When You Can’t Fix Stupid #1

OwlpussycatContent Alert:
Politically Incorrect Material
The following contains
sexually suggestive language
which may not be suitable for all audiences.

We all do stupid things.

One year, I left the water running in the sink and flooded my bathroom.  That was stupid.  I know better but I let myself get distracted.  As a teacher I was regularly cautioned to never use the word ‘stupid’.  But to be honest with you, we teachers regularly see behaviors (and policies) that can only be described as stupid.  Some examples of stupidity we can fix.  But there is one form of stupidity that we can’t fix; it is deadly and we need to be able to recognize it to protect our children.  Now, before you get angry, let me do a little clarifying of terms.  This is important because at the time of this writing (early 2015) there is a measles outbreak sweeping the nation and the word stupid is being used with abandon. 

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One Teacher – Two Outcomes

1-2The truth is stranger than fiction!

Bet you never thought you’d read that I was paid too much.  I was told by a reliable source that according to the District, the number of students at my CDS alternative school didn’t justify the salaries of teachers (like me) at the top of the pay scale (Hell’s bells!  I took the classes.  I put in the years. I’m an expert and these kids need an expert!).  I was told that I was being watched downtown because I’m so highly qualified and too highly paid!  

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A Godfather Speech: One Mirror – Two Truths

3.4.15 MirrorI have several techniques in my ‘Teacher’s Toolbox’ that I call my ‘Godfather Speeches’.  They are quite effective in turning around unwanted or difficult behaviors in children.  All children, yes, even normally well behaved ones, will test the boundaries of good conduct.  They should!  How else will they learn?  And it’s our job, as adults, to steer them to the paths of effective good behavior.  But what do you say to the bone-headed, hard guy/girl, wanna be who says, “I won’t!” or “I don’t want to!” or “I don’t have to!”?  Time for a ‘Godfather Speech’.

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“All My Teachers Are Racist!”

RacistAll my teachers are racist!

“It’s not my fault my grades are bad.  All my teachers are racist.”  And his mom believed him.  He was her little boy, her darling.  He wouldn’t lie.  And don’t try to tell her that sometimes parents who truly love their children can be their own child’s worst enemy.  She had to learn from experience.

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I Witnessed A Miracle

Equinox egg  9.21.08 copyThe weather in Southern California is mostly warm and mild, but even on the hottest day, the climate in the classroom can be mighty cold.  Some days, the mean streets of L.A. seem to be right there in class with you.  They tear at your heart and just when you wonder if it is possible to have your spirits sink any lower a miracle occurs.  Suddenly your students don’t seem like the hateful, demon-spawn they were a minute ago and you are able to get through the day.  I know.  It happened to me.

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Let’s Talk About Drugs

SugarTough Questions about Drugs

“Hey Mr. D.!  You were a hippie in college.  You did drugs didn’t you?”  Or…  “Hey Mr. D.!  You’re a musician.  I heard you playing that jazz music.  Come on Man, you smoked weed didn’t you?”

Boy!  Those are some tough questions.  Why?  Because parents and teachers know we have a responsibility to point our kids in the direction of the law abiding way to health and happiness but we also remember our own more foolish or dangerous life choices.  Parents have come to me and (in many varied forms) asked, “How do I talk to my kid about drugs (or sex) and not sound like a hypocrite when I think about some of the crazy stuff I did in my years of experimentation?  How do I warn them of potential dangers without sounding foolish or hysterical?  What do I say that will help me to gain or retain some respect or credibility?”

The Tightrope of Candor

Usually I’d have to speak to my kids after some whole school assembly warning our students about the dangers of drugs.  The older kids would be talking about what was wrong with what had been said in the assembly and then it would dawn on the kids to ask me about my past.  So I walked the tightrope of candor:

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The Greatest Shame

12.8.14 Guilt iStock_000005994502SmallWe got fighters.

One semester we had a group of dedicated fighters.  They (guys and girls!) got into a big fight at a local park with kids from another school.  We know this because it was in the early days of YouTube and the kids had video recorded the action, posted it and then bragged about it.  As soon as we adults saw the videos we made sure the police were notified and we had YouTube take down the videos.  The video pugilists were expelled from school.

Sadly, while investigating those public crimes, we discovered evidence of an even more heinous crime which had been perpetrated right under our noses at school!  What shamed me the most about it was the fact that, in my eyes, I/we had done everything right and yet I was still unable to protect one of my kids.

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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 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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