Monday, October 09, 2006


Mandy is a wonderfully delightful freshman student. Describing her as a “country girl” does not even come close. She has a simply infectious personality and a sly smile. Whenever she enters my portable classroom it is always with a loud greeting for me. When I look at her she gets embarrassed, turns her face away and states, “Don’t look at me.”

“How was your weekend Mandy,” I ask each Monday at lunchtime? Without looking at me she generally goes into great detail about helping her mother clean the house, going to a hardware store with her mother’s boyfriend, and always ending with the time she spends with Troy. Troy would be her boyfriend of over two years. Mandy is fourteen, perhaps going on twelve-years-old. She appears to want to dress as the other girls in high school, but her family lacks the funds. At her age she continues to retain childhood “baby fat”, but is slowly changing. She is one of the many that come through my classes during the day that have not been diagnosed as needing Special Education services, but perhaps should have been? Today, Mandy quietly informed me she is two or three months pregnant.

Troy is eighteen-years-old and desperately trying to “hang-in” at high school so he can graduate with a Special Education diploma. He has many influences outside of school that try to pull him in many directions other then school. His mother died during his birth. His grandmother who has custody of him mostly raised him. Troy’s father lives in the next block. They spend some time together on weekends. His father married his girlfriend one month ago. Troy would never admit his feelings about his father’s marriage, but it hit him hard. In Troy’s world he enjoys bicycles, go-carts, scary movies and hates cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. He unquestionably loves Mandy and she loves him.

Mandy’s older brother, Gordon, is Troy’s best friend. The three are seldom apart. Some people believe that Gordon suffers from a severe speech impediment. Gordon does not think that he suffers at all. Gordon prides himself on being a redneck. Not in the historical meaning, but in the sense of what it has evolved in to. He likes pickup trucks, hunting, camouflage clothing and dipping snuff. Gordon, above all, loves his sister Mandy.

I struggle daily with Troy trying to understand the daily assignments from his different classes. We try to decipher math, define English, and not damage the world through environmental science. I live inside the delusion that he will pass the Gateway exams in all areas and not become one of the children left behind.

I’ve read through No Child Left Behind several times. Seldom do I find myself at odds with the “ideals” of the law. As much as I look through it I have yet to find Pregnant Mandy, Eighteen Troy, and Speech Impaired Gordon. They are not in the writings, but they are in schools all over the country. They get up every morning in dismal home lives, trudge to a school bus stop, wait for their ride, and come to the only place they may feel a degree of safety and acceptance. Will they be left behind? Probably, according to the law. Will they get something from the school environment that may help them in life? I have no doubt they will. What each gets remains a mystery to me. I knew, after many years of being away from the schools I attended, what I came away with to help my struggle through life.

“How does your mother feel about you having a baby Mandy,” I asked?

“She’s okay with it. She’s kind of wrapped up in her own thing,” she said.

“How do you feel about having a baby?”

“Troy and I are so happy and in love.”

“You going to stay in school after you have the baby?”

“Of course. Troy won’t graduate, but he loves me. We’re never going to have a million dollars, but we’re going to have each other and our baby.”

“It’s going to be tough out there in the real world, Mandy.”

“So? I know!”

“Yeah, I believe you do.” I said, as she left for fifth period health class.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Change is fine as long as you’re not there when it happens! It’s moving week at my school. The county threw a bone to one of the oldest high schools by allocating building and renovation funds. Originally, the newest high school in the county (five years old) was to receive a major renovation and upgrade. The cries from the PTO parents and the demonstrating at the school board meetings resulted in additional funds for my school. A band room expansion, a couple of science labs, and a brand spankin’ new school office, and perhaps even air conditioning for the gym.

The result of this decision was the impending movement of mine and four other portable classrooms to make way for the construction crews and equipment. I understand the necessity of making way for progress. Originally, the principal wanted us moved to the northeast section of eighty-eight acres, just beyond a parking lot. Out of sight, out of mind. This was the plan until it was pointed out by an assistant principal that the students had only six minutes to walk to the other end of the campus when changing classes. The time was measured and it was discovered that ten minutes was required.

Okay, new plan. Now my twenty-one year old portable would be located just behind the second largest building in a parking lot. This was fine until it became evident that parking for football supporters would be greatly decreased. The final placement suggestion had always been referred to as the, “There is no way I’m having portables parked in my damn courtyard!” principal’s decree.

I’ve walked among the two-foot tall wooden stakes driven into the school’s courtyard. Each one outlined by spray paint on the grass marking the corners of each of the five portables to be moved. The county maintenance department has decreed that the only placement suitable shall be the courtyard. I’ve counted the trees to be cut down and they only number fourteen.

This Monday morning is the first day of the fall break. No students are around. No teachers. Not even football supporters are present. I walked through the courtyard this morning with my camera to begin recording the “Great Move of 2006”. Many of my students wanted to see how it would all be accomplished, but live to far away to be there. I quietly whistled “They Paved Paradise and Put Up A Parking Lot” as I snapped digital pictures of the portables, the courtyard, and the trees. It was 10:00 A.M. in the morning and I was alone. No movers, utility workers, wire stringers, or lumberjacks were present. The migrating geese flying overhead and me enjoyed the fall morning. I wondered how many days it would take to relocate five classrooms? Luckily, we had placed all breakables, e.g. computers, monitors, and televisions on the floor so only the unbreakable items could fall on them when the move came.

It was decided that it would take two weeks beyond the one-week fall break to complete the move. The principal decided to attend two training conferences during this time. When he returns I’m sure the move to the courtyard will be his original idea and the portables will look just wonderful where they are.

Change is fine as long as you’re not there when it happens!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


“The ink is black, the page is white, together we learn to read and write”, so the song goes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if most of education was about education? As my dearly departed daddy always told me, “I get you school books and send you out to school and what do you do, you eat the covers off the books.”

I have several cover eaters that meander through my portable during the school day. At times it is difficult to scratch the veneer and expose the child longing for aid of some type. Their veneers are very thick. Consisting of coatings of years of neglect from their families, their “government schools”, their neighborhoods, the NEA, the Earth, the solar system, the universe, and on and on; get the picture?

Robbie is a transplant from Detroit. A tough kid from a tough group home and toughened long ago by a physically abusive father. Robbie’s mother finally escaped her own abuse by moving south. No one, including the government agency entrusted with protecting children in Michigan, followed up on where Robbie had moved. Robbie’s final veneer layer is his own sense of humor. He makes jokes, sings songs, and banters with his peers, but always with an eye on the nearest adult to spot any forthcoming retribution. He doesn’t find much in our school and none in my classroom.

Robbie tries to test boundaries in his new school and my little classroom is no exception. He and I have struggled for most of the first four weeks of school with boundaries. On the surface he wants no restrictions. However, at the same time, he wants me to be a boundary. Robbie lies about everything. He lies when the truth would serve him better. His female teachers all think he is bonding with them. Bonding is not exactly what is occurring.

Robbie has some unusual views about girls and women. Without attempting to be an amateur psychologist it could stem from the abuse he witnessed thrust upon his mother by his father. The identical abuse that his younger sister endured as well as his own abuse. Adult females are inferior to him and if he wants to touch them, then it’s his “right”. Female students are all his “b_t__es”. Pity the lone female student that says hello to him. They immediately become his “girlfriend”. Of course, they have no idea they have become a girlfriend.

After some confidential teacher re-education his female teachers now understand he is not being friendly and admiring by just wanting to be near them. They have relocated their desks from corners to an area allowing egress from each end. Additionally, they have made efforts not to be alone with Robbie, all but Ms. “I Can Control Any Situation”. The attack came out of the blue, but only to her. She and Robbie were laughing, joking, and being “friendly”. He wanted to share his lunch with her. Robbie managed to trap her in the corner behind her desk. He over-powered her and groped several areas of her body before her screams bought the theater teacher to her rescue.

Robbie now resides in a more restrictive alternative school where he is comfortable and has exhibited no further violent behavior to this date. The teacher has returned to teaching. Her students are impressed with her new classroom technique. She can now walk a circle around her room from both ends of her desk.

If education was created for the student what was created for the teacher? I often lull myself into false beliefs that I can reach any student, given the time and opportunity. My weapon and bruise collection attests to my many failures. It has been explained to me by administrators that a portion of my responsibilities are to offer classroom management techniques that help protect the teacher. Of course, they are not to know that is what I’m doing. Many teachers are more territorial then a mother bear protecting their cub and would not appreciate my intrusion into their den.

"The ink is black, the page is white," wouldn't education be even more wonderful if it was that simple?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A NEW YEAR 2006-2007


At times I fondly remember the two weeks I escaped to summer camp in the sixties. A true summer camp unlike the summer camp I experienced in the late sixties by invitation of the U.S. government. The two camps had much in common; e.g., heat, insects, long hikes, rifles, and inexperienced leaders. What they did not have in common were the goals of making winners from the participants. My counselors-in-training believed in competition. The teams were taught that competition was good and losing was not. If it was target shooting, hiking, horseback riding, pie eating, basketball, or being the first up in the morning, competition was good. The camp was based on the Camelot theme, which I understood was a love story and a triumph of good over evil. The leaders at the government camp believed lies, deception, inflated numbers, and the lack of a will to win was the course. But, enough of the trip down memory lane and onto summer camp 2006.

My guys, male and female included, experience a summer camp that I could not have related to as a child. Their camps are the streets of the ‘hood. Their friends come and go from various arrests, dealers deal, parents continue to try to survive, often losing track of their children on a daily basis. Fights that occurred over the summer break from high school often are not resolved and the animosity carries on to the school campus. New gang alliances are formed but short lived. Students in state’s custody are transferred into foster homes far from their families and friends. Of course these transferees have to establish their turf and reputations. Couple this with an increased student population from an over-crowded 1745 students to a really over-crowded 2300 students and a melting pot of testosterone driven educational conflicts sets the stage for the first week of school.

My first three expulsions consisted of two returnees from the previous year and one recently relocated state's custody student. All three were zero toleranced, with one being a product of a knee jerk domino theory of educational discipline. I see the sadness in losing this student for the school year, but I also see the humor in the circumstances. Briefly, I hope, the story goes like this; the student was happily adjusting to a new school year in English II. In short order he and the second year, newly married teacher exchanged differences on what he should do in class. He finally told her “This is all bullshit!” She informed him he was to leave the class and report to the sophomore principal. Before leaving the classroom he picked up an imaginary shotgun, cocked it, pointed it toward the teacher, and pulled the make believe trigger, exclaiming, “Bang!”

There were several courses the teacher had to address the situation. The one chosen by her would not generally be considered as an option; she called her mother. Not being privy to the conversation I can only assume she was scared and conveyed this fear to her mother. Mom being very good friends with the county sheriff called him to pass on her daughter’s fear about this student. He in turn called his friend, the school superintendent. The superintendent not interested in having any irate parent complaining in his office or to another government official’s office called the school principal. The principal’s last desire is to have any parent or the superintendent making waves so he in turned called an assistant principal. This principal was not in charge of the student, but quickly gathered the School Resource Officer, that happens to be the son of the sheriff and both of them converged on the office of the principal of the sophomore class. The result of this meeting was a campus all-points-bulletin search for the student. This two-hour search resulted in the knowledge that the student had gone home and was fast asleep in his room.

The result of the circle of authority was the child being banished to the county alternative school. I know this child well and he couldn’t care less which school he is assigned to, he attends when he wants to. His parents long ago resolved he could raise himself. This should result in an identical success story of their older son. That would be the son currently serving seven-and-a-half to fifteen for breaking and entering. My student worships his older brother.

The younger of the remaining two students only cursed a teacher and walked upon that teacher with a closed fist. A zero tolerance for threatening a teacher was the result. The reality of the situation was that his gang leader had been found living out of zone and was transferred to the correct school allowing this student to step-up and be a leader. This is a game played by many principals in an attempt to rid their schools of undesirables. (Check Mate!)

The last student committed the most serious offense. He was bumped in a breakfast line before school. A crime committed by a member of one of the most notorious gangs in any school, the band. This band member further enraged the student by apologizing, which resulted in the band member being attacked from behind. The band member and the state’s custody student both had to go to the hospital, the band member from the injuries inflicted from the beating and my student from a broken hand.

Oh, did I mention that only one of these three students is a special education student? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…………….

This is only week one of the 2006-2007 school year and already the lessons from summer camp are being transplanted to school. I look forward to week two and the chaos that accompanies my teaching position.

I miss camp.

Friday, June 23, 2006


“It’s 9:30. Where have you been Ron?”

“I was out late dude. You know, taking care of biz”

“Shouldn’t you be in second period taking your final exam?”

“Damn dude I forgot all about it. It don’t matter. I’m probably not passing math anyway.”

I’ve known Ronnie since the sixth grade. Even then his mother thought it would be cool if she had him wear a “grill” of highly polished stainless steel over his upper teeth. I always called him Ron instead of Ronnie. It tended to make him feel more like a young man.

Ron and I had fought the grade battle for several years. He understood he would never be an “A” student and I understood he would always be a “C, D” student. I always stressed schoolwork when we talked. More importantly he knew he needed to be a young man instead of a street thug. Most of the time he failed at his schoolwork, but seldom did he fail to be a young man.

When others saw him on the street, they saw a thug. He usually dressed in very dark, baggy, and layered clothing. His hair worn in long braids. Most often he has a hood dangling on the back of his head. His crowning glories are the dark glasses hiding his eyes and the shiny grill reflecting out of his mouth. All of this camouflage did an excellent job of hiding a good-hearted soul mostly missed by the casual observer.

Ron struggles with the street. He struggles with a very religious mother. However, he mostly struggles with himself. In the hood, everyday, he sees quick money and friends disappearing either into jail or the graveyard. Thanks to the influence of this and his family he has a small tolerance for Caucasians. Several times he let me know that Caucasian was a funny name, “Sounds like a pair of shoes. Yes, I would like to have a pair of Caucasians in size twelve.” Then he would laugh making the sound of air leaking from a tire.

“Good morning Ron.”

“Morning man,” he replied each morning entering my portable classroom. I don’t remember him ever having breakfast before coming to school. So each morning he microwaved Ramon Noodles, chicken flavored, before heading out to English One. During three years in high school he tried passing English without ever getting close. However, he never quit attending the class. Each year I had to argue with his teacher not to socially pass him just to not have him in class the following year. As the end of year four approached, he proudly possessed a 71 in English.

I watched on a very fine Sunday afternoon as he walked across the graduation stage. I honestly thought he was taller. Afterwards, as I leaned against the exit door watching the graduation crowd of students and families, I saw Ron being hugged by his mother, older brother, and stepfather.

Seventh grade was the pivotal point in our relationship. Ron was small in stature and large in mouth. Ms. Ellison was and continues to be a stodgy English teacher. She rules her domain. That domain being her classroom and the students are her minions. They must all fit the mold of hard working, respectful (by her definition), and most importantly quiet. Ron could not comply with one of these demands let along all three.

Right after first class began my classroom door was flung open banging against the wall. Ron came running in with tears beginning to fill his eyes. Close on his heels marched Ms. Ellison. Her tan corduroy pants “zipped” as her legs moved her forward in pursuit of Ron to further punish him.

“He is not to be in my class again. He cannot behave. He’s nothing but trouble. Do you hear me Ron? You’re not to come into my class again!” I wanted to tell her that the yelling was unbecoming to a teacher, but I was more concerned with Ron then an irate English teacher.

“You’ll have to leave now Ms. Ellison you’re interrupting my class. We’re just getting ready to listen to the announcements.” She wanted to continue berating Ron as I escorted her out and closed the door leaving her to stare at the door.

By the time the morning announcements were completed Ron had settled down to his normally talkative self and the rest of the class had forgotten the incident. They were in the process of pooling money they had collected for two days to contribute to another of the many fund raising activities schools engage in to help the school. As I recall they had collected around ninety-five dollars. The “popular class leader” presented me with the money. I completed a receipt for the school secretary and placed the money in a brown envelope. The class leader stood next to my desk waiting to take the envelope to the office.

“Ron, can you come here a second? I need you to do something for me.”

“What you need man?”

“Please take this envelope to the school office for me.” By the expression on the class leader’s face, this was a complete surprise to him. It probably was no more a shock to him then to Ron. I suspected it was the first time he had been placed into a position of responsibility.

“Don’t take to long Ron. We got a lot of work to do this morning. You have to catch-up if you’re going to be with me for the remainder of the year.” Ron returned within two minutes and took his place in the class. The office staff later sent me a note asking if it was proper to have Ron bring money to the office. I simply noted on the yellow paper, “You got the money didn’t you!” I heard nothing further. The principal agreed, with the insistence of Ms. Ellison, Ron should remain in my class during first period.

Here in high school, four years later, as I lean against the exit door watching the graduation crowd of students and families, I watch Ron proudly being hugged by his mother, older brother, and stepfather.

Monday, June 05, 2006


(Roosevelt Revisited)

The heat of the summer is easing onto the Cumberland Plateau, public swimming pools open Monday, there have only been three newspaper reports involving my students, most of the hail damage from two months ago has been repaired at my house, and I have managed not to drive by my high school. During the summer break I make it a point to take alternate routes when I leave my house to avoid driving by the government school where I teach. This is difficult to do when you live less than sixty seconds away. Another difficult task to accomplish is avoiding current and former students. By my last count there are forty-one students living within a two-mile radius of my house. However, except for a few incidents I seldom encounter them during the summer break. Then there is Washington.

My personal joke has long been that Washington is the son I never wanted. He was a three-year freshman until he turned eighteen. Then, as his mother expected, he dropped out over a year ago. It had not mattered that his girlfriend was going to have a baby, that he did not have a job, he was jailed at the time, and was turning eighteen going on ten-years-old mentally. All of this aside I like Washington.

I despise mowing grass. This must be a holdover from my childhood, but I have not bothered to analyze it to deeply. Weed-eating, on the other hand, brings me a degree of pleasure. I suppose the violence of the whirling plastic string impresses me, so about once a week I beat back the invading weeds in the yard. There may even be a correlation between weed-eating and teaching, but I don’t want to get to psychologically involved and spoil the weed-eating.

Through my safety goggles I watched the dandelions sacrifice themselves to the spinning machine. I felt the stick strike my side and turned to see Washington standing in my driveway. He was not alone. In his arms he held his eight-month-old daughter. This was not the first time I had met Mia. Washington, his unmarried “wanna-be” bride, and Mia had visited their former high school several times. This was however the first time he and the baby had come visiting at my home.

“What’s happening dude,” he ask while shifting Mia to his other arm?

“Just baking a tuna fish casserole.” This was not the first time he had heard me say that, but it always caused him to laugh. This time was no different. “What you doing Washington?”

“Me and Mia are just out cruising.”

“Where’s her mother?”

“She had a doctor’s appointment.”

“Shouldn’t you be with her?”

“No man. She told me to take Mia, that she would be fine.”

“Huh uh…… you always believe what she says?” I didn’t feel like explaining some things today. How it would have been appropriate for Washington and Mia to wait at the doctor’s office and that maybe he should shade the baby when they’re out in the bright sunshine. “Let’s rest over here,” I said moving toward the shade of a tree.

We sat down at an old picnic table and he eased Mia down to the surrounding grass. I watched her hesitate to crawl and instead she stared at the blades of grass as only an infant can stare. Washington pulled a cigarette out of a crumpled package and flicked his BIC lighter. He was unaware of anything Mia was doing at his feet.

One thing I found useful when dealing with former or current students, on a personal level, was knowing the answer to questions before I asked, “How come you’re not at work?”

Mia and her mother lived with her mother and grandmother while Washington resided at his mother’s house. The two houses were only a block apart, but could have been light years away from each other. “I had to take-off while Christy went to the doctor’s.”

Washington was not above telling me an untruth. He had not been employed for three weeks. He and a group of friends, all but him under the age of eighteen, were involved in a fight at a local Wal-Mart parking lot. Washington was arrested after hitting one of the kids a glancing blow with a hammer. He was incarcerated in the “big people’s jail” while the other participants all went to juvenile detention. He was unable to find anyone to “go bail” until his mother convinced her live-in friend, Julie, that she had to do something for her granddaughter’s welfare and father. His court date was still three weeks away. Because he was locked up for three weeks the local faux Pottery Barn had filled his position with another of my former students.

“How are Christy’s GED studies going?” About a year ago she decided it would be better if she worked on getting a GED diploma instead of getting up so early and being confined to a government school all day. If I had a dollar for every former student that decided a GED was the route to go and failed to achieve the goal my retirement fund would be very bloated.

“She’s going to get back to it when Mia gets a little older.”

“Are you still living at your mom’s house?”

“Yeah, just until I get my own place.” He knew as well as I did that he would live with her until she or her friend couldn’t stand having him around any longer. Mom’s friend Julie was the catalyst for him being evicted earlier. She did not like having others in the house. Before Julie moved in she often said Washington was a “wonderful boy” and how much she wanted him around. Afterwards he became a pest and was forced out within three weeks. (Love is a many splendored thing!)

We chatted about former students and friends, what he wanted for the future, where he expected to be in five years, the odds he and Christy would ever marry, how much fun Mia is, how Christy’s mother still didn’t like him, but adored Mia, and how his maturity is delayed in coming. The one subject that was long in coming was the real reason he had come to visit me.

My gas weed-eater was cooling down and would need to be re-primed before starting. The weeds were getting a reprieve while we talked. The host of a local PBS garden show frequently says that a weed is anything that grows where you don’t want it to grow. By that definition a rose could be a weed, thistle could be a weed, and Washington could be a weed in his mother’s house and in Christy’s house. At times I sensed he felt lost in life. Like many teenagers he was searching for a direction, a purpose, and perhaps even guidance from others. All of these are especially difficult for Washington to attain. His mother should be a source of guidance, now more then ever, but her life was slipping by and perhaps she felt the need to choose between her needs and his?

“I was wondering if I could float a loan from you. I need some gas so I can get back to the doctor’s office.” I chose not to mention if he had stayed at the office then he wouldn’t need gas money to return. I understood that he just needed to come by and talk. He did not need criticism or a lecture.

“Let me see what I got.” I left him with Mia and went into the house. My billfold was on the table next to the window looking out onto the backyard. While I counted out some dollars I watched him pickup Mia. He held her, said something, and kissed her on each cheek. Perhaps there was hope for him yet? Somehow he had a capacity for love that frequently he hid from the world.

Outside I passed him the money. He didn’t count the bills. I held Mia while he crumpled them into his shirt pocket. Mia is a beautiful child with long, dark, curly hair and infectious smile. Much like her father’s smile. He assured me that he would see me soon before he drove away in the rattle-trap old Thunderbird.

I returned to my weed-eating knowing all I can do is delay the growth of the dandelions. Hopefully, Washington is only delayed in his growth.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Trip Three – To August 2005 Through May 2006

When you least expect, the school bear sneaks upon you, and bites you in the educational behind. Sometimes, I knowingly invite the bear to try and devour me. The very last thing I ever want to do in my portable classroom, in the government school, on county taxpayer property, is to restrain a student. I only recall doing the “restraining deed” on two other occasions. On this occasion I tried every educational re-cue, (I love technical education stuff), trick in my bag and failed.

“You’re doing this because my kid is black,” the angry father yelled at me. We had both been summoned to the principal’s office due to the events of the previous day.

Ernest, a tall, lanky, loud, likeable kid had been assigned to my classroom sometime during the last month. He could not manage to be quiet during any class. Eventually, it wore one of his teachers down and he was issued a discipline report and sent to his principal’s office. The result was his assignment to me, during second period, to work on classroom social skills. I like Ernest. He is funny, smart, and a challenge. We generally get along well. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Ernest and his relationship with some other students. It is safe to say that he is not “cool” like the cool guys think they are.

Ernest is never dirty. He doesn’t seem to care how he dresses to come to school. Mismatched clothes could easily be his trademark. However, his hair has yet to meet a brush or comb it liked. He is never dirty just disheveled. Talking loudly is the one trait he possesses that agitates his peers. This skill is what led him to being restrained, to protect him from another student attacking and partially to get him away from my face.

“You’re doing this because my kid is black,” again the angry father yelled at me!

“Sir, that is not the case,” Ms. Wilson, Freshman Principal, said trying to calm the man.

“What else could it be? He’s a white man trying to teach my son.” He waved his hand in my direction both recognizing my presence and dismissing me at the same time.

“Okay, I understand your anger, but let’s look at the facts.”

“The facts are that he laid his hands on my son!”

“Sir, he probably was justified due to the circumstances,” Ms. Wilson tried to continue.

“It ain’t right. No white man should lay his hands on my son!” I watched, without comment, while his anger increased. It appeared he was less into defending his son’s honor and more into enjoying being the center of attention and being in charge.

“Okay, we’ll bring Ernest in and listen to his explanation of the events,” she said.

“He doesn’t have to be in here. I already heard his side. This white man ain’t got no right laying his hands on my son!” It was quickly becoming evident that this meeting was going nowhere, except perhaps to a due process hearing. I was shifting in my seat wanting to get back to my students. I stood to shift my position around, not to leave. Ernest’s father misunderstood. He rose quickly and moved close to my face.

He pointed his finger within an inch of my face and again yelled, “You’re doing this because my kid is black!”

“No, it’s because your son acted like an idiot,” I said. He swung his arm back forming a fist.

I enjoy wearing hats. My favorites are fedoras. They are long ago out of style, but appear to be making a comeback. I tend to wear a hat on rainy days. Umbrellas are inconvenient for me to carry. I’ve lost enough umbrellas to supply most teachers in my high school with one. So there I stood with my hat in my hand waiting to get punched by the irate father of one of my favorite students.

His fist was beginning to move toward my head. All I could do was toss him my hat. This caused him to hesitate and grab the flying hat in mid-air. What it really did was allow me the time to side step him, placing my left leg behind his left leg, forcing him backward and down to the floor. I stood over him. I offered my hand to help him back to his feet. He looked up at me and offered me back my hat. He took my hand and I took my hat.

“Let’s all calm down,” Ms. Wilson said revealing the panic in her voice.

“We’re okay. Right sir,” I asked?

“Yeah, we’re fine,” he said while straitening his jacket.

“I’ll talk to Ernest about working on his temper,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to Ernest coming back to my class. He’s a good young man.”

Ernest graduated this year. He wasn’t the head of his class nor was he at the bottom. His father sat behind me during graduation. He is a proud man. Ernest is the first, in several generations, of this family to graduate from high school. Already he is working at the local flour manufacturing plant where his father has worked for fourteen years.

Sometimes the bear bites you and sometimes you bite the bear.


Trip Two – August 2005 to May 2006

Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do, so the old song goes. Glenda is a wonderfully hard working, dedicated, and inspired English teacher. The bad news is that Glenda is a wonderfully hard working, dedicated, and inspired English teacher. The really bad news is that Jack was enrolled in her first period class. She has only been in the high school trenches for three years chasing the elusive “teacher tenure”. Sometimes, before school starts, I drop by her room to discuss the progress of several of my students in English. Our conversations always turn toward Jack and his “attitude”.

“All he does is sleep.”

“He does have his own agenda,” I said.

“What can I do? He irritates the crap out of me!”

“Does he disrupt your class?”

“No, not really. He seldom is awake long enough to talk to anyone.”

“Well, I guess that could be good news.”

“Good news? His principal is no help. He talks down to me and tells me I need to be creative in teaching Jack.”

Part of my unofficial duties, as instructed by this very principal, is to assist some teachers with classroom management. I shouldn’t let any of them know what I’m doing, but none-the-less, I should assist them. This is not really a problem. Most other teachers don’t consider me a teacher. I’m just the guy that relieves situations in their classes by taking problem students off their hands for a period of time.

I don’t think that Glenda believes she knows everything about teaching, but she has at least one thing in common with most other teachers, she is territorial. She owns her room. However, I understand the principal owns “her” room and she occupies it only at his discretion. The teachers that change rooms at the end of each school year can attest to this. There appears to be no rhyme or reason for this moving, but if you teach Math and English in this high school, be aware as May nears.

“Perhaps, if you send him over to my portable for third period we can help him with his assignment?”

“I can do that? It really would help me out, I mean help Jack out.” Her justified frustration was barely hidden.

“Sure, let’s try it for a couple of days. I’ll clear it with his principal.” Of course I didn’t have to clear anything. If it keeps a student or teacher out of his office it will be okay.

“I don’t think Mr. Smally likes me?”

“Don’t be silly. If he didn’t like you, you wouldn’t be teaching here for the past two years.” I didn’t want to inform her that she seldom crossed his mind unless one of her students landed in his office for discipline. “You know, you might want to move your desk a little?”


“If a student gets really upset and comes after you where would you run to?” She looked at the placement of her desk and realized that one end was against a wall that allowed only one route for escape.

Her mental light bulb flickered on, “Yes, yes, I see what you mean.”

I left, heading for my portable classroom, while she began tugging on her desk. If I had one “gentlemanly inclination” I would have offered to assist with moving the desk. I walked on. The thought briefly crossed my mind, at a future date, of letting her discover another misplacement of her desk. Away in a corner quite removed from the students. Many students will interpret that she is trying to stay far away from them.

Two mornings later we discussed Jack returning to her class. She was unhappy with this decision. “Is he going to continue sleeping?”


“I graded the work he turned in from his stay in your class.”

“How did he do?” I knew the answer having looked over his work before I slipped it into her mailbox.

“He did okay. I think he got a 81 on one paper and 76 on the other?”

“Not bad,” I said. I did not want to argue with her that he had scored higher and perhaps she was grading him more harshly because of his “attitude”. Also, I didn’t bring it up because Jack didn’t care what grade he received.

Jack and her continued the Tic-Tac-Toe game most of the year. He won many of the battles and lost the educational war. He will be taking English One again as a second year freshman. Glenda also lost the classroom possession war.

“I have to change classrooms,” she said. Angry would not be a fair description of her reaction to the news. Ballistic would be a better verb or adjective.

“Where you moving to for next year?”

“They want me to take Mrs. Baylor’s room. She’s moving to my room. What damn good does that do?”

“I don’t know. The principals seem to have their own plans for where teachers teach from each year.” Again I let the opportunity pass about who controls (owns) the classrooms in the school. I didn’t even feel like reminding her it wasn’t where she taught, but what and how.

“I told them I wasn’t moving unless I got Honors English next year. I’ll quit if I don’t get the course.” She didn’t seem to understand that she was five or six years shy of getting an honors class. Without tenure and several more years teaching at this school she was not getting an honors class. It is not your ability to teach, but how long you’re here that counts.

I recalled she was going to quit after her first year because she did not have first period planning. At the end of the second year she was going to quit because she didn’t get along with the inclusion teacher assigned to her. (The inclusion teacher made the mistake of thinking she owned the room.) Now she was quitting if she did not get Honors English and was being forced to change classrooms.

My belief is that she will be back, in her new classroom, in August. Glenda is a wonderfully hard working, dedicated, and inspired English teacher. Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do with a lover, but Breakin’ Up Is Impossible To Do with your dream of teaching!


Trip One - To The School Year August 2005 - May 2006

This was year three for Connor in high school. More accurately he was a third-year-freshman. Generally this is not something to be proud of, but for Connor he was just marking time until his eighteenth birthday. Due mostly to his miserable home life he took everything negatively and personally. If a teacher attempted to be nice to him it was because it was their job. If a teacher was not nice then it was because he was white, because of his age, because of where he lived, because of prior trouble he had been in, because, because, because, etc.

Connor felt comfortable in the haven of my classroom mostly because my demands of him were subtle. I expected him to be a young man. He was expected to accept responsibility for his actions. Sometimes he was successful in these expectations and sometimes not. The man he encountered in the classroom in August was the same man he left each May. Consistency in teaching is greatly underestimated. Or maybe it was because I am three times his size?

Like many Special Education students he had become an expert at avoiding schoolwork. In fact they may dedicate more time at avoiding schoolwork then if they had gone ahead and did the work. I tried for three years to find the one thing Connor was good at in the world of academics. He had great difficulty reading. Anything beyond 8 times 5 was lost on him. He could not find America on a map. He didn’t know, nor did he care, who was George W. Bush. However, Connor does have an aptitude for auto repair. More precisely he could repair tires rather quickly. Unfortunately he could not pass the prerequisite course to enter auto repair. No Child Left Behind has tainted even the meager vocational offerings of the government school. The federal mandate says that students like Connor should be destined for college.

During the summer breaks he carried bundles of roofing shingles up ladders for his uncle. This man was not really his uncle, but had been involved at one time with Connor’s mother so he continued to refer to him as his uncle. Connor did not have steady work with his uncle. It was always determined by how much his uncle drank the night before. Most days Connor lounged around the one-bedroom mobile home during the day smoking cigarettes that his mother provided him. To my knowledge he had not developed an interest in illegal drugs. I assume due to his financial state more then a moral belief. All told Connor is not a bad “kid” just a product of his environment.

Mrs. Bessemer was part of a package deal. She and her husband had been hired to teach at the beginning of this school year. Most likely her husband had been rehired because he coached baseball. Number three of four sports in this school, but a sport no less. Incidentally he teaches World and US History. She teaches Special Education Inclusion English. Conner immediately fell for her. He was convinced that she was the new love of his life. She is very religious, very nice, very naïve, and very cute. Connor enjoyed having her lean over his shoulder to help him with an assignment he had no interest in completing. The one educational accomplishment she provided him with was an increase in his attendance. For whole one-and-half semesters he did not skip her class. He was not passing, but at least he was there. Then came the big announcement.

I wasn’t in the inclusion English classroom, but it was reported to me by eight students that Connor didn’t take the news well. All of the SPED students were in a small group for extra instruction on the daily assignment from the regular education teacher.

“I wanted all of you to know how happy I am,” Mrs. Bessemer said. “Barry and I are going to have a baby.” Knowing her fairly well I assume she was giddy in making the announcement.

“Mr. Bessemer is pregnant,” Sheila ask?

“Don’t be silly,” Mrs. Bessemer said while giggling. “God has blessed us.”

Mrs. Bessemer is the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher from a very small Tennessee town twenty-seven miles to the east of Nashville. Far enough away that she feels she and Barry are living independently and close enough that she can visit her father a mere six times per week. Her husband had taught at our high school two years earlier. When No Child Left Behind decreed that a GED student did not count toward graduation numbers for any government school, he left. As I recall, he dedicated a large portion of his teaching day to exploring the Internet and flirting with female students. Now he doesn’t spend as much of his time exploring the Internet. He discovered religion when he discovered his twenty-one year old bride. Now she was transforming him into her father.

It is safe to say that Connor did not take the big announcement well. He ask to be excused to go to the restroom and did not return to the class that day. Mrs. Bessemer wrote him the dreaded “pink slip” disciplinary report and forwarded it to his principal. The result was Connor receiving two days In-School-Suspension for skipping class. This set the course for him to destroy what progress he had made during English class.

Three days later he was assigned to my class all day for violating additional school rules; e.g., smoking on campus, skipping other classes, leaving campus, and cursing Mrs. Bessemer. She had denied him permission to leave class at which point he stood up and declared, “I don’t have to put up with this s*#^”! He slammed the classroom door leaving his former favorite teacher’s class and further exclaiming, “You can’t tell me what to do b*^#h”!

“I can’t have him in my class anymore,” Mrs. Bessemer said, explaining her fear to me. “He threatened me.”

“Well, he didn’t really threaten you,” I said, trying to calm her.

“It sure feels to me that he did.”

“His feelings were hurt.” I decided at that point to be a little more graphic with her. Perhaps part of me wanted to see her shocked, perhaps I just wanted to defend Connor’s position. “You know he has the [hots] for you?”

I do admit the redness that swept across her face was worth it. “Doesn’t he understand I’m married, pregnant, and his teacher?”

“Oh, he understands that. He also understands that in his mind you are close to his age and treated him very nice. Most women he has been around have not treated him very nice.”

“Well, I can’t have him around me after he threatened me.”

I understood she was not going to be receptive to Connor returning to her class. Everything she had been exposed to in “SPED 101” was lost on her. She was married, pregnant and scared of a student. The opportunity for her to make a difference in this student’s life was gone.

Connor “graduated” this year with a Special Education diploma. It is referred to as “not a real diploma” much like a GED is referred to as the “Good Enough Diploma”. The Bessemer’s world will be changed forever in August, after the birth. The unfortunate loss was the opportunity to maybe increase Connor’s English skills to the sixth grade level. My sense was that that Connor had been left behind years ago and we had missed the last chance to free him from the anchor of his life.

Monday, May 29, 2006


The semi-annual “catered” faculty breakfast time has arrived. The end of the school year brings forth the caring and the compassion of the school system. The faculty breakfast was a time to acknowledge some things from the year, such as, most of the year a few of the teachers have been nursing a Secret Pal gift exchange, school computers have kept track of the teachers that did not miss any days. (The way I calculate the number should be two.) It is also the time for our leader to step up to a microphone and tell us what a wonderful job we’ve done. Thankfully, most of the speech is drowned out by the sounds of the flatware attacking the food from a local Shoney’s restaurant. Platefuls of biscuits, eggs, bacon, sausage, and sweet rolls daring my newly inserted cardiac stents to try and stay open and unblocked. The food is being devoured by two hundred and some odd people wanting to be set free from their 180-day purgatory.

Officially it is a teacher workday. Students are out of school and told to return the next day, but only long enough to receive their report cards. So, my calendar math goes something like this, no school Saturday, Sunday, Monday (Memorial Day), and Tuesday, but the students are expected to return for five minutes on Wednesday, the last day of school. (2 Long + 2 Wait = 4 Summer)

I would like to think that it is a time for reflection on the past school year. I would like to think that, but the only reflection I’m having is how long it will take me to walk to my truck and escape for the summer. There are people I’ll miss seeing everyday during the break, three to be precise. Not one of them will be a teacher. Holding the number one place on my list is Mr. Benjamin, day custodian for the main building. He is 84-years-old and has not missed a workday since I’ve known him.

Five mornings each week, starting at 6:00 A.M., he pushes his cart through the hallways. Cleaning restrooms, sweeping entrance rugs, washing glass on the entrance doorways, but most importantly he dispenses a smile and a “Good Morning” to students and teachers. Each morning after reporting absences and checking my mailbox it’s time to stop for a brief moment and talk with him. Our conversations always begin the same way, with a handshake.

“Good morning sir.”

“Morning young fellow,” he always replies while we shake hands.

“I see you’re learning from me. Hiding out in the open is the best way to hide.” Our stale joke continues each day.

“You must be slipping. I saw you sitting in your truck yesterday afternoon.”

“Well, I have a lot to learn from you because I didn’t see you.” We both laughed while looking up and down the four hallways that intersects where we’re standing.

I’ve come to value Mr. Benjamin. Not for wit and wisdom, but for his presence. Most days I’ll have a newly assigned student to my classroom walk with me when I make my morning rounds. One of our stops will be to talk with Mr. Benjamin.

“Good morning sir.”

“Morning young fellow.” Mr. Benjamin replies.

“This is Mr. Washington. He’s one of my fine new students.” Mr. Benjamin reads the students very well sometimes offering his hand or sometimes just greeting them with a “Hello”.

“You in some kind of trouble young man?”

“No dude.”

“Most of the time you’re in trouble to be walking with this man.” Mr. Benjamin never pushed the point with any of my students. He just stated the facts as he saw them. “You hiding out in the open again?”

“Not this time. I’m just getting my mail,” I said.

“That’s the best way to hide. Act like you’re doing something.” He laughed the old man’s laugh. A laugh of knowledge without making it seem he had it.

“I believe I learned this from you.”

“No, you just fine tuned the skill.” He laughed again and gave the young student the once over again. “How you keep those pants up son?” Mr. Washington pulled his sagging pants up on his hips.

“Their okay. It’s just me being me.”

“You’re not being you son. You’re being everyone else.” I noticed the look on the teenagers face and guessed Mr. Benjamin’s words were not lost on him.

The cart started to move toward the next restroom that needed cleaned. Mr. Benjamin looked over his shoulder and said, “See you later young fellow.” I understood he wasn’t talking to me.

“See you around old dude.” The comment came from the student, but with no disrespect.

Mr. Benjamin stopped and turned toward Mr. Washington. For a brief moment he gave a look of a man that understood that someone a fourth of his age might have a chance to be successful. Successful in spite of the world he was growing up in.

“Remember young fellow listen to this man here.” He nodded toward me and turned to roll his cart on to its destination. “Where ever you go in life young fellow be careful, school food is still school food.”

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Science Question: How Much Does A Ford Taurus Weigh?

This has nothing to do with my class of sometimes lost academics. As the close of school nears I find myself frequently standing outside my portable. I don’t stand far away. The decayed pressure treated deck does well to support my bulk. I keep the metal door with the stylish plexiglass window propped open with my foot. This stance allows me to hear the conversations flowing around the class and to watch the students traversing the paved street between the annex building and the main building. At times it even allows me to dream about making a dash for my truck across the parking lot and escaping.

However, this time of the school year is bitter sweet. The seniors are mere days away from graduating after clawing their way to the top of the academic heap, only to find themselves at the bottom again out in the real world. Many of the familiar ones I have a few memories of seeing daily. The vast majority of them have never darkened the threshold of my classroom. The two lovebirds leaning against the hood of the dirty black Honda SUV perhaps should have spent some time in my class, but it was to late now.

The supreme mortal sin a student can commit in high school is to park in a teacher’s reserved parking spot. The second worst sin is to allow the teacher to discover your identity after they have parked across the parking space effectively blocking the intruder in for the day. The third on this list is for the student to be enrolled in said teacher’s class. Many teachers view a reserved slot as one of the few perks of a difficult job. I enjoy having my own parking space, but other job perks are more important and more elusive. Now back to the lovebirds.

The blue Ford Taurus had blocked them in earlier in the morning. They sat on the Honda hood, holding hands, and trying to figure a solution to their dilemma. I had watched them for over ten minutes. They had walked into the annex two times I’m assuming to ask if anyone knew the owner of the Taurus. I deduced they had been trying to sneak away from school, but had been foiled in their attempt by some “rude” teacher. A friend of theirs came by, looked into the Ford, said something and walked into the annex. He was back in a few minutes without any help for the couple.

By this time I observed the dark haired girl beginning to show anger. She no longer held her boyfriend’s hand. He attempted to kiss her cheek, but she pulled away. Her words were lost to me as a pickup truck with the normal “boom, boom, boom” sound system passed by the parking lot. My guess was another student skipping out early trading the ability to sneak for the hope of being cool. When I looked back toward the couple the girl was pointing her finger at the boy’s face expressing her angry desire to leave.

I looked at the Honda SUV with its six-inches of ground clearance. I gazed at the curb behind the SUV and judged it to be three inches tall. The angry girl was separated from the freedom of the street by a mere three inches. Briefly, I thought the solution had occurred to the girl. She walked around behind the SUV standing there for about twenty seconds staring down at the curb. Then she kicked the spare tire mounted on the back of the vehicle and returned to the front of the SUV to point her finger into her boyfriend’s face, again.

Then a solution came to them both almost at the same time. They kissed each other and proceeded with their plan. I suppose at moments like these a school should have the right to reexamine the awarding of a high school diploma. Perhaps a portion of high school credits should encompass a student’s ability to be prepared for the “real” world? At the very least the awarding of a science or physics credit should be reassessed. The two students took their places at the front and back of the offending Ford Taurus. For a reason that completely confuses me the young graduating senior girl posted herself at the front of the Ford. (I apologize for my politically incorrect maleness. Not really.) The boy took his place at the rear. Women’s lib is alive and well in 2006. They both bent forward and grasped the Taurus. The girl nodded her head three times and then they both jerked upward on the car. They had come up with a solution. Not a good solution, but a solution.

The boy’s face displayed surprise. My sense was the surprise was not from thinking the car might really float up in the air and be displaced by the couple, but from the pain that was now radiating down through his back. The girl fell over on the hood and quickly rose to shout something at the boy who was trying to stand erect. Perhaps if they had lifted with their legs? Her anger became more evident as she struck the hood of the Taurus with her purse and stomped into the annex. The boy was left behind trying to figure out why the car didn’t move and his back did.

I didn’t have the joy of seeing how the science experiment ended. I assume the teacher came out at some point and drove off. My hope was that these two were not to late for their appointment, graduated happily, and faced their destiny successfully in life beyond high school.

Science Question: How much does a Ford Taurus weigh?
Answer: Enough.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


As most teachers can testify students come and students go. Occasionally one will linger in your thoughts after graduation, that special academic scholar, the class leader, a star athlete, an outstanding musician, or a student that brightens your first period each day. This year the student that I will miss is none of these. Most of the time BB is a pain in the rear. He seldom spoke English. Screaming to get your attention was his favorite form of communication. Spaghetti O's is his lunch of choice every day. Standing a mere five feet tall, with very thick glasses, most teeth missing, and the worst chapped lips on the planet BB had the general look of a 70-year-old-man. Oh, did I mention his bowed legs?

At 6:20 A. M., every school morning, the yellow short bus deposited BB on the sidewalk outside of the school annex building. Some mornings he would leap from the bus and run head long into me, screaming, "BB, BB". We would hug before he attempted to explain the toy soldier he always carried. Frequently it was the same soldier. He tried to explain something different about the toy. Then with the abandonment of a puppy, I stopped existing, and he would run into the annex.

Some school mornings he chose to ignore me. He acted out imagined anger that went on for hours. By lunch again he ran headlong to get a hug. On some days he would "hide" under the cafeteria dining table until I acknowledged his prank. BB will graduate this year at the age of eighteen. His grandmother and lifelong guardian decided BB would travel America with her husband and herself in an RV. BB could stay in high school until he turned twenty-two, but the time has come for him to see America.

At 8:30 A. M. I watch from my portable classroom as BB slams through the glass annex doors running to get aboard the yellow short bus. BB participated in the school-to-community work program. His favorite job sight was the Food Lion grocery store. He was also a favorite of theirs. On the event of a man making fun of BB while bagging the man's grocery the manger refunded the customer's money and told him not to return to the store. With the help of a job coach BB loved to work. His favorite assignment was moving food carts back into the store. He was a vision. His five-foot, one hundred pound frame trying to maneuver a string of fifty carts across a busy parking lot was entertaining to the customers. He never lost control of the carts. The parked cars were always safe.

The lesser memory I have of BB is his attendance at the senior prom. The gym is not air conditioned, but it was beautifully decorated. The decorations were lost on BB. He quickly stripped himself of the tuxedo jacket. He “disco” danced and watched the girls. He consumed twenty-three cups of punch drink. He threw up and then fell asleep on the toilet in the restroom. It was a wonderful prom for a graduating senior.

I would like to bask in the glory of my collective teachings I’ve imparted upon BB. I just can’t recall any. However, I can bask in the teachings of BB, like how to smile at 6:20 A.M., or how to bump a lunch line without upsetting the “normal” students, and the way of making people on a job site appreciate how much different their lives could be, or hugging just for the sake of hugging, and how much I miss playing with toy soldiers.

BB is graduating on this fine Sunday from high school. I’m not sure the high school will ever be the same? I know I won’t be the same. He and his family sets out to see America on Monday. Be prepared America, BB is on his way.


Rimscape is not an online fantasy game. It is a reality.

One of the saving graces of being an emotionally disturbed genius is creating your own reality and then living in it. I first encountered Lucas while he was sitting cross-legged on the gym floor silently refusing to participate. His principal had approached me to "help" Lucas by tricking him into dressing out for Wellness. The class use to be called Physical Education. No one in a government school should physically tax students. So the name was changed to Wellness. I suppose this new name is used to encompass the total person and to aid them into becoming a well person. Never mind that Lucas could not walk from one end of the campus to another without resting. The long tenured Wellness teacher has no tolerance for non-conforming students. Looking at my class list throughout the year testifies to the idea that non-conforming students quickly come to my class for the semester from Wellness class. Lucas is about as far from conforming as a student can become.

My first encounter with Lucas was very quiet. He may have had a lot to say to me, but he didn't. I left him sitting on the "Wellness" floor after telling him he could drop by my portable haven when he wanted. The principals expects me to make a difference in these student's lives and intercept them before they make it to their office again. I did not see Lucas again for one month.

Checking my teacher's mailbox on a Tuesday morning has become a behaviorist treat. On Mondays I find the normal bureaucratic pabulum. This includes edicts from the school board, and the school department chair, and from the liaisons in the Special Education department at the central office. Is there a commonality between the Central Party from the Cold War days and the central office we all answer to now? In my mailbox on Tuesday mornings are the referral sheets from the principals to "help" the students that had occupied their offices on Monday afternoon.

Tucked in with the other notes was a brief note instructing me to check in with the Honors Geometry teacher, Ms. Bottomline. Lucas is a student in her fourth period class telling me why I should check with her. The vision of him sitting on the gym floor not communicating clashed with my previous impressions of Honors Geometry. I could not and didn't care to argue with Ms. Bottomline's teaching style. She has been teaching the same class for twenty-six years. She teaches to the test, producing very good standardized scores and students. If anything is positive about Lucas it's his non-standardized persona.

After checking when her planning period was scheduled I entered her doorless room at the beginning of third period. All of the classrooms in the main building of the high school are doorless. The school had been built during the seventies trend of open classrooms. A time when the belief was that teaching crossed from one teacher to another and one student to another. Teaching by osmosis was a trend whose time long came and went. Now the school board was funding one door at a time enclosing each classroom. This year alone, one door was funded. It was not in Honors Geometry.

"How are you young lady," I asked Ms. Bottomline? My approach to each teacher is different. None of them view me as a "real teacher". Ms. Bottomline sometimes responded well to my good old country boy personality.

"What can I do with Lucas?"

I looked at her feigning my innocence, "What's he doing?"

"Nothing except drawing weird characters for some sort of computer game." Her desire to have him out of her class was barely masked by her anger for a student not conforming.

I had been quietly following any progress Lucas was or was not making in his classes for the past month and I knew the answer to this question. "How are his grades in Geometry?"

"He won't write notes, won't work in group. He won't even help on class projects!"

Okay, it's tooth pulling time. "But, what kind of grade is he making?"

"He's failing the class. He has no grades for anything except tests."

"How bad are his tests grades?"

The loudness and indignity mostly disappeared from her voice. "He gets one-hundred on all of his tests."

I could have replied in many different ways. I chose the politically correct response. "So you've found a way to penetrate his diagnosis of Emotionally Disturbed and teach to him?"

"But he's not doing any of the work I assign."

"So he doesn't participate and still makes hundreds on all tests?"

"Right, but that's not fair to the other students." I wanted to say it appeared that she thought it wasn't fair to her as a teacher. This student was absorbing everything that came from her and was spouting it back on the tests achieving perfect scores. This was not the time to expound on my belief that fair meant each student gets what they need to be successful. They do not get what everyone else has.

"Is there a chance that you could grade him on his tests scores and disregard everything else he is not doing?"

"That wouldn't be fair."

"Would your life be easier," I asked?

"Well, yes."

"And we would be compliant with the accommodations listed on his Individualized Educational Plan?" I was trying to guide her into being compliant with the law.

"It says he doesn't have to do assignments, but just take tests?"

"No, it says we will accommodate his unique disability. We should attempt to guide him during his high school career trying for academic success."

"Well?" She wanted me to say I could take him out of her fourth period class and shelter him in my classroom. I was not prepared to do that just now. However, I knew in the near future Lucas would become a permanent fixture at one of my computer monitors during fourth period. What I did not foresee was Lucas attempting to drag me into his Rimscape computer world. He would begin to share daily with me the "exciting" world of a computer game "reality". The game Lucas stayed up most of the night exploring. Exploring his reality and trying to ignore his twin brother's form of computer reality inside the same Rimscape world.

The only reality is the one we live in. Perhaps it is Rimscape? Perhaps it is the government school system. Perhaps it is the one we nurture with our students while we attempt to demonstrate that many things are important in our lives. It might even be school at some point.

Reality? What a concept.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Family That Attacks Together,
Generally Are Jailed Together

It should be that a teacher could be shocked from time to time in the course of their daily class gatherings. To be true to myself I'm jaded. I believe my actions on behalf of my forgotten students speak for me. My collection of students has generally spread carnage in their regular classes. Administrators and teachers in this over-populated high school view my program as the last stop for their 'hoods and huns" before expulsion from school. My view is that of a halfway house preparing these students to return to the general population. The students, all of them, see my classroom as a safe haven sometimes from teachers, from administrators, but mostly from their life outside of school. It is probably all of these interpretations. My greatest ally and my greatest nemesis is the No Child Left Behind Program. A program developed by the feds for their government schools. This barely successful law makes it very difficult to get rid of a problem student.

Now, to the days event that continued to add to my education in family values. The family values that are in stark contrast to the values of a teacher born and raised in the fifties and sixties.

"Good morning Marty," I said.

I watched the normally grumpy student come into his first period class. I wondered if this was the week he was speaking to me?

"Hey dude," he replied. This must be the week. He sat, looking around the empty room. My assumption was that he was waiting for an audience larger than one.

"We missed you yesterday."

"Yeah, I wasn't here." His attention and clarity were amazing. He didn't have long to wait. Four of his morning classmates came in wanting nothing more then to go to sleep. Each one perked up a little when they saw him sitting at the table. If Marty knew the truth about the way his posse talked about him when he was absent he would still tell them outlandish stories, but he would dislike each fellow student even less then he did now.

"Man, me and my boy was chillin' out at my mom's place Tuesday night. I was in court all day yesterday. Somebody put a knife at my throat I don't want to press no charges. My old lady pressed them. I just wanted to take care of them myself."

After so many years of hearing this type of English drivel come out of their mouths I'm sad to say that I understood all he was saying. I knew I did not have to become part of the conversation to collect all of the information. Perhaps even some information the juvenile court judge did not have. I appeared to become absorbed in my morning paperwork. All five of them quickly forgot I was in the room.

"I was hangin' with my boy when Caesar, his step mom, sister, and his old man pulled up in our yard. I went outside. Me and Caesar hang together. Before I knew what was happenin' all four of them knocked me to the ground and Caesar had a knife at my throat. He told me he was going to kill my white ass. One of the neighbors called the cops. My old lady didn't. When they heard the cop cars comin' they all got in his step mom's car and got the hell out of the yard. The cops got them over in the next block and arrested all of them. I had to go to court yesterday."

I would hear the story several times throughout the school day. Each time a bit of embellishment was added by Marty. By the end of the day I had pieced the story together. Marty has a girlfriend, Angel, he is on the outs with since the weekend. She had a relationship with Caesar before she moved on to Marty. Marty had decided to move on briefly to Tiffany, just for a weekend, then back to Angel on Monday. However, Angel had decided to get even with Marty. Evidently she had called Caesar to inform him that Marty was going to kick his ass the next time Marty caught him on the street.

It is safe to say that marijuana was involved in both camps. Caesar dealt drugs and used them with his whole family. Marty, on the other hand, gets his stuff from Caesar. All of the participants were high. When Angel told Caesar his step mom became worried that her best salesman would be injured so she gathered the whole family together and drove over to Marty's rented house.

Marty had been inside his house with a friend smoking marijuana. His mother was in the back room of the house drinking with her current boyfriend. She could not have called the police even if she had heard the attack. The next day in court she could not string together enough of the facts to press charges.

Thankfully the police pressed charges for reckless driving, driving under the influence, juvenile probation violation, and driving without a license. Caesar's whole family managed to get locked up until a future court date.

Marty was inconvenienced having to go to court. A small footnote, Marty did lose his stash to his friend that was smoking with him. This brave soul ran out the back door when the attack began taking Marty's stuff with him. Perhaps the worst punishment any of the characters received would be Marty's misfortune. He got Angel back.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How To Steal A Car And Get Caught

I listened as the disheveled high school boy related how he was going to sue the high school. My feet shuffled under my desk in uncomfortable anticipation of leaving in the mid-afternoon. "I fell up the steps," Conner said.

Eased back to the conversation I looked at him as if I knew what he was talking about. "Why do you need to sue, little fellow?"

"I fell up the steps," he restated.

Thinking about what steps he could have fallen up or down on the level land, where the one-story inner city high school was constructed, I watched him bend forward and fold his left ear over to demonstrate the extent of his injury. I half-looked at an injury I could not see and at the same time presenting a look on my face of sincere interest.

"Over next to the science lecture hall."


"Right over there," Conner pointed to the wall of my portable building. Somehow, this high school student, the pride of his family, had found the only place on campus that could be called steps (two) to fall up.

"Did it embarrass you?"

"No, not really. It was during lunch."

The thought passed through my mind how falling in front of many students was less embarrassing then falling up two steps when you're alone? It was quickly replaced by his voice continuing on with the story. "It hurt me right behind my ear. It hurt all night."

"Concrete and human heads are generally an unfair match." I said.

"Wow, you can say that again, but don't. It still hurts," he said, while rubbing behind the opposite ear. I watched him rub the wrong ear and wondered what the real story was?

I would not begin to know the complete story until the School-Resource-Officer approached me. He is a somewhat effective young policeman in a government school setting. "Did Ashton attend all of his classes yesterday," he asked?

"To the best of my knowledge," I half-heartedly assured him. "However, if you need some information about what's going on around here I'd pull him in for a talk."

"Probably a good idea." I watched Officer Burns walk down the wooden ramp leaving my aged portable classroom. He is generally a man of few words and I suspected few original thoughts. Always on his desk was the school and sheriff's department book of rules and polices, along next to a Nintendo game controller. I wondered if he was ever a street cop? I'd heard rumors that he was very good at playing Grand Theft Auto on his game console.

Less than fifteen minutes later I watched the policeman escort Ashton into his office. I was sure he could extract any information he needed and probably some he didn't. Still I had not connected the sore ear, falling up stairs, and the current incident being investigated. Enlightenment would be forth coming to me within the next thirty minutes.

Almost to the minute, Officer Burns opened my classroom door and allowed Ashton to enter. The SRO leaned into the opening and asked to speak with me. "What can I help you with, sir." I said exiting my portable.

"Do you know these five kids?"

I looked at the paper note he cupped in his left hand. I also noticed his right hand resting on a 9mm pistol on his belt. My sense was that he felt safer in that position while on school grounds. "Sure, I know all their names and at least two of them have spent considerable time in my behavior class."

After I gave him their last names he told me what had occurred, thanked me and again walked down the ramp from my portable. Now the story was getting interesting as I began to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It went something like this.........

During first period two days earlier, Conner, Angelina, Kasey, and two other non-descript players had decided that a joy ride, in a stolen car, was what they needed to break the boredom of a grueling high school schedule. So, being inventive young souls, they found a rundown Mazda to fulfill their desires. The Mazda belonged to a friend of Angelina, Cybil Livingston.

Cybil would never be mistaken for the sharpest tool in the high school shed. She drove much to fast onto the student parking lot daily, because she could not decrypt the instructions on her alarm clock. Bounding from the tiny four-door import she always tossed the car keys on the dash in front of the steering wheel in plain sight of one thousand and ninety seven other students, most itching to leave campus during the day. Sometimes, Cybil would comment how good the gas mileage was for her misfiring little Mazda. If she knew the truth, several students borrowed the car daily and some of them even replaced the gas they used.

Angelina was the leader of the Grand Theft Auto gang. She wanted to smoke a cigarette, pickup a soda, and just ride around. Conner was not interested in stealing a car. He was interested in Angelina. Going with her meant there was a slim chance he could get closer to her especially in a small, four-door Japanese car. He never gave the three other students a second thought about being in the car.

If you're out having fun during second period of a mundane school day, why not speed? Why not speed on a wet two-lane country road? Why not speed on a wet two-lane country road and pass a cigarette around to five people? Then the cigarette took a tumble from the waiting fingers of the driver, and Conner attempted to rescue Angelina from imminent harm. Kasey reached from the rear seat to grab the steering wheel. Of course, the automobile was not out of control until Kasey jerked the steering wheel into a hard right turn. This solved the problem of the hot cigarette in Angelina's lap. It dropped from the seat to the roof as the car tumbled over.

"I hit my head on the roof. Dude, it still hurts," Conner said.

Mustering my concern I ask, "Are you all right?"

"I guess so."

"Which hurt more, the car wreck or falling up the steps?"

Conner, looked at me and you could almost hear the gears turning in his brain. A glaze crossed over his teenage face and he said, "You figured it out, man!"

I didn't belay the point, because now Conner understood his story of falling up the steps to cover what really injured his head wouldn't float. He had dedicated most of the night creating and fine-tuning a story to account for his injury. Again, the point had been driven home to him that it is always easier to tell the truth. You don't have to remember as much.

The ending to the great Grand Theft Auto caper was not written for another three days. All of the participates, except Angelina, received three days suspension out of school and the strong possibility all would be charged by the local authorities. Angelina was transferred to the area alternative school mostly due to her long record of infractions. Conner took his three days out of school in stride, sleeping late each day, playing Grand Theft Auto on his Playstation, and generally going and coming as he pleased. All believed their partners in crime were “kool” anti-heros.

Conner, returned on day four with a warning from his principal that one more infraction of the rules would result in his immediate transfer to the alternative school where Angelina now pursued her education. He lasted ten minutes into the beginning of the school day. He managed to become angry; the reason still remains unclear, and stormed out of his first period class. He now gets to pursue the "love of his life" at the alternative school. I hope Angelina's very large boyfriend, that attends the same alternative school, understands.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Whales Are In Danger!

Morris doesn't have Downs Syndrome. His diagnosis states he has this disability, but with all due respect to his mother, doctors, grandmother, and late father, the rest of us have Downs Syndrome and Morris is the "normal" one.

He graduated from high school in 2005 after turning eighteen, but will continue his education until he is twenty-two. He participates daily in a non-paid work program. I see him frequently in the morning getting on the yellow short school bus to be transported to a burger place one week and perhaps a grocery store the next week, and then maybe to wrap eating utensils at a pizza place the next week. He often says his favorite work places are the restaurants. His favorite food is chicken. The fondness and capacity he has for the Kentucky Colonel's creation, extra crispy, is astounding. Perhaps there is a research study somewhere attempting to discover the allure that chicken has for some people with disabilities? Regardless, he loves his chicken.

What he doesn't love is anyone with a disability. He does not like to associate with "them". Many times he has told me he does not have a disability he's buff. All 5' 2", 273 pounds, black hair, muscle shirt, and sagging pants, buff. The only time he seems to overcome another's disability is when a young lady in his class or work program becomes his girlfriend. He is a buff ladies man with frequent girlfriends. Not the going out on date type girlfriend, but the standing on the school sidewalk before lunch waiting on them, then chasing behind when they don't stop on the way to the cafeteria.

For the most part our conversations go like this;
"Good morning, Morris."
"Good," he replies.
There was a time when he was assigned to my classroom for a brief two week period for the whole school day. He had assignments from other teachers to work on during the day. However, the only assignments he would attempt were math. Probably because he got to use plastic checkers to count.
"Morris, what is six minus three?" With a box of checkers dumped on the table in front of him he would separate six of them. Then he began taking one away at a time until he had the answer.
"Three..................." and so on regardless of the the problem being solved. This loud counting went on for three periods each morning. Over and over and over and................................

Then lunch time came. His internal clock went off each morning at 11:15 A.M. "It's time for lunch." The excitement in his voice was undeniable. At that announcement he took out his insulated lunch bag from his wheeled book bag. The only thing he ever transported in this book bag was his lunch.

After opening the lunch bag he carefully laid out his lunch in the following order on the table;
Chicken sandwich
Fruit cup
Two cookies
A carton of milk
Two bite size candy bars.

I remember as a child my mother telling me to chew each bite 32 times for good digestion. Morris was not counting, but he intently stared at his sandwich after each bite while chewing a certain number of times. This went on until his lunch was consumed and washed down with the milk. Then he returned to his assignment;

There was a time, right out of college, when I was surely in the "Save The Whales" mode of education. I and my classmates were going to change the academic world by enlightening each and every student. I must have a small piece of that remaining deep inside. From time to time I know I'm going to make a difference in Morris' life. The latest time came during one of his sidewalk waits for a current girlfriend. I was returning to my portable classroom and could not help but pass him. He didn't look in my direction as I passed so intent was he on waiting for a girl.

"Hello Morris."
"Good," he said.
"That's not the appropriate answer, Morris. When someone says hello you should reply, Hello Mr. Best."
He looked at me through his glasses and with extreme lucidity he said, "What if it ain't you?"

With all due respect to his mother, doctors, grandmother, and late father, the rest of us have Downs Syndrome and Morris is the "normal" one. In a flash of clarity I understood I had been put in my place and teaching was on a long lunch break.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Why Are Shackles Inhuman?

I'm an old "fuddy-duddy". In my time on this spinning rock the definition of shackles has changed many times in my cerebral dictionary. I read The Diary of Anne Frank and understood the shackles that are imposed mentally and physically, many times by others. Then I see some of my students out in the "hood" and I grasp the concept of environmental shackles. On a daily basis in the classroom I'm slapped across the academic face by the shackles created from missing parents, single-parent "families", and just plain uncaring "parents".

Of the multitude of governmental shackles thrust upon citizens No Child Left Behind has tightened itself around the academic wrist of some students that need reality. Not the "reality" of the SAT score, the "insistent reality" that every student should attend college, and surely not the "reality" that if you score a certain number on a standardized test then your life will be set firmly in success.

What about the young mind that can take a lawn mower engine apart inside their head and even put it together again, or the hands that can transform a stack of lumber into a dining table, and the young souls that small children relate to in the realm of child care? It is so easy to expound on the lack of teaching knowledge and virtues when students don't pass into a standardized life, such as the students that have no family support, the ones that exercise their math skills counting the days until their eighteenth birthday and can quit, or the ones that find a "reality" in the quick buck mentality of the streets, and the ones that receive their esteem from developing a "street cred". A student that shoots a store clerk twice just to have others look at him with "respect".

Many teachers find themselves in the quicksand position of teaching to the test, especially in the core classes. Mostly, what is missed is that life after high school is the test. There was a time when public schools were more then a babysitting service. They were the focal point of the community. The pride of the richest, poorest, and all falling between these two. Now these institutions have morphed into government schools. Controlled by the State Department of Education. A government agency that has never educated a student and never will, but exercises a strangle hold on local school boards through the disbursement of federal money. It is not so much that school systems need federal money as they want federal money.

Technology is the current emphasis and watch word. The more computers and related hardware that can be crowded into a classroom then more education that must be taking place. The real technology of the classroom is the cell-phone, text messages, and iPods. Of course, the one thing that just about guarantees placing a teacher in a dangerous, confrontational position is demanding that a student give up their cell-phone if caught having it out during class or outside of class. This teacher is also expected to disregard another teacher just outside the school building using their cell-phone while trying to reason with an angry student being told they can't have their cell phone back.

"Hey, I'm Thomas, but my boys call me Street."
This new student had transferred in today from another county system that suggested with his difficulties there with academics and the court system he would do much better transferring. His family, an older sister, took the hint and moved out of the jurisdiction of that court system.
"Have a seat. Do you have your class schedule yet?"
"I lost it man."
"You lost it between the guidance office and here?" A distance of about 246 feet.
"Guess so."
"Well, I'll get you another one."
"Don't matter, I'll just lose it too."
I looked at this student. He dressed like most of the others. Sagging pants, oversized t-shirt with a cryptic advertising message that only a street kid cared to understand, a shiny "grill" covering his upper teeth, and a large chain around his neck with a fake medallion hood ornament from a Mercedes attached. The more he tried to dress to be different and cool, the more he looked and acted like the other students.
"Where do you live," I asked?
"You know, over in the 'hood."
"What grade you in Thomas?"
"Don't matter. They call me Street."
"I don't use nick names in this class."
"I don't give a damn about this class or this school. I'll be eighteen in two months and I'll be gone."
"What are you going to do when you're out of school?"
"What I always do. I make money. I don't need no loser job like yours."
"I see. Then you have a plan."
"What I always do, dude."
"Do you want to get another copy of your schedule?"
"No, dude. I'm tired. I been up all night. I need to rest." With those enlightening words he pulled the hood on his Jordan jacket over his head and fell asleep. The other students in the class looked at me with the same expressions on their faces that was now being hidden by Street's hood.

This kid has embraced the shackles of his life. No Child Left Behind, more technology, teaching to the test, and government school plans mean nothing to him. He has a plan, an agenda for life and knows he is not going to be left behind by the street. At least for a short period of time.