Are You Gay?

Are You Gay?

“Are You Gay?” Students have asked this question a lot in classrooms where I have taught, particularly when I was a substitute teacher. Why? Because it’s an easy way to derail a lesson. Once asked, it must be EFFECTIVELY answered or the class/lesson descends into homophobic giggling or worse.

This isn’t about being ashamed or trying to hide. It’s about keeping the class on task. I live in West Hollywood. My wife swam with West Hollywood Aquatics (a predominately, but not exclusively, openly gay swim team) and so I have met more than a few gay and lesbian teachers who have been asked this inappropriate question and some did not know how to respond. I write this for them and for any teacher who doesn’t want to be trapped by this question.

It is important to note that I was never asked about my sexual orientation by any openly gay students (see Embarrassing Questions). I am spectacularly handsome but I don’t think I give off a particularly gay vibe. When I was gigging with drummer PT (he’s the guy who recommended I should substitute teach for additional income which started my teaching career), he used to get angry with me on the job and on the break one night he fiercely scolded me, “Would you please get your head into the job? I can always tell when a pretty girl comes in the room because your playing goes to hell. Stop checking out the girls and get your head into the music!” He was right.

Mad Magazine and a word of caution

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The Old Rugged Cross and the ‘N’ Word

A large wooden cross set against a brilliant blue sky with colorful distant mountains stands as a testament to faith.

The Old Rugged Cross

What is sacred to you? What is offensive? And does it matter who says it or how it is said? These are questions designed to examine values about race and what constitutes insulting behavior. Let’s start with The Old Rugged Cross.

I played the piano at my Sunday school. We frequently sang a song called The Old Rugged Cross. The lyrics I want to focus on were:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross…

Why would anyone love an emblem of suffering and shame?

The cross and crucifixion were considered very shameful in ancient times. Roman citizens were not crucified. In the Roman world, crucifixion was a punishment handed out to the lowest, most reviled criminals. Only slaves, foreign captives and those non Romans convicted of crimes against the state (as in the case of Jesus) suffered crucifixion as a capital punishment.

jesus-fishI was taught (in Bible study) that, generally, Christianity first adopted the cross (and/or the fish) as a way of recognizing friends and like minded believers. Christianity also adopted the cross as an emblem of defiance. And finally Christianity adopted the cross as a reminder of the nature of sacrifice (there’s a lot more to it but let’s leave it there for now).

Now I ask you, “Have you ever heard of someone who follows The Old Rugged Cross feeling insulted by being called a Christian?” I suppose if it was said with enough venom and vitriol it could be an insult, “You sanctimonious Christians!” Perhaps it isn’t the word itself but how you say it and how you mean it that makes it an insult.

[Warning: This next section contains actual, unedited and uncensored quotes of children and may be offensive to some readers.
Please proceed with caution and an open mind.]

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The Heartache of the Impossible Child

9.22.14 Screaming Child iStock_000008551025SmallThe reality and heartache of the impossible child.

Most of my kids were really great. They just needed the right opportunity to get their acts together. We adults provided those opportunities and we all got along. But, let’s face reality, I have to admit that I did encounter some kids who seemed impossible to reach. At least, that’s how it seemed.

One day early in the semester in which I began my sojourn at our CDS school a student walked into class and said, “Oh man! I should have stayed in.” So I asked him, “In where?” He replied, “In jail!”

I run a tight, goal oriented class but it’s not that hard, yet he preferred jail to school. Obviously there are some serious issues here that go way beyond the scope of this essay. I include it only to show how stubborn a child can be.

I must issue a mea culpa. The following story is about a child so difficult her classmates wanted her suspended from school. It has a sort of positive resolution but I feel I just got lucky in coming up with it. Thank God for Two Choices Technique.

The Student Progress Meeting

In an effort to improve instruction and our relationships with the kids, after each grading period all of us teachers would meet during and after lunch as a group (we were a small school). Then we would call in each student one at a time and review their progress. Some students were given high praise and told to keep up the good work. Most received a mixed bag of praise and questions about the subjects they were having trouble with. “You’re doing fine in Mr. D’s math class. Why do you think you’re failing Language Arts? How can we help you?” That sort of thing.

And then there were the hard cases, those students who could not or would not get with the program. They were unable or unwilling to help us fit the program to their needs. Each was their own version of the impossible child. No offer of compromise, no promise of reward or threat of punishment would get them to cooperate in their own success. Nadine was the most impossible of the bunch.

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The Two Worst Times

14 years oldHaving Trouble? Call Home!

Imagine I am a novice teacher. I’m having trouble with a student’s behavior. The kid is talking at inappropriate times, won’t take directions seriously – that sort of thing. Nothing dangerous, but still disruptive and/or disrespectful. I go to my principal (or my university professor) and explain the situation. What’s the first question they will ask? “Have you called home on the student?”

Calling home is the most often recommended behavior management tool we teachers are given. But I was (we are) never told what the given assumptions were with that advice. Nor was I told what to do if calling home didn’t produce any positive behavioral changes in the student.

Unspoken Assumptions

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Educational Expert? Who Me?

CSUN DiplomaEducational Expert?

Yes I am an educational expert. How about you? If you’re like me (or Rodney Dangerfield) you put in the time and still get no respect. I put in the time going to University classes. I earned a Masters degree in Education. I became National Board Certified in Algebra. I attended colloquia and seminars and extra classes. I put in the years in the trenches of the classroom. There are legions of former students who attest that I was a positive influence in their lives. So why don’t parents and the school district listen to me?

It’s simple. Parents want an easy fix and the school district wants support for their way of thinking. Part of the reason the powers that be don’t listen to me is that I don’t always spout the party line. For other reasons we may look to the Bible and Matthew 13:57

And they were offended in him. But he said unto them, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.”

So why does this matter? I’m tired of people saying, “You’re the educational expert. You should have known what to do.” I know what to do, but too many times those involved don’t want to go along. What they really mean is, “You should have known to do something different which didn’t upset anyone or involve the parents.” Here’s an example:

The dreaded “N” word and the call home

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The Standing Desk

Special Ed.The Standing Desk: A Variation on Two Choices Technique

Molly was in my Special Ed. class. She, like most of the students in that class, was autistic. She also suffered from a neuromuscular disease that left her wheelchair bound. Part of her IEP (Individualized Education Program) was that she was to spend a few minutes of each day in a contraption called a ‘standing desk’. 

It was good for her but she didn’t like it.

This was no ordinary standing desk. It was a special orthopedic device for those who could not support their own body weight. It had an adjustable back or lumbar support like a regular chair but she didn’t sit in it – she had to stand. And there was a board that locked over her knees to keep them from buckling. The purpose of the standing desk was to help her to stand while studying so she could build up her bones and muscles. Call it, twenty minutes of isometric exercise in a device that looked like a leftover from the Spanish Inquisition. 

This independent lady destroyed a garden!

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Santa Claus or Satan?

Santa Claus wearing sunglasses dancing outdoors at North Pole in snowfall. He is celebrating Christmas after hard work

Santa Claus or Satan?

I told the class, “Your behavior controls my behavior.” I said, “You get to choose. Who do you want standing up here, Santa Claus or Satan? Santa Claus is a jolly, white-haired, old man who gives presents and grants favors. Satan is a mean guy who enforces the rules to the letter of the law without pity or consideration for your situation. Now who do you want standing up here?”

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Spring Valley High: What I would have done to avoid the assault.

Spring Valley HighYou’re not asking the right questions.

I have worked in some very violent, dangerous and/or stressful school situations. Most people just don’t know how tough it can be. Therefore I was saddened at the naive, hysterical reactions of the public, the news media and the commander of the officer in the Spring Valley High video. Why do I call the outpouring of anger and outrage at the video hysterical? It is hysterical because there was a rush to judgement without enough of the right questions being asked or answered. The following will be an examination of what I believe to be the most important and relevant questions as well as an examination of possible alternative actions and outcomes.

In each of the following segments I want you to ask yourself, ‘What are my cherished beliefs? What do I know about child rearing, discipline and teaching? Before I judge the Resource Officer at Spring Valley High, what would I have done differently?’

These beginning questions are important because too many times, whether talking about school discipline or law enforcement, people have the tendency to say, “You should not have done that.” But they can’t say or can’t demonstrate what should have or could have been done that would have been more effective or less stressful. I will.

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Working to Misunderstand: The Fire

10.27.15 Yes & NoFire

The fire alarm was sounding. Then the familiar voice of our Principal came over the P.A. system, “This is not a drill. This is not a drill. There is a fire in the the cafeteria so have your classes assemble by room 5 to avoid the fire and to stay out of the way of the firefighters.”

And we all left our classrooms in a safe, orderly fashion. NOT!

There are set guidelines for teachers to follow and the kids don’t really give a damn about my guidelines. They want to get out, check out the action and shoot the breeze with their friends. Seriously, who can blame them? But I always conducted myself with one eye to the future when I’d be sitting on the witness stand getting grilled by the D.A., “So tell the jury Mr. D., where were you when your student, that poor ignorant uh innocent child was being consumed by the flames? Didn’t you know where your students were? Didn’t you have control of your class?” Control of the class – there’s the rub. How do you control a kid who doesn’t want to be controlled without extreme behavioral management?

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School Is Funky

School is Funky - Boy Holding NoseClassroom management can be disrupted by the funky nature of kids.

Yes, school is funky!  Now, I’m not talking about funky as in the syncopated stylings of a James Brown or a Tower of Power.  No, no dear friends.  I’m talking about the kind of funky that leaves sticky fingerprints all over the place, or smells bad, or leaves unpleasant stains on your clothes.  Hey, we’re dealing with human life at school and life is messy.

I’m bringing it up here because too many reform initiatives and criticism of teachers don’t take this funky human element into account.  Sometimes we teachers have to dress for the occasion, which can make us look a bit unprofessional or unfashionable.  I was lucky to have worked with some very conscientious plant managers but even the cleanest school can be an incredible source of dirt and funk.  I’ve already written about the time I found black mold in a book cupboard.  But we also get dirty dealing with dusty books and shelves, crawling around on the floor plugging in computers, projectors and TVs, or just cleaning up after the hoards of youngsters who storm through our classrooms on a daily basis.  Please remember, it takes time and energy to deal with the funk.  In an effort to save time when dealing with some of it, I invented the ‘Gum Museum’.  But before I tell you about the ‘Gum Museum’, let me give you some human background (which you may already know about but maybe haven’t considered from a classroom management perspective).

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