Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Self-Banished Behind Bangs

A boy's eyes in my first period class haven't been seen by anyone in a year or so. His hairstyle is nothing more than a barrier of bangs sealing off everyone and everything.

I waited a week and then spoke to him about his hide-a-way hairdo. His obvious desire was to get rid of the topic of conversation, but I insisted and made him reveal one eye to me. It took him a few seconds to cautiously pull back his bangs to reveal one eye unblinkingly staring back at me. I then told him I wanted to see both his eyes at the same time. It took him about twenty seconds to put his hands under those thick, carefully constructed bangs, and then very slowly and fearfully lift them up so I could see both his eyes. I've never seen a deer in the headlights of my car, but now I've seen worse. He was slightly terrified. I referred him to the counselor for emotional help with the prayer that the counselor can help relieve him of the demon driving him behind those bangs.

I am certain that I am the first to see both eyes at once for at least three months, and I will never forget the look in them. I pray it's the last time I see them.

What a sorry state human lives are when we all spend so much time going through our paces and never see a human soul crying and cringing behind a curtain of curls.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Middle School Impressionists

I admire and enjoy the performances of impressionists with their amazing talent to imitate voices, facial expressions, and mannerisms of others. Everyone has their favorites, and I like them all: Frank Gorshin, Rich Little, Eddie Murphy, Fred Travalena, Frank Caliendo, Brad Zinn, Billy Crystal, etc.

Our middle school has budding impressionists working on honing and refining their skills, and a speech therapist told me of one of them performing in her class on Thursday. It seems one of the impressionist's cronies desired a break from school for an hour, and the crony convinced her to pretend to be her so she could skip class. It didn't work. There are only three students in the class, and the speech therapist was able to discern the difference. Of course, a speech therapist in a class of three would be a very tough audience.

I admire the hutzpah it takes to take on a job like that, and though she failed to convince her audience, I wonder how many successful attempts this impressionist has pulled off.

Every now and then I have a thought, and I have one right now. Is it possible to flunk speech class by not talking?

Breakfast Food

Yesterday morning one of my seventh graders was more reserved than normal, and I asked her what was the matter. She told me her stomach was a little upset, so I asked her what she had for breakfast. She thought for a second and matter-of-factly replied, "Gum." Gum for breakfast! Can you imagine that?

However, her dietary regimen was no surprise. From what I've seen, middle schoolers are the molar grindingest, gum smackingest, cud chewing masticators imaginable. I've seen cows grazing in a field that would appear to have a bad case of lockjaw compared to middle schoolers ruminating on a piece of chicle.

The middle schoolers at our school are allowed gum on campus but not in the classrooms, and I think that's a mistake. I say, "Decide whether gum chewing is allowed or gum chewing is forbidden, but no in between. We have to chews."

However, based on my observations on their obsession to rend juice out of a piece of Wrigley's, outlawing middle schoolers from chewing gum in our schools for six and a half daylight hours would lower gum sales so rapidly and the loss of tax revenue would be so devastating that the local economy would completely collapse overnight.

PS I fixed the student up quickly with a little container of low-fat yogurt and she was fine.

PPS I always have lots of ideas to make money that I never put into action. If it hasn't already been marketed, peddling bubble gum flavored yogurt to kids is one of those good ideas.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Differences Between Elementary and Middle School

I have noticed three obvious differences between life as a teacher in middle school versus elementary school.

There is a different relationship between the teacher and the students caused by the students' age. That relationship seems to be based on respect rather than affection and love, and that is because of the age difference. They are still kids, but they are older.

The length of time a teacher has with the students is inflexible. That difference is going to play a huge factor in the instruction. I cannot adjust my schedule to increase or decrease the amount of attention I give a concept or subject when necessary.

I have time to prepare. I am sure that as time goes on, it will be spent furiously grading papers. I believe strongly in feedback to the students, and returning quizzes promptly graded is important, especially to those interested in learning from their mistakes. However, I will have that "prep" time to do it. Elementary teachers, at least in my school district, have very little "prep" time (free time) to grade , plan, or prepare.

It is going splendidly, and I have no qualms about my decision to move to middle school. However, I would like to pass official judgement later, once the honeymoon is over.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mr. Honeymoon

honeymoon (hun e moon), n. 1. a vacation or trip taken by a newly married couple. 2. the month or so following a marriage. 3. a period of blissful harmony. 4. any new relationship characterized by an initial period of harmony and goodwill -v. i. 5. to spend one's honeymoon (usually followed by in or at) 6. a period of time at the beginning of a school year in a classroom, usually lasting two to three weeks, when the students and teacher get along with occasional, mutual, long-distance respect and harmony, followed by a nastier, less blissful time when students begin to fidget, become disdainful, and then seek out a divorce, causing much anguish among weak teachers who are then weeded out, usually by attorneys, police officers or well meaning principals. - hon ey moon er

I am enjoying the honeymoon.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


A teacher is a human being, and as a human being I want to learn from and teach those who are willing to learn from and teach me. Some students either can't or won't learn, and it's my job as a teacher to discern the important difference.

Middle schoolers are further along on life's journey than elementary school students and thus easier to decipher the direction their lives are taking and which forks in the road they have chosen.

Some students have yielded to the rot in their lives, have chosen unwisely, and have been beguiled to give up their dreams for a better world. They have chosen to climb aboard a broken down cart of educational mediocrity.

I strive to have no conceit towards those riding in wobbly wagons and no contempt for those with hobbled hopes.

Off the Subject

This blog site is about kids and lostinkids, but this blog is off the subject.

I got a phone call this morning that treated me like an idiot, and I want to complain, not about the content of the call but the manner in which I was attempted to be manipulated. I will embellish the conversation a bit as a literary device, but this is the gist of it. I picked up the phone, there was a very short pause which was shorter than the average sales call so I didn't have time to hang up, and I heard this spiel.

"The Petroleum, Oil and Natural Gas Institute of America which represents YOUR country's energy needs now needs your cooperation and help by completing a short survey. This will only take a moment and is NOT a sales call. Please answer these questions in order to help us. (short pause)

"The ignoramuses in Congress..." (this got my attention) "...are attempting to destroy our country's energy suppliers by raising their taxes. These taxes on energy will undo the very fabric of our lives, and we want to know your opinion on this destructive tax increase. If you think these taxes are a tragic mistake, will raise your energy bills, and will further destroy an otherwise wonderful lifestyle, please press 1." (long pause) "If you mistakenly believe that these taxes will someway, somewhere, and somewhen actually somehow mysteriously help our country, press 2." (very short pause) "If you have no idea what the answer is and are not sure of what is going on, press 3."

"There is only one more question. Your energy suppliers, who provide you with the energy you need and provide millions of jobs for thousands of workers, will definitely have to layoff hard-working Americans if their taxes are increased, which will harm our economy. If you think that damaging our economy even further by raising taxes on energy is a bad idea, press 1." (long pause) "If you think that raising taxes on energy suppliers is a good idea and you are willing to take your chances on what damage Congress will inflict on your lifestyle and the American way of life, press 2." (short pause). If you do not know what is going on and have no opinions regarding important decisions in your life, press 3."

"Thank you very much for participating in this survey conducted by the Institute for the Preservation and Security of the United States Petroleum, Oil and Natural Gas Suppliers of America."

I voted #3 because I DON"T know. I'd like to read more and make a knowledgeable decision without the assistance of the American Institute of Petroleum, Oil and Natural Gas Energy Suppliers for a Better Future in America.

That's just the gist of the conversation as I heard it.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Day as a Middle School Teacher

I left home early. Really early. Rush hour hadn't started. Got to my classroom, fixed myself some coffee, was so excited I forgot to drink it.

I was dressed up. White shirt and tie. I had early morning duty. There were kids everywhere. Some of them were probably teenagers, but I couldn't be sure. They walked and talked differently than elementary school kids. For one thing, any students with parents didn't hug any apron strings. They looked tied to them. No one cried. No one was throwing up.

I was keeping kids out of the school building until time to enter. Only one argued with me and she didn't act hurt. No trembling bottom lip. She just looked like she knew she wasn't gonna get in and calmly walked off. Middle schoolers don't play on a playground. They aimlessly drift around in no hurry. Wait a minute. I just realized there IS no playground. Hmph. Some of them stood in small groups or alone, just gazing into space. Somebody'd spot someone they knew and would run up to them in obvious relief and shake hands (boys) or hug (girls).

The bell rang. I went to my room. Twenty-four kids showed up. I was strict. They behaved, pretty much, and are a real good group. The bell rang. Second period.

A new group came in. Bad News Group. I had to separate some of them. A boy and a girl played "footsie." You know what that is, don't you? It's what you do when you are young. You are feeling so frisky you actually get a huge thrill out of having your shoes touch a member of the opposite sex. No Viagra. No nothing. Just your normal body functions and you get a huge thrill out of touching shoes, and if you're really lucky, an ankle. I smelt the phernomes or hormones or whatever they are in second period. I was choking. Gasping for air. After twenty minutes I wanted out. Too early to give up. Too late to quit. The bell rang. Third period.

Prep time. That's a luxury elementary teachers are denied. Nothing to do except be thankful second period only lasted one sixth of the day. The bell rang. Fourth period.

Another new group. Low math students, a remedial class. If they had just been skeletons I could have picked them out as academically low. Every backbone was bent and curved and slumped. If they had only been eyeballs I could have picked them as the remedial class. Eyes rolled. A lot. If I had been deaf I could have picked them out as the remedial class. Ask them a question? No lips would move. No one spoke, except to each other. All the worst academic behaviors concentrated into one class. I was hard on them, and that means high expectations. They didn't like it. They didn't like it one bit. They didn't like it at all. They didn't like me, and not only that, I didn't care. What do they know. I'll encourage them to excel by promising if they make incredible progress to promote them out of my class. Hopefully, they'll fall for that. They'll get promoted into my second period math class. Suckers. The bell rang. Lunch.

I ate my lunch in the Teachers' Lounge. Microwaved myself some rice and gravy. Yogurt, grapes, cherries. I met and talked to a substitute teacher. He seemed OK. He bought a carne adovada burrito in the school cafeteria that looked damn good. To hell with leftover rice and gravy. The bell rang. Fifth period.

A very different new group. Acted normal, and they understood most of my jokes. That's a good sign. Nothing out of the ordinary, though. This class slipped by me. They could be sleepers, underrated. I'll be more alert for them tomorrow. The bell rang. Sixth period.

I met the accelerated math class. The top notch students, you know. Every eye was open. Every eye paid attention (except for two). They did extremely well on the formative assessment (pop quiz to find out what students know in order to guide instruction). Every other class had difficulty with it. One example: "To get your age, subtract the year you were born from today's year, 2010. How old are you? Show your work." The average answer was about 102. The bell rang.

After school duty on the west side of the building. It was a terrible mess. A city police officer quickly described the problem to me, and he had sized it up correctly. He told me the city wouldn't put in any crosswalks except at the major intersections. He had warned them of the danger, and the city wouldn't listen to him. I told him I'd get results 'cause I'll be a really squeaky wheel with howling wheel bearings dried up from a lack of grease. I'd get results 'cause I wouldn't tell them I'm a school teacher. I'd tell them I'm just an average joe concerned for the tragic consequences of a lawsuit that will come when a child gets hurt or killed due to a lack of a crosswalk where it is needed. It's a dangerous situation. No crosswalks on a major street at a middle school, fer cryin' out loud!

The traffic died, I climbed in my car, drove home, and I ate dinner with my lovely wife. The forecast calls for an early bedtime with a chance of nightmares over the second period class.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Limbo Rodeo

According to Webster's Universal College Dictionary, limbo is "...an intermediate, transitional, midway state or place."

That's where I am, professionally speaking. I have my room feng shuied and ready for seventh graders, but no students as of yet. You could say I am "chompin' at the bit" to have students. Upon reflection, however, maybe that isn't the best idiom to use, "chompin' at the bit," because I now visualize a rodeo with bronco bustin' seventh graders climbin' on my back and ridin' me until I'm done broke and tamed and then ridden hard and put up wet.

Preparation time is essential for many tasks, but I believe there comes a time when you just have to trot into that chute and toss that cowboy off yer back. In other words, on Wednesday I have seventh grade students. Until then, it's meetings and firming up lesson plans and preparation and limbo, and I ain't talkin' about purgatory nor the 'How low can you go?' West Indies dance.

I really am looking forward to Rodeo Wednesday.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Scary, Scary, So Contrary

Olivia has been quite emphatic when marriage is mentioned by anyone. Various ways to say "I am having none of it" that come in the form of "No way!", "NEVER!", and "Yuk" all have made me accept that the only way I may see Grandchildren is to trade out a placebo into her future little preventative pills one day. But it will actually save me hours on long distance twenty-something years from now, consoling my son-in-law with I know, yes, I know, what can I do?

The other day, however, she mentioned her wedding dress and how it should be designed. I was listening with half-an-ear, but I looked up from my studying and said, "Wait, wait. You said you were never ever going to get married."

She looked completely shocked. Her hands went into those little fist balls that either mean Jake is around or the all the red ones from the gummy bear package have been consumed. "What???" She cried. "I have to get married to get a wedding dress???? WHO MADE UP THAT STUPID RULE?"

She fumed for a moment and then got a relieved revelation look. "Hey, Mom" she softened. "Can you just buy me the dress one day?"

Okay, Miss Haversham, can't wait for that shopping trip.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Foul Mouthed Cursers

There seems to be a glitch in my switch to middle school, and the principal mentioned it in our first staff meeting. He told the true story of a teacher observation he had to do, and he did as usual and walked into the classroom without fanfare so as not to disrupt the lesson. He quietly sat down at a table with a boy we shall call Alex. Alex was legally blind, although he had some vision, and our principal said he probably knew he had sat down by Alex without drawing any attention to himself.

The teacher had a student at the chalkboard working on a math problem. The student cracked a joke, the teacher cracked a funny comment, and everybody started laughing. Then the student said something really funny, and everyone laughed hard, including the principal. Being a good-sized grown man his laugh was probably louder than everyone else's, so Alex must've heard him, and when the laughing died down whispered, "Shut up, you fv(k1ng @$$h0!e."

The principal was shocked, and said he couldn't believe what he had heard, so he quietly asked, "Excuse me? What did you say?"

Alex whispered back, "You heard me you fv(k1ng @$$ho!e. Shut up."

The principal knew he had heard it correctly, so he told the boy to follow him out into the hallway. When they got there, the principal asked, "Do you know who I am? This is the principal, Mr. Mack."

Alex's jaw dropped, and he started to apologize profusely. The principal reported that many times Alex offered up the grand excuse that he thought he was talking to a fellow student; he had been tricked and made a mistake. After many attempts to appease the principal, he was brought to the office and put on an out-of-school suspension.

The principal then explained that no cursing or disrespectful language will be tolerated. He knew how he had felt being talked to like that, and it didn't matter who Alex thought he was talking to or not; such language will not be tolerated. A teacher's job is to stay calm when such language occurs.

I don't think getting angry at student cursing is going to be a problem for me because I am usually humored or shocked rather than angered, and if it's done properly, cursing can actually be quite an effective language tool. I'm just not going to be able to forgive and forget; cursing is cause for a suspension.

I asked everyone later if I was going to be cursed at, and the general reply I received was, "Well, duh!"

But what about "dadburn it" and "frickin' "? And what about "pooty-putt" and "crippity crud"? I use those.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My First Day as a Paid Middle School Teacher

Today was the first day I was actually paid and had to show up for work. It got off to a good start with a staff meeting to begin the day. I noticed several advantages right off the bat that were better than the elementary school where I used to teach. For one thing, the principal provided breakfast burritos and coffee which were far superior to anything I have had at the elementary school. Now I am aware that this doesn't mean anything, but remember, I'm the guy who when you inform him that you traveled to Paris and visited the Louvre, will immediately respond with, "Where did you eat? Did you try any French pastries?" and if you say that you then went to Italy and saw the Colosseum and Vatican City and then went to Venice, I will immediately ask, "What was Italian food like in Italy? What did you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner?"

Then the entire staff went to the old gym ( built in 1952) and the new gym (1976) and met any parents who showed up to register their children as students. All the students who came on Registration Day seemed normal to me, although a few of the staff members are a bit odd. More on that later, but I am concerned that this principal hires oddballs, which puts me in their category, which should, upon reflection, come as no surprise.

Then I went to two meetings. One was a meeting of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) I have been assigned to and the other was a Math Department meeting. Both went without any hitches, meaning no one took them too seriously. In the PLC meeting someone asked me which room I had been assigned to, and I told them Room 203, the room with the monolithic shaft running through it and the one that was haunted. Most of the teachers in ther room said, "Yeah....the haunted room." It is now a fact that most of the staff considers my room haunted. Cool!

Then I came home and realized I really want to get into the classroom with a bunch of seventh graders and start teaching math.

And I think I am going to try to meet the ghost and convince him/her to move on.

Yours truly,
The Trepid Seventh Grade Teacher/Ghostbuster

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hauntings at a Middle School

You're not going to believe this. You'll think I am making this up just to get a blog idea, but I promise I am not.

I have spent three days working in my new classroom and doing what elementary school teachers call "setting up the environment." I am in the oldest wing of the oldest junior high (middle) school in our city with a style of architecture I find stimulating, and I have blogged about it before.

My new principal dropped by to see if I needed anything and how was it going and all that, and in the conversation he happened to mention that the old wing of the school is haunted. I happen to believe in the existence of ghostly manifestations, and my conviction they happen is reinforced by having heard one on several occasions in a home I occupied in Houston, Texas.

My principal told me that he and his two children heard a piano being played, and there is no longer a piano in the old wing. He said other people have had unusual things happen to them in the old wing of the school, and I want to get more information regarding these "experiences."

Today I was talking to an eighth grade social studies teacher who told me a few years ago he had the room I now occupy. He then informed me that while he was in the classroom several unusual things happened, and he asked if I believe in ghosts. I told him I did and gave him an account of my experiences with the ghost of an elderly woman in a house. He told me the ghost in the old wing of the school is a girl who probably attended our middle school, and she tossed clipboards off hooks and threw them across the very room I now occupy. He said a student teacher also saw this happen. He said that since I believe in the existence of ghosts, I will probably be visited.

This is poltergeist activity, and the phenomenon is usually associated with adolescents or teenagers. I came home today and my wife told me to do what the television psychic, Sylvia Browne, advised, and tell the ghost that they no longer belong here and need to move on and not be afraid to continue their journey away from this world.

I'm getting myself all psyched up for such a conversation, and I will inform my readers of any unusual activity. This is an exciting possibility.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Feng Shuiing a Classroom and a Motorcycle Story

I am not a man's man. Despite my mechanical ability to single-handedly replace a clutch on a Corvette or do fifteen hundred year old Shaolin Kung Fu forms, as soon as people see me they are pretty sure I am not a man's man, and as soon as I open my mouth and speak, it becomes a certainty.

I am not a girly man. I am not effeminate and I have a deep voice, but as my wife Peggy put it when I asked her if I was a manly man, she replied, "No. you're a punkin." I guess she's right, because a manly man wouldn't have become a middle school teacher and then spent two days scrubbing, cleaning, and feng shuiing his seventh grade math classroom.

Here is what I have done so far. On the wall beside my desk is a photo of a motorcycle wheel. You see, I once owned motorcycles. My first was a 1965 Honda CB 160 purchased when I was eighteen which I used to go to my part-time job and then to the university. It was a wonderful, little, dependable machine. I was so broke and frugal I rarely purchased gas. I just pulled into gas stations after hours when they were closed and drained the hoses. That was back when they didn't lock up the hoses. The Honda wasn't fast, but it got me around.

A fellow employee at the plastic processing company where I worked had a motorcycle fender-bender on his 1958 Harley Sportster and he was devastated that his wife happened to be on the back, and he sold it to me out of anger at the motorcycle. Lordy she was a pretty woman, and I didn't blame him for not wanting to be responsible for damaging her in any way. He fixed up the Sportster to better than original condition; his machinist cousin buffed the crankcase covers until they glistened, then dropped the carburetor about a quarter of an inch and retooled the intake manifold so it could breathe in a little more quickly, then he sold it to me for $800. That Sportster was fast. When he turned over the ignition key to me, he showed me how to accelerate off the line, though I already knew. You put it in fourth gear, revved it and almost immediately released the clutch. Fortunately, he told me a few more things I needed to know. One, you bent down over the gas tank and hung on for dear life, and you didn't bend down for aerodynamic purposes. The engine didn't give a rat's @$$ if you were bent over or not. You did it so you could hang onto the bike. If you sat up straight, the only way to hang onto the bike was with your hands and fingers, and they weren't enough. That bike pulled hard away from you. He also warned me that the back end would feel loose. If I accelerated quickly enough a few times, I'd begin to think the back wheel was loose because the rear tire "waggled" as it tried to pass the front tire. It wasn't loose. It just felt so because the rear wheel was trying to pass the front of the bike and it made a serious "waggle." I got a free wheel tightening from a Harley shop mechanic with a torque wrench just to make sure. That was an incredibly fast machine, but it had several problems. One, it had a tiny gas tank......cool looking, but not functional. Two, it guzzled gas. He told me he got eight to ten miles per gallon and I was stupid enough to think I could nurse it along and get better mileage......Not! It guzzled gas idling in the driveway, fer cryin' out loud, and who wants to own a 1958 Harley Sportster and not enjoy the kick-in-the-seat-of-your-pants thrill of goosing it on a green light. Three, my father hated loud motorcycles, and at the time he lived in a sixty year old house with aging putty on all the wooden window panes. Every single window pane in the house would have rattled and a couple of them might have actually shattered if I had goosed the throttle when I pulled into the driveway. Fortunately, I kept the Honda because I was too busy to sell it. Then I realized the Sportster was financially draining me. You see, there aren't enough gas pump hoses in Houston to keep it filled, and I found myself actually paying for gas during the day, long before the sun set and the gas stations closed up shop so I could drain their gas pump hoses for free. I actually had to pay for gas two times in one day. Luckily for me, the fellow who sold it to me, who was also named Walter, regretted selling it to me, so I sold it back to him after one month. His wife was never going to get on it again, and I couldn't afford it. That was in 1967 or 1968 when muscle cars were the rage, and it sure was fun humiliating them in drag races. A Corvette would pull up to a red light, gun the engine, and I'd glance at the driver and then nod. I'd always check to make sure no one was running the red light when it turned green, and as soon as it was green, I'd goose it and pop the clutch. I never saw the tail lights of any car. Well, not exactly. I'd get it up to ninety or a hundred or so, and no telling what the actual speed was because Harleys had notoriously defective speedometers, and who could actually read the thing when it at sixty mph it looked like you were viewing it through a jiggling bowl of Jello. Anyway, I'd get it up to what I thought was about ninety or a hundred and then sit up and ease off the throttle. About five or six seconds later here'd come the Corvette pitifully roaring by me. I never got a ticket, but a GTO I drag raced did because he kept it to the floor and roared past me. A mile up ahead, a cop was pulling him over. I considered it a short drag race and never agreed to drag if there were cars ahead of us or there was no safe straightaway.

My third motorcycle was a British motorcycle, a 1969 BSA Starfire. It was somewhere in between the Honda and the Sportster, and it was a wonderful bike. Experts complained about the Lucas electrical system, but I never had any trouble. The driver sat up real high off the ground compared to a Harley, and it was more beautiful with a rider sitting on it than on the kickstand by itself, and that's one thing I loved about BSAs and Triumphs. I puttered with it a lot, as you're supposed to do with a British machine. It wasn't fast, but one time a cop pulled me over just to look at it. I was relieved it wasn't a ticket, and he asked me a lot of questions about it.

I wanted a photo of that motorcycle because I owned no photo of either of the two bikes before. A friend of mine named Casey was a fine arts photographer and I asked him if he'd take photos of the bike, and he agreed. He got his Olympus camera and started shooting away, developed the photo, matted and framed it, and wrapped it up like a Christmas present. I excitedly opened the package and found a photograph of only the front wheel. I was a little shocked, and I tried not to show my disappointment. He talked so much about his love of that shot that I saw the beauty of it too. That BSA had a huge, beautifully spoked, front wheel with Dunlop rubber and a chrome fender. It was, as I now reflect, the prettiest part of the bike, although I also loved the huge, front headlamp which was bigger than a bowling ball. I treasure that photo, and it sits by my desk in every classroom I have taught.

I have my desk in the back corner with my BSA wheel on the wall to my right, 26 desks arranged so no one can hide behind the monolith, two tables in the back to work with small groups, and on the walls are eight castle pictures, nine pieces of art work I purchased from elementary school children, three times tables charts, my Americana corner (the U.S. flag and posters of the Star-Spangled Banner and the Pledge of Allegiance), two blank bulletin boards ready for students' work, a photo of three F-16s with the words "Rush Hour" above them and below it a photo of the Wright Brothers' first flight of the "Flyer" at Kitty Hawk, an unusual photo of a nautilus, and a small poster celebrating our trip to the moon. A computer monitor sits on the desk, and I am blogging on it for the first time.

I am almost ready for seventh graders.

PS My father didn't like the BSA, especially when I pulled away with the exhaust pipe pointing towards his house with the rpm above four thousand and the throttle wide open. I could almost see his face.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Material possessions are truly worthless............in the long run............but we sure do cling to them in the here and now. Take, for example, teachers.

Teachers are generally hoarders, and love their "stuff." The "stuff" includes but is not limited to books, boxes of tissues, scissors, glue, glue sticks, rubber cement, pencils, pens, pins, markers, crayons, colored pencils, dry erase markers, erasers, notebook paper, new or used binders, folders of any kind, construction paper, graph paper, any paper, spiral notebooks, staplers, staple removers, WhiteOut, bookmarks, bandaids, cotton balls, index cards, glitter, books, videos, CDs, paper clips, any kind of tape, posters, pictures, photos, water bottles, stickers, thumb tacks, art supplies, plastic bins, plastic boxes, containers of any shape and size, extra sports equipment, kazoos, Post It notes, harmonicas, recorders of absolutely any kind, magnets, office supplies, desk clocks, wall clocks, mugs, coffee pots and microwaves and tiny refrigerators that can be hidden from an unsuspecting Fire Marshall, rubber bands, aquariums, cages, magnifying glasses, any kind of compass, protractors, any reasonable collection of anything, hole punchers, pencil sharpeners, cleaning products, Lysol spray, Clorox Wipes, twisty ties, thermometers, rulers, scales, balances, carpet scraps, pillows, bookshelves, stools, prisms, boom boxes, books whistles, dusters, empty spray bottles, cushions, laptop computers, Teachers' Guides to every curriculum known to man (my least favorite item), dice, dominoes, playing cards, salt and vinegar and baking soda and iodine and corn starch, pepper, salt, sugar, Splenda, thermoses, extra toiletry supplies, and my personal favorites, books and chalk.

I have much less "stuff" than almost every single teacher I know. Nevertheless, it took me two trips with the old, trusty Maxima filled to the max and a lot of assistance from the new custodians at my new school to get me moved in.


Saturday, August 07, 2010

Pajama Women Sightings on the Rise

Nature has many marvelous sights in store for those of you who are observant and dedicated, and I want to point out to readers of the strange and unusual sightings going on in the city where I live. Well, actually, I don't live in a city. I define a city not by its size but rather its robust business and civic acumen combined with the urbane sophistication of its amenities and infrastructure. In other words, a strange phenomenon is occurring in my settlement.

Sightings of Pajama Women are becoming more prevalent. Adult women, many with children, have been spotted publicly displaying themselves attired only in their pajamas which are accessorized and enhanced with flopping bedroom slippers which alerts onlookers to the arrival of the entire accoutrement ensemble.

This phenomenon is much more common with the parents of summer school children, and even more so with the parents of tardy students. They are never in a hurry, and flip-flop their way by with nary a greeting or a returned, "Good morning." As a summer school teacher I was given privy to many public observations of Pajama Women.

The sighting of a Pajama Woman in her natural habitat is not uncommon. At my home it's a daily occurrence. However, that rare appearance of a Pajama Woman in public is what we are fascinated with observing. If your city or town does not have any Pajama Women, do not be discouraged. The prospect of observing one in public can be enhanced by shopping at Wally World between the hours of 9:00 pm and 11:00 am. Never waste time going through the automotive, hardware, paint, nursery, or electronics section, for when they appear in public, they have left their lairs for the primary purpose of searching for food. One would be wise to wander through the grocery department, concentrating on the soda and chip aisle, but don't overlook the frozen food section either. They can also be spotted in the toy department asking their offspring questions such as, "How many times have I told you to stop hitting your brother with that DS?!" or, "Will you please put it back on the shelf?"

They also may be spotted in parking lots going to and from the front doors of Dollar Stores. This is one of their favorite environments, but be forewarned. If you actually enter a Dollar Store, you will find yourself distracted by bargains and will miss a lot of opportunities to observe the Pajama Women.

All in all, it's a fun hobby and quite a remarkable, natural phenomenon. But don't get too close. Trust me on this. Many of them are in a bad mood. Researchers have shown that this foul disposition is cause by several factors, such as being overfed and undernourished, personal and financial problems, time management issues, laziness, or simply over or under sleeping.

They have been known to grumpily drop their breakfastless children off at summer school, and it is best to keep your distance.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Things Aren't the Way They Used to be: Mary Had a Little Lamb

One of my piano students needed a primer lesson in how chord progressions work, so I chose a very basic song to demonstrate them: "Mary Had A Little Lamb." Lo! and behold! I realized she wasn't familiar with the song, so I sang it to her:

"Mary had a little lamb.
Its fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went..."

And that's when I stopped. I asked her if she knew the rest of the words, and she said, "..the sheep went too."

I decided I would ask all the summer school children what the rest of the words were to "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and thanks to my trusty li'l Palmpilot I am able to record all their responses. Here we go........

"Mary had a little lamb.
Its fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went.........

"...the lamb went too."
"...it was always snow."
"...the lamb which to go."
"...she spread out the fleas."
"...she was shopping?"
"...the fleas went too."
"...she wore a jacket."
"...she wanted to go."
"...she didn't know."
"... the lamb went too." (This was is a repeat. It got two votes!)
"...she took the lamb."

So far three children have known the correct lyrics. I do not consider this a consequence of anything important, but I am mentioning it as indicative of cultural change. Is this a sign of a communal loss on our part, a little more proof that we are losing something valuable?

Nah. For one thing, what's the real value of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in the grand scheme of things? And another reason for not ever worrying about what is going wrong with the world? Things aren't the way they used to be............and they never were.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Those Mysterious Team Mascots

I was talking to some summer school students on the playground and we were discussing football, soccer and baseball teams all the boys were on. I told them I played Little League baseball and was on the Cubs and the Dodgers. What teams were they on?

One of them said he was on the Knights, so I jokingly asked, "Do you ever play the Days?"

He looked at me funny and said, "Huh?"

I explained, "You know. You're the Knights and they're the Days, so someone could say, 'There will be a game today between the Knights and the Days.' You get the joke?"

"Oh yeah," he said, and then laughed.

"Of course, you're not on the Nights with an N. You're on the Knights with a K."

"Huh?" he mumbled.

"You know, you're a Knight like in the Medieval days."

"What's medieval?"

I became curious. "Do you know what a knight is?" I asked.

"No. Not really."

"You gotta be kiddin' me, man. It's one of those guys that wears a suit of armor."

"We wear uniforms," he said in a confused manner.

" No. Not you. The knights. Your team is named after knights. They lived in the year 500 or 600 and carried swords, fought with arrows, rode horses, fought for the King of England, and sometimes two knights would get on horses, face each other, then take off riding towards each other with long, giant sticks and would try to knock each other off the horse. It's called jousting."

"His eyes lit up. "Oh yeah! That's what a knight is?"

"Yep! I replied. Your team is named after those knights."

"Cool!" he exclaimed.

I looked at another kid and asked him what team he was on, and he said he was on the Yankees.

"What's a Yankee?" I asked.

"It's a team. A baseball team."

"Yeah, but what's a Yankee? Your friend here is on the Knights and a knight is a guy from a long time ago that wears suits of armor and rides horses. What's a Yankee?"

"I dunno," he said.

I explained to him about people that live up north or in the United States, and to tell you the truth, I think I pulled the plug on his enthusiasm for being a Yankee. To him, a Yankee was a member of the best team in baseball (dadburn it!). Now he was reduced to being a Northerner or an American.

I asked another boy and he said he was on the Rangers so I asked him what a Ranger was.

"I dunno," he said.

This was becoming pitiful, if not discouraging. "A Ranger is a law man, a cop, a policeman, a guy who fights on the side of the law. A lot of Rangers are in Texas. That's why the Texans call one of their baseball teams the Texas Rangers."

He looked disappointed. Obviously he had been there (Texas) and didn't want to have anything to do with the place.

I started asking all boys at school if they were on teams and what was the mascot.

"I'm on the Red Sox."

"What are Red Sox?"

"I don't know."

"What team is your team, the Red Sox, named after?" (This qualifies as a Stupid Question from an earlier blog)

"I dunno."

I had to explain to that kid that the Red Sox were called the Red Sox because they were wearing red socks when their first uniform was designed, and the Red Sox are in Boston, Massachusetts. He didn't seem too excited about that, and I realized I was taking all the air out of these hornets' sails.

I asked another kid what team he was on, and he said he was on the Pirates. I asked him what a pirate was, and he said, "A pirate is a guy that lives on a ship in the Care-uh-be-un and fights skeletons."

Thanks to movies, someone knew.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Con Artist Mothers, Ballet Classes, Dance Contests, and the Perfect Wife

My last blog reminded me of the many times my mother bamboozled, tricked, or conned me. I am sure she would prefer changing the word "tricked" to beguiled or charmed, but let's just say that at times, all parents "pull a fast one" on a child, or a teacher will try to "sneak one over" on a student. Let's be honest. Where do you think they learn the art of deception?

The first time I realized my mother could and would circumvent the truth was when I was in the first grade. She got wind of a free ballet and tap dance class at the local city park, and having been crowned the Queen of Frugalia, she hauled me down there under the ruse of making me into a great football player. I was more interested in baseball, but she kept insisting it would make me a great football player. She suspected that I suspected that tap and ballet classes were for sissies, so she was peddling the manliest game she could think of on me, which at that tender age made no sense, so I was suspicious that she was suspicious that I was suspicious. Or something like that.

After a few weeks of dance classes, I was given permission to walk to ballet class after school, so I had to take my ballet slippers with me to school. Even at the age of six I knew not to let anyone see them. They would require an explanation and I didn't know how to fit them into a football regimen, so I hid them in my backpack. Being six years old means that you're not as sneaky and devoted to the task of covering yer tracks as say, a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives, so at the end of the day when I went to get my backpack, I could see the little black slippers spilling out onto the floor, but fortunately, no one said anything, so it seems I pulled it off. I spent the entire year of my first grade learning reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic, and hiding ballet slippers, and though I have forgotten the proper technique for a grand-plie, I can still hide stuff in a backpack.

I think the ballet and tap dance class ended after one year but not before I did a couple of dance recitals. I was the only boy in the class, and that was the best part and the worst part. Yes, it was great to be there, but why in hell am I the only guy? I remember a solo in a clown outfit. I bet I was awful.

Years later, in my senior year of high school, I was invited by a girl to take her to a dance contest. She said she wanted me to be her dance partner so we could possibly win the contest. This girl could get on a stage and have every eye on her the whole time, and she did it numerous times. She was a high voltage, eye candy cutie, and I replied, "Sure. Let's go win that contest." We did, and I remember when we were one of the last two couples, the other couple danced pretty well, so I started to dance around them and without hesitation, she started pouring on the charm and followed my lead. I think we won because we literally danced around our competition, but it sure didn't hurt having her as my partner.

So as you can see, deceitful mothers can pay off in the short run; I won a dance contest with a cute high school girl.

In the long run, though, conning someone doesn't pay off. I never became a dancer. I knew it wasn't for me, and I became less and less interested in dancing. I married a woman who is allergic to the metal in jewelry and doesn't like to shop. So far so good. She also was willing to go dancing with me once just to lure me into her feminine snare. She also danced with the future Best Man at our wedding, and she complained that he was all over her like a cheap suit. She told me she didn't like to dance. It wasn't her thing. No jewelry? No shopping? No dancing? She's the perfect wife!

How all this fits together into one blog is not something you should dwell on for very long, if at all.