a better view. The parents loved it and the flights became an unexpected public relations coup for me as they praised my creativity and innovation. They would stand in groups, applauding every liftoff and cheering for those who actually cleared the launch pad. Most of the good ones flew a hundred or so feet and then crashed harmlessly onto the lawn or at worst the top of the school. That was until a change in wind direction brought them crashing down into the car line. I don’t think the parents realized that they could move so fast and the scene reminded me of film from World War II. Well, so much for scoring the public relations coup and all of my creativity with it.

Excerpt from “Winning Was Never the Only Thing….” which can be downloaded on Kindle or purchased on Amazon at http://goo.gl/UE2LPW

FIFTY YEARS AGO-THE SUMMER OF LOVE

My summer of love was nothing like THE Summer of Love. I’m sure you have all read or seen the history of the Sixties. If you haven’t you probably should. There was no greater decade…or worse one. The Summer of Love took place in 1967 in and around San Francisco as some one hundred thousand kids descended upon the Haight-Asbury area or what became known as the “Hashbury” region of San Francisco. Actually, the summer of 1967 was the culmination of a half decade of excesses that involved more than just a summer of love, drugs, and music. It exemplified what most of the youth of our country had been moving toward during the entire decade of the Sixties…despite the protests of our parents.

I was caught totally unaware of what was going on in San Francisco. I saw a few mentions of “hippies” on the evening news hosted by “the most trusted man in the United States,” Walter Cronkite. Dirty, long haired, flower wearing and dope using, they were celebrating “free love” while protesting the Vietnam War, wishing to “make love, not war” while “wearing flowers in their hair.” Many of my friends spoke of “dirty” hippies who were tearing our country down with their protests, while I couldn’t understand the disdain. Making love sounded a lot better than making war. After two divorces I now realize that there is only a thin line between the two and that the free love mantra of the period was anything but free.

Despite the ongoing Cold War and the assassination of President Kennedy, the early Sixties were a period of hope. The Cuban Missile Crisis was behind us and we still believed in the American Exceptionalism of World War Two. The young Americans, the Baby Boomers, found a role model in the youthful president, John F. Kennedy, and the sorrow of his loss did little to dim the hope of the period. Probably his death heightening our hopes making the fall at the end of the Sixties that much harder to take. There were plenty of causes to fight for, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, Native American Rights, “the Right to Party”…wrong generation but we did our share…but not in Indian Land.  Indian Land was still about the “status quo,” working class families either toiling at local textile mills or in agriculture related endeavors, most of whom who still believed in the mantra “our government right or wrong.” Vietnam and Watergate would change all of those beliefs and more for my generation.

Vietnam would change us in ways that I don’t think we understood even though most of the denizens of my small community continued to support the war to its bloody end. I would support it until opening a new chapter of my life at the “non-hot bed of political and social change,” Newberry College and was glad to have received my 2S deferment. My departure for Newberry would coincide with the year 1968. I have always believed that 1968 was one of those years that ranks with other significant years like 1776, 1861, 1917 and 1941. What made it significant was the fact that despite the divisiveness of the country, we survived as a nation. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, Mai Lai, the Tet offensive and probably the worst damnation the war would receive, Walter Cronkite said we couldn’t win and he was right. Protests raged, exploding during the Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago and at colleges across the US including South Carolina State where three protesters were shot and killed by the police. Somehow our government held on, right through the Sixties into the Seventies and Watergate.

I wonder if some future history teacher will be saying the same about the divisiveness of this year or the next. How much more can our hatred for each other grow? Will 2015 or 2016 be the year that we survived despite fighting against ourselves, or will it be the year that the United States became something else? I believe that we are already on borrowed time and the specter of the break up of the Soviet Union after their excursion into Afghanistan haunts me a bit. I wonder if the war with ISIS is winnable? Deep down I believe that our enemies do not lie outside of our borders. How many countries and empires have come and gone during our brief history? We have come and I wonder if it is just our time to go?

THE CELLAR

It was an early Sunday morning, as in one or two in the morning. I had just returned to my dorm room from a date with a young woman who was successfully auditioning to become ex-wife number one. Sitting at my desk listening to the radio I was shocked to hear that Billy Stewart, the singer, had died in an automobile accident near the North Carolina coast. It was January 18, 1970; he had died just hours before. Saddened by the news of his tragedy, for the next hour I sat and listened to Billy Stewart’s greatest hits while reminiscing about seeing him live the previous summer. “Summertime,” “Sitting in the Park,” “I Do Love You,” “Secret Love,” – I heard them all and more that morning on WKDK. I had been there to watch him sing all those songs live at The Cellar in Charlotte in 1969.

To this day, I enjoy “hole-in-the-wall” kinds of places and The Cellar was certainly that. A little dark, it was mostly lit by neon beer signs and had an ambience that was special only to me. A door next to a large oak tree had a simple wooden sign above that welcomed you to “The Cellar.” That tree with roots that had pushed their way above ground level was an obstacle to getting into the club. I think it had become a type of “drunkenness” test administered by the bouncers taking up the cover at the door. I once had a friend get kicked out for being drunk after he had tripped over one of those roots. The problem was we hadn’t made it in to The Cellar to be kicked out of The Cellar. Don’t you have to be in before you are thrown out?

The Cellar was aptly named being located in the basement of an office building. Once you navigated the tree roots, paid your dollar cover and walked through the door, you would be assaulted with the sound of a live band playing “soul” or “beach” music or the greatest “beach” music jukebox in the world doing the same. A bar, located to the right, ran the length of the foyer for lack of a better descriptor. Double archways separated the bar from the young people “strutting their stuff,” dancing a dance known as the “Carolina Shag,” a descendent and a much slower version of the Jitterbug. The dance itself and the music that went with it was born on the shores of the Carolina Grand Strand and continues to be so popular today that it has been named the state dance of South Carolina. A small bandstand was located against the left hand wall in front of a hardwood dance floor. The rest of the flooring was unfinished concrete. Near the right hand wall was a small seating area. In addition to the music that made normal conversation impossible you would be seduced by the smell of stale cigarettes and spilled beer. Oh how I loved it!

The Cellar had everything a college boy might desire. It was such a ratty place that people our age could do as we pleased and there was no way we could mess it up any more than it was. We certainly did not have to be rich to go there as it had a cheap cover charge, live bands, fifteen-cent drafts and college girls…if you had a good line to meet them. I did sing the Sam Cooke lyrics from “Another Saturday Night” on occasion, “If I could meet ‘em, I could get ‘em, as yet I haven’t met ‘em, that’s why I’m in the shape I’m in.” I wonder if a simple “Would you like to dance?” would have worked? I was not shutout every night but the night I heard Billy sing live I invited Sally McGinn to join me to insure that I didn’t want for female companionship. It was a good thing. There were so many people jammed in to such a small space, movement or meeting anyone was nigh on to impossible. I remember being packed in so tightly Sally and I could not have been any closer unless it had been our wedding night. No, tightly packed doesn’t quite describe it. When we left, the floor was so sticky with spilled beer, momentarily I was cemented to the concrete. I miss that.

Billy was not the only live act to grace the small stage at The Cellar. Every weekend there were different groups performing. Archie Bell and the Drells “Tightened Up,” The Georgia Prophets gave me a “Fever” and the Catalinas reminded me that “Summertime’s Calling Me,” as is The Cellar…which, like so many places of my youth, no longer exists. There is a restaurant in its place now. Much of my time during the summers of ‘68 and ’69 was spent pursuing coeds at The Cellar. High school friends, Al Stevenson and John Nesbitt, along with myself, became the Three Musketeers those summers pursuing “man’s favorite sport,” but like “car chasing” dogs, rarely did we catch our quarry. Maybe we were the Three Stooges instead. We worked during the summer and I remember many nights getting home just in time to change clothes and head back to work in Charlotte. Working for Crowder Construction Company on Interstate Seventy-Seven, I attempt to avoid bridges that I know I worked on during those summers. I fear they could fall in at any minute.

Trips to The Cellar were not limited to summers. There were many sixty-mile road trips from Newberry to Rock Hill in Sid Crumpton’s VW or Tom Hocker’s little foreign car with the caved-in trunk. We would pick up dates at Winthrop before making the short jaunt into Charlotte. Yes, there were several late nighters that saw us back at Newberry just in time to make our morning classes. Dr. Wilson, a history professor, once remarked, “Miller, if your eyes are hurting you as bad as they are hurting me, you need to bandage them.” I WAS looking through a pink haze.

My last trip to The Cellar would occur in the summer of 1970. I brought Dianne, the woman who would become ex-wife number one, home to meet the family and later took her out for an evening of shagging at The Cellar. It was a standout night that figures prominently in my memories. Dianne was a statuesque redhead who rocked a red-patterned halter suit that she filled out quite nicely and more than adequately. We ran into Al and with his drooling Saint Bernard impersonation I would say he was impressed, too.
I’m not really sure why I never went back. I know I never intended not to. School, life and marriage along with divorce got into the way. I think in some ways it was a sign of the times or maybe I just grew up…Nah! Al decided to hitch hike to California. He didn’t make it out of Charlotte and ended up living on a local commune trying to find himself. I understand he was successful. John followed the same track as I, teaching before getting into school administration before he died. Shamefully, to my knowledge I never saw them again.

While the music didn’t die it changed along with the times. It went from easy rhythms about love to harsh Protest music. Shagging to that was impossible and the mood was wrong. In 1977 Saturday Night Fever put a spotlight on dancing suits and Disco. It was something so different I never even tried to get the hang of. As disco fought its death throws, Urban Cowboy was released, making Country, the Texas Two-step and line dancing the craze. Somewhere in the Seventies and Eighties I got lost and our ratty club became a ritzy restaurant and…sadly, like Al and John, a memory of something that once was.

“Place of the Sunlight of God”: An excerpt from a story about Tamassee-Salem

With the announcement of the closing of Tamassee-Salem I would guess that it would be normal to feel nostalgic…and I am. The following is an excerpt from “Winning…” in which I explain how I ended up a Tamassee-Salem where I spent seven of the best years of my working life. Enjoy for free…but the whole book can be purchased at goo.gl/dO1hcX

If you travel west on Highway 11 between Highway 14 and the Georgia State line, you will certainly understand why this particular highway is called the Cherokee Scenic Highway. Small mountains, water features galore, forested areas, parks and unfortunately, many golf courses cover the landscape around what was once a Cherokee trading path. Traveling is usually slow due to pulp wood trucks, bass boats being towed to and from Lake Keowee, or “Sunday Drivers” sight seeing on a Wednesday. I am fortunate to have lived on Highway 11 for nearly thirty years. Even after all of this time, Linda Gail and I still like to explore around Highway 11, looking for pig trails that might lead us on an adventure. Sometimes you get what you ask for.

Late one Friday, in the spring of 2001, Linda Gail and I were enjoying the evening while driving west in her Mustang toward the setting sun. We had eaten at a local golf course called The Rock and had turned west toward the sun instead of east toward home. I felt this was somewhat symbolic as I had made the decision before the 2001 baseball season to retire from athletics and ride off into the sunset. As soon as the baseball season ended, I began to regret my decision. While Linda Gail and I rode west, top down with the wind in our face, we talked about our careers, shared stories about former players and friends and discussed what I was going to do with those free hours I had not had for twenty-eight years. I did not have a clue but knew I did not like the size of Linda Gail’s honey do list.

I have often joked that if you drive far enough on Highway 11 you will reach the end of the world. If you turn left at the end of the world, you will find yourself in Salem. It is less than one square mile of mostly … nothing. The city of Salem boasts a population of one hundred and thirty five people according to the 2010 Census. The area adjoining it, Tamassee, is an unincorporated area whose name in the Cherokee language means “Place of the Sunlight of God”. It was named for an old Cherokee village destroyed by Andrew Pickens in the late 1700’s. There are a few businesses, churches and homes clustered around Highway 130 and what is called Park Avenue. There is also a fire department to the east and area’s namesake Tamassee-Salem Middle and High School to the west. This is where we found ourselves on that Friday evening with the sun setting behind the hill that the school sat on. The symbolism had not gone un-noticed as I joked, “I know what I can do when I grow up. I’ll come be the athletic director at Tamassee-Salem. They don’t have football or soccer. How hard can it be?” I have since re-thought the silliness of that statement.

As I looked at a South Carolina sports website the next day, I found a classified advertisement for a baseball coach and social studies teacher at, you guessed it, Tamassee-Salem. Once I got over the tingle up and down my spine I began to feel a strong pull toward the setting sun. I am religious but not in a recognized way. Even though I was publically dunked into the Baptist Church where I still attend, I lean more toward the New Testament Evolutionary Church of Christ according to Don. I even throw in a little Buddhism to add seasoning and for heat would like to combine it with some of the pagan activities that I have read about. For some reason Linda Gail won’t let me.

I still could not deny the feeling that I was being called to Tamassee-Salem. Like a moth’s attraction to an open flame or a siren’s call, the tug was unmistakable and strong. I discussed my feelings with Linda Gail but did not come to any clear decision. Linda gave me her normal “Do what you want” advice. The following Monday I continued to battle the feeling that I was being pulled toward Tamassee-Salem and decided that during my planning period I would call and inquire about the position. The telephone call was … well, interesting. Mr. Bill Hines, Tamassee-Salem’s principal, could not figure out why I wanted to come to Tamassee-Salem after my successes at Riverside. After the third time of being asked “But why do you want to come HERE,” I responded, somewhat testily, “I don’t know that I do, that is what I am trying to find out.” In Bill’s defense, he thought that I had committed one of the two cardinal sins of teaching or coaching that will get you fired faster than your won-loss record; diddling where one should not diddle or spending money that was not yours to spend. When I took the job at Tamassee-Salem a lot of my coaching peers actually thought the same thing. They could not understand why I was walking away from a successful program for one that had not even attained mediocrity. I wasn’t sure either but I told Mr. Hines that I was still a teacher in good standing at Riverside and gave him permission to call to confirm it. The next day he called back and invited me to come for an interview.

As I walked away from my interview, none of the allure for Tamassee-Salem had been displaced. I liked everyone that I had met and felt that the administration had gone out of their way to impress me which was quite flattering. (I am not easy but I can be had.) I also knew that athletically it would be a challenge, but I felt that I probably needed a new challenge.

As much as I felt that I had “come home,” I was still in a conflicted state. I had many close friends at Riverside and had served in Greenville County for twenty-five years, but my biggest issue was with my wife. Linda Gail and I had spent over fifteen years involved with the Warriors. She was the junior varsity girl’s basketball coach and the varsity girl’s tennis coach at Riverside. Our support of each other athletically was part of our relationship. I was actually present when Coach Golden asked her if she was interested in the coaching position. Louie was trying to hire a body just to field a position and had not realized what he was getting into. This is something he and I share … the not knowing what we were getting into, not the body. Linda Gail and I had been intertwined with athletics and each other our entire dating and married life. I debated with myself the decision to change schools. Our intertwinement included friends, parents, students and former players in addition to each other.

When I returned to Tamassee-Salem for my second interview, it turned out not to be an interview but an offer of employment. I had decided to take Linda Gail with me and while driving around the community, I found her to be somewhat reserved. Anyone who knows my wife would never use that description, but she was on this particular day, which made me very uncomfortable. She realized that our lives were getting ready to change, something that had not dawned on me but quickly would. When I returned to my truck with the news that I had been offered the position she broke into tears which I found were not tears of joy. Linda realized that a large part of our lives together had “been torn asunder” and the man responsible was me. We recovered, as many couples do, when their unions were torn apart by seductive outside forces. Luckily my seductive forces were another school and not … well, take your pick.

I spent seven great years teaching and coaching at TS during my first “retirement” and would trade nothing for the experience. I made many acquaintances that I now call friends. I am sorry the old girl is going to close. For me Tamassee-Salem lived up to its Native American name a “Place of the Sunlight of God”.