Deep Impact

 

If you hope to be successful in life there are people who impact you.  I don’t know how successful I was but I certainly had people who guided me, mentored me, people I wanted to emulate.  Marilyn Koon Hendrix had the impact of a pile driver as far as my life is concerned.

I don’t know what I expected.  I didn’t know how a principal was supposed to act, but “Koon” certainly wasn’t what I expected.  She was a friend, a mother figure…maybe a god figure.  She was the standard I measured all other principals by.

She was certainly the queen of her realm.  Everyone knew who was in charge but not in a heavy-handed way.  No one would accuse her of being a micromanager.  She wanted to lead, taking you along because you wanted to go, not dragging you along because you had to go.

Mrs. Hendrix allowed you to teach or coach in your own way.  She was comfortable allowing you to learn by making mistakes, backing you the first time and expecting you to gain wisdom and not repeat the mistake.  I made plenty of mistakes those first few years and she made sure I learned from them.  My wisdom?  I made sure I didn’t make the same mistake again.

Koon was a big woman or maybe I should say, she had a big presence.  She cast a huge shadow, bigger than life.  To me, she was an Amazon in every way. A deep raspy voice and a hardy laugh she liked to use.  Koon worked hard and she played hard, she expected the same for those who worked under her.  She had an “if it ain’t fun, I ain’t wantin’ to do it” attitude and her attitude translated to all around her.  I tried to adopt her attitude throughout my career, always trying to find fun in what I was doing.

I was young and impressionable trying to soak up as much knowledge and wisdom as I possibly could.  I was a twenty-three or four-year-old child who couldn’t bear the idea of disappointing his parents or Ms. Koon…although I’m sure I did.

The youthful me was “country come to town” when I entered her office for my interview.  It was a casual affair…a sit down on the couch, she in her rocking chair.  A let’s get to know you kind of interview.  I found out we grew up in the same county, she the “huge” metropolis of Lancaster, me in a wide place in the road near a cow patty, eighteen miles north.

I’ve often looked back on that moment.  I’ve often wondered what she saw in an immature hayseed from Indian Land, but she offered me a job teaching Physical Science and coaching and my life’s course had been set.

As the interview ended, I remember she leaned in as if to tell me a secret, instead asking a question, “Do you think you can work for a woman?”  An odd question in today’s era but this was the early Seventies and she was the first female principal in Greenville County.  I wanted the job badly and would have worked for an Orangutan.  No, I never said such and working for a woman was no problem.  Working for Koon was a joy of a lifetime.

If you are successful there are usually one or two people who impact you.  I was lucky…I had many impactful role models just at Mauldin, many who never realized their effect on my life.  Many who are now gone but not forgotten.

I was fortunate, I got to tell Marilyn how much she meant to me a year or so ago.  One person I didn’t get to tell was Jay Lunceford who passed too quickly to tell.  I find it particularly ironic to have learned of Marilyn’s passing on the anniversary of Jay’s.

Saddening but then the memories come flooding in.  I’m not sure how we survived to have memories.  God takes care of the young and stupid.  Oh, the stories I could tell but won’t…some of the people involved are still alive.

Koon will be missed but she’ll never really die either.  I have too much love.  Too many people owe her much…much love.  Too many people have the warm glow you associate with the warm morning sun and with Koon.

I have hopes she and Jay have met up somewhere in the cosmos, telling tales, laughing with each other, reminding us of what it was to be a Mauldin Maverick back in the day. “Do you remember when….”  You bet I do.

Koon, I’ll miss you, but I’ll still be laughing with you, telling tales of those days…the good old days.

***

Clarification:  Jay Lunceford was the head football coach and athletic director at Mauldin High School…and the father figure to Marilyn’s mother figure.  He too had a significant impact on my life.  Unfortunately, he passed way too soon in the late Seventies due to a brain tumor.  I believe he was thirty-two.

Don Miller writes on various subjects and his author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from an old yearbook.  Marilyn Koon Hendrix when she was still Marilyn Koon.  I pray she’s not looking down pointing a finger at me.

Fifty Years Ago…

 

Section 5377 of the Code of Laws of South Carolina of 1942: “It shall be unlawful for pupils of one race to attend the schools provided by boards of trustees for persons of another race.”

Fifty years ago, yesterday, The School District of Greenville County became one of the last school districts in one of the last states to comply with the “spirit” of the Supreme Court Case Brown v Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas.  It had only taken sixteen years to accomplish this compliance.

1954’s Brown v Board included a South Carolina case filed by then Civil Rights lawyer, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on behalf of Harry and Eliza Briggs and 20 other families living in Summerton, SC, a small town in Clarendon County.  Filed in 1947, Briggs v Elliott challenged school segregation in Clarendon County, South Carolina.  It was the first case filed of five cases combined under the Brown umbrella

Unanimously, the Justices found that separate was inherently unequal and that “public school segregation was unconstitutional.” They also found segregation “fostered feelings of inferiority among black children that could harm their educational futures.”

Brown overthrew Plessy v Ferguson’s “Separate but Equal”, a railroad case from the 1890s that had been applied to education.  Mandated segregation in South Carolina was over…defacto segregation wasn’t.

I used the word “spirit” earlier because for sixteen years South Carolina lawmakers systematically attempted to put off the inevitable by increasing spending on black schools, implementing “pseudo” freedom of choice, and an end-run with what became known as “token” integration.

State Senator Strom Thurmond of Dixiecrat fame helped to pen what became known as the Southern Manifesto, pledging, along with one hundred other federal lawmakers, the intent to resist integration as far as the law would allow.

It seemed South Carolina and other states, mostly Southern, were intent on being deliberate rather than speedy when instructed by the Supreme Court to integrate their schools “with all deliberate speed” in 1954.

With a Mississippi Federal Court ruling, segregation ended over a long weekend in Greenville County on February 17, 1970, with the busing of sixty percent of the black school populations to various schools distant from their own neighborhoods.  Only ten percent of white children were bused.  Five hundred educators found themselves cleaning out their desks and moving to different desks in different schools as well.  This was done to reflect the racial makeup of the county, 80% white, 20% black.

What had been black high schools, some quite new became middle schools or closed that weekend.  These centers of pride for many communities, like Sterling High or Lincoln High, were now empty; only living on in the memories of many people of color.

I was a second semester junior in college at the time and not very concerned about the politics of my state.  The next year, my senior year, I would find myself an unpaid assistant baseball coach while doing my student teaching at a local high school.  It would be my first-time interacting with black students and athletes.  It would probably be some of their first interactions with white teachers and coaches.  Somehow we survived.

From all I can glean from friends and fellow educators who taught during the period, the change was relatively peaceful.  I imagine there was some selective memory loss but unlike other states, few buses, if any, were pelted with rocks. There were no rabid white crowds shouting expletives to little schoolgirls. The governor did not stand on the schoolhouse steps shouting, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Still…I can’t imagine what those thousands of students were thinking at the time as they rode school buses to new locations.  I’m unable to fathom the fear of the unknown that prevailed, both black and white.  I can only imagine what might have gone on in restrooms, locker rooms, in the parking lot, on buses…out of range of teacher’s and administrator’s ears.

By the time I became a full-time teacher and coach in 1973, I found race relations still raw and contentious.  Generally, the question of race relations simmered just beneath the surface on briefly exposing itself.  There were just enough brief flareups to remind us.  Beliefs don’t go gently into the night just because judges tell them to.

For years we had been indoctrinated to believe races should be kept separate as a benefit to both, and then in the blink of an eye it was over…or was it?

There were still arguments made and old white men continued to try and find ways around the law.  Court cases would still be heard, especially over busing.  Isolated areas would still attempt to hang on to the old ways.  Affluent white folk found another way to be separate.

One hundred and thirty-four private schools and academies opened in South Carolina during the period, one hundred and thirty-one were opened to whites only.  Many still exist today, many still are all white with names featuring Lee, Davis or Calhoun.

Over fifty thousand white students fled to private schools and today one in seven public schools in South Carolina are considered “highly segregated” still.  “Separate but equal” seems to have a firm foothold all over the South and it appears the Secretary of Education is intent on strengthening its foothold nationwide while weakening an already weakened public school system.

I often hear or read, “We need to move on.  That was so long ago.  I don’t understand why it is always about race.”  I find it is often people of my race who make these comments.  The same people who insist their heritage is under attack when certain flags are removed from federal buildings.

I point out that Jim Crow was still entrenched during the years of my youth well into my college days.  As I reach a major birthday in a month and a half, I find that 1970 doesn’t seem that long ago.  If it is during my lifetime it can’t be that long ago.

I remember the signs stating, “White’s Only.”  I remember fire hoses, German Shepards and burning buses.  I didn’t fight for my Civil Rights, I didn’t have to.  I’m sure for those who fought for their Civil Rights…continue to fight for their Civil Rights, it seems like only yesterday.

Addendum 

According to various accounts, although Brown resulted in a legal victory against segregation, it was a costly victory for those associated with the Briggs case.

Reverend Joseph De Laine, the generally acknowledged leader of Summerton’s African-American community at the time, was fired from his post as principal at a local school in Silver. His wife Mattie was also fired from her position as a teacher at Scott’s Branch school, as were all the other signers of the original petition.

De Laine’s church was also burned and he moved to Buffalo, New York in 1955 after surviving an attempted drive-by shooting.  He never returned to South Carolina.

Harry and Eliza Briggs, on behalf of whose children the suit was filed, both lost their jobs in what was called “economic retribution.”  They both left South Carolina.

After death threats and by a joint resolution of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Federal Judge Walter Waring was forced to leave South Carolina for good.  He had sided with the petitioners.

An interesting article I just read, https://www.greenvilleonline.com/get-access/?return=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.greenvilleonline.com%2Fstory%2Fnews%2F2020%2F02%2F17%2Fdesegregation-1-out-of-7-south-carolina-schools-highly-segregated%2F2843394001%2F

***

Don Miller is a retired educator and athletic coach.  He writes on various subjects using various genres.  His author’s page can be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from “A New Wave of School Integration”, The Century Foundation, https://tcf.org/content/report/a-new-wave-of-school-integration/?session=1

***

Sources

https://brownvboard.org/content/brown-case-briggs-v-elliott

http://www.scequalizationschools.org/briggs-v-elliott.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Briggs_v._Elliott

 

A Question of Education

 

I apologize ahead of time.  This may be meandering pig trail, but I feel the need to speak out.  Sorry for the ramble.

My state capital, Columbia, SC, will host a rally for educational reform on May 1st.  A similar rally is being held on the same date in North Carolina and will mirror other rallies that have been held in other states.  I am a retired teacher and feel I should go.  But I can’t.  It is a debate I have had with myself for the past week but I just can’t go.

I’m not the only one debating but at least my debate is with myself.  The Governor has made his feelings known as has the Superintendent of Education.  They are not fans of #ALLOUT…and they will not receive my vote next time around.  Various local superintendents and district spokesmen have made their feelings known and I am not a fan of them either but being retired means I don’t have to work for them or play nice.

What really bothers me is the attitude of everyday South Carolinians.  The rally has been characterized as a “walkout” for better pay by its opponents and maligned by them.  I’ve seen all the arguments.  My favorites are “You knew what you were getting into and if you don’t like it get some other job” and the biggest lie in the world, “You get three months off in the summer and still get paid for it.”

First of all, it’s not a walkout.  You know how South Carolina dislikes anything suggesting a strike.  Teachers are using their personal days or paying for their own subs, and while better pay is an issue, the issues go much deeper than pay…although having to take on a second job to pay for the day you’re taking to go protest is an issue…there I said it.  A protest…but I’ll keep calling it a rally.

The rally is about reducing class sizes, reducing standardized testing and having to teach to the test, not being allowed to teach to anything but standards, not feeling safe or supported in their classrooms, not having the materials to do the job teachers are called to do…not that I really know what that is anymore.  So…keep thinking it is just about pay.

Most importantly, it’s a rally about respect and support, something teachers have lost through no fault of their own.  Something our politicians have given no more than lip service to recently…if ever and which statements like “You knew what you were getting into…” exemplifies.

I am a product of the South Carolina public school system, a product of in-state colleges. I taught in the South Carolina public school systems for forty-five years.  I never considered it a job.  I knew I had been called to teach.

I have been fully retired for four years and it seems a lifetime ago that I last set foot in a classroom.  I saw many changes through the years, a few were good and those that were were fostered by actual educators, even if it was at the request of a politician.

“No Child Left Behind” was not one of the good changes.  The decline in teacher moral escalated with “No Child Left Behind” and the constant testing, teaching to the test, and meeting about the test “ad nauseam.”

Not that “No Child Left Behind” is the only culprit.  South Carolina ranks near the bottom of a bunch of national statistics, education is just one of them.  We rank forty-eighth out of fifty-one in education by pretty much everyone’s ratings.  Fifty states plus the District of Columbia for those who wonder about my own education.

I hang my head wondering how we got that way…oh yeah, we’ve been that way.  I blame it on what I call our “Cotton Mill Mentality” and our Southern desire to maintain a cheap and uneducated workforce.  Too harsh?  Sometimes the truth is just that.

I began attending school in the Fifties, during the hay day of cotton textiles.  Unfortunately, I began teaching as cotton textiles were in decline, finally lost to cheaper foreign labor.

Cotton textiles were a great educational tool for the Carolinas and other Southern states.  Fine people who were not academically inclined could graduate, or not, and still find a position at one of the local cotton mills; make a living, provide for their families and most importantly it seemed, pay taxes.

Unfortunately, those opportunities fled the South and our political leaders were slow to realize that our educational system had to change to meet modern job descriptions.  This was despite warnings issued from educators  I heard as far back as the early Eighties.  I believe we are still paying for that mindset and waiting for cotton textiles to come back.

We have yet to recognize the effect of an educational system hamstrung by backward thinking.   An educational system crippled by politicians and a tax base that refuses to pay for any meaningful change.  A system that is politically driven and slow to involve educators in the process.

An educational system injured by a belief that education is really not important and why do I have to pay when I don’t have a child in school…or why should I worry about what is happening in the I-95 corridor if I live in the upstate.

Recently it seems another fear has emerged from our strongly conservative base, a fear that teachers are teaching liberalism and socialism, turning all our students into little communists.  It seems that to protest or rather rally helps to stoke those fears.

Teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less.  More testing, more planning for testing, more collaboration about testing.  More time pouring over statistics trying to analyze test results you are not allowed to see.

Less time to prepare for the actual class.  Paying for materials out of their own pockets or doing without.  Open disrespect and a lack of support.  This what the rally is about and if it inconveniences someone…well good.

More teachers are leaving the profession and fewer students are picking education as a life’s work.  Why would they?  Fewer teachers mean more students per class which means less time.  If you believe the student per teacher ratio means anything, I’ve got some land I’d like to sell you.

Curriculum requirements have changed but the time to teach all that is needed has decreased.  Fewer resources, less time to do their jobs. Less time for teachers to make a meaningful dent in the problems facing our youth in a modern world…a world they didn’t create but will have to pay for.

Who suffers in all this…besides the teacher?  The one most significant change I suffered as class sizes crept up was a loss of contact with students.  I didn’t get as close to my students because I didn’t have the time to get close to my classes.  I didn’t get to find out what was bothering Bobbi Jo or Tyrek.  I tried, but it just isn’t possible.  Someone slides through the cracks.  That might be the greatest loss of all.

Okay, I guess I have ranted enough.  I pray for positive change.  Our children are our futures…they are our legacies.  They deserve our best efforts and teachers deserve the tools to make those efforts…they deserve the respect.

I should be there, marching, “rallying”, channeling my inner hippie…my inner liberal…my inner communist. LOL.

The picture is from the Post and Courier, Charleston, SC

For further ramblings please follow my author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

Musings of a Retired Teacher

“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever,” he said. “Have you thought of going into teaching?” ― Terry Pratchett, Mort

The quote comes from a fantasy novel written by Terry Pratchett in 1986 and took me on one of those silly pig trails I sometimes travel down.  Twisting and winding through briar patches and blackberry brambles, my trail is strewn with rocks and roots just waiting to trip me or rip me to shreds…just like teaching.

Tomorrow, around the foothills of the Blue Ridge, teachers will report to their schools for their first day with students.  The mushy portion of my brain will fool me into thinking I should be there with them.

I taught full time for forty years.  Almost a half years’ worth of teacher workdays, days that we really got little work done as it related to the students we would meet on our first day.  In-services on dress codes, discipline, bloodborne pathogens, safety issues, textbooks, teacher accountability, etc.  I don’t want to even imagine what was discussed in this year’s in-services.  Protecting your students in an active shooter situation?  No, I don’t wish to imagine.

Forty-first days of school.  Conservatively, some five thousand smiling faces waiting for me to impart knowledge and wisdom in an interesting, engrossing and riveting way…and be a role model, mentor and in many cases a parental figure.  Another three first days as I taught part-time for three years as a long-term sub.  Even though I’m beginning my third year of full retirement it would be ridiculous to believe I wouldn’t think I should be somewhere at eight o’clock or so tomorrow morning.  Agreed?

Teachers, too, will be smiling as they welcome their new students, despite their apprehensions.  If they are not smiling they should probably think about another profession.  I would say apprehension would be normal too.  I remember forty-three sleep disturbed nights the day before my first day with students as both my apprehension and excitement built.

I worry about my teaching friends and peers.  So much written about public education is negative…and unwarranted.  I’m not sure where education is headed, or society.  I just know teachers are called on to be much more than just teachers, confidants, mentors and parental figures in our modern world…and due to teacher accountability, teaching to the standards and testing, less time to be “everything” to those children…especially those who need it the most.  And yet, teachers are maligned in so many ways by people who have no clue or with multiple axes to grind.  I “summon” you to use such sentiments as your “battle standard.”

There is a reason, or are reasons, why we are experiencing teacher shortages and rapid teacher burn out.  When teachers need more planning and collaborative time they seem to be getting less.  With shortages in numbers of teachers, class sizes can only go up, taxing people who are only human even more.

First-year teachers? Oh my god, your student teaching experience has not prepared you for what you are about to face.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and experienced teachers, please offer it.  Hang in there, teachers have had to learn on the job since there was the first teacher.  If you can survive until Christmas, you’ve got it made…tee, he, he.

In my first attempt at writing badly I shared the following quote from Jim Henson of Kermit fame, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”  While I admit to not always knowing what I was, since my retirement from teaching I’ve found the quote to be true.  I wish I had realized such my first year and made the quote my mantra.  I challenge you to remember this quote.

Teaching is much more than teaching and I miss it every day…well, I miss the students every day.  Keep yourself grounded in the knowledge that it’s not teaching the three “R’s” or teaching to the test.  It is about teaching kids.  Don’t be afraid to get close to your students even though some won’t let you.  You will all be better because you tried.  Be proud of the path you have chosen.  I am proud of you all.

There is no greater joy than to run into a former student.  They always tell you, you were their favorite…even if you weren’t.

For more of Don Miller’s musings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Image from https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/2201031-retired-but-forever-a-teacher-at-heart-t-shirt

 

 

 

TECHNOLOGY…THE DEVIL’S SPAWN

A word of caution to my teaching friends and peers who will soon return to the education wars.

“Please allow me to introduce myself

I’m a man of wealth and taste

I’ve been around for a long, long year

Stole many a man’s soul to waste”

“Sympathy for the Devil”-The Rolling Stones

 

The technology advances from writing on wet clay tablets to the Promethium Boards of today has been a great boom for teachers…except when it wasn’t.  There is always a learning curve for a teacher that continues to slope upward especially as it relates to students and how well they use or misuse technology.  For every website blocking program utilized, there is a technology savvy student ready, willing and able to hack it.

With the invention and use of iPhones, technology abuse is at an all-time high with little chance of thwarting it.  Teachers, on the other hand, have had trouble dealing with technology even when it was something as old school as the use of video.

It is true that the “best-laid plans of mice and men sometimes go asunder”.  During the late Seventies or early Eighties, teachers and coaches, along with the rest of the world, made the transition from eight and sixteen-millimeter film to video equipment.  First Beta and then VHS, the video was a great teaching tool and we not only used in the classroom but also used it to film practices and games.  What made it a great tool was that it was easy to use, instantaneous and would provide immediate feedback.  If it was easy to use, it was also easy to abuse.  At a nearby high school, teaching and tool would take on a new meaning.

A scrimmage had been videotaped and afterward the video camera, with scrimmage tape still installed, was placed in the locker room.  One of the team clowns, we all have had them, decided that it would be humorous to turn on the video camera and point it at the entrance to the shower room, not realizing that it was taping on the end of the scrimmage video.  Bozo further complicated his crime by telling people that it was taping.  Boys being boys, many decided to display their man parts by shaking and twirling, some even attempting to make one man part twirl in one direction and others twirl in another.  All of this could have been considered stupid and innocent fun but sometimes reality rears its ugly head, pun intended.

The coaching staff watched and graded the video, showed it to the team and did the normal film breakdown associated with high school football.  Each time the film was viewed, as soon as the last play was shown the video would be stopped and rewound, never showing the innocent but stupid fun.  That was until the video camera and tape found its way into Ms. Crump’s senior public speaking class.

The video equipment had been purchased from the library budget and was to be shared with any teacher who wanted to use it when not being utilized by the athletic department.  Ms. Crump, a very innovative teacher, decided it would be a good idea to video her classes’ first attempts at speech making and then critique it during the class.  It would have been a better idea to have used a fresh videotape rather than recording over the previously mentioned scrimmage, but she was using what she had been sent.

I can only imagine the class’s reaction to “Little Johnny” holding his man part and pointing it right at the camera while yelling “S&*k my d@#$!” after the final speech ran out.  I don’t know if they had to resuscitate Ms. Crump or not, but I do know that the powers tried unsuccessfully to fire the head football coach.  I don’t know if “Little Johnny” got any takers or not.

In a related story, there was a much respected English teacher, who for years had shown the same version of Macbeth to her English classes. She would go to the local video store, rent it for a day to show to her classes.  There is a pornographic version of the same film and no I have not seen it.  I do know Lady Macbeth spends most of the film “au natural”.

Someone at the local video rental accidentally, I hope, placed the porn version in the original PG version’s sleeve.  We all learned a valuable lesson that day; preview all videos to be shown during class no matter how many times you have shown it previous.  Popcorn anyone?

Excerpt from “Winning was Never the Only Thing….” which may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Image from https://drawception.com/game/Xwb3Ectqd9/nerdy-demon/

END OF THE LINE…AGAIN

I never intended to be that kind of teacher. You have had them. Angry all the time, lips turned downward or run out in front of their noses. Sour on life or why life was picking on them. As refreshing as a glassful of salted, warm dill pickle juice. Hanging on by their toenails, not for the sake of the kids they teach but for the paycheck they receive. I stepped away from corrupting young minds three years ago and coaching a year later for that very reason. It was my third “failed” attempt at retirement. Better to retire a year too early than a year too late and I could hear the sucking sounds of my patience reserves going dry. It was hammered home five or six months later when a teaching peer begged me to take her classes during her maternity leave…I am a sucker for a pretty face, even a pregnant one. It didn’t hurt that the district teacher of the year was doing the begging. Nine weeks later I found myself hanging on by my toenails not to be THAT KIND of teacher as we broke for Christmas and she returned.

Three months ago, she called again…pregnant again…begging again…and I’m still a sucker for a pretty face. I might have been a bit bored too. She might have played to my vanity. This wonderful, award-winning teacher wants LITTLE OLE ME to take her classes? I am unworthy…no really…I am unworthy. Yep, I’d say she played to my vanity. I also needed new tires for the truck and a hydraulic cylinder for my tractor. I didn’t need to work to pay for them, I could have written a check from savings. Next time I will. Did I mention it was half-time? Every other day, always with a long weekend. Twenty-two or three teaching dates. I could do this standing on my head…maybe.

I’m a two-day week away from the joyous end. One day is a half day. One and one-half days from heaven. Walking into a classroom hasn’t been any harder. The kids are no more difficult today than ten years ago. School staff and administration have been wonderful. It’s just me. The tank has run dry. I can’t do the job anymore as I once did. I have hit the end of my line.

Sciatica and the shingles haven’t helped. Limping into classes the first week of my tenure with sciatica, my scalp crawling and face blistering from shingles the last three weeks. No that’s just an excuse. A DAMN GOOD EXCUSE, but an excuse none the less. There comes a time when it is over and a wise man will recognize it. My friend Hawk, sometimes a wise man, has said often. “We can’t do this forever. I’m not going from an athletic field to the grave.” How many times have you retired and gone back Mr. “Do as I say and not as I do?” I have not been a wise man but I have gained wisdom. Who says an old dog…ahhhhhhhhh!

I had a wonderful puppy. She was a throw away that just appeared outside the front gate one day waiting for my beloved to feed her. Miss Sassy decided not to leave…until thirteen years later. Sick and old, she knew her time was near and went off to die alone. I like to think she didn’t want to burden us with the memories of her death. I want to be like her. I don’t want to keep hanging on…and to be clear, I’m just talking about my career…today.

I am thinking about the kids. Some are making me smile. I just didn’t have the time to develop the relationships except for a handful. Three or four from each class. It’s about the relationships. South Carolina history is important. So is culture and geography. It’s just not as important as the relationships for an old fart like me.

Anne, thanks for the opportunity but between us, don’t get pregnant again. Tie a knot, I’m not falling for it again, or if you do get pregnant, I’m not falling for it again.

To quote the Traveling Wilburys,
“Maybe somewhere down the road aways (end of the line)
You’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days (end of the line)
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays (end of the line)
Purple haze.” It is the end of that line.

“Looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.” Find more musings and other reflections at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

TEACHER APPRECIATION

We celebrated National Teacher’s Appreciation Week…last week. Our PTA was wonderful. Today I read a post from Dan Rather celebrating teachers and, after reading it, couldn’t help but think of those teachers who made an impact on my life, those who taught me and those I taught with.

My high school teachers were rural folk, under paid and over worked, often taking second jobs to make ends meet. They were noble people who answered a higher calling. I wonder if Mrs. Richardson or Mrs. McGinn worried about the state of education when I joined their ranks as a teacher in my own right. It wasn’t their fault I underachieved. I wish I had taken the time to tell them how much they meant to me. I wish I had told them that I learned much more than I ever put on paper or ever let on. I’m not sure they ever suspected…but they continued to try. Thank you for helping me to escape the cotton mills of my parents and the fields of my grandparents.

I did underachieve, not really knowing what I wanted to do. My mother wished for a doctor, my grandmother a preacher. I let them down too. It wasn’t until I found myself in an American History class that I felt the spark to teach. Thanks Coach Gunter…and thanks for a spark to become a coach. Thanks for giving me a big enough spark to overcome Western Civilization and Dr. Farley my freshman year in college.

I’ve taught now for forty-three years, forty of them were full time. After having been away for a year and then taking a long-term position for a friend, I cannot express how hard teaching has become and how much esteem and admiration I have for the younger teachers I am now working with. They too, are noble and answering a higher calling.

Teaching was hard twenty years ago, it has now almost become impossible. I applaud their innovative approaches, willingness to give of themselves, their love for their children and wonder if I ever looked that young. Despite the lack of support they receive, the ridicule they sometimes garner, they somehow persevere. Their calling truly is about the children they teach and not about the big bucks they could be earning. Because of these teachers, the children are the winners.

I don’t know if I could teach and coach if I suddenly found myself transported to the future that is now. I was just as terrible as a teacher as I was as a student when I first started out. I hope I improved. If I did it was because of the Nita Leatherwoods, June Shealys and Marilyn Koons from those early years. Later it would be others. If I did anything right, I kept trying to learn and kept copying the Bob Crains, Bianca Jameisons, and Paul Burnettes of the world. They were successful and loved by their students.

If you have a favorite teacher or a teacher who somehow made a difference, take a minute to let them know. They would appreciate it, especially in this day and time when teachers are more likely to be ridiculed than appreciated. They will appreciate it more than gold.

For more witty repartee go to Don’s author page at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

A PLAYER…ALL GROWN UP

For a guy who coached high school baseball for over thirty years, I don’t go to many high school baseball games. Just four this season. I feel a little guilty about not going but have found if I haven’t invested in the kids playing, I’m just as happy to catch a few innings of a collegiate or a pro game on the tube while relaxing on my recliner. Maybe I’m just being lazy.

Today was different. Instead of being lazy, I sat on the first base fence line watching a former player, Tim Perry, coach his high school team in our state high school playoffs. I might have been the only spectator who was more focused on the third base coaching box than the actual field of play.

The site of the game was a field where, in a past lifetime, I had wandered from the dugout to the third base coaching box and back again just like my former player was doing. I felt a certain kinship with him and understood the emotions he was possibly feeling. I watched him cheering, clapping, offering up nuggets of baseball knowledge and teaching the game. Picking his players up after an error or a strike out…no visible berating although I don’t know for sure what went on inside of the dugout…no berating I’m sure.

I was happy to be a spectator. The gut wrenching, acid churning and Tums gobbling days’ of “life or death” competition rest squarely on his much younger, broader shoulders and are, thankfully, in my rear-view mirror. I’d rather just cheer for him.

There is a comradery among coaches, even rival coaches, and these two knew each other well, having competed against each other since their little league playing days. After losing the second game, the district final, I wondered if they were still friends? Knowing Tim’s personality, I would guess yes.

When I first met Tim, he was a freckled faced ninth grader. He had one of those angelic faces that lit up the world when he smiled. Angelic face but full of “snips and snails, and puppy dog tails.” Short and just a few pounds past “stocky,” he resembled a “pleasingly plump” Alfalfa of Our Gang fame or maybe Howdy Doody of Buffalo Bob renown. If you look at him just right today, you can still see it.

Tim was trying out for our junior varsity team and had all the correct mechanics and moves, learned from hours of baseball camps and honed on hundreds of diamonds around the South, if not the nation. He looked good doing whatever he was doing. The problem was he looked good swinging through a lot of pitches, having a ball roll between his legs or having to line him up with a fence post to see if he was actually moving when he ran. I cut him. Doing so might, I say might, have been a mistake.

When a young kid gets cut he has a couple of options. He can allow it to ruin his athletic career, just quit and feel sorry for himself, or he can work harder and try again. I imagine you might guess which Tim did. It didn’t hurt he had a growing spurt over that next year, as in about six inches, a foot? No not that much but he was six foot plus by the time graduated. He turned into a good player, the ace of my pitching staff and good enough to play college ball. Yeah, maybe I made a mistake. I cherish the picture of us made when he signed his letter of intent to play for my old alma mater.

More importantly, and more to the point, he’s turned into a good man with a beautiful family. I watched a three-year-old boy run around and play as the game went on. He is Tim made over, a freckled faced little imp. The little boy’s mother and sister are pretty, brunette images of each other, thank goodness. I’m not sure how much Tim’s wife actually got to watch the game while keeping up with two fireballs. I know I never saw her sit down. Tim’s parents were there too, aging but still pulling for their son, always his biggest cheerleaders…and greatest teachers. How much support does someone deserve…a lot in Tim’s case.

I would guess it was heaven ordained Tim would become a baseball coach. He was already a coach when he played for me. Tim loved the game too much not to pursue that vocation along with a career in teaching despite a short tenure in the “real world,” the non-teaching world.

I’ve found there are two kinds of men who coach baseball…at least at the high school level. Those who coach the game for the game, and those who coach the kids. Over the years, I’ve found I don’t have much use for the men who coach the game just for the sake of winning championships…and I know, we’re all in it to win or you don’t stay in it very long. Observing Tim, I saw a coach who was coaching baseball but more importantly he was coaching kids and having fun doing it…and they were having fun too.

Tim, I’m glad you were mine for a brief period and happy you have turned into the man you’ve turned into. I hope you know how lucky you are to be that man. Maybe next year Coach…and I’m really sorry I made that mistake.

Don Miller writes “memories.” If you enjoyed this short essay, more may be purchased or downloaded at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

BAD TEACHER

There was a time I didn’t worry so much. Chalk it up to being young and stupid…yeah, old and stupid too. I’ve taken a part-time, long-term teaching position as a favor for a friend. I must have her buffaloed. This is the second time she has asked as she plays momma on maternity leave . She really thinks I’m a good teacher. I wonder. Maybe she shouldn’t have any more babies. Her classes are good classes for the most part. Just a few little “Johnnies” and they aren’t too bad…yet.

I’ve begun to recycle faces. There is the little girl in third block. She reminds me of another little girl, a forty years ago little girl. She asked me where spaghetti came from. Just as seriously as she could, “Coach Miller, I’ve always wondered, where does spaghetti come from?” Just as seriously I answered, “It’s grown on farms in very long thin rows, sown very close together to keep them from spreading out too wide.” It simply popped out of my mouth. Usually when I was pulling someone’s leg I let them off the hook quickly. This young lady was so, so serious…I wonder if she still thinks spaghetti is grown on farms or worse, thinks what a jerk her physical science teacher was. I really wish I had told her the truth. Well pasta is made from wheat….

Most of my worries occur because of my mouth…the mouth that tends to speak before the brain tells it what to say. Most of the time it’s not purposeful, just my mouth tripping over words and the pause afterwards as I contemplate, “Did I really say it was a ‘single celled orgasm’ or the octopus had ‘eighty-foot-long testicles?’” The first one wasn’t too bad, they missed it…a young class, they probably had never heard the word before. The second one I made the mistake of trying to correct myself. “TENTICALES, TENTICALES!”

Oh no, the angry young lady I instructed to “SIT RIGHT THERE!” I just put an h in the word sit. She wasn’t angry very long but I don’t really suggest this as a method to diffuse tense situations. I admit it is hard to be tense with everyone laughing.

Sometimes I did things with malice and forethought. Sometimes, they had unintended consequences, especially during my physical science days. The lab assistants who blew up all the sink traps dropping sodium metal into a lab sink because they saw me demonstrate it. Yep, if a BB sized piece of sodium will do that in a sink full of water, think what a golf ball sized one will do when flushed down the drain. Thankfully no one “lost an eye” and sodium is no longer allowed in high school labs.

Potato guns are fun especially if you get to make one in Coach Miller’s class. Gee, what useful information. “YOU DID WHAT?” With eyes very wide and in a whisper, “The potato went through a window and through a wall?” “YOU TOLD THE POLICE WHATTTTTTTTTT?” My principal in a very authoritarian voice, “MR. MILLER! Could I see you in my office? There are two gentlemen here who would like to interview you about an incident that occurred yesterday.” Great, Sam Cooke is singing “Chain Gang” in my head.

Well thankfully no one tried to recreate my lit pickle demonstration. That might have been “electrifying.” We did bomb the parents in the car line with water rockets after a wind shift.

My biggest worry? That teachers don’t get to do the fun stuff anymore…no not tripping over their words! The other fun stuff, like blowing up hydrogen filled balloons and making dill pickles light up. Oh well…testing begins next week. A real reason to worry.

Don Miller writes “memories.” Some may even be yours. Grab a copy or download today at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP.

IN PRAISE OF DIVERSITY

I thought I would avoid this question but I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” Why are some of “white” America so “butthurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?” In a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others you can take the time to look up…including Irish-American Heritage Month in March. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months which don’t begin with F.” Well, there are those two months teachers are NOT on vacation.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly European-American point of view…well…at least where I taught and if any of the research I have done is to be believed. Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist and the Cold War. That makes five. Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican-American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from a European point of view. Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by European America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking I taught ALL HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on Black history. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS. Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to only two aspects of African-American lives and American history, slavery and Civil Rights. Decidedly important aspects but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes there little about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artist, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, business people, soldiers, etc. As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction and a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic! As a young adult, I was looking for more of his books and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia. Who knew and it didn’t matter. Just like celebrating Black History Month shouldn’t matter to those railing against it. It should be a positive educational experience.

Three of my last four years teaching were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity. It also reminds me of a paragraph I wrote in a story about a former student. “Today I look at diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize I am a social liberal and make no excuses. I believe the rights someone else is given doesn’t take my rights away from me despite what I might think, including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in. Who knows? This old dog might just learn a new trick or twenty.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf