Category Archives: teaching


This is a story from way back . I was teaching 4th grade at St. Clement School in Venice , California . Way back , now that I think of it ,  in a previous century . Could that be ?

The 2nd grade teacher used to sometimes send misbehaving students to me for a time -out . Maybe she sent other students to all of the other teachers , too . There were only eight of us . Doesn’t matter .

One day she sent over to my room a little kid named Chance .  Chance had an assignment ; in his hand he carried a sheet of paper . I had him sit toward the back of my classroom and I continued my  thrilling , informative , exciting 4th grade lesson .  I don’t remember my lesson that day at all , but hey ! I should have the right to self-promote a little at this point, at this late date  , shouldn’t I ?  What does it all matter now ! You know what I mean ? St.  Clement  School is a thing of the past , too , as it happens . Relegate it all to the ether .baking powder

I noticed that Chance was not busy . I quietly reminded him that he had an assignment from his teacher . So he took a pencil and began scribbling on the blank paper . I watched him as I taught my class . Scribble , scribble , scribble . Scribble , Chance , scribble . See Chance scribble .

Eventually I walked over to his desk , leaned over .  ” Now , chance , you should be doing your assignment ,” I told him .

He looked up at me with an expression on his face that was , shall I say , dismissive . His little smirk said : You idiot ! , and his dark  eyes added to that analysis . ” I am doing it ! ” he said , rather indignantly .

I picked up the scribbled-up page  from the desk . Examined it .  He had done a thorough job of scribbling . The page was almost completely covered with a patina of pencil lead . ” What’s the assignment ? ” I asked .

” We have to draw something that starts with W ,” he said. He pushed the words out reluctantly , as if the question didn’t deserve the reply , as if he regretted getting involved with these trouble-making teachers , having to answer stupid questions , having to do stupid assignments .

I was patient , though.    ” What’s the W word that you’ve drawn ? ” I asked .

Chance scowled . Forced himself to answer me. ” It’s a walrus ! “, he said . He said the word walrus very expressively , as if to say : any fool knows that ; there it is ; can’t you see that ?

” It doesn’t look like a walrus , ” I said .

He put his head down on the desktop for a couple of seconds , as if he were summoning energy enough to answer this fool teacher again , forcing himself . He looked me straight in the eye . ” It’s under water , ” he said . He stretched the word water out about three times it’s usual length . He gave the first syllable special emphasis . To emphasize his frustration . To let me know what he thought of this whole school education business . As if to say : How could any living being be so dumb !

I wondered today what might have become of Chance .  I’m hoping that Chance had a little luck and made it through o.k. and is a happy middle-aged man now , doing something worthwhile per chance . He was one of my favorites , that kid .ENGLAND sept 2014 201



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the quarter tip


Day-to-day  substitute teachers have a tough row to hoe . I’ve done my share of it .  Between jobs at one point , I  subbed for an entire  year , mostly with Glendale  School District . I’ve met a few people who substitute teach for a living . That would be hell .

So , once upon a time , long , long ago , I decided that it would be a good idea to leave a quarter for the sub whenever I was out , with a friendly note . ” Buy yourself a coffee ” it said . At that time the cafeteria coffee was $ .25 .   Well , it wasn’t  much , a token kindness I thought , a welcoming gesture .library

I wasn’t out from school much , and I never gave much thought to the quarter left for the substitute —– sorry , the ” guest teacher ” .

One day I returned after an absence and on my desk was a note . Usually the guest teachers  would leave a note about how the day went and what was or was not accomplished . This note, however ,  spoke only about the twenty-five cents ( if , indeed , notes are able to speak —- you know what I mean , though ) .  Angry note . Outraged note .  Enraged guest teacher . ” I can afford my own coffee ! ” the person had scrawled . The quarter was taped to the note .dragon red

Must have been an especially tough day with my classes . Middle School ; what can you do !

I “revisited” the whole idea about leaving a quarter for coffee.   It could be interpreted as an insult , a put-down , a patronizing action. Of course , this particular sub may, on the other hand ,  have been a nut case . But , I abandoned my little welcoming gesture of leaving a quarter . I decided that “Welcome!” and ” Good Luck !” on the top of the lesson plan would have to be enough .  What do they say  : Let no good deed go unpunished ?


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teaching rant

Pardon me while I fulminate .


I post pictures  in this blog of odds and ends of these and more pictures of those  . I’m wondering if I  am, therefore , a  visual learner ? Is that one of the learning modalities  ? I should have paid more attention in education jargon class . Let’s see . Visual learner . Audio learner .  Metro -cognitive . Paradigm shift . No, no ……meta-cognitive  !


Joe , who teaches now , again , after his retirement , mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy recently  . Bloom’s ?   The mention was embedded within a piece of Joe’s  poetry , I think . Maybe . Bloom , as in Bloom’s Day ?   Joe is a big James Joyce aficionado and the Bloom mention may well have been a reference to Joyce . I had a copy of Bloom’s taxonomy for several years , not the Ulysses Bloom , outlined on yellow paper . It was a useful reference tool in my teaching . Now…….ask me what “taxonomy” means .  Taxonomy . Rubric . Rigor .  Well , I missed those basic education Jargon classes ; heard the terms but never paid much attention . The administration was always , in recent years , seeming to ” roll out ” some program or other . The term “roll out” was , as others , stolen from the corporate world and used in the halls  of the school district and then  assigned to  the school sites to be , often inaccurately , used . They’d be mouthed around for a few years until , I suppose , the lovers of that particular sample jargon retired , or the corporate world’s  jargon  too , had moved on .


Just an aside here : Education is big business . Of course it is . But teaching is another universe altogether , a horse of a different color , about as non-corporate as you can get . My opinion . An opinion shared by most teachers , I think , but an unknown perspective  in the realm of school district offices  rife with its hobnobbers with money men and governments , with career-ladder headhunters and lobbyists , textbook companies , real estate developers and , and , and investment brokers ; an opinion  forgotten or ignored or horribly misunderstood by school principals who take the ivory tower’s orders .


    I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework .——-Lily Tomlin


The superintendent in some nearby school district was in the news again today . He’s suspended now , with pay , while the FBI investigates how it happened that he was higher paid than the superintendents of L.A. , New York , or Chicago schools  , even though this guy’s  school district has only a few thousand students , a couple of high schools . The district paid his life insurance , too , the newspaper said today . Two policies , actually . They had paid him a one-time lump sum to buy credits to bump his state retirement up . His previously reported  salary was about $ 700,000 per year . With the insurance it’s up a notch .  What was his cell phone allowance per year paid by the District ? And he needs his housing allowance , of course. And the car .

Test scores didn’t go up at all , though .  Teacher salaries didn’t go up at all , though . Only by chance did it all come out suddenly in the news . Caused a big stink .  So he had good negotiating skills !

It’s not like he made up his own salary , as did Mr Rizzo in the City of Bell  , who manipulated the city budget so that he was secretly paying himself a fortune .The city council , and others  , shared in the corruption . City councilmen and women who were getting $100,000 a year for committee membership on non-existing or never-meeting committees claimed innocence and ignorance ; they said that they had not noticed anything off .  Ignorance was bliss for them for a few years . Now it’s jail time , though .  Rizzo was sentenced a couple of days ago . The woman administrator who did his dirty paper-work  got twelve years , too , I think .  She’ll be out in six, no doubt , however . But still .


Did you hear about the Santa Monica teacher who wrestled the student to the ground a couple of weeks ago in his classroom ? There were cell phone videos of it , of course , and they immediately hit the net .  The Santa Monica-Malibu School District Superintendent immediately issued a statement proclaiming the teacher’s action  ” totally inappropriate ” and she immediately suspended the teacher . Of course she would . She later explained that her initial assessment may have been flawed but that it was  , nevertheless, ” routine District policy “. Of course it was . Routine District policy is to immediately blame the teacher .

This one backfired on the superintendent , though . A former student of the teacher started an internet petition to reinstate the well-respected teacher . The petition quickly received support from 150,000 people .  Meanwhile the 18  year-old student involved was arrested for possession of marijuana and possession of a box-cutter on campus and assault on a public employee . The superintendent backed down in the face of perceived public outrage . The teacher’s suspension was lifted today .
dr strange comic


My point is , in giving a sketchy outline of this story , that these big-wig school people live in a non-teacher world , co-opting corporation jargon and methods and  ambitions , perhaps ,  but not comprehending that teaching is an inter- personal , individual , human thing .  Classrooms can’t be effectively run like assembly lines , rolling out this or that program but ignoring the human intricacies of classroom interaction , ignoring all the several complex factors involved in learning .  The art of teaching has been undervalued and almost quashed . A teacher’s art .

Meanwhile , the big boys and girls do the best they can , padding their  own nests  along the way . Anybody would . Wouldn’t they ? The cookie jar is wide open , after all ,  in our currently  selfie culture . Nothing wrong with that . Eh ? As long as you don’t get caught .   Whatever bad publicity that comes out in the news the school districts will  bend to  . This or that .  Even , sometimes , they’ll toss the routine Teacher-Is -Always-Wrong policy out . Stranger things have happened ; but not often .


Filed under teaching

Nicky and Armando

This is a Saint Clement school story , the gone-now Catholic school in Venice, CA , where I began my teaching career . Another one of those deeply – stored memories popped up as I was walking in my neighborhood .  Why do these memories emerge at any particular moment ?  Does a sound similar  to one I’d heard during the event trigger it , or a fragrance ?  You know :  sense memory .  What was it that old Ebenezer Scrooge suggested  ? Was it :   ” You may be an undigested bit of beef , a blot of mustard , a crumb of cheese , a fragment of underdone potato ……..”   Do ghosts  of the past arise from a slight  stomach cramp , a touch of indigestion ?  Whatever . Here it is .

I remember sitting behind the Principal’s desk talking to Nicky’s mom . Her other son , Armando , was standing behind her . The issue was Nicky’s lethargic attitude toward schoolwork . Nicky was a student in my fourth grade class . Maybe I could get his mother involved . Maybe she could help.

This woman sitting across the desk from me was not the Nicky’s mother whom I had been talking to all year about Nicky’s progress in my class , not the Nicky’s mom who showed up for school Open House days , and report card conferences , and school events . Not the same woman .one xx 16

I asked this new woman , of course , about my slight conundrum .  ” I’m Nicky’s mom .  ”    Well , then , who’s the other woman who said she’s Nicky’s mom ?  ” That’s my mother .”    This mom  was already irritated .  Body language said  :  how dare you even ask !  Was she glaring at me ?  Armando had his arms crossed across his chest , legs straight and feet spread apart . Dark shades covered his eyes and a bandanna folded just right was tied around his shaved head . His long flannel shirt was buttoned at the neck , open wide lower down .  No doubt that Armando was glaring . He was mommy’s backup . He was there for moral support , I guess , and to jump in if a fight erupted .  He could have been hired as an extra in a street gang movie with that look , only he wasn’t acting a part . Armando was shot and killed at a local gas station a year or so after that . The police called it : gang related .


I decided to approach a discussion about Nicky’s lack of academic achievement by emphasizing the fact that he never , ever , turns in homework . I know , I know —– homework ?  Shouldn’t we be talking about more serious issues ?  But , I was trying .

Just-out-of-prison-mother was assuring me that she always helped Nicky with his homework . Oh , yeah , she had just got out of prison . I didn’t know that at the time . Her body language said : how dare you say my boy  doesn’t do homework !  But , he’s never turned it in ,  I insisted .  ” Not true ,” she told me . ”  If I don’t have a chance to help Nicky that day with  his homework  , then Armando helps him . ”    I looked up at Armando . I wondered if that tightly buttoned shirt pinched his neck . Armando was about sixteen . He had been kicked out of Saint Clement , I think , three or four years before that . To paraphrase a line from Cat On a Hot Tin Roof : I could smell the mendacity in that room .


I thought  :  Yeah right !  Armando is helping Nicky with his fractions . How is Armando with decimals ?  I told her again that , actually , Nicky has never turned in any homework assignment —- cards on the table .  I emphasized again that he was a very cooperative kid , her Nicky , very helpful , but that we needed to find a way to motivate him to study .

She got mad about the homework thing . She insisted that he was turning in homework . ” Well , I know all about you ! ” she said . ” I’ve heard what you do ! I’ve heard what goes on here . I know how you pull the kids around by the hair ……………”   It kinda went downhill from there .  Hair pulling wasn’t really one of my teaching methods . I forget now any other accusations .  She spit them out with rage .  I was , what , twenty-three , twenty-four ?  This was  new teaching territory for me .

I stood up calmly ;  had tried my best . ” This conference is over ” ,  I said , ” Thank you for coming ” ,  and I pointed to the office door . I had patience in those days . Armando stood firm , but followed his mother out when she decided to leave , she cursing as she went .

” Well , how’d it go ? ” the principal asked me later . Peachy . Just peachy .


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you go girls

young woman looking up        I just now finished reading a blog post about a particular teaching experience . I don’t need to summarize that post    here , but it was well written , erudite , and had a powerful message .

That post got me thinking back to my early teaching days . Well , not so much THINKING  as having flash backs . I guess that’s mental activity minus any true thinking .

I’ve pretty much stopped thinking , anyway .  It only gets you in trouble .

I want to keep this post short , mostly because it is neither especially well written , nor erudite , nor with any particular , much less , powerful , point . But follow along for a few moments  and we’ll be done  and  afterward   you can go about your business , which probably involves at least some element of thinking . Am I right ?

One week long ago , the boys  in my fifth grade class were stealthily bothering the girls ; poking them probably , knocking items from girls’ desks ,  perhaps , and whatever else fifth grade boys did in those days to tease girls . [ No , no , no . I didn’t say ” boys will be boys ” , or imply acceptance of such . So don’t infer that . I know some of you can’t stop your thinking from encroaching upon  this brief moment . Try to control that , though , if you would ]

By the way , the post to which I have referred told of an incident that may be construed as sexual  harassment . That probably brought this old elementary school memory to the forefront of my consciousness . It’s not a sample of sexual harassment ; but , it was inappropriate  boy vs. girl activity . [ Sorry ; just thinking out loud for a second . You know : wondering how did I get  this idea for this post ?  Well , not thinking OUT LOUD , but you know what I mean . ]stained glass geometric

The boys in my class were doing all of this devious demented activity during the brief moments when I had my back turned , when I would be writing  on the board . I was quick ; I turned back to face them as quickly as possible  . But  the boys in the class were quicker . This went on for days . Girls were wincing , complaining . But I hadn’t seen anything . My stern- toned warnings to the boys were having no observable effect .

And , then one day ,  I turned toward the chalkboard , ready to write rapidly , ready to turn back quickly , when I heard a huge thud . I spun instantly  around toward the students  .a girl

[Now , THIS  is the essence of this post , right here , so pay attention . Afterward  , you can go . Go and do thinking if you want . Whatever.]

When I turned at the sound of the tremendous thud , I saw every boy in the class holding his head and wincing in pain .  I saw every girl calmly replacing her history book  back under  her desk . The history book ; you know , the biggest and heaviest of the textbooks . There was a little glowing radiance on each girl’s face , an expression of satisfaction and serenity . The girls had coordinated the attack expertly  , timed for the teacher’s  turn toward the board , and they  executed it perfectly  , with spectacular precision .  What had been their  signal ? How much planning had gone into it ? I was impressed .

The boys were addressing me , their teacher , as they were rubbing their sore heads :  ” She hit me ! You have to do something about it, Mr. H  ! ”

But , what could I do ?  I hadn’t seen the girls do anything . I explained that to the boys . They  weren’t at all at all  happy about that , not at all , but they stopped their harassment of those girls . [ No , no . I’m not advocating violence . There you go thinking again ! ]



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