Lamentations of the Teacher

What does the Teacher require, but to sit still, do your work, and keep your eyes on your own paper?

Bring me a student who desires knowledge and I will fill her up.
But yea, the students of Babylon do not study.
The Snapchat and the Tumblr, they cry out to them.
They hear not my voice,
I weep for this generation.

Sad teacherThus says the Teacher:

Concerning Cellphones

There shall be no cellphones in this classroom. No cellphone shall be on your desk, nor in your hand. Nay, I do not wish to see it. Put it away, for it displeases me.
It shall make no sound and neither shall you text. Not to your friend nor your mother shall you text.

Laws Pertaining to Food and Drink

You shall not have snacks in the Classroom; the eating of food is strictly forbidden. You shall not bring in bags of potato chips and open them, neither shall you eat them, for I hate the crunching noise.
Of crunching you shall not do.
Of drink, you may have bottled water. No soda may you drink, neither shall you have anything with a straw, for then you make that slurping sound when it is almost gone and push the straw up and down so it makes that squeaky noise.
There shall be no squeaky noise.
And when your bottle of water you have emptied, you shall not squeeze the bottle in your hand and make the crinkly sound.
Lo, how I detest the crinkly sound.

Of Tardies and Absences

For the first two days, of these you may be late, but after these two days you shall not be late. No, never shall you be late.
Why are you late? No, do not speak. I turn my ear from your excuses; they displease me. You shall be thrown into detention, where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth.
I say it again: do not be late.
Of absences, there shall be none. But if you are absent, your parent or guardian must call, or else there shall be no makeup work. You will fail, and oh, how great your failure!

Concerning Homework

Woe to the student who does not do their homework, for they shall lose points.
Of Extra Credit, there is no Extra Credit. O Foolish one, why do you ask?
Do the work, and no Extra Credit do you require.

Limitations of Teacher Authority

There are no limitations of Teacher authority. Nay, I say it again, there are none.
Do not question my authority, for the one who questions my authority will be thrown into detention, where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth.

I, the Teacher, have spoken.

Sharpen your pencils! Grab your notebook!
For I shall put you to the test!
It shall be multiple choice and short essay.

Blessed are they who listen, for they shall find wisdom.
Their grade point average shall not falter, forevermore.

O Legislature! O Destroyer!
You cut funding and raise up standardized tests against me!
But I, the Teacher, shall not fail,
Neither shall I surrender; nay, never shall I surrender.
Though one day, maybe next year, I shall retire.
A condo by the lake would be nice.

How pleasing it is when a child learns,
It is like honey on the lips and lovely to my sight.

I, the Teacher, have spoken.

happy teacher

Here’s wishing all my teacher friends their best year EVER! ❤️

School Stories From Olden Days: Trust Me, We Got it Better

As much criticism leveled against public schools nowadays, it might be tempting to think it was better in the past. Back when there was no standardized testing or government interference, back when parents had complete control. Then you read something about that earlier time and you realize it was only the rich who could afford good teachers; the rest of us poor slobs were on our own.

Continuing on with our perusal through my Great-Aunt Clara’s writings in Pioneer Memoirs, we come across her memories of school, or rather, the pioneer version of school. Specifically, two teachers whom she remembers fondly, however incompetent they turned out to be.

Keep in mind she’s writing this in 1911, regarding events that happened nearly 50 years prior. Imagine in this small country parsonage, somewhere in Dane County, Wisconsin, there lived our spunky writer, along with her parents and 10 younger siblings.

Someone must teach the children, yes? With no Board of Education or government funding, you take what you can get.

“One of them was old Berentsen. He must have died years ago. He came from Lindesnes in the southern part of Norway; “near the lighthouse at Lindesnes,” he said.

He had been a teacher of navigation. He tried to get a job teaching parochial school and pestered the minister with his many and lengthy testimonials. Once he was really allowed to try teaching, but he was not fitted for it, for, as a farmer declared, “We might just as well have a cow to teach school as this Berentsen.”

It was his first and last effort in these parts.

I remember Berentsen well — the square figure, the red wig, and the straggling hair handing beneath it. He had all his belongings in a bag that he carried on his back. He always shook hands, Mother said, with such a fierce grip that her fingers tingled.

She always treated him like a guest and never showed that he was not especially welcome. It amused us children to see him eat, for he had an unusually good appetite. He was not troubled with dyspepsia.

When he had eaten he always read the newspapers. He also read certain books. He asked permission to read Holberg’s Comedies nearly every time he came. He sat and read in a half whisper, chuckling as he read. Poor old man! Then he forgot his troubles and sorrows and lived in another world far away, where no doubt schoolmasters led a far more honored existence than fell to his lot.

Old Hans Heegaard was in many respects a complete contrast to Berentsen. Tall and thin I remember him, with an almost military bearing.

His long, well-worn coat was carefully brushed. He had a large neckerchief that he tied with great care. He would stand before the mirror as long as any lady of fashion. He would spread his silvery locks to cover his bare head. I remember how pleased he was once when Mother gave him a new neckerchief. He did not like to share the bedroom with John, the hired man who had been with us so long that he was a real factotum.

Heegaard once told Mother something about himself when he was in a talkative mood. In his youth he had been a clerk in one of the larger cities in Norway. He had gotten into gay drinking parties with like-minded companions and so gradually he went down. In brief, it was the old story — he lost, step by step, money, position, friends, health, all. By an accident he came to America, where for some time now he had wandered about in the Norwegian settlements.

He had also tried his luck as schoolmaster, presumably with not much better success than his colleague, Berentsen. When Heegaard came to us, he always asked Mother in his most polite manner, “O dear Mrs. Jacobson, may I stay a couple of days? I’m so tired and poorly.” Mother, of course, could not say no. The “couple of days” usually became weeks.

I remember the time brother Jacob was to learn to read. He was rather slow and had no liking for the A-B-C’s. As Heegaard happened to be there at this time, Mother proposed that he should undertake to be Jacob’s tutor. Heegaard expressed his willingness, and the lessons began quite impressively but were very short ones. The boy read about five minutes and then had a recess that lasted till Heegaard saw Mother, when he would tap at the windowpane and call, “Jacob, Jacob, you must come in again.” Soon both teacher and pupil became sick and tired of the reading and the boy had a vacation until Mother took hold in earnest.

As much as I love Clara’s description of these two men — it’s a wonder she never attempted a novel, right? — for my own part, I appreciate our modern version of schools. In particular, our teachers.

Here in Arizona, we are in our fifth day of teacher strikes. Their demands are modest. In a nutshell: competitive salaries and for school funding to be returned to 2008 levels. It is expected our legislature will have a favorable meeting today and classes will resume tomorrow. (Keep your fingers crossed.)

Due to being out-of-town, I haven’t been part of either the marches or the “Stand-Out” groups on city corners. But I have to say, the site of our downtown being turned into a sea of red is indeed lovely…

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Hug a Teacher Today ❤️

The Story of a Young Girl’s Faith in Santa, Her Ensuing Disgrace, and Her Rescue From Certain Despair

The year was 1970. I was in the first grade, and I was being punished for believing in Santa.

Rather, to be more clear, I was punished for defending Santa.

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You see, an unbeliever in the ranks – a heathen – was casting doubt on his existence. Pointing out irregularities in the Santa Claus canon. Casting aspersions on his good name.

Several of my classmates were listening and their faith was shaken. You could see it in their eyes.

I’d had enough. I proclaimed in a voice for all to hear:

There is so a Santa Claus! He’s been to MY HOUSE!

Gasp!

Unfortunately we were in class at the time and our teacher was not fond of loud proclamations. Even those in defense of Santa.

It was the time-out table for me.

I must pause here, for I need you to understand the overall makeup of our teacher’s time-out table. Only then can you grasp the true horror of what was before me.

Miss September — okay, my teacher’s name wasn’t really Miss September. It was something similar to Miss September. Something like Miss Sembler… or maybe it was Stremble. Honestly, I don’t know.

The fact is, I was never very good with names, even as a child. For those I didn’t recognize or couldn’t pronounce, I’d come up with a close approximation and stick with it. No doubt Miss September corrected me plenty of times before giving up, figuring there were worse things to be called than the name of a centerfold.

In any case, it wasn’t enough for Miss September that a noisy child sat at the time-out table. The point had to be driven home, which was why there was a stack of index cards on the table. Whoever sat at the table had to do so while keeping an index card in their mouth. The entire time.

I had never, in the entire history of my academic career (now spanning kindergarten and a few months of first grade), been punished for speaking out of turn.

I can still hear Miss September’s voice, “Who said that?!” Adding, in disbelief, “Christi? Was that you?!”

Was there a moment of hesitation? A possibility of reprieve given my incredible track record? Was consideration given for the fact my outburst was a necessary one? The foundation of our faith was being challenged! A defender had to rise up!

I was that defender.

But no. Consistency in punishment, that was Miss September’s way. She pointed to the back table without saying a word. I made my way, my head cast low.

The truly frustrating thing was that I had no reason to stand up for Santa.

Santa had never brought me a present. There was no chimney in our house for him to come down, no stockings to fill. My parents never threatened us with “Santa won’t come if you don’t behave,” because we were always to behave. Santa had nothing to do with it. And Santa never came on Christmas morning, presumably, because we celebrated on Christmas Eve. It was our family’s tradition from ages past.

Clearly, Santa and my family had denominational differences.

But being the broadminded people they were, my parents were not Santa-deniers. They never spoke out in favor of him, nor against him. They simply never brought him up.

What I learned, you might say, I picked up on the streets.

My faith was a pure one. Not born out of fear or greed, but out of sincere philosophical musing and sound theology.

Plus, as I said, he’d been to my house.

Santa and me 2

Many years later, as my mom was showing family pictures to my husband, I asked her who the man was who showed up at our house one December day so long ago, dressed as Santa.

She laughed. It wasn’t a man. (Gasp!) It was the neighbor lady from across the street. The people who bred Boston terriers and decorated their house with blue Christmas lights. It was her.

Honestly, I had no idea.

Back to Miss September’s class: I approached the time-out table, sat down heavily, put the card in my mouth. The tears… oh my friends, the tears! Never has a child suffered so much, nor felt it so deeply as I. Shame and misery were mine.

But the story doesn’t end here, for there was another student at the time-out table. She was a frequent visitor, a regular felon in our classroom. In truth, she was our class clown, and though we weren’t close friends, she gave me a gift that day.

I’m very sorry I don’t remember her name. A better writer would make one up for you. Just name her Angie or Susan or Debbie. Invent a name and run with it. But just as it is with Miss September and my Santa lady with blue Christmas lights, I cannot lie. Her name is lost.

I have failed you. Mea culpa.

All I can remember are two things: her hand sliding across the table until she got my attention, and then, when I looked up… do you know what I saw? This little comic genius had taken the index card, folded it in half, put it in her mouth and was now impersonating a duck!

Soon my tears of sadness were tears of joy and I could hardly stay in my seat due to giggling. My misery forgotten, my day instantly brightened.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, what impact we can have on others? Whether we dress up as Santa (remember ladies, it’s an equal opportunity position), or we cheer up a tearful child with a goofy face. It’s the little moments of kindness that matter.

So as we make our way through this holiday season — indeed, as we approach a new year — let’s look at the ways we leave our mark on others. The memories we give them, the words we leave them.

Let’s make them count, yes?

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And please, put in a good word for Santa. There are enough doubters in the world as it is.

First picture: srikanta H. U on Unsplash
Second picture: Author’s own, and ain’t I a cute one?
Third picture: Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

When Teachers Quit: A Lesson in Two Daves

Readers who follow this blog know that in my other life, I work as an Admin Assistant to the Principal of a large suburban high school.
Readers who don’t follow this blog… well, they know now. 

Monday morning, my administrator greeted me with, “I hope your weekend was better than mine.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“A teacher quit!”

My mind raced over the staff list, the various possibilities. Was there a news report I missed? Was someone arrested? I asked who it was — braced myself for the possibility it was someone I liked.

She said the name. It was one of our new teachers. For the sake of privacy, I’ll call him Dr. Dave.

Dr. Dave was one of the first of our new hires, and we considered it a stroke of luck someone with a doctorate was going to teach at our school. First and second year Spanish, no less.

Let that sink in: a man with a doctorate was knowingly accepting a position to teach lower level high school Spanish.

Amazing.

I met Dr. Dave about a month ago. The Department Lead was going to show him his classroom and give him a tour.

Dr. Dave had white hair, thick and wavy. He was stout, but not overly so, and he had a pleasant face.

Also, he spoke like Ricardo Montalban.

Yeeaahhh.

He sat on the couch near my desk and told me stories as we waited for the Lead.

He told me of the time he taught in Costa Rica. Everyone in the village told him not to open windows. They didn’t say why, just don’t open windows. He figured it was because of bugs.

But one day he was in his classroom alone and it was stifling hot. He decided to open two windows. Within minutes, the room was full of monkeys!

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He told me other things too. The important thing to remember is that he lived in Costa Rica for a time. Got that?

Three weeks later, I’m walking him to his classroom and he’s complaining about Phoenix’s humidity.

“I guess you’re used to it, but my god it’s humid here!”

I looked it up. On that day, the temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, was 91°F and our humidity was 36%. In San Jose, Costa Rica, the same day was 82°F and 94% humidity.

Yeeaahhh.

I realize I’m suspicious by nature, and just a tad cynical, so I let it pass. Maybe the guy just didn’t like heat. Maybe Costa Rica was long ago and he only remembered the monkeys. Maybe he was just having an off day.

Then, after eight days of school, he gives his notice. But not much of a notice. Monday would be his last day.

The reason? He said our kids weren’t smart enough.

Actually, what he said was that they didn’t know English well enough. He shouldn’t have to spend time explaining sentence structure or reminding them what a predicate was.

Also, they expected him to speak English. He refused. You can’t teach a foreign language by speaking in their native language. “That goes against everything my 37 years of training taught me.”

He quoted Shakespeare in his letter too. Or as he referred to him, “Billy Shakespeare”.

Yeeaahhh.

Later that same day, we had another resignation. By another Dave. We’ll call him Dave G.

Dave G. was hired under an emergency provision, allowing non-teachers with bachelor degrees to take “hard-to-fill” positions.

Not sure if you heard, but there’s a teacher shortage. Especially in Science, Math, and Special Ed. Dave G. was hired to teach Earth Science. 

I met Dave G. about a month ago as well. I showed him his classroom, found a teacher’s edition of the class textbook, and listened to his story.

He had been a meteorologist. He worked for a news station for awhile, then for an airline. They moved to Arizona about a year ago and he decided to try out teaching.

After eight days, he realized he was in over his head. “This is the hardest job I ever had,” he told my Administrator. She was sympathetic.

He said he’d stay on until we found a long-term sub, and given the fact he looked like he aged four years since we last met, I thought that was pretty swell of him.

So what are the lessons can we learn from our two Daves?

I believe there are three:

  1. Humility is Always Better than Arrogance
    If you’re having trouble with a job, admit it. Don’t push the blame elsewhere or claim you’re too good for it.
  2. Leaving a Job With No Notice is Not Cool
    Especially for some jobs. Like brain surgery. Not cool. Granted, teaching isn’t brain surgery, but it’s still not cool to leave your post without warning. For our school, five teachers gave up their planning periods to cover the classes until we could find a sub.
    Not cool.
  3. If You Live in Costa Rica, Don’t Open Your Windows
    Whether or not the monkey story is true, it sounds like good advice.

One final note: If you happen to know any teachers, tell them there are a few positions open in Phoenix.

Daves need not apply.

Lead Photo by JJ Thompson and
Monkey Photo by Brian Mann on Unsplash

Why Are White People So Sensitive?

White peopleWarning: This post does not contain the folly typically found therein. Sorry. But non-folly thoughts were in my head and I needed to let them out.
Totally understand if you click away.
(I’ll judge you, but I’ll understand.)

This last week, I came to a startling realization: we White People are a sensitive lot.

Make that damned sensitive. Continue reading “Why Are White People So Sensitive?”

I Was a High School History Teacher for 40 Minutes

vvgvlh1d10u-slava-bowmanI never wanted to be a teacher.

I loved school, loved reading, loved learning.

But standing in front of a classroom for nine months out of the year? No thank you.

Nevertheless, for 40 minutes last week, I was in charge of a high school World History class. Here’s how it happened… Continue reading “I Was a High School History Teacher for 40 Minutes”

And the Winner is…

It’s occurred to me that I haven’t shared a recipe with you in a long while. To make up for it, I’m giving you my recipe for prize-winning blueberry muffins. More on that later.

For now, I want to tell you about my recent experience, not with winning, but with awarding prizes.

balloonsWe have a very active parent group on campus who sometimes host brunches for staff and gives away prizes. Recently they added a monthly drawing where teachers can win a rather large gift basket filled with discount cards, food, and other doo-dads.

The first winner was selected a few days ago. I was given the task of delivering it.

This is not unusual. About three or four times a year, the parent group will drop off at my desk eight or so gift cards with balloons attached, and ask me to email the teachers who won. The first time it happened, being a rookie, I did just that.

You know what happens if you sport eight to ten colorful balloons at your desk? Continue reading “And the Winner is…”

TeacherScape – A Game of Strategy and Broken Dreams

Create a World of Epic Learning!

The Battle against ignorance is set to begin!

Objective: Educate students and reach retirement without suffering burnout or loss of hope for the next generation

Battlefield: Your Public High School

Ready to begin? Select a game figure:

Continue reading “TeacherScape – A Game of Strategy and Broken Dreams”

Lady, Can You Spare a Backpack?

Student walking down foggy streetThe backpack plopped on my desk.

I look up and see a student, freshman by the looks of him, with shoulder length brown hair parted in the middle, ringlets of curls around his ears.

“My backpack broke,” he tells me, holding it open to demonstrate. “It’s the zipper.”

I nod, not quite grasping my role in this situation. Was I supposed to repair it? My sewing machine was home. Somewhere. Maybe in the garage. Continue reading “Lady, Can You Spare a Backpack?”