Friday, August 29, 2008


Teaching is not a second career for me; it's a fourteenth career. Years ago, before I became a school teacher, one of my jobs was as an inside salesman for a wholesale millwork company.

The boss, Stan, was a great guy, and you could clown around with Stan. For example, Stan interviewed a very young man, almost a kid, and before his interview, I casually told him that Stan was a great fellow and had a good sense of humor. Stan hired the young man, and on his first day on the job, Stan told him his initial task would be to enter inventory information into the computer. The kid said, "No problem. I think I can do that," and he sat down at the computer and started staring at the keyboard.

Stan turned and headed to his office. Just as he got to his door, the kid yells out, "Wait a minute! We have a problem!"

Stan turns around and says, "What's the matter?"

The kid yells, "This computer doesn't have an I!"

Stan just shook his head, said, "I hope you're joking," turned around and walked off.

I was talking about calling in sick, or at least the title of this blog suggests I was planning on it. Because of Stan's ability to take a joke, one morning I called the office and asked to speak to Stan. Stan picks up his phone and says, "Yeah."

In my very best frequently practiced, sickly and hoarse voice, I whispered, "Stan? (short pause) Stan, is that you?"

Without hesitation Stan barks, "Get into the office right now and quit foolin' around."

(voice back to normal) "Yes sir," I replied.

So as you can see, I am sensitive to the needs of a boss and a company to have employees on the job, ready to go, never ruining efficiency by needlessly using sick leave time. A good employee will save their sick leave for a real emergency, like maybe when they get to be sixty.

Our school system, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), is a behemoth bureaucracy and sometimes, I am sure, the teachers take advantage of the generous sick leave package we have in place for medical emergencies. In fact, the local scandal rag, the Albuquerque Journal, did a story on the nefarious teachers who were calling in sick on Mondays and Fridays in excessive amounts.

I can tell you what's a possibility. If you are a school teacher, it is impossible to get a dental or a doctor's appointmemt in this town on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I am about to have two medical "procedures" "performed" on me, and I told the receptionist, "I'm a school teacher. You've seen the articles on the front page of the newpaper complaining about and badgering teachers for their Monday and Friday sick days. The whole community is up in arms over the lazy, no-account, ne'er do well teachers who supposedly extend their weekends. Is there any possibility I can get an appointment in the middle of the week?"

"Let's take a look. Let's see here. OK. It's coming up on the computer. Here we go. Yes! How about Tuesday, June 24?"

"June!? That's ten months from now. No, I need something sooner."

"Well I'm sorry but if you want something sooner, the only thing I have is a Friday."

So here I am, blogging away instead of teaching because I have to go see the doctor later today (Friday). I think I'll send this blog to the local newspaper so they can see the real issue is not teachers deceptively extending their weekend. Why do teachers call in sick on Monday and Friday? That's the only time they can get an appointment.

However, the newspaper could claim a different theory why doctors are not available on Mondays and Fridays. All the teachers are out in public, goofing around, generating traffic, and clogging up the golf courses. Doctors like to play golf, right? Because of the teachers, the only availability of a slot on the golf course for a doctor is mid week. So lots of people have to take a Friday appointment time.

Medical procedures! I'd rather just call in and pretend to be sick, and maybe go to the dollar movie theater.


I have a new class of fourth graders, and yesterday I realized that though they are a great group of kids, we haven't quite bonded yet.

Yesterday was my sixtieth birthday. Normally, I would be feeling a mixture of boredom and mild repulsion with the whole idea of turning sixty, but I'm developing some serious health issues that warrant a more thoughtful approach to aging, and maybe I'll blog about them later. Just know that I'd rather not think about another birthday, especially now when I think of my age, the first number is a 6.

I tried to keep my birthday a secret at the elementary school where I teach. I didn't even turn in the Personal Information Form to the office, because it contained my birth date. However, someone got wind of it, and two kind and thoughtful parents brought warm, delicious, homemade, chocolate cupcakes. I have blogged about surprise birthday parties before, and these parents know about my birthday parties, so they surprised me like I surprise the kids. The class sang "Happy Birthday," and we had a quick, impromptu party.

Kids were wishing me a Happy Birthday, and one of them, Jamie, came up to me and said, "Here, Mr. W. Here's a present for you. Happy Birthday!" He was proudly holding a dollar bill or two rolled up like a cigarette. I'm not gonna take a kid's money, so I looked at Jamie and said, "I think it's wonderful and generous of you to want to give me a present, Jamie, but I don't want your money. You know what I want?"

Jamie smiled at me and asked, "What?"

There were a couple of parents nearby, so I gave him a warm smile back and said, "I want a hug."

You should have seen his face drop. His happy, cheerful smile just slid right off his face like watered down pancake syrup off a cold, short stack. There was an awkward silence, followed by an intermission, so to speak, of the fun and festivities, so to save him from further agony, I asked, "Jamie, would you rather just give me the money?"

He perked right back up and said, "Oh yeah!"

I laughed, and I'm sure he didn't know why. I told him thanks, but I wasn't going to take his money.

I think Jamie and I need a whole year before its hug time, and even then, it'll be a Man Hug.

Monday, August 25, 2008


A fourth grade teacher next door to my class has a boy in her class who is very cynical, and probably for good reason. He had been tossed around like a cheap rag most of his life until he was adopted by his new family, who happens to live in our neighborhood.

This boy is the Captain of Cynicism, the Duke of Derision, and the Sultan of Skepticism. This boy doesn't believe in Santa, not because Santa can't fly around the world in one day and fit down any chimneys, but because, if he could, why didn't he stop at his house those two or three years.

He's a little like my younger brother Jack. Our older sister Carolyn, who by the ripe old age of sixteen had decided to inform me and Jack about some of life's Great Mysteries, told us that Santa was not real. How could some dude carry all the presents for every kid in the world in some flying sleigh pulled by deer, and then do it all in one night. I remember telling Carolyn, "You're lyin'! Mom said he's real. He does it with magic!" I looked over at Jack, who was five years old and four years younger, who replied, "I think Carolyn is correct. Santa doesn't make any scientific sense. I think Santa is what adults call a myth. Santa isn't real." Now I'm ten years old, and smart enough to know that Jack is smarter than me, so I went along with both of them. It's a good thing. too. It turns out they're right.

This boy doesn't believe in lots of things because he has seen too much negativity, but he is also very intelligent. He approaches this teacher on Friday and says, "Mrs. B., do you believe in the tooth fairy?"

"Why do you ask, Mario?"

"Because I have a loose tooth and I don't think that there's a Tooth Fairy. I think that adults put money under your pillow."

"Well, that could be. How could you find out if you are right?"

"I could make sure this loose tooth I have in my mouth comes out here at school. Then I could go home and not tell my parents. Then I could put the tooth under my pillow and they won't know it's there. If there is no money, that means there is no Tooth Fairy."

Mrs. B. doesn't think much about it until after recess. Mario had gone out on the playground and involved all the other children in her class in his scheme to determine if adults are dupin' 'em. They all come in excited, and she can tell some of them are already giving up on the idea of the Tooth Fairy. There are some heated exchanges, and she tells everyone that the class will have to let Mario's experiment decide if the Tooth Fairy is real.

However, Mrs. B. decides to call Mario's parents and inform them of his experiment and tells them that the outcome will affect other children in the class. She told the father that she had no suggestions for him as to what he should do, but that she would back any decision he made, no matter what it was. It's just that she wanted him to have this information so that he could make an informed decision as to how to handle the problem.

Mario came back to school on Monday with a couple of dollars in his hand, and those who believed in the Tooth Fairy were very pleased. Howver, Mrs. B. informed me that Mario was still skeptical, and he told her, "Mrs. B., I think my Dad found out. I think he could see something in my eyes that told him I had lost a tooth. I still don't believe in the Tooth Fairy."

Smart Boy.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I have blogged about children's communciation skills before. Here is another example of a bewildering conversation I had with a child. George Burns heard Gracie Allen say lots of things this silly, but it was always a joke. He played her straight man. This wasn't a joke; this child was serious.

One day after school, I called another teacher on the phone to see if she was in her room so I wouldn't have to walk all the way to her classroom only to discover she was somewhere else. Her son, Max, answered the phone. Here is the exact conversation:


"Hello, Max, this is Mr. W. Is your mother there?"

"No, she's not."

"Do you know where she is?"

"No...........................but I know where she is at."

"Well, where is"

(Then there was a long pause.)

"I don't know."

Sunday, August 17, 2008


My new fourth grade class this year has the potential to be very entertaining and clever, a very underrated quality in our NCLB (No Child Left Behind) society.

On Friday I had just about had it. It seems that about ten to fifteen minutes after every, single recess, a student or two or three of four needed to go to the bathroom. I thought it was time we talk about the efficient, practical, and efficacious use of the restroom during a break.

"You need to start using the restroom during your recess and not during class time!! How many of you have seen Kobe Bryant in the last few seconds of a NBA basketball game call a timeout and then head to the potty? He doesn't do that, and neither should you!!"

Without raising his hand, Michael proudly pipes up this little tidbit of information. "Mr. W., I can go four hours withour discharging my bladder!"

I was more flabbergasted than impressed, and I roared with laughter, because Michael seemed so proud and nonchalant about such a unique talent. That is a long time for a little kid!

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Kids make the oddest statements. Statements that make sense, once you've done some research and figured out what they meant.

I was heading out to do recess duty, and our principal wants me on that playground on time. Teachers live by a bell. A bell rings, you have to be somewhere. Another bell rings, you have to relocate and be somewhere else. Schools are in some ways like little factories in the business of producing workers, and one of those ways is the bell that goes off like a factory whistle. You have to be punched in on time for your shift.

I was heading out to do recess duty, and I had my mind on getting there on time. A student in a third grade classroom next to mine said, "Mr. R., I found out I'm allergic to Shaespeare."

I muttered something quickly like, "What? You're allergic to Shakespeare?" What are you talking about?"

"I'm allergic to Shakespeare."

"Well I gotta go. I have recess duty. I'll talk to you about this later."

And I did. I wanted to know what in tarnation she was talking about. The next day I sought her out and asked her, "What did you mean when you said you were allergic to Shakespeare? Shakespeare the playwright? The guy that writes the plays like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet?"

"No, Mr. R. Shakespeare. My dog. I'm allergic to Shakespeare."

"Oh. Shakespeare's your dog. I get it now."

This didn't turn out nearly as interesting as I was hoping. Can you see a third grader getting hives and sneezing during Romeo and Juliet? Now that's interesting.

A week earlier, Hannah and I were talking about diets. I have lost over twenty pounds, and I am feeling pretty . . . . . . . . . . . . well, how should I put it. I'm feeling pretty . . . . . . . . . . . . hungry. Hannah and I were talking about diets and she said, "Well I tried to diet, but I can't go without candy or electricity for more than a week."

"What?! What do you mean, Hannah? How can you eat electricity?"

"Oh I don't eat it. I was camping in the Pecos Mountains with my Mom and Dad and we didn't have candy or electricity for a week. It was horrible!"

Kids. They'll make great adults.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Yesterday on the playground while I was on duty, several kids ran up to me with horrified looks on their faces; there was an injury, and someone was seriously hurt. My instinctual love and concern for a child in distress kicked into hyperdrive, and I followed the children in a furious race to a little girl, who was laying on the ground sobbing.

It's a new year, and I'm kind of, how shall we call it, a babe in the woods all over again. I'm beginning to think my wife, Peggy is right. She's claims that every day is a new day for me, and I've heard her many times refer to some turnip truck that I keep falling off of, which doesn't make sense, because not only do I not like turnips, I don't think I've ever been on a turnip truck.

The sobbing, little girl down on the ground had taken off her shoe and sock on her right foot and was squeezing it like one of them doctors on television in the emergency room holding onto a dying man's neck to keep the blood from squirting out like a sprinkler watering a city park lawn.

I got on the ground and as calmly as possible croaked, "What's the matter?!?! She said, "I'm bleeding!" I screamed out, "Where? Where are you bleeding?"

She reaches down to her feet and pulls the big toe and the toe next to it so far apart that my initial diagnosis was that her toe bones had almost been ripped apart. Then she points to a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty, minuscule minute drop of what might be considered blood if examined under a miscroscope by a highly trained blood recognizer person.

What mystifies me is the incredible angle of the two toes. Her big toe is at an angle of over 180 degrees from the toe next to it. I ask her, "Do your toes hurt?" She says, "No, Mr. R., it's the blood. Look!" Well I can't see any blood, thank heavens, because if I did, I'd probably pass out, and then everyone would know my secret. (I faint at the sight of blood.) Instead of seeing blood, I am staring at two toes that have been bent to a 200 degree angle from each other, and it's freakin' me out, man. I tell her to let go of her toes, which she does, and then I ask her to bend her toes back again. She bends them a little, but not like before. I have to see it again, so I tell her, "Turn 'em back real far again like you did before." She does it, and I gave an audible moan. "Awwww. Uhhhh. Oh that's gruesome!"

I realize the little girl isn't crying anymore. She said, "What's the matter, Mr. R.?" I told her that her toes are very flexible, and if I had bent my toes like that, they'd have broken like little twigs. That's when she let all hell break loose. She bent those two toes so far back, they almost touched each other at the nail. I shrieked, "No! No! Oh! Stop it! Oh that's awful!" She thought my reaction was funny and did it again.

I had to get up and leave. I don't want to pass out in front of a kid I'm trying to wrench from Death's Door.

I thank our Gracious Lord I am not a doctor, and that, in His Infinite Wisdom, He has seen to it that I am a teacher instead.

But I did inadvertently do some doctoring. I think I distracted that sobbing, little girl so much with my antics, she forgot she was hurt.

History Misexperts

Americans believe that the school system is dumbing down the curriculum. As proof, we point out the declining background knowledge that college freshman have of history and geography as they enter universities.

Teachers believe that the federal government's No Child Left Behind Initiative forces them to teach to the test, which emphasizes reading comprehension and mathematics, leaving very little time for social studies. That doesn't explain why history and geography knowledge was lagging before the "No Child Left Behind Initiative" was passed, but that's a whole 'nother ball o' wax.

Let's just say that I pride myself on teaching my fourth graders the fifty states, their location, a little information about each one, and some general information about each region of the United States. I also take pride in my fifth grade American history classes and my required history of the state of New Mexico.

However, something recently happened in class that let me know that even I have made a change in what subject matter we are teaching in American history. The history books deemphasize Anglos and stress all cultural influences on our country. This is good, to a point. I don't think that replacing Thomas Edison with Lonnie G. Johnson is a marvelous idea, but I'm sure at least some teachers have.

Last week in class, one of my students, Robert, told me he couldn't pick out a book to read. He just couldn't decide. I told him I would pick one out for him, and I chose "The Story of Daniel Boone."

Robert read the title and said, "Mr. R., who is Danielle Boone?"

I need to work on my history and reading classes a little more, I suppose.