How School Broke My Heart

Everybody Has a Story

Talk to anyone, and no matter how great their childhood memories are, everyone can come up with some story of heartache caused by something at or about school. It might have been a mean teacher or a school bully . Maybe it was anxiety over some subject, grade or test. Whenever I thought about mean teachers I alway remembered Mrs. Murphy my 3rd grade teacher. She used to poke us in the shoulder and it hurt. But I never felt real heartache until I became a teacher and then school broke my heart.

It wasn’t a bully or a physical threat. It wasn’t done to me personally. It was having to stand by while blind, stupid bureaucracy hurt the kids I loved.

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Gunfight at the Furniture Store

Gunfight: Store Owner Fights Back

It was the Monday morning after Easter Sunday. I had the local TV news on to catch the weather report. I was rolling around on the living room floor doing stretches before heading out for my before-school cardio when I heard the news. “In our top story, Store Owner Fights Back. Yesterday, a gunfight erupted when three men attempted to rob a furniture store at gunpoint. The owner pulled his own gun, and foiled the attempted armed robbery, killing the gunman and wounding another.”

Wow! I thought, ‘What kind of fools decide to rob a furniture store? And on Easter Sunday!’ Unfortunately, I found out. The fools were from my school!

Now don’t judge my kids too harshly. Some of them were really great kids who just had to make up credits. I’m still in touch with some of them who are now adults and I consider them my adopted children.

But, some of my kids were fools on their way to the penitentiary or the cemetery. This is one of their stories.

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Gangstas Have Cars

Gangstas Have Cars. It’s a Warning.

I’ve noticed something unexpected when I promote my writing. My intended audience is kids, parents, teachers, and politicians, pretty much anyone with an interest or a stake in education. What surprises me is that some of them dismiss my book or blog by saying, “Oh we’re just not interested in that gangster stuff. It doesn’t apply to us.” To which I reply, “I think you should be interested in that gangster stuff because gangstas have cars.” Here’s some reasons and then, if you’re still not convinced, a very scary story.

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Ethics Questions to Stump Billionaires

Using Ethics to Stand Up for Labor?

Recently, Joy Reid was interviewing James Baker on the Rachel Maddow Show and she missed a golden opportunity to use ethics questions to strike a blow for the workers of America. Ms. Reid isn’t the only interviewer who has missed opportunities to champion labor. I’ve seen it again and again in multiple interviews where reporters allow incomplete, vague, or softball answers to go unchallenged.

Reporters need to question the ethics of the notion that anything which is good for (read: profitable for) a businessman is then, by definition, good for America, and the American worker. Maybe if more people had challenged the notion that maximizing profits is always good business and is always good for America, we wouldn’t have a President-Elect who loves the American worker so much he promises to bring jobs back to America while he profits from manufacturing overseas.

Some examples:

What Questions to Ask?

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When Does Empathy Become Enabling?

A Four Year Old in High School?

There was a little girl running up and down the aisles in my summer-school Algebra class. Actually it wasn’t my class. I had taken it over as part of my duties as a utility, summer-school, substitute teacher. That summer, I did everything from security in the halls to attendance phone calls in the office. And when a teacher was absent or running late, I took over their classroom. That’s how I wound up teaching Mr. Smith’s summer-school, 9th grade Algebra class with a little girl running up and down the aisles.

I was the new guy in town so the next time the little girl ran past my desk I introduced myself and asked her her name. She told me her name was Sally and she was four years old. By this time another, somewhat older girl had walked up to my desk and introduced herself. The older girl said her name was Amy and that Sally was her daughter. She said that Mr. Smith allowed her to bring her daughter to school because she, Amy, had no one to look after her daughter. If she couldn’t bring her daughter to school she would have to drop out. I told Amy that if it was okay with Mr. Smith, it was okay with me. Amy returned to her desk and Sally continued to wander around.

The truth is, I wasn’t okay with it.

I didn’t take it out on Amy though. The student’s ID number, which is their birthday and a few other numbers, is on the attendance roster. I looked up Amy’s birthday and found out that she was only 16 years old. That meant that she was impregnated as young as 11 years old and had Sally when she was 12!

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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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Punked Out to an Authority Figure

The Lesson

8.7.16 Thirty FiveI wanted to help my kids avoid unnecessary problems with authority figures. Of course, I wasn’t so naive as to believe I could advise them so they would have no problems with authority figures. I just wanted them to learn that it is occasionally possible to de-escalate a situation. I wanted them to understand that what I was saying might keep them from turning an unfortunate situation into something much worse or deadly.

Too many of my kids had trouble with law enforcement or school officials. I have written before about the variety of kids we got at a CDS school. Some were there because they were criminals. Others were there for silly mistakes. And a few were there simply because they were teenaged idiots. They all needed advice for how to deal with the cops.

I told my kids the following true story about how I handled an encounter with law enforcement. To be truthful, I wasn’t ready for my students’ shocking response.

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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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Middle School Terror

6th Grade PicThe First Day of Middle School

It was the first day of school. I was working as a substitute PE teacher at one of the largest middle schools here in Los Angeles. This middle school had several multi-story buildings and was spread out over several acres and was a logistical nightmare for new students (and unfamiliar substitute teachers).

On this first day, in PE, we were enrolling and checking attendance of the 40 or more students enrolled in each period and we were giving locker assignments. The 6th graders were living portraits of terror and frustration.

Many of these young boys had gotten lost and showed up late and scared. Some missed the orientation and some missed the instructions for how to use a combination lock. Just finding their way around this massive campus reduced many a young boy to tears.

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What Whoopi Goldberg Can Teach Us About the Oscars and Diversity

Whoopi's OscarDiversity in Black History Month

Every February at my school we would celebrate Black History Month with assemblies and presentations about Black History. At first, the presentations consisted mostly of documentaries featuring news footage of the struggle for civil rights. Every year we’d see white police beating black people in Selma or Montgomery or elsewhere. And every year our black students would come out of the assemblies visibly and understandably angered by the injustices they had seen.

I went to our principal and asked for some diversity in the presentations. I pointed out that just showing beatings and police dogs and firehoses used on demonstrators didn’t tell the whole picture. It gave the impression that all white people hated all black people which just wasn’t and isn’t true. If it were, we’d still be legally segregated or worse.

My students didn’t need to be convinced that racial prejudice is real – they’d seen it first hand all around them. What they needed was inspiration not more hatred. What they needed was a glimpse of those heroes, white and black, who worked to break down racial barriers. That included Lyndon Johnson as well as Thurgood Marshall, Branch Rickey as well as Jackie Robinson, and Eleanor Roosevelt as well as the Tuskegee Airmen. This was not to imply that the struggle for equal treatment had or has been won. It was intended to show what worked. It was intended to show that the struggle goes on and that only through cooperation of all parties could the forces of prejudice be overcome. And a diverse program was also intended to teach rational judgement because sometimes it isn’t only about race.

Don’t Boycott the Oscars

As of this writing (January/February 2016) there has been a lot of discussion of the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards and what to do about it. There has even been a strident call to boycott the Oscars. I think a boycott is not the answer. Those who would boycott seem to be trying to make this a racial or moral issue when it is more of a business issue and popularity contest.

It’s not about morality.

Why aren’t those concerned with diversity complaining about the lack of diversity in the NBA? Why are there no Cubans on the Miami Heat? Why are there no Irish on the Boston Celtics? Boston Celtics – there’s a misnomer if ever there was one. Fielding a predominately black team in ‘Bean Town’ and calling it the Boston Celtics makes as much sense as fielding a predominately white team in ‘The Big Apple’ and calling it the New York Negros!

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