Wrapping Up A-Z

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

Wrapping Up A-Z

I chose to blog on “Tales Out of School” because, eight years into retirement, I was feeling nostalgic about my teaching years.

I loved the opportunity to reminisce about teaching and my students. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if my wonderful kindergarten teacher had been less so.  No other work gave me the satisfaction of teaching, and no other work was as challenging, truly (to borrow from Peace Corp) “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Storytelling became part of my life in connection with my teaching, and it made teaching much more fun and successful. I was disappointed that I haven’t done more storytelling, but then realized it had already helped me with the career that was my dream from the age of four. (I started kindergarten before my fifth birthday. I don’t think they allow that now). I had most trouble with V so did it last and a little late, but it did nag at me until I completed it.

I enjoyed this April A-Z Alphabetical Challenge even more because of my participation as a “minion,” visiting and commenting and passing along messages. I just barely scratched the surface of all the interesting blogs out there. It’s reassuring, as it is with books, to know that we will never run out of good reading. I also got some ideas for future blogging, on storytelling travels and maybe some family stories.

The end of the challenge coincided with the beginning of the St. Louis Storytelling Festival (and one stressful afternoon when I had to go buy and install a new router for my modem — thanks, Valnet tech. support for walking me through it). I’ll put in a bit of musing on the Saturday concert . . . just for fun.


Stories Saturday night were wonderful . . . and I made it home safely despite staying a bit past dusk.  
It was so good to hear Lynette Ford and Heather Forest . . . and just my imagination, or was there a love and marriage theme going through that concert?

Dinner at Spiro’s was wonderful, too . . . great conversation, excellent food!   
This interview with Jane Yolen was on NPR as I was driving to Spiro’s  http://www.npr.org/2015/05/02/401015636/author-hopes-holocaust-themed-picture-book-will-prompt-conversations

Dinner conversation included everything from engineering to students to stories (of course) to books:

Hinton’s _The Outsiders_ “Stay gold”

J.B. is a 1958 play written in free verse by American playwright and poet Archibald MacLeish   (Wiki info)
(I’ve requested it from our library 😉

Now remembering another . . . with a Garden of Eden theme
R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play in the Czech language by Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rosumovi Univerzální Roboti(Rossum’s Universal Robots).[1] However, the English phrase Rossum’s Universal Robots had been used as the subtitle in the Czech original.[2] It premiered on 25 January 1921 and introduced the word “robot” to the English language and to science fiction as a whole.[3]

Next Monday, 5/11, Story Swap McClay Library   – 6:30 p.m. Second Monday every month at 2760 McClay Road, St. Charles 63303
Join area storytellers Mary Garrett and Michael Bennett and others to hear and tell stories for all ages. Folk tales, personal stories, tall tales, myths — all welcome!

As for today, “May the 4th be with you.” AKA “Metaphors Be With You”   A super day have! ❤


Violence/ Values / Tales Out of School

Picture 1
A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

Violence/ Values / Tales Out of School

I found this one harder to write than I thought it would be, so it’s late and woefully incomplete, but at least fills the empty spot in the alphabet.

I tried to emphasize good values in literature and stories, and to show my students that they were valued, and was so glad never to witness much violence in school.

One of my first diagnosed ADD students was best reached by letting him help. Once I saw him after school, on his way to fight another boy, but when offered the option of helping his favorite principal put shelves in the locker of a favorite teacher’s daughter (whom he also liked), it was no contest . . . peace won!

A young man whose problems stemmed from mistreatment I’m not sure I could have survived needed escort from class to class because of fights. When no one came for him, and I had a planning period next, I offered to be the escort, which gave us a chance to talk. He said sometimes people just pushed him too far and he would get angry. I told him that it would upset me too much to have him fight in my room, so could he please just let me know, and I’d get him safely out of the situation. When tested, he did exactly that. There were a couple of other teachers who had won his confidence. We did our best to have one of us in the picture and he did his best to control his anger.

One student, convinced that I “hated” him, settled down when I took him aside, looked him in the eyes and said, “I don’t hate you. No one should hate you. You are a good person.” I added, “I still won’t let you disrupt class, though,” and he smiled.

Reading and hearing stories and writing one’s own can help see the world more positively. I left because of illness, but I was in a certain assistant principal’s sights. She had targeted specific people and managed to get rid of several, so my time might have been nearly up anyway. The situation inspired a short story, “The NCLB Murder.” (There were those who wanted to help with a real murder, but that’s just too messy, so I offered fiction).


Zzzzz/Alarm clocks / Tales Out of School


Zzzzz/Alarm clocks / Tales Out of School

Classes started at 7:25, teachers were supposed to be in school half an hour before that. Those early times were hard on all of us. One student failed American Lit. three times . . . all three times he was scheduled for first period. Why he wasn’t moved to a later class, I’ll never know. Another young man quit his late-night job at a filling station in order to pass and graduate. His father made up the monetary difference for him, a good investment!

Toward the end of the final week of my teaching career, I looked at my sleepy first period students, raised my fist in the air and vowed, “As God is my witness, I’ll never set my alarm for 5 a.m. again.” They clapped. I’ve kept that vow . . . well, mostly.
There was that one early flight to Hawaii, but I fudged and set the alarm for 5:05 😉

. . . Thanks to all who organized the A-Z Blog Challenge


A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

Young / Tales Out of School

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good11084301_10152820080385028_48227205056877781_n

Young / Tales Out of School

My high school English teacher said teaching kept him young and open-minded. He may have had a point. My students constantly introduced new ideas, music, humor, and help with technology.

Appearances are the tip of the iceberg, and visual reminder of the wisdom of picking battles and letting them express themselves.
Early on, a favorite student sported an awesome mohawk. We loved him so much, we had him walk on stage during a talent show skit, as teachers sang, “Why can’t they be like Donny, perfect in every way? Nothing’s the matter with kids today.”
Earrings become common for males, and then there were multiple piercings, of more than just ears.
Tattoos became common.
One of my sweetest students sported very imaginative hair colors, which she told me her mother helped her do. When she said she wanted to participate in Renaissance Faire, I pondered authenticity of period, and then realized she could join the Fairy Realm. She was adorable, and in far more comfortable clothing than my long wool skirt. My great-niece Moriah was also a glamourous fairy. More about the Ren. Faire at http://www.stlrenfest.mcjr.net



Xylophone/ eXtra credit/ eXamples / Tales Out of School


Xylophone/eXtra credit/eXamples / Tales Out of School

Xylophone must have been given away when I moved. It was a really cool one on which one could rearrange the pipes to create different patterns of notes, and children loved it. I’m sure I gave it to someone who would appreciate it, but I don’t seem to have a photo.

Irises bloomed today, though, so that’s a good photo choice. 😉

Queen of eXtra credit . . .
I had no qualms about adding points to papers that exceeded my expectations, to the point that some of my junior high students had grades of 120%. Only one student ever complained of a “mathematically impossible grade” and had me remove the extra points.

Someone once said that the problem was school scores were small compared to video games. To compensate, I told students that if they didn’t think an assignment carried enough points to be worth their while, they could add as many zeros as they wanted, as long as they added to both the points earned and the points possible.
(Math lesson in English class? Why not? The math teacher and I shattered artificial distinctions by pointing out the similarities of rules for sentences and equations).

I often gave at least partial credit for clever wrong answers, and extra credit for cleverness added to right ones. I would coach students that on standardized tests, they should give the answer they knew the testers had in mind, the “best” answer. On my tests they had the option of writing their own explanation, making a case for two or more options. Few took the trouble, but those who did usually got full marks.

Goofus and Gallant — remember them from Highlights Magazine?
After the last final, I was inputting grades when a father emailed to ask how his son had done. Now quite well enough, but close and he had been trying, so I called down to Industrial Technology and asked his teacher to have him stop by before leaving school. Message not received, but he came by anyway, to return a book. I told him to call his mom to say he couldn’t leave until he was passing, and he set to work, typing a paper on how technology had influenced his life.

Meanwhile, enter Goofus, checking his grade and launching into a rant because he wasn’t passing (had, in fact, been failing all semester). My sense of fairness took hold of me as I noted that I’d given a last minute chance to Gallant. I started looking for missing assignments Goofus could do to raise his grade, but each suggestion prompted a new rant, so I asked him to leave so I could complete my own work. Soon, though, a principal warned me to expect a call from Momma Goofus . . . who proved by her own ranting that the acorns don’t fall far from the tree.

Meanwhile, Gallant was quietly typing away on the computer in the back of the room. I read a bit of his paper over his shoulder and entered the grade as he continued to work. We printed out his work, because it was GOOD, and he called his mom for a ride home. I walked with him to the car to wish him and his mother a great summer, and wished I had a video of the two interactions as an example of how to succeed (or not) in school.

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good


Walden Pond/ Weird / Tales Out of School


Walden Pond/ Weird / Tales Out of School

Henry David Thoreau said: “In winter we lead a more inward life. Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends.”

When I watch the little pond, which I have named Walden, freeze and then thaw to welcome geese, I think of Thoreau. I do feel warm and cozy, with much to do, some “have to” and some “want to.” Three guesses which get priority . . .

I used to tell students that if they really understood the unit on Transcendentalism, they’d all probably walk out of the school. Then the reality of consequences would rear its ugly head, and we’d all stay in the classroom. Pass me some more Soma please. https://skipmendler.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/education-should-be-dangerous/

Thoreau said to distrust any enterprise that required new clothes. My friend Chris Crow said he chose shoes with the goal of still being able to smile at his last-period class. Comfort is a necessary component of such active work, “on” non-stop all day. A parent once described some of our teachers as looking like “aging hippies.” I’ll accept that, if it leaves me able to focus on the students instead of my self, and “You’re weird” ranked as the highest possible compliment from the most discerning students.

11084301_10152820080385028_48227205056877781_nA2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

Umbrella/De-Icer/Scraper/WD-40 / Tales Out of School


Umbrella/De-Icer/Scraper/WD-40 / Tales Out of School

I kept emergency supplies in my cabinet, and colleagues knew where to find them: broken but usable umbrella, for when all the good ones were in the car or at home, De-Icer and scrapers to help get cars cleared after winter storms, WD-40 for squeaky doors not serious enough to call maintenance. When I left, I bequeathed supplies to my next-door neighbor, so she could continue the mission.

In the grand Wopila* (give-away) teachers, students, and out-of-town friends took books, posters, step ladders, podium, and sundry other gifts, contributions to the work of education. First item claimed was a poster of Rapunzel from the Rep’s production of Into the Woods. Funniest was a little pink step stool, taken by a friend who scolded others for being “vultures” and then, spotting the pink ladder, exclaimed, “Oh that’s so cute!” to which I replied by giving her a post-it on which to write her name to stick it on the ladder.

On the last work day, student volunteers helped teachers pack and clean, and some of them gladly delivered my treasures to the appreciative recipients who had claimed them. A long extension cord and the hammer from a student’s project on “The Parsley Garden” went to the drama department. She hadn’t had time to come lay claim to anything, but with set-building and such, I knew they’d be well used.
* https://storytellermary.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/wopila-a-give-away/

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good11084301_10152820080385028_48227205056877781_n

Typing / Trust / Tales Out of School

Typing / Trust / Tales Out of School

I was a secretary for Prudential right after college. Most female liberal arts graduates in the ‘70s became secretaries, back when want ads were still divided by gender.

When teaching jobs finally became available after a few years of school Reductions In Force, one of my students looked at one of my blue dittos and said, “I see why you aren’t a secretary any more.” Hats off to those who work in offices, and appreciation for the students whose humor put smiles on my face . . . and hurrah for computers and word processing and no more scraping the back of blue dittos!

I remember when all teachers had autonomy to plan and implement lessons as needed to reach and encourage the unique students in our classes.
I remember my very favorite principal entering my room amidst apparent chaos, blinking, giving me whatever he’d come for, and never even asking what it was all about because he knew/trusted it was something worthwhile.
I would sometimes ask reluctant scholars to trust me on a lesson for which they could not immediately see the value.
When I first heard of scripted curriculum, I was appalled. Human beings, teachers and learners, are not cogs in a machine.
I left several copies of Donald Davis’ Ride the Butterflies in my school as hope for a return to creativity.

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good


Sleeping Students / Tales Out of School


Sleeping Students / Tales Out of School

My high school students used to beg for the naps they’d refused in kindergarten. High school students, guys especially, love to sleep in class, and can do so, propped upright, without falling. Male center of gravity must be different, because a few female students and I tried and toppled as we relaxed.

Once we put together an elaborate trick, setting the clock ahead, turning off the lights, and waiting in the hall while a custodian went in to ask a sleeping student, “What are you still doing here? That was a bit mean of us, but fun.

One boy claimed, “I wasn’t sleeping,” to which I replied, “Okay, but since that is the school’s book, not yours, could you please wipe the drool off of it.”

My favorite, though, was smiling as I gazed at a sleeping macho student, then when the whole class was paying attention, quietly saying, “My mother was right. They are all angels when they’re asleep.” Loud laughter and very puzzled awakening.

Sad but true story: I called a mother to discuss her son’s repeatedly falling asleep in class and was told the family had just been diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning. Happy ending, they were all going to be fine, and I cancelled his detentions.

Some propose high schools starting later in the morning so the students could get more sleep, which sounds good to me. I know that I have not, not even one time since retiring, awakened with the desire to get to school by 6:55 a.m.


A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

Retirement/Graduation / Rainbows / Tales Out of School

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good11084301_10152820080385028_48227205056877781_n

Retirement/Graduation / Rainbows / Tales Out of School

I always said I’d teach until I got tired of the students, which I never did. In fact, I truthfully told my final year’s students that they were the best students ever and I had to retire because the school couldn’t possibly give me such good students the next year.
(They didn’t need to know about the sarcoidosis from the mold in the building or the administrator determined to make my life miserable).

It was a wonderful adventure, beginning with my decision, in kindergarten, that “I want to do that!”
https://storytellermary.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/380/ Rainbows

Some of the parents, bless them, said they were sorry I was leaving but, “Thanks for being here for my child.” A former student sent a lovely email crediting me for some of his success, so wonderful that I shared it with the principal.

One of my favorite students was upset at news of my retirement, until I pointed out that she would be graduating. “We can graduate together!”

Just a week or so before graduation the same student was asked to remove or cover a “Stop the Bush-It” bumper sticker on her car, a relatively tame witticism which had been on her car for two years. She said, “Ill have to think about it.” After consulting with me and a few others, she opted to simply ignore the request. The administrator had fulfilled his promise to “talk to the student,” and we knew he’d be too busy to follow up in the busy final weeks of school. I wish I had learned earlier to “fly below the radar.”

Retirement came a bit before I planned it to, but I was fortunate that I had left the retirement contribution from my first two years of teaching stay in place when I went off to teach a year for a private company, and that a former colleague had become a savvy broker to advise on retirement savings, reminding me a bit of this piece . . .

BTW, when I retired from teaching, I thought I was finished with red pens, but a student gave me a whole package of them in the final weeks of school. Turns out they are perfect for puzzles, much easier to see than pencil, and blue can be used for changes . . .



Previous Older Entries