Cruel and Unusual

“The children start school now in August. They say it has to do with air-conditioning, but I know sadism when I see it.” ― Rick Bragg, My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South

My soon to be five-year-old boy-child grandbaby sat in the middle of the driveway painting a frog as his father was finishing up mowing grass.  A big grin erupted from his face as we pulled up.  I suspect the grin was more for his life-sized play toy, Grand Momi Linda, than for his Popi. 

Noli, short for Nolan, was barefooted, a perpetual condition regardless of atmospheric temperature.  It was a cool afternoon, but I can hear a soft Southern voice in my head say, “The boy just don’t like to be incumbered by the unnecessary”…and had he been left to his own devises would have been out of most if not all of his clothing.   The big grin on his face made it all okay.  Boy, you are going to be trouble with a capital T. 

As I looked at his water-colored painting, I realized he had been left to his devises as it applied to creativity.  Noli had chosen some interesting color schemes.  The frog he was painting was an escapee from an LSD trip it seemed, or a taco fueled dream. 

During this ten-minute period in his life, the boy is into his painting, but I doubt I have another “Grand Master” on my hands…unless a color-blind Salvador Dali might be a grand master. 

“Noli, that sho is an interesting looking frog.  Pretty!  Never seen one with a blue eye and a purple eye.”  Not to mention multi-colored spots. 

Noli just grinned and continued to add paint. 

“What is that sticking out of his head?  I’ve never seen antennas on a frog.”

Noli got hit by a photon and leaving his artwork on the driveway, ran to get his Spiderman playground ball.  So much for the budding artist.  Now it was superhero time.

Spiderman is a big deal…Noli has all the “Spidee” poses down pat.  I vaguely I remember tying a towel around my neck and flying from one twin bed to the other ala George Reeves as Superman.  That acorn might have landed close when it fell from my tree. Much can be said for imagination.

Both my grandbabies operate at one speed.  Wide open in daredevil mode.  Miller Kate the seven-year-old first grader and Noli the soon to be five-year-old will begin kindergarten in August unless Covid has closed us down again. 

I’m not sure I would want to be the teacher who has to channel their energy into something educational…especially with the siren’s call of warm August sunshine just outside the window.  I agree with Rick Bragg.

It is sadistic for a five-year-old to sit in a desk for long periods of time in August…or mid-January.  I pray for a creative teacher fostering a love for readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmatic.  A teacher who nurtures his or her children’s creative streaks.  A teacher who channels their own inner Peter Pan.

They both love doing.  Not much for sittin’ and their parents have done a good job of limiting their “screen” exposure.  The outdoors is their siren’s call, running, jumping, riding bicycles, splashing in the one mud puddle in their yard. 

I have a picture of a much younger Miller Kate standing in a flooded church parking lot after a drenching thunderstorm.  Barefooted in her new dress, ankle deep in water with her Grand Momi also barefooted in her own dress clothes.  Grand Momi never let Peter Pan die and I’m sure it was her idea to go wading.

Yes, August can be cruel and unusual punishment…as can early April with its seductive spring temperatures calling out for children to run barefooted in the newly immerging grass.  Hard to sit still in a schoolhouse desk with so much fun waiting just outside.

I remember those days when Peter Pan was holding on by his last grasp.  Shut up in a classroom, but at least there were big, tall, open windows to look out of.  Morning recess and what seemed to be a long afternoon lunch period to look forward to.  A brief afternoon recess just to get the kinks out. 

The best part of the school day.  Tall swings to practice your landings with a tuck and roll, see saws, and a spinning contraption that would send you rolling into next week if you lost your grip.  Playing “crack the whip” and “king of the mountain”, somewhat violent games now banned.  Bumps and bruises we somehow survived, laughing all the way back to the classroom. 

Somehow it prepared us for the afternoon “see Dick run” reading period, cyphering our numbers, or writing with “big, fat” pencils in a wide lined notebook.  Physical stimulation seems to help mental stimulation.

Fear of liability has turned the school day from learning opportunities into cruel and unusual punishments.  That, and the need to “stay on task” so that we look good at test time.  I’ve always believed there was more to schoolin’ than just what comes from a book…now, a Chromebook, and how well you do on a standardized test. 

Miller Kate seems to have weathered the storm and I’m sure Noli will too, especially if he keeps his grin. I’m sure that grin will terrorize all ladies regardless of age and regardless of their occupation.

I hope Peter Pan can find a last gasp and take them to a Wonderland of imagination, away from the cruel and unusual punishment. 

***

Don Miller is a retired History and Science teacher and Coach. His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2bHfb3dx-hOqW5DoszodDazv8xJDscd0_mpUS-ary5h6NEk6IOJp5St_g

Image is from Canva

AB Dick-less

The older I get the more my senses come into play…provided I still have them.  They trigger memories. Are flashes of the past a sign of getting old?

A sound or smell, a scene formed in the periphery of my vision that is not real…a tune popping up on my playlist causing my senses to work in reverse.  It was Kris Kristofferson singing about, “the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken…And it took me back to somethin’…That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.” It was a Sunday morning as I walked, and I could smell pan fried chicken from sixty years ago.  Triggers. 

“Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” Kris Kristofferson

After my weekly four-and-a-half-mile jaunt with my best friend Hawk,  we stopped by the Tree House for our weekly cup of coffee and probably…more importantly, a stop at a place “Where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”  Cliff and Norm played by Hawk and Don except I don’t know which character is which.

There was a scent of something chemical in the air, probably a cleaning fluid. They clean every day first thing, and we are the first to arrive most Fridays. Hygiene is important and they are very hygienic.  The aroma wasn’t a bad smell, the opposite, a trigger to an all too familiar smell from a time long ago, duplicating fluid.  Familiar if you began your teaching career while dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

Sitting in our reserved spot, just like Norm and Cliff, our conversation turned toward a former teaching chum who is deathly ill, but I found it hard to concentrate.  Flashes of forty plus years of teaching came into view in between the thoughts we shared. Strange flashes. The Twilight Zone of test making.

Norm and Cliff on Cheers sing Lollipop

The clackity rhythm of an old Royal or Remington typewriter followed by the ding of a bell.  I had my tempo and then the long curse when I hit the h before the t in the word the…or with…or thought….  Correction fluid, its own smell familiar.  More blue ink everywhere but where it needed to be.  More cursing. 

Arriving early to school and sprinting to the copying room to find a half dozen teachers stacked up in a holding pattern waiting for the only copying machine needing to be filled with duplicating fluid because the secretary could not be found.  She had the only key to the storage room and had been kidnapped it seemed.  For some reason duplicating supplies had to be guarded as if they were gold coins.  The semester reckoning, a sit down with Sybil or Flogene, “Coach Miller do you realize you used x number of reams of paper? You are killing too many trees.” Our secretaries only used my title when I had been a bad boy.

Donated Copy Paper to the School My teacher was greatly appreciative. true  story. - Barney StinsonHIMYM | Meme Generator
The Meme Generator

The cycling sound of the drum of the AB Dick duplicating machine as it spun to the timing of your hand crank, kah-thunk, kah-thunk, kah-thunk. A paper jam followed by blue ink, more on you than on paper.  How many shirts did I ruin?  Students raising the fresh, still damp mimeographed papers to their noses and inhaling deeply.  Strange flashes, indeed.

r/MovieDetails - In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mr. Hand passes out the class schedule of quizzes. After the paper is passed out, the students put the page up to their noses and deeply inhale. This was a popular school ritual of the 60s,70s and early '80s because the transfer agent for the ink …
From “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”

There were other flashes.  The tap, tap, tap sound of yellow chalk on a green board.  The history teacher who wrote notes with one hand and erased them just as quickly with the other.  God help you if you dropped your pencil, you might lose an entire historical era as you frantically searched.  Choking on chalk dust, the new piece of chalk making the long screech.  Students covering their ears and screeching their own discomfort.

I remember shoe taps on hardwood floors along with the acrid smell of red sawdust used to clean and keep the dust down.  Do they build schools with hardwood anymore?

Teachers have moved on from those days.  Computers and smartboards have replaced the need for copied tests, typewriters, and chalkboards.  There is software that can grade five sets of tests in the time you can scan them and hit enter.  Chromebooks have replaced the book bag filled with heavy textbooks.  White boards and dry erase have eliminated hair raising screeches. Zoom classes and virtual learning have become parts of the teacher’s tool bag.

Lecture Memes. Best Collection of Funny Lecture Pictures
Meme

Please don’t assume I’m insinuating teaching is easier.  I am most assuredly not.  While I loved teaching, no amount of money in the world would bring me out of retirement.  I taught in a simpler time…even when I retired six years ago, it was simpler than today…and I am a dinosaur…as much a dinosaur as the AB Dick Copier.  I am happy to be AB Dick…less.

Grading test in a simpler time…

Don Millers ramblings can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0x9B8Ym-4Eaqr1jiiLb8bE8e8HQyqjxJ4Tus5v-Cy1TJ00oE28k3EdhGM

Featured image is of an AB Dick 8200. AB Dick filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

A Square Peg in a World of Round Holes

 

Social media can be exasperating but it does allow me to stay in touch with former teaching peers and students…all from the comfort of my den and recliner.

A student I had not interacted with for a while chimed in on a post and brought a huge smile to my face.  I spent the day thinking of square and round pegs and the holes they don’t fit into.

She was a slender, wisp of a girl.  Cute, with long dark hair and large matching brown eyes behind huge dark-framed glasses.  Dressed in her school uniform she looked just like any of the twenty or so students that met in my geography class.  I’m sure if she had been allowed to wear clothes of her own choosing, she might have dressed as a neo-hippy or in goth black.  She was a square peg in a class of round holes.

The classes were small, and the course of study was anything I wanted to make of it.  I had died and gone to teacher nirvana.  There were no standards to teach to, no end of course testing to prepare them for.  For a teacher on the backend of his career, it was almost like being semi-retired…almost.

I had been employed to teach geography and with carte blanche, I decided to make it cultural geography focusing more on the who and what than the where of geography.  Project-based; it would allow students controlled by the right side of their brains to express their creativity.  It would also provide great opportunities for “controlled” arguments.  I found her often to be in a not so silent minority as I attempted to control arguments that ran wildly off the rails.

She was a square peg in a world full of round holes in a class filled with round pegs.  We had just started up a new charter school, a “middle college” program that allowed students to take dual credit, giving them the opportunity to graduate with both a high school diploma and a college associate degree.  Free college credit…well, free on the taxpayer’s dime and Warren Buffet seed money.

The makeup of the school was interesting, to say the least.  Former homeschoolers, Christian schoolers, and malcontents crushed into the melting pot that was my geography class.  More than once I found myself on the left side of discussions even though I considered myself middle of the road.

I had a suspicion most of my students thought I might be standing shoulder to shoulder with Karl Marx when all I was attempting was to get them to realize that most arguments had two sides.  My little square peg was definitely on the left side of the arguments.

As I thought about her, I realized, I really like the kids that tended to wander down their paths of life.  Remember, “all who wander are not lost”, and you can’t get lost if you don’t know where you are going.  As I have grown older I found I related better to the “lost on purpose” folks than to those who were in lockstep together.

I didn’t always think that way.  My early days of teaching as I did “on the job training” were a different time, a time when history and social studies were equal parts course of study and propaganda.  We were still carrying around the pre-Watergate and Cold War “My Country! Right or Wrong” baggage.  The culture was changing but the old status quo was holding on with a death grip…and still is.

We didn’t seem to care much about modes of learning or personality profiles in my early career.  In those days we tended to try and knock the edges off the square pegs and force them into “our” round holes using our five-pound hammers and wooden paddles.  Thankfully those days have passed…they’ve passed, right?

As I talked to a mentor about one of my early square pegs, she schooled me, “They think with the right side of the brain and are not always logical to those of us controlled by our left side.  If we can get them out of high school, they will do fine.”  I think Mrs. Leatherwood was on to something.

As I look back on my own evolution, I find that it was those square pegs that made teaching interesting…more interesting. They brought a refreshing breeze into the classroom…and outside it too.  The little boy who tried to fly his hang glider off the hill at the football stadium, the crazy smart kid who came up with a plan to “streak” the “halls of education” his senior year (It was nipped in the bud before it came to fruition, saving his career).  Even the ones who filled a fifty-gallon trashcan on top of the gym foyer before painting it as a Budweiser beer can.

Inside the classroom, they were more comfortable with art and poetry than the Third Law of Thermodynamics.  They were the headbangers or want to be actors.  As painful as their creativity could be, it was refreshing.  Many times, I was forced to be the disciplinarian when what I really wanted to do was laugh.

For clarification, I enjoyed my little right-wing fascist too, and honestly tried to be a mediator rather than an indoctrinator.  I tried to argue both sides of arguments and reframed from making my political stances known…some things you just can’t hide though.

As I texted back and forth, I realized my little square peg would never wish to go back to her high school days.  Part of me thought it was a shame, another part of me is cheering her on.  I would not want to return to my high school days either.

My mentor, Mrs. Leatherwood, was correct, my little square peg is simply fine in the world she is making for herself.  Throwing clay and making art in her off-hours, she is still a square peg in a world of round holes, but she seems comfortable with it.  I’m sure she will face many forks on her path and not always make the right choice.  But I think she is comfortable with the making of mistakes all humans make.  See, all who wander are not lost.

Thanks for the smile you left me with.

***

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who has taken up the art of writing badly in his retirement.  His author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR350Q1Jn0cOSjibk-4UScnGT9xKCp27KjrSuWxp1RymNShmpgGq04zrDF8

The image is from https://the-art-of-autism.com/the-shape-shift-square-pegs-dont-fit-into-round-holes/

 

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/

The Dark Side

 

The new school year is just around the corner and I find myself feeling as if I should be somewhere other than sitting in my recliner typing this.  I expect the feeling will pass but my thoughts are on the teachers who will soon be welcoming students into their classrooms and those students themselves.

With all the political debate over private and public education, South Carolina’s dismal ranking, teacher pay, House Bill 610, vouchers and the like, I wondered if I was just lucky and somehow caught lightning in a bottle late in my career as I ventured over to the “dark side.”… to a charter school.

A traditional public-school teacher my entire career, I had not been a supporter of the charter school programs, considering them to be havens for the elitist and entitled offsprings of parents who “Didn’t want THEIR kids going to school with those other kids.”

I was confusing charter schools with elitist and entitled private schools like…I’ll let you fill in that blank.  I also believed charter schools were just the educational program “de jure” and, like dozens of other “innovations” I had taught through, would eventually run their course and disappear from the landscape of education.  I was wrong…and rightly so.

One might ask if I was so against the charter school programs, why was I teaching in one?  I wanted a job.  I had retired six years previous and had enrolled myself into the Teacher and Employee Retention Program, TERI for short, which allowed me to teach after retirement while building a “nest egg” for later down my life’s pathway.  NO, IT IS NOT DOUBLE DIPPING!  My TERI had run out and I had become an “at-will” employee and could be terminated without cause which is exactly what happened.

My timing was not the best…it never has been.  With a declining economy, my district did not want to pay a thirty-nine-year veteran with multiple advanced degrees when they could pay a first-year teacher less than half of what I was making.  A sound fiscal policy?  My argument was of course, “I was worth every penny damn of my salary!”

In 2009 I found myself, along with six other teachers, a secretary, and an administrator, opening a new charter school, Greer Middle College Charter High School.  A mouth full.  I was teaching geography to 90 or so fresh-faced freshmen who might have been the most diverse, curious and interesting group I had ever taught.

Many of my students were refugees from “normal” public schools (If there is such a thing).  Some had attended Christian private schools their entire lives; others had been homeschooled and only a few had made it through the public-school system…unscathed and without some type of baggage.  We had a few who were combinations of all three and carrying steamer trunks loaded with baggage.

This was not what made them curious…and delightful.  They were all over the political and religious spectrum.  Third generation “flower power” hippies interacting with the religiously fundamental and politically way right.  I consider myself to be a political and religious moderate which put me far to their political left and religiously…a heathen despite my Methodist up bring and my public dunking into the Baptist Church.  Somehow, we all got along and there is a lesson there somewhere.

During a mandatory student-parental conference, one parent offered to pray for me because of my “liberal” belief that the earth was a bit older than her belief of six thousand years.  I thanked her and considering my many indiscretions decided to allow her to intercede on my behalf.

Due to a glitch, we opened our first year in a church far from what would eventually be our campus and in very tight quarters.  Sausage casing tight.  Everyone knew exactly what every other teacher was teaching, and which student was in trouble.

During my last five years of teaching, I would find I missed the comradery developed with those students and teachers in those close quarters.  It turned out not to be the dark side at all.

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Don Miller writing as Lena Christenson can found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

Image from https://steemit.com/funny/@lordvader/one-of-your-teachers-needs-to-learn-a-lesson

 

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

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.