Insulting the Teacher

7.21.15 ShoutMerely Vulgar or Is It Insulting?

Which matters more, who says it or how it is said? Many of our students treat us with love and affection – or at least grudging respect. But some do not. We teachers (at times) are subjected to all kinds of insults and vulgarities. In my last post, The Old Rugged Cross and the ’N’ Word, I wrote about the students’ constant use of the word ‘nigga’ and how I was repeatedly told, “We can say it but you can’t because of your color.” I warned that, although I was not advocating the use of vulgarity, making such a distinction because of race was a dangerous and outdated concept. But what about student vulgarity in general? When is it simple-minded, low-class behavior and when is it insulting?

I have been called just about every insult and/or compliment you can imagine. I’ve been called an asshole, a buster ass mark, a fool, a sycophant, Jubal E. Harshaw and Dad! My looks have been compared to every bald guy with a mustache from Dr. Phil to Sean Connery sexiest-man-1989-0r-2007(I have no problem with this last comparison!). The most shockingly vulgar insult I have ever heard from anybody came from the mouth of a second grader (I’ll spare you the vulgarity here because it isn’t necessary to quote it to make my point. If you really want the prurient details – write me at my contact page). But it really bothered me when I was called an old bald eagle. Why?

To examine if a word or behavior is insulting, I posed the questions earlier, does it matter who says it or how it is said? Let’s look at this symbol of honor used as an insult.

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Where the Apple Falls: Parents #2

Fallen apples on the ground under a treeIt’s not about good or bad.

You’ve heard that old saying that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. You can be sure that there are teachers the world over who have rolled their eyes and echoed that apple/tree sentiment after meeting some kid’s crazy parents. We’ll talk about those crazy parents next time.

Right now I want you to think about the the kid who is an apple that not only fell far from the tree – it rolled downhill and across the street! What about the teacher or parent who seems to do everything right and the outcome is still sad, bad or worse (see also Parents #1)? This is a critical distinction for two very important reasons. It goes to the heart of what it means to be a good parent or teacher and it goes to the heart of teacher evaluations. That is to say, how do we teach about parenting and how do we evaluate teachers if it is possible to do everything right and still have it come out wrong? What standards do we use?

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When Good New Is Sad: Parents #1

A mother crying over her son the way many parents do.This is about the emotional toll of ‘Back to School Night’, and the fine parents I met there.  Fine parents?  Say what?  You thought I was going to go on about the crazy parents I’d met.  Let’s save that one (well – there’s a lot more than one).

So, what was the good news that was sad?  I’d be talking with friends and saying that last night was ‘Back To School Night’ and they’d ask, “How did it go?”  It was a good night when I could say, “It went pretty well.  I didn’t make anybody cry!”

I wasn’t trying to make anybody cry.  It’s just that sometimes an honest answer is… bad news – and too many times I’d see good, caring people (parents and kids) weep in pain and frustration.  For example:

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Busted for Shouting!

8.6.15 Shout.jpegI got busted by the police for excessive force!

Yes, a cop… busted me!!! for excessive force.  And when law enforcement complains of a teacher using excessive force, you’d think, ‘Wow that teacher must be out of control.’  Or would you?

Officer Bradshaw was talking with the Principal out on the P.E. field when they heard shouting coming from outside a classroom.  They turned to see a white male teacher shouting at a black female student.  (Start the body camera now) Bradshaw turned on his ‘body cam’, he couldn’t make out what was being said but it was obvious that the teacher and the girl were yelling at each other.  Then they stopped yelling and stomped back into the classroom (stop the camera).

Outraged (and probably feeling like he had the moral high ground), Bradshaw turned to the Principal and demanded, “Is THAT how your teachers talk to your students?”  The Principal said, “I don’t know what that was about, but I will find out.”

So, of course, I heard about it that afternoon.  Before I could say a word in my defense, I was hearing phrases like, “I expect better things from you… Have you any idea how embarrassing that was… What were you thinking?” and more.  To which I protested, “You guys weren’t there.  I had to shout at that girl just to get a word in edgewise.  I was only following school policy but she refused listen.”  “So you had to shout?”  “Yes!”  And before the week was out, I was vindicated by the Principal’s own actions.

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I Saved A Life!

RACHEL, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 10: In front of the Little A'Le'Inn on November 10, 2013. An old tow truck hoists a UFO at the Little A'Le'Inn, which draws tourists from across the worldTeachers shape lives.  Teachers change lives. I saved a life!

And sometimes, teachers even save lives.  This is one of those stories.  Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s not about anything noble like taking a bullet or rushing into a burning building.  Nope.  Sorry.  It’s not about the day to day influence we exert that comes back to us years later when a former student lovingly says, “You helped me.”  No.  This is a story of how dumb luck and my Captain Bligh routine literally saved a kid’s life!

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A Godfather Speech: Respect

TheGodfatherAlPacinoMarlonBrandoI had accepted a job in Musicians’ Hell.  I had just started working for the school district and was rather naive.  The job was band/orchestra instructor at a performing arts magnet middle school.  You’d think that such a job would be fun but…  It was late in the spring semester and I was the third band instructor these students had that year and I was as welcome as an evil stepfather in a dysfunctional family.

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Don’t Blink! The Truth is Mo’ Stranger Than Fiction!

4.22.15 OMG iStock_000023209114_FullI’m a Troublemaker

I told you before, my boss told me I was being watched downtown because I’m so highly qualified, too highly paid and too much of a troublemaker!  What this means is they could/might/will walk on campus at any time looking for some reason to overcrowd my classroom, transfer me, or worse.  What made this particularly nerve-racking was knowing that many administrators erroneously believed that they were expert enough to judge any teacher in the blink of an eye.

Don’t judge teachers in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, this erroneous belief is supported by science!  In his wonderful book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell explains the area of study known as rapid cognition or ‘thin slicing’, the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye.  He makes a very convincing case and I agree with most of his well researched findings.  When talking about evaluating teachers he refers to a study out of Harvard by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in which they assert that students were reliably able to judge a teacher’s effectiveness by watching a ten second video!  Wow!

I would not want to be judged that way, and yet I was.  Rather than argue about the misuse of their science (I read Ambady & Rosenthal’s paper and would be happy to discuss details), let me share two stories of ‘thin slicing’ gone wrong and a masterpiece of classroom mischief that turned into a comedic thermonuclear meltdown which, thankfully, did not get ‘thin sliced’.  Judge for yourself if you would like to be evaluated in the blink of an eye.

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Diploma vs. Education

4.15.16 The_Wizard_of_Oz_Ray_Bolger_1939Have you ever seen the 1939 MGM movie The Wizard of OZ (the one with Judy Garland)?  Does that sound like a strange question, seeing as The Wizard of OZ is generally considered as one of the best-known films in American culture?  I like to use it to teach but, believe it or not, most of my students had never seen it!  True!  I’d mention the Scarecrow from The Wizard of OZ when teaching the Pythagorean Theorem or the difference between a diploma and an education and my kids would look at me with expressions of confusion as genuinely muddled as if I had suddenly begun speaking Klingon.  Oh, my dear under-cultured children!  They also didn’t get the reference to West Side Story when I’d quote, “I’m depraved on account I’m deprived.”

You, however, have seen The Wizard of OZ (or even if you haven’t I’ll review enough for clarity) so let’s talk about what The Wizard of OZ can teach us about the difference between a diploma and an education.  This is important because here in Los Angeles (and I believe elsewhere) we are being told that high school graduation rates are up.  Sounds good, but don’t be fooled by this statistic.  It grieves me to say this but, getting a diploma does not always mean you got an education.

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When You Can’t Fix Stupid #3

Grunge Skull CrossbonesBorrowing trouble

I’ve said it before.  We all do stupid things.  Back when I was much younger and a pretty girl could talk me into just about anything, I loaned my credit card to a ‘friend’ for her deposit on a car rental.  She assured me I’d incur no charges.  One month and eight hundred dollars later I was chanting that advice about borrowing and lending that Polonius gave to Laertes.  I thought I knew better but I let myself get distracted.  I never made that stupid mistake again.

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When You Can’t Fix Stupid #2

Caution tapeI was stupid.

I’ve said it before.  We all do stupid things.  One year, during an icy winter in Chicago, my van was spinning its wheels in a parking lot.  My brother and I got out to push the van off the ice, leaving the van driverless.  That was stupid.  The wheels caught and the van took off.  Fortunately, I was able to catch up to the van and stop it before it did any damage.  I know better but I let myself get distracted.  I never made that stupid mistake again.

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