Eye of Eagle – Foot in Mouth

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI had earned a reputation as a hard guy.  I was told that there were times when I was used as a threat.  Other adults on campus would tell students, “You better behave or I’ll transfer you to Mr. D.‘s class!”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a teacher not an ogre.  Some kids who liked my style of teaching would actually ask to transfer into my classes.  I was only a threat to behavior problems because I seemed to have eyes in the back of my head; I was constantly on guard; I have a painfully loud, drill instructor’s voice; and I would regularly stalk about the room like Captain Bligh inspecting everything.

The reality is I’m just a good actor.  I’m a burnt marshmallow, dark and crusty on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.  I just kept it hidden.  It was good for business.

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Embarrassing Questions

11.25.14 Question MarkChildren ask a lot of questions.  They’re supposed to.  It is a cornerstone of learning.  And I believe it is the duty of adults, parents, teachers, even the whole village, to answer those questions as honestly and unemotionally as we can.  But it’s not always easy.

Now, I’m not talking about the kinds of questions which are asked as distractions (those are a different problem).  I’m talking about the kinds of questions in which the child really does want an honest answer but where an honest answer can be embarrassing to the adult or a serious challenge to adult dignity.

If you have ever changed a diaper, cleaned up after a sick cat, or used a bedpan in a hospital ward you probably know that some situations require actions which are necessary but inherently undignified.  It is in those moments in which we learn that dignity is carried in the heart and not dictated by circumstance.

When children are young and the questions are things like: “Daddy, why do I get boogers in my nose?” or “Mommy, why do Daddy’s farts smell so bad?” the challenge to dignity isn’t all that great.  But as our children mature and the questions become more sexual in nature, far too many adults/teachers shy away in embarrassment from these assaults on adult dignity.  Among the many embarrassing questions I’ve been asked, the following three questions stand out for me.  They were serious questions asked in class.  Although they challenged my dignity, I felt they were worthy of serious, dignified, honest answers.

I was asked: “Mr. D., what’s a stiffy?”  “Mr. D., why do your nipples look like that?”  and finally, “Mr. D., have you ever kissed a man?”

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Teachers Get Bullied Too

Smaller FearChildren aren’t the only ones who get bullied.

Bullying travels in every direction following the shifting currents of power.  Yes, even teachers get bullied.  Sometimes we are able to handle it and the bully doesn’t succeed (see: Two Choices Technique and the Gangsta’).  But sometimes even the most experienced and toughest of us can feel unsure of what to do next or what will happen next and that can bring on a very deep fear.  I have felt that fear.

It seemed to have happened both gradually and swiftly (I know that sounds absurd but that’s how it seemed).  One minute I was giving an assignment and the next I was being threatened by a boy much larger and younger than myself and he was saying things like, “What you gonna do about it?  You gonna hit me?”

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The Bully on the Bus: Part 2

YMCA 2Ben was my friend.

Ben was also the school fat guy at a time when childhood obesity was not yet the epidemic norm it is now.  I know it sounds awful to call Ben the fat guy but he was overweight and that made him a target for school bullies.  However, Ben was my friend.  He took pictures of my band!  And any artist or entertainer will tell you that we have strong propensities toward vanity and anyone who supports our art is a friend indeed.

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Two Choices Technique and the Gangsta’

11.29.14 2 choices Gang iStock_000005364632LargeI got a gangsta’ challenge.

Andre and Nicolas were not doing their math.  They were talking nasty stuff about jail.  They were showing off, whispering just loudly enough to make their private conversation public.  This was at a time when we had some pretty tough customers for students and it was obvious that Andre and Nicolas were working at showing how tough they were.  They didn’t need to.  At a school full of hard guys, Andre was easily one of the toughest and Nicolas wasn’t far behind.  They were trying to show the other kids that they could bully me.  I hadn’t been their teacher for very long so they were testing me.

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The Bully on the Bus: Part 1

The Bully on the busWhat do you do with the bully on the bus?

What to do about a bully is not always clear cut.  I want you to put yourself in this teacher’s shoes and ask yourself, ‘What would I do about the bully?’

David Calvin was a history teacher at a small, midwestern, religious based high school.  Along with teaching history, one of his duties was to drive a school bus full of students from the city to school in the suburbs in the morning and back to the city again after school.  It was a nerve-racking and thankless job but Mr. Calvin believed in helping his school as much as he could.

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Two Choices Technique and the 2 Year Old

Screaming 2 year old childThis is a negotiating technique.

I first heard of its use in business.  If it has a technical name, I don’t know of it.  I call it: Two Choices Technique.  But trust me, my Kung Fu is strong and, Two Choices Technique works in parenting and in the classroom.  If you’ve ever been in a discussion of the rules with a child and the conversation seemed to derail into an unwanted negotiation or a fight, you could have used this tool.  And that’s all it is, just another tool in the toolbox of the skillful negotiator.  I’ve used it on children of all ages (yes, even with the hard guys – that’s coming in a later post) but it’s easiest to understand and learn when you see how I used it with 2 year old Charlotte.

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The Laughable Paradox of Naive Sophistication

Sexy baby pink patent platform high heelsNaive Sophistication

Some adults (parents, teachers and pundits) believe that today’s teens are very sophisticated (see my posts on sex education).  Some adults (mostly parents and politicians) believe that teens are still very naive (or you could say innocent).  What I have observed is a strange combination of both.  This can lead to very comedic situations.  And although this concept of naive sophistication applies to both boys and girls, the following narrative is about the girls.  Now don’t get upset.  This probably doesn’t apply to your daughter but it most probably applies to the girl sitting next to her.

The most glaring example of this laughable juxtaposition of worldliness and naiveté can be witnessed in the teenaged girl who comes to school in the morning dressed as if she was looking for love in all the wrong places on a Saturday night and then she flops down a ‘Little Mermaid’ backpack, takes out a ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ pencil and begins writing in her ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’ notebook.

A more subtle example of precocious sophistication can be found in the lyrics of the Eagles song ‘Lying Eyes’ in which they sing about “girls… [who] find out early, how to open doors with just a smile.”  This is a story of just such a smile; but it didn’t work on me.

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How I Got Gangsta’ Street Credit Without Getting Shot

7.8.14 Credit Cards & Benjamins iStock_000016074423_SmallGangsta’s

I taught the most hated and feared course in the curriculum to the most hated and feared students in the district.  For twenty years, I taught Algebra at a CDS school.  Community Day Schools (CDS) are ‘last chance’ alternative schools.  We’d get the most troubled, the most violent, the most at risk, the most hard headed, the unluckiest (personal problems or behind in credits), and the saddest (as well as the sweetest) teenage students you could possibly imagine.  My novella What Happened to David describes in greater detail the challenges these students face, but for right now just accept that I regularly had some very difficult clients.

Now on the particular day I’m talking about here, my class was made up of all boys and equally divided between hard core gangsters and wanna be gangstas.  I run a tight, goal oriented, mathematics classroom but even the best classroom manager will tell you that some days, you just have to go with the flow.  Today the flow was going toward a contest of who had survived the most impressive wounds – usually from gunshots or stabbings.

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Teachers Are Older Than Dirt!

cracks in the land

Teachers can age quickly.

Let’s face it, teaching is a tough profession, and physically, it ages most of us very rapidly (those of us who stay with the profession may look old but we’re young at heart!).  Yes, there are those teachers who appear to have the sweet bloom of youth but that’s because they just recently got into teaching right out of college (time will take it’s toll!).   Review the lyrics to Don’t Stand So Close to Me by the Police or Hot for Teacher by Van Halen – sometimes the teachers are indeed young and attractive (i.e. hot).  But for most of us, once we pass 25 or 30 years old, we are considered by our students to be older than their grandparents.  And even though they may love us and respect us, it doesn’t help that children are such poor judges of age, along with being brutally honest.  Witness what happened to cute, classy, crazy Ms. Curtis (not her real name – but read more about Ms. Curtis in my novella What Happened to David).

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