Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dumb Questions: Teacher as Straight Man

Set-Up #1:

Just as I was leaving the school building I saw a fellow teacher from my previous school. She was there to attend an after-school meeting at my new school. We talked genially and briefly, and then, as she went to the doorway to go to the meeting inside, we discovered the door had locked behind me when I came out. We tugged on the door, and I wondered which door out of all the doors in my, new, huge school would provide access to the meeting inside.

Suddenly, one of my math students still on the grounds, Jake, yells out, "Hey! Mr. W! Area and perimeter!"

I yell back, "Circumference!"

Then I thought, "Wait a minute. Jake has been going to this school a long time. He'll know how to get into the building."

So I yell out, "Jake! How do you get into the school building?"

Jake yells back, "Try the door!"

Set-Up #2:

Me: "Charlotte, what was your answer to the area of the next circle?"

Charlotte: "Wrong."

Set-Up #3:

Me: "And so now you can see that pizza sizes are based on the diameter, not the radius or the circumference. So when you order a pizza, what do you do? Charlotte."

Charlotte: "Call Pizza Hut and tell 'em you want a pizza."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doorway Presentations: Hallway Boy

There is an eighth grader down the hall from my classroom who is developing an odd habit, probably encouraged by yours truly. This eighth grader goes slowly by our classroom doorway and pulls off "odd stunts." The first time I knew he pulled these "stunts," he went by and I happened to be looking in that direction. There, for most of the class to see, was a tall, dark-haired, lanky boy going by and pretending to be running for his life, and all of it in slow motion. I thought it was hilarious. Then I made my first mistake. I told him it was funny, didn't write him a "ticket," and sent him on his way with me chuckling, and he asked what my name was, probably to tell his classmates what a sucker I was.

A few days later he did it again. He went by pretending to be swimming, and apparently a long distance, like he was cruisin' slowly and steadily across the English Channel, all of it in beautifyl slow motion. It was a splendid performance, and I told him he was pretty clever, but if I caught him again, he'd get a "ticket."

Today I heard an odd whistle (see previous blog.....):

II. Body Generated Sounds:
A. Oral Sounds
1. Musical Sounds
a) Whistling

It was one of those low, tryin'-to-get-your-attention-without-gettin-into-trouble whistles. It was the same tall, lanky boy. He was in the middle of the hallway and not doing a Doorway Presentation, and he was apologetic, again. I let him off, again.

I'm gunnin' for him now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Not in Control: No Way, No How No Where

It is nice to know when you come home from a tough day at school, with kids treating you like you're Mr. Cruello, and all that backtalk, and only about half of the kids do what you say, it sure is nice to come home and get the respect and obedience a man deserves.

Today I came home from work a tad grumpy, looked for my glasses, couldn't find them, became peeved, and yelled at my wife, "Where are my glasses!!?!"

She very snappily and quickly yelled back, "Today is not my day to know where your glasses are, and tomorrow isn't going to work for me either!"

Where does she come up with this material?


Middle School Sound Effects

I have been teaching middle school for only six weeks, but one of the things I am qualified to discuss about middle school students is the incessant noises that children this age make. After conducting research, compiling data, and using an investigatory methodology and a research-based compilation and analysis of the data, I am now able to reveal my findings. Here are the sounds categorized for future study. Numbers, percentages, and sounds emanated per second and per minute will be provided at a later date.


I. Motion Generated Sounds Using Body Parts

A. Hands Motion is used to generate sounds from hands and/or palms. This includes drumming and an activity I shall refer to as "palm flapping," an activity that is difficult to describe and not worth the effort to do so. Just know that the kids can flap their palms rapidly and make an incessant flapping noise. Fingers are used to drum, snap and tap.

B. Rear Ends
Rear ends squirm endlessly. This generates a chair squeaking sound, but I have placed it in the Motion Generated Sounds Using Body Parts section rather than the Machine/Instrument Generated Sounds Section.

II. Body Generated Sounds

A. Sound Effects
Students generate sound effects, such as 1. lip popping; 2. clucking; and 3. clacking.

4. Hissing
can be broken down into three general subsections: a) tires on wet concrete; b) escaping air from a basketball; c) disapproval (hissing as teacher irritant).

5. Whooshing
sounds can be broken down into three general subsections: a) wind (sub-subsections: gentle breeze, scary and hurricane force); b) NASCAR race cars roaring by (both close by and in the distance); and c) Olympic skier sounds.

B. Musical Sounds
Musical sounds have several major subsections.

1. Whistling
The first is whistling. Whistling consists of student inspired mindless tunes and recognizable melodies. Sustained, steady notes, the sounds of bombs dropping, and the inward/inhale whistle are other classroom sounds generated in this category.

Humming falls into the Musical Sounds category. Humming consists of three sub-subsections:
a. subconscious humming (work related, happiness related, and unconscious humming)
b. casual humming (self-entertainment, humming used as teacher irritant, etc.)
c. non-causal humming (who knows why they do it?).

C. Bodily Function Sounds
Bodily Function Sounds can include but are not limited to: 1. hiccupping; 2. belching; 3. farting; 4. sucking; 5. chewing; 6. sniffing; 7. snorting, and 8. grunting.

9. Sniffling has its own subsections:
a. cold and flu sounds (either genuine or hypochondriac in nature.) Hypochondria generated sounds are either "nurse pass inspired," or physical and emotional sympathy seeking. Hypochondria sniffling can also be goal oriented: ("I want outa here.")
b. genuine or emotional crying/sniffling sounds.

D. Communicative Sounds
Communicative Sounds is another category of Body Generated Sounds. These include but are not limited to: 1. shushing (fear of getting caught or an actual, "Shut up!"); 2. snorting (sub-subsections: a) disgust; b) disapproval; c) booger/nostril clearing); 3. guffawing; 4. snickering (teacher irritant).

III. Oral Fixation : Cud Chewing
The middle school where I teach and where the research occurred allows gum in the classroom. This, of course, requires its own category, Oral Fixation: Cud Chewing.
There are several categories in Oral Fixation: Cud Chewing.
1. Gum Chewers which includes but is not limited to smacking, chewing, popping, and cracking (teacher irritant);
2. Plastic Chewers for those student consumers who find themselves out of gum. The Bic pen cap is popular. This category is much quieter than gum chewing;
3. Paper chewing is also popular. Thankfully, no spit wads have been seen.....yet. This category is also quiet.

IV. Machine/Instrument Generated Sounds
These sounds require materials to generate the sounds. This includes 1. retractable pens clicking (see George Hamilton in "Doc Hollywood") and 2. Velcro opening and closing.

3. Zippers are its own subsection. This is broken into five sub-subsections: a) the sound of a zipper unzipping; b) the sound of a zipper zipping; c) the most common sound: a zipper either zipping and unzipping or unzipping and zipping. d) the individual student zipping and unzipping over and over again (serious teacher irritant), and lastly, e) group zipping and unzipping, which requires an immense amount of coordianation and practice amongst the group members (teacher irritant). Zipper sounds can be generated by jackets, articles of clothing, purses, pocketbooks, and school-oriented material, such as notebooks or backpacks.

As the reader can see, middle school students generated sounds are complex, varied, subtle, irritating, ingenius, and devious. A continuous onslaught of noises may be distracting to the teacher at first, but as they beocme acclimated, it becomes worse.

Further research studies will be conducted at a later date.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Eighth Grader at the Movies

Eddie Fisher, the crooner from the fifties, died recently. It was noted by the newspapers that he met Elizabeth Taylor while married to Debbie Reynolds, dumped Debbie Reynolds in order to marry Elizabeth Taylor, and in a sad sort of fitting retribution, was dumped by Elizabeth Taylor for Richard Burton.

Eddie Fisher's death reminded me of something that happened when I was in the eight grade.

My older brother William came home to visit from college, and it wasn't three hours later that he got into a "disagreement" wih my parents. After the "disagreement," he decided he needed to get out of the house so he uncharacteristically invited me to the movies. His problem with my parents and his unusually kind treatment of me somehow over the years came in second place to what happened in the movie theater.

The film was "How the West Was Won" starring so many movie stars it would take a long time to list a fourth of them, but here are a few: Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, James Stewart, John Wayne, and Richard Widmark. This movie was a winner, a blockbuster, and very entertaining. Story after story unfolded, all of them better than the next.

Suddenly, there was Debbie Reynolds doing what she does best: dancing, singing, entertaining, driving Robert Preston crazy on the screen, and jaw-droppin' all the men in the movie theater. I remember exactly what she was wearing: a scanty, frilly, underwear thing with all of her pokey-outey stuff pulling me into submission.

Just then, William leaned over to me and said, and not in a quiet voice, "Eddie Fisher is crazy." Some would have reflected on Elizabeth Taylor and gotten into a debate over that statement, but with Debbie up there charming the hell out of me, and realizing Elizabeth never charmed me like that and never would, I replied, and not in a quiet voice, "He's nuts."

I can still see her..................Debbie, that is.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Into the Bowels of Braindead I Went

I have seen a couple of assemblies of middle school students, and for a new middle school teacher they were an experience to remember. Here are a few things I saw 6th, 7th, and 8th graders doing in the two short assemblies I attended:
- pretending to vomit
- making fun of adults
- whispering, and lots of it
- poking, touching, and tickling
- yanking at articles of clothing
- incessant talking
- inability to focus eyes
- yelling the name of a friend fifty times
- groaning, and lots of it
- ignoring everyone
- children with a look of a brain dead zombie unable to move or blink
- children screaming and/or unable to sit still
- wild eyed looks on the faces of boys out of control
- teachers miserably failing to maintain a shred of sanity on their face
- one attempted kissing session (boy w/girl)

However, today I was told by the administration to actually sit with the students in the bleachers, probably as a strategy to keep them under better control. I noticed that many of the teachers did not do as requested. I discovered later, to my horror, that they ignored that directive because they have experience, brains, knowledge, wisdom, and an ounce of sense. I, however, climbed up into those bleachers in the gymnasium and sat surrounded by brain damaged, wild hellions and zombie children. It was a terrifying experience, and one I want to forget. My ears are still aching, my senses numbed, and my mouth unable to convey in some way the vacuous existence of middle schoolers en masse.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Talking With the Enemy

I sat a new student right beside Pete. Not two days later Pete and the new student were talking away, oblivious to all the educational wisdom I was dispensing, and I was doling it out with charm and goodwill, too.

I yelled, "Pete! I see that you and Seth are good buddies now, aren't you, just a talkin' away."

Pete looks up and replies, "Oh no, Mr. W.! No we're not buddies! Honest!"

Monday, September 20, 2010

Choosing the Brezik Method of Reacting

One of the recent blogs has once again brought up a memory of reactions that adults can have over children's behavior. As in the case of my niece, Laura, it was an unusual and unexpected reaction that caught me off guard.

I was in the ninth grade at St. Thomas High School in Houston, Texas, and I found myself in a study hall. I went to the counselor because I thought it was silly that I would be given school time to do my homework, so I asked for a regular class instead. Because of the unusual request I wound up in a tenth grade World History class taught by Father Brezik.

There were rumors and wild stories of a legendary student at the school who kept a full fifth of whiskey and a fully loaded machine gun in his locker. I thought it was a made-up story, a conjured legend to impress everyone who heard it. Something like this could not be true in 1962. The stories turned out to be about a student who I shall refer to as Fred, and Fred was in that tenth grade class. The stories turned out to be inaccurate. Fred had several half empty bottles of various sorts of liquor, and the machine gun was loaded, but it was just blanks. How I found out about the blanks is another story, and a good (?) one.

Near the beginning of the year Father Brezik returned our first World History test papers. When he handed Fred his test, Fred turned around and put his back to Father Brezik, bent over slightly, and flamboyantly wiped his ass with his test paper.

I am the son of a man who would have completely lost his cool. This was an affront to all the dignity and respect a man deserves from a lesser human, a child almost. I expected Father Brezik to react like my father would have, and I probably flinched and cringed in expectation of the human explosion comin' 'round the bend.

Father Brezik shook his head and in a very gentle voice said, "Fred, I am so disappointed in you. You could do so much better. You are so smart, but your grades do not reflect that. I am disappointed in not only your test score, but in your behavior."

That was it! There was no explosion! There was no steam blasting out of Father Brezik's ears like would've shot out of my father's ears! Fred wasn't even in any trouble! I was stunned.

I was also impressed. Let me see father's reaction to this act of disrespect? Father Brezik's reaction to this act of disrespect? Let me weigh these reactions. Let me rate them. Let me compare them. Let me decide which one I like better.

I chose Father Brezik's way. It isn't easy, because I was raised in a very different way, but I have it down now. Maybe I'll blog about some of the ridiculous things seventh and eight graders do at middle school and my Brezik Method of Reacting.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ThourShalt Not Covet Thy Society's Respect For Children's Opinions

Laura's blog titled, "But I Really Am Cool When You Aren't Here, Jake" struck a dissonant chord with me. When Jake and his friend mumbled something negative and rude about his mother's choice of sounds coming from her car stereo, I yearned to hear a rock-n-roll riff, and I dreamed of Laura turning around and screaming at Jake, "Shut up if you can't be respectful to your own mother! You two have the right to your opinion but no right to make fun of mine!"

I also heard an angelic note that chimed the message of acceptance, patience and a willingness to listen to her rude son. That is the note Laura played. The angelic note.

Upon reflection, I remember a story about a very similar experience that I had as a young boy. My older brother William was probably about nine or ten which put me at about the age of five. We were riding in my parents' Pontiac, and we drove past a petrochemical refinery that was very busy refining something putrid, removing what little good smell was in it and belching the putrid part out of hundreds of smokestacks. It stunk to high heaven and the car had no air-conditioning, so we were bomblasted with the stench. William screwed up his face and boldly proclaimed, "That stinks!" My mother turned around to face us (no seat belts so she got a good look) and screamed, "Shut up and quit complaining!!" This was a predictable response coming from someone who had been putting up with over twelve years of marriage to my father and unfortunately was the typical response I was raised with.

The story doesn't end there. About fifteen minutes later we entered another refinery area, one substantially larger, and as I recall, even busier belching stink. The powerfully putrid vapors inundated the car, and my brother William timidly spoke, "Mmm. That smells good."

I think if a child speaks their opinion, it ought to be respected as long as it isn't said disrespectfully. As a child, a boy, and as a young man growing up in my parents' household, neither my brother nor I were ever allowed to express any disagreeable opinion. We wouldn't have meant it as rude or mean. It would have been our honest and truthful opinion. When I was growing up, my parents were the only ones who were allowed the luxury of expressing their opinion.

I have blogged that modern parents have abdicated some of their authority. Now I am suggesting they have also abandoned disrespect for their children's opinion. That respect from their parents of their opinion is something I envy in modern day children.

I still think Jake should have returned the respect, though, especially in front of a "friend" who had made a rude comment about Jake's mother's taste in car stereo sounds. Wouldn't it have been incredible if he had stuck up for her?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Teacher Story: Believe It or Not!

I must begin this blog entry with an admission of guilt: I have had many moments when I said or did something foolish or stupid and wondered why I said or did it and regretted it later. So here's a juicy story about another teacher who allegedly messed up. It could also be a slightly salty story, because surely it should be taken with at least a grain of it.

I had a conversation with two students today. I love it when kids tell stories about other teachers. Kids have a way of embellishing and distorting events in such a way as to highlight or strengthen their point. So it is, I suppose, with this conversation with two girls.

Me: " I want to know why you two cut classes?"
Girl #1: " We don't like that class."
Me: "Why?"
Girl #2: "The teacher is weird."
Me: "You need to go to that class anyway. That's no reason to cut her class."
Girl #2: "But you don't understand! She does weird things."
Me: "So what! So do I, and I don't want you cuttin' my class. Before you know it, you'll think every teacher is weird, and you won't even come to any class."
Girl#1: "She threw a cockroach at us."
Me: "Excuse me? What was that?"
Girl #1: "She found a cockroach and a lot of us were grossed out so she threw it at us."
Me; "Well, maybe she was...... she was tryin'....... she....... she was........ she didn't actually throw-"
Girl #1: "Yes she did."
Me: "Well let's say that what you say is true. You're gonna have to go to her class and dodge cockroaches. Right?"
Girl #2: "What about the cockroach on the wall?"
Me: "What?"
Girl #2: "She found another cockroach and stapled it to the wall."

Choose my next response:
a) "Huh?"
b) "Liar! Quit that!"
c) "Drop her class. Transfer out. Get out, and I'll help you."
d) "Ha haha! That's funny!"
e) "What stories do you tell everyone else about me when I'm not around to defend myself?"
f) Make up a response of your own.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Diminishing Moments of Innocent Ignorance

I think I am a fair teacher partly because I remember what it was like to not understand something. I will phrase it less delicately: I remember what it was like to be ignorant of something that was obviously important to others, enough so that they roared with laughter, or even worse, put their hands over their mouths in shock.

For example, my Uncle Charles was always cracking jokes that I couldn't understand, but I'd laugh anyway. I must have been pretty young, maybe four or five, and I didn't understand any of his jokes. All the adults would laugh, but if I laughed, it was faked, and I remember the feeling of ignorance. Ignorance is a word that is out of favor now, but it is a great word, and it means lacking knowledge or generally not knowing what is going on. I either confided to my Uncle Charles that I didn't understand his jokes, or else he asked me if I did. I remember telling him I didn't understand them and asking him why I didn't, but I don't remember his answer.

One day my Uncle Charles was driving a car up the Gulf Freeway in Houston, Texas, and my father and I were in riding with him. We went by one of those huge cemeteries in big cities that you used to see. It was Meadow Lawn or something like that, and my Uncle Charles pointed to it and asked, "Walter, do you know how many of those people in that cemetery are dead?"

There were thousands of tombstones, graves, and mysterious little houses with people's names on them, and I had no idea how many, so I said, "No."

He immediately piped up, "All of 'em."

My Dad gave a chuckle, and I remember sitting there in the car and realizing it was a joke! How many people in that cemetery were dead? ALL OF THEM!! I roared with laughter and will never forget that moment when I really undertood my first joke. I remember yelling, "I get it! I get it!" What a feeling. And the laugh! It was a real laugh, not faked!

Many years later I was in the seventh grade and our school actually had a Halloween Parade. One of the eight graders came dressed in brown and wearing a black tie and an armband with some sort of weird insignia on it. This student paraded all over the school marching with an odd, stiff-legged, high-step and sticking his right arm out and up at a 45 degree angle and yelling something about hile hitler. It was all a mystery to me. More than that, I was ignorant. Ignorant of Nazi Germany. Ignorant of all the secrets and horrors of that war. And why were all the adults so upset? Everyone of them was in an obvious frenzy, and their hands were over their mouths. Here's how serious it was: the next year there was NO Halloween parade. That eighth grade student turned out to have a father who was a professor of history at the University of Houston. That boy was privy to adult secrets that had not been revealed to me or my other classmates. No wonder Israel doesn't want certain things swept under the carpet, so we are all ignorant like most seventh graders in 1961.

I remember being confused about this student in his Nazi outfit. Wondering. A feeling of ignorance. I am still aware when that feeling comes over me. There are a lot of things I don't know, and I don't want to lose that feeling of innocent ignorance. It's not as strong as it used to be, as I slowly and unwittingly gnaw on the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I try not to convince myself that I understand every joke or every shame and shock. At least I hope I never will. Every day has one or two of those moments, and I treasure them. Still learning. Still losing my innocent ignorance. Praying that it will never all be gone.

Monday, September 13, 2010

But I Really Am Cool When You Aren't Here, Jake

I never post about Jake anymore. His high school-aged psyche deserves anonymity from my stories. Additionally, I have no time to write about him, what with checking websites to make sure he isn't tagged in any inappropriate pictures.

In my car, I have been playing a series on Winston Churchill on the Great Courses collection. Olivia enjoys listening, but to Jake it is pure torture. It just isn't Kanye, I guess, and I change to radio whenever he gets in the car.

The other day I forgot. He and his friend plopped their almost six foot bodies into the seats, and after hellos we drove off. I didn't even think about the cd until I heard his friend whisper, "Dude, what is that?" He was clearly referring to the Churchill lecture.

My son whispered back, almost with resignation, "Man, this is an effin freakmobile."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Where Were You When You Heard JFK Was Shot?

I am unable to tell you exactly where I was when I heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot. I think it might have been during chemistry class, but I don't really remember. I knw I was at school. I do remember that during the next break between periods, I acted unnaturally happy over something, and I was shushed by a few of the students near me in the hall.

But I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard Kinsey Stoneham was killed in a car crash. I was walking down the south side of Colgate Street with my good friend Danny walking beside me on my right. I was carrying my school books in my left hand tucked around them in traditional "cool" style, and it was approximately 7:05 am.

I never knew Kinsey Stoneham very well. None of us did. He was a classmate who died a month before JFK. None of us ever got to know him well, for he died early in the school year at his new school. Unlike Eleanor Rigby, Kinsey Stoneham was buried, but not along with his name.

I'll always remember where I was when I heard that Kinsey Stoneham died in a car crash.

Preparation for Parental Interrogation

Due to the No Child Left Behind Initiative (NCLB) and the increased pressure on teachers and the educational system to make sure that students aren't being "left behind," and due to the liquor, marahoochie, cocaine, and other drugs ingested into the leaders of our country during their youth that led to such a ridiculous bill, I am required to teach the Pythagorean Theorem to seventh graders. No problem, but they haven't been taught square roots yet.

So I'm doing it. Teaching the Pythagorean Theorem to seventh graders in the hope they'll get that one question correct on the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment that was developed as a requirement to satisfy federal guidelines for NCLB.

This week in class I was having some success, and all was going well. Then as I so often do, I made a speech, one of those cute little speeches that either confuse kids or warp their brains. I finished up the sixth period math class with this speech, "How many of you have parents that almost always ask you, 'What did you learn today in school?' " (Many hands went up.) "Well, when they ask you that today, you can say, 'Today I learned to calculate the length of the hypoteneuse of a right triangle using the Pythagorean Theorem.' Sounds good, doesn't it? That will not only impress them, it may cure them of ever asking that question again, because many of your parents won't know what you're talking about. They learned the Pythagorean Theorem many years ago, but most of them have long forgotten it. So when you go home tonight and your parents ask you, 'What did you learn in school today?' you can reply, 'I learned how to calculate the length of the hypoteneuese of a right triangle using the Pythagorean Theorem.' That ought to shut 'em up."

At this point, the bell rang. Perfect timing. I was in The Zone. As Max left the classroom, he said, "Mr. W., ask me what I learned today in school. I want to practice for my parents."

"Ok Max, What did you learn in school today?"

Max set himself, focused his mind, and then said, "I learned the hypotnus and right triangle of the Pythagaremus Theory."

"That's close, Max, but it's all wrong. You need to say, 'I learned how to cal-cue-late the length of the hy-pot-ten-noose of a right triangle using the Puh-thag-o-ree-an Thear-um."

Max lowers his head, closes his eyes, and then says, "I learned how to cal-cue-late the length of the hy-pot-ten-noose of a right triangle using the Puh-thag-o-re-an Thear-um. I learned how to calculate the length of the hypoteneuse of a right triangle using the Pythagorean Theorem. I learned how........." and I watched him walk out of the classroom mumbling that sentence over and over again.

I don't think his motivation to memorize that was based on his need to communicate what he learned. I think he is, to quote his too talkative teacher, tryin' " shut 'em up."

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Cure For Drowsiness in Math Class

I have a way of saying things with a hundred words that could be better said with four. Here is an example:

In fifth period math today one of my students was obviously very sleepy. His eyelids were drooping all down the pupils, and what faint part of the eyes were visible looked pretty far away. Dreamland was just around the corner for this student, and I was just the teacher to ruin his vacation plans.

I brought him back to the harsh reality that faced him, and then this conversation occurred.

Me: "I think that with the sizeable number of students who find themselves becoming drowsy and falling asleep in my class, I ought to set up a little cot or maybe even a little bed in the back of the room. Anyone who finds themselves getting sleepy could rent the bed from me for ten dollars per period. I figure I could make at least six thousand dollars a year renting that little bed to sleepy heads. Instead, I bet there is something better you could do if you find yourself becoming drowsy in class. Lena, tell us what you should do if you're always sleepy?"

Lena: "Bring ten dollars to class."

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Never Give Up the Good Fight

I wrote that last blog entry for two reasons. The first is that teaching middle school is stimulating my memories of events in my life that occurred when I was the same age as my students. The other reason is that for the first time as a teacher, I am facing a real challenge to make a true impact in the lives of some of my students, at least at this apparent time.

I believe that until a student is eighteen years of age, they should not have the right to deny themselves an education. It's a naive look at the world, but it motivates me to do everything possible short of things illegal or unethical to stop a child from neglecting their education.

Now that I am teaching middle school, I am finding students who have neglected their education and their responsibility to do hard work for seven, long academic years: kindergarten, and the first through the sixth grades. By that time, they can be so far behind that catching up would be a difficult task. With the ingrained attitude of disgust, disregard, and disdain they have towards authority, adults and teachers, it would be almost impossible.

Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect. Seven years of neglectful work habits in school may have made some of their behavior permanent, and I may not be able to change them. They are old enough to know better and young enough to not be punished for their decision until they become adults.

All I know is that I will never give up trying to reach those who have learned they have the right to disdain sound advice, to disrespectfully speak to others and their teachers, and to refuse to obey any rule they deem unworthy. I will never relinquish. I will never give up the good fight.

Has our society relinquished its authority to expect respect for teachers and demand obedience of their rules? This is not a new societal problem nor is it a unique question never faced by a previous generation. It's an ancient battle. It's a war in which I have clearly taken sides, and I will never give up the good fight.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


I am about to tell a true story exactly as I remember it. I won't embellish or embroider the facts but will retell the incidents exactly as I remember them.

I entered the ninth grade at an all-boys' college preparatory school run firmly but fairly by the Order of Basilian priests.

The year was 1962. At that time in our country's history, unruly and undisciplined boys were given "pops," the popular and common expression for a smack on the rear end. Freshmen, or ninth graders, or "fish," as they were commonly referred to, were given "pops" sometimes on general principles.

There were legendary "pops" that lifted big boys, almost men, completely off the ground. "Pops" that left red stripes across the cheeks. And the most mystifying and brutal? The legendary "pops" given out by Father Matzinger, the baseball coach. The strong looking, big man who was always grabbing his chest, squeezing it, and sayin', "Awright yoose guys. Ya better straighten up." He had a baseball bat hanging way up on the wall above the chalkboard that had been sawed down the middle of the meat of the bat, leaving the handle intact. Holes were drilled through the bat. The flat, fat end of this bat landed on the poor boy's rear, leaving legendary red circles where the holes impacted the flesh. When he was finished, there would be a new notch on the bat the next day. Sure enough, there were notches. But a bat? Nonsense. I knew something about baseball, and it was a 38 ounce bat, fer cryin' out loud. There was no way he'd use that thing on a kid's rear.

During the first Latin test of the year, what was surely referred to by Father Matzinger as a "pop quiz," the boy sitting directly in front of me, Gerald, was peeping at other test papers and not being very subtle about it, either. Suddenly Father Matzinger and his huge black cassock loomed beside me, and he was staring intently at Gerald. He suddenly swung his huge hand, landed it smack in the middle of Gerald, and lifted him up out of his desk by the very skin of his back. I'll never forget Gerald dangling there, helpless, like a minnow on a hook.

Gerald was lowered to the ground, marched up to the front of the room, bent over, and the bat was rapidly removed off the wall (without using a ladder! Matzinger was a big man). Father Matzinger went into a quick batting stance, and a powerfully delivered swing to the rear lifted Gerald off the ground. Now some who were not there would suggest it was Gerald's leg muscles flinching in agony that lifted him off the ground, but I promise much of it was an uplift, a Babe Ruthian, Sultan of Swat swing that lifted poor Gerald right off the ground. The next day the bat had a new notch. No more pops were dispensed, and no more notches were required.

I was not going to be given a pop. I was going to go popless. This was my goal. This was my ambition. And I succeeded. The entire year I received nary a single smack on the rear. One day I heard that Coach McDonald was giving every boy in the school a pop. Not me! I had sixth period P.E., and by that time I had checked out every P.E. period, and Coach McDonald was definitely handin' out pops to everyone. I went to gym class early, and sure enough, Coach McDonald was yellin' at everybody to suit up and line up for pops.

I had suited up early, mosied over to the bleachers, carefully slipped inside, snuck deeper inside them, and then held my breath. Another student thought of the same thing. His name? "Doogie". I still remember Doogie and the white house with green trim he was raised in, and the look on his face while we listened to everyone receive their pops, the shouts and hoots and hollers of the onlookers, and the look on Doogie's face when Coach McDonald yelled out, "I'm sure there is an idiot hiding in the bleachers, so you better come out now or I'm comin' in to get you." Doogie and I looked at each other and we knew one of us had to go. Without much hesitation, Doogie headed out to his moment of glory, always to be remembered by me as the brave one, the sacrificial lamb so to speak, my hero, Doogie. When he stepped out of the bleachers, the gym was in an uproar, and for all the bedlam I never heard the pop on Doogie's rear.

All year long I was charmed like this. Oh I wasn't a perfect angel. In fact, for the first time in my life I got into a lot of trouble, and I had trouble getting along with others. I was constantly in fights. I was always meeting some fellow after school on Jackson Hill to settle a score. Jackson Hill meant fists, and that meant blood, lots of it, and that meant blowing smoke at my parents when I got home to explain away the blood. They always bought my story because they couldn't picture me as a tough guy in fights.

I received and gave bloody mouths and noses. There is more blood in a real fist fight than on TV and in the movies, but it wasn't the blood flying and flowing that stopped my bare-knuckled fights. Loose teeth is what stopped me from brawling at Jackson Hill. I switched to challenging or accepting challenges of, "I'll meet you in the gym." That meant trying to punch out some guy with the boxing gloves. Coach McDoanld wisely provided sixteen ounce gloves that were so heavy and soft no one could get hurt. After quite a few fights I learned to let guys pound on me until they were tired, wait for their fists to drop, then I'd try to land three good blows to the face. You only had about ten good pumps in you, and I learned how to knock a guy down. All of them were bigger than me.

Everybody was bigger than me. I got into a fight with Luke because we were the shortest boys in the whole darn school, and that meant one of us had to "rise" to the occasion in some weird, manly, macho manner, and I told him that if he thought he was so tough, go ahead and punch me, but I wasn't gonna go down 'cause he was a puny little @$$h0*8, and when he finished punching me, I was gonna tear him a new one. He punched. Sure enough, I took it. Then a bunch of well-meaning, dadburned heroes stepped in and broke up the fight, thus saving Luke from receiving a new one, and both of us from getting a pop in the office (the worst place). We never did settle that score. I felt horrible later because Luke transferred to another school, which meant I was now the shortest kid in the school.

On and on this went until finally the last day of school arrived. By this time I considered myself invincible. Sure enough, some guy on the Green Slab ( a place designated for smoking cigarettes) referred to my sexual orientation based on the color of my outfit. I'll never forget his claim: red and black on Friday....definitely a sign of homosexuality. Well how was I to know? I disagreed with the sophomoric morphodite and got into a fight that wound up a wrestling match. He was bigger than me so I fought so hard I ripped my pants from the bottom of the zipper all the way around to the belt. When it was over, Father Cooper was watching us and grinning! He was laughing! He thought it was funny! He looked right at me and walked off. He wasn't going to give me a pop! I saw him mumble something to the effect that he was "......going to leave us to our own devices" and ".....summer's almost here..." or something like that. Then he was gone! I was charmed! Untouchable! I untucked my shirt to hide the tear in the entire crotch of my pants and went on to the next class.

The last academic period of my day was fifth period English with a dapper gentleman named Mr. Ribbeck. Everyone loved and respected Mr. Ribbeck, and so did I. I was sittin' in his class and we're all just talkin' about the school year and reminiscing, and suddenly Jim, a mature fellow with an astute sense of observation said, "Mr. Ribbeck, all year long we've all gotten pops. Everybody. But I don't remember Walter ever getting a pop. I've thought about this a lot. I think Walter's gone the whole year without a pop."

All eyes turned on me. Mr. Ribbeck strutted over to his desk, opened the right front top drawer of his desk, removed the white gloves he wore when he gave out pops, and started to put them on. I knew I was had, and I said nothing. Mr. Ribbeck "warmed up the crowd" with remarks like, "He's never had a pop? Never? Not once has he ever ever had a pop?" The crowd started hooting and screaming. He quieted them down with a wave of his white-gloved hand. "Not one pop? It's a virgin butt?" More yelling and screaming. He quieted them down again with a wave of his prim paddle. "A virgin butt? A virgin butt.............................for me?"

I was called to the front of the room, and Mr. Ribbeck made me turn around and face the chalkboard so the entire class could see "....the very first impact of my paddle on a "virgin butt." That was when Mr. Ribbeck lifted up my shirttails so as to expose my pants, and there was my underwear for all to see. Remember? I had really ripped the hell out of my pants. I had to stay bent over as Mr. Ribbeck cracked good joke after pun after good joke, all of them regarding my crotchless pants, my white briefs, possible brown streaks, and lastly, my virgin butt, and after much hooting and hollering and bellowing and chanting by my classmates, Mr. Ribbeck finally delivered the blow.

What was amazing to me was that afterwards everyone was pounding me on the back and acting like I was someone important. Then, to my surprise, during the next P.E. period I was the center of attention. The Virgin Butt. Captain Underwear. I was like a hero.

Somehow, in some mysterious way, I felt that I had, though reluctantly, finally joined a weird fraternity of sorts. Prior to the pop I thought they were all masochists and sadists. Afterwards I finally realized that we were all now part of an ancient tradition that recognized all adolescents and teenagers as, at times, miscreants and ne'er-do-wells deserving of punishment and direction, and what had seemed awful wasn't really awful at all.

That is something our society has lost. Somewhere along the line some teacher probably lost control and went overboard. Some student tried to fight back against the truth because they felt awful being punished. I know how they felt, but it wasn't awful. Awful is not pain. Awful is not shame. Awful is not having anyone care enough to guide your life.

Corporal punishment was an ancient tradition that I lived to see die a legal death in my country. No more would students suffer. The only ones who had to suffer were those of the old order who were caught in that transitional period: those who were sued, fired, ruined, their reputations destroyed, or worse, convicted and jailed. I see them as Priests of Punishment defeated by the noninterference of laissez faire lawyers and replaced by handcuffed bureaucrats who have no other recourse than to treat all ne'er-do-wells as juvenile delinquents, potential lawbreakers, and criminals. The long-term outcome has not been the mere elimination of corporal punishment. We have witnessed the abdication of authority by adults. We have given children the right to make decisions about their own life, and some of them are choosing to avoid work without any costs or repercussions.

I do not know if corporal punishment is effective. Research claims it isn't. Corporal punishment sure gets your attention, though. Those who felt the sting of a paddle held by a white-gloved gentleman are an aging breed of alleged victims of a cruel era, and a fraternity of gentlemen who know better.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ghostly Voices in Room 203; Seance To Be Scheduled

In one of my earlier blogs I mentioned that I am teaching in a classroom in the old, haunted wing of a middle school. Nothing unusual happened until Thursday of last week.

I was showing the students why a square yard is not three times as large as a square foot, when right in the middle of my stunning and immensely informative visual demonstration on the board, I heard a voice whisper, "No way, Alfred."

I spun around quickly and looked to where the voice came from and barked, "Who said that?"

The students looked stunned, absolutely confounded, and no one raised their hand. I then got a stern look in my face, turned on my Darth Vader voice, and growled, "I heard someone say, 'No way, Alfred.' I heard it as clear as a bell. Who said it?"

Amazingly, everyone looked stunned, and the entire class insisted that I was imagining something. I walked straight over to Alfred, got down right at his desk and said, "Alfred, the ghost that haunts this room has spoken to me and apparently no one else is 'sensitive' enough to hear his voice. I am sure the ghost is NOT a girl as I have been told, for the voice I heard was definitely a boy's voice, and the voice was trying to tell you, 'No way, Alfred.' I think this is a warning, Alfred, from the Other Side. There is something you are thinking of doing, planning, or thinking about, or whispering about, and this ethereal spirit that dwells in this classroom is telling me that you should not do that thing. Do you understand?"

Alfred, who just fell off a turnip truck, turned to look at Carl. I went over to Carl's desk and said, "If I hear that ghostly voice again, I will conduct a seance after school, and you and Alfred will have to be there. Do you understand?"

Carl said, "I didn't say anything."

I quickly agreed. "I know, Carl. Everyone told me it was the ghost, and I believe them. You and Alfred will have to be here for the after school seance. A seance is a gathering of poeple who make an attempt to contact the dead. If it wasn't you whispering, then it was the ghost, and you'll be here for the seance. They take a long time. Do you understand?"

"Yes sir," he quietly replied.

The class thought it was funny. I tried not to laugh, but it was hard. The only students who didn't enjoy that exchange were Alfred and Carl.