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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tales From The Classroom

(For politics, please scroll down)

("Tales from the Classroom" is a feature posted occasionally here at this blog.  All tales are true and present matters about which I have personal knowledge.  The following tale dates back to 1983, when I was teaching a third-fourth grade combination class of 33 students)

Years ago, CS, a biracial student (4th grade student, but 5th grade age) who was enrolled in my class, miserably failed the weekly spelling test. I asked him why he hadn't studied for the test.

His response: "I failed the test because your ancestors held my ancestors as slaves."

I told CS the truth: "My ancestors didn't hold slaves. On my father's side, my family was opposed to slavery; on my mother's side, the ground they owned wouldn't sprout black-eyed peas — much less support even the holding of one slave. You failed the test because you didn't study for the test. You're on restriction until next week's spelling test."

CS sat there stunned.  Yes, from that day on, he did better on the weekly spelling test.

The next year, after another confrontation with me — again, the cause was not preparing for class because he "didn't feel like it"  (his very words) — CS decided that he should take school seriously. A few months later, he won a local poetry contest. The turning point for CS! And he so stated to everyone at the school reunion in October 2009.  He was actually grateful for the terrible confrontation we had.  You see, that confrontation was the only time I actually lost my temper with a student.  It was ugly, to the point that I call him at home that night to apologize. But what I said and did got the job done.

Today, I'm in contact with CS on Facebook. He found me there shortly after I had joined, and I, of course, friended him back immediately. I am delighted to see that he is now opposed to any kind of victimology as an excuse for not being successful. Furthermore, CS is very successful: a top-of-the-line computer systems designer.

He recently messaged me as follows:

"[My own children] are not even remotely allowed to not care like I was. My mother was a great woman. She just couldn't raise me alone. I was too much in a generation of deception."

CS has also offered to help me during this season of my medical crisis. And I may be asking for his help, too.

Teaching is not and should not be a popularity contest.  Instead, teachers should take the long view, and most students will later appreciate that a teacher held the line for both standards and accountability.


  1. "Only those who truly love you will find the courage to hurt you when it's needed."

    Our best teachers –– the ones from whom we truly learn –– never pull any punches when holding students accountable for poor performance. And these are the teachers we are most apt to remember with kindness –– and gratitude.

    There's a world of difference, however, between constructive criticism and sadistic bullying.

    A dramatic example of the latter appears in How Green Was My Valley, one of the finest, most significant films Hollywood ever produced. Another in the same vein would be The Corn is Green.

    I wish everyone could experience these two poignantly beautiful films.

    1. FT,
      There's a world of difference, however, between constructive criticism and sadistic bullying.

      By today's standards, the way I dealt with CS would be deemed sadistic. But let us remember that, back in those years in private schools (and even in some public schools) corporal punishment was the norm -- particularly for students in the elementary grades.

      CS himself was scared of me that day. But that fear converted to respect in short order. Somebody just HAD to stop him from self-destructing.

      His own mother was problematic. One day, in front of me, she screamed at him, "I wish that I'd never had you!"

      I pulled her aside and told her, "Then let me rear him. No child should hear those words from his own mother."

      Granted, she was at loose ends and undergoing chemo at the time. But I couldn't stand by and watch her destroy CS.

      I'm glad to report that today CS and his mother have mended their relationship.

    2. Are you familiar wth The Corn is Green? Miss Moffat, the central character, –– a doughty, dedicated spinster-teacher determined to bring light into the minds of children and teenagers trapped in the darkness of a hereditary coalminer's existence ––, reminds me in many ways of you.

      Bette Davis's portrayal of Miss Moffat may well be her finest role.

      The Corn is Green started out as a play by the noted actor-playwright Emlyn Williams. I'd love to see it produced again today.

    3. FT,
      Oh, yes, I'm familiar with The Corn is Green! Love it!

      I haven't seen the film in ages. I must find it and watch it.


    How fondly I remember
    ––– the days when mothers cared
    And tried till the last ember
    ___ died to teach that what we dared
    To say in gleeful wild defiance
    ___ was unworthy and insulting
    A bane to self-reliance
    ___ 'cause old Nick we were consulting.

    Today, as though besotted
    ___ by an ancient witch's potion
    Our mothers' mores rotted
    __ to Old Nick they've pledged devotion
    And children free to shout and curse
    ___ and freely masturbate
    Live lives immeasurably worse
    ___ for being profligate.

    ~ FreeThinke

    1. CS's mother openly admitted to me that she married the boy's father for one reason: to rebel against her family. They hailed from Georgia. I think.

      After CS was born, the man deserted both wife and son.

  3. Well, AOW, they just don't want to bother with, anything but HATE threads, do they?

    Depressing, ain't it?

    1. Well I could check in on the subject of films about teachers.

      They do tend to be melodramatic.
      As an alternative I'd recommend Anthony Asquith's, The Browning Version with Michael Redgrave.

      If you aren't familiar with Asquith, I'm quite sure you would enjoy his films.

    2. Duck,
      I think that I've seen that film -- although years ago. I wonder if it's on YouTube. I'll check the next time that I log onto something with a bigger screen than an iPad.

      Are you familiar with "Thr Changing of the Guard," a particular episode of The Twilight Zone?



      That episode starred Ed Wynn. It's probably on YouTube.

    3. FT,
      Most bloggers in my usual circles are all about politics until well after the November General Election.

    4. I remember that Twilight Zone episode. Effective, if I recall.

      Avoid the 1994 remake of The Browning Version. Just isn't up to the original.

    5. Duck,
      That episode of The Twilight Zone, written by Rod Serling, is one of my personal favorites.

    6. Duck,
      Not Ed Wynn after all. Donald Pleasence, instead.

    7. I just watched Glenn Ford in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE..stuck to it because I wanted to see how he worked out the problem with the really virulently angry classroom students....And it paid off.
      Sidney Poitier's good in it, too..It was kind of shocking to know that students even back then were THAT lacking in good parents and good guidance, that teachers were that turned off to teaching because of their attitudes....Maybe it helps us today not feel QUITE so downtrodden in our hopes for our country's future!?

  4. Wonderful and encouraging - it's possible to change direction. Think about the effect of this victimology drone. If you hear nothing but that what a mess you'll be. So much harder at 20 than at 10.

    1. Baysider,
      For 24 years, I wondered, "Whatever happened to CS?"

      When he showed up at the reunion in October 2009, both he and I were thrilled to see each other.

      Sure, he has sleeve tattoos and the like. But he has a successful life -- and is a good dad.


    1. Z,

      I don't connect with every student, but I do connect with most students, particularly those who wish to work hard so as to earn their acclaim.

    2. Question, AOW.

      How often are you effective when the parents aren't involved or is the issue of parental indifference less an issue for you.

    3. Duck,
      Good question!

      I have to say that my effectiveness varies depending on the parents themselves.

      If the parents are pulling in the opposite direction from me, I can still be effective, but am not as often effective.

      If the parents are neutral or uninterested, I can usually get the student to come around to seeing things "my way."

      The above is not a comprehensive answer, but summarizes in a nutshell.

    4. ducky is right....the parents matter soooo much...this is why teachers feel ineffective...no support, I had a single mother once tell me she doesn't have her 3 yr old call his teacher MISS Smith, he calls her LINDA, because "he needs to have respect for her first"...it stunned me so much that I only much later I thought of what should have been my comeback at her smarmy ridiculous answer "Really? You have your child at a preschool where the teachers aren't respected?"

      Teachers feel helpless because students aren't taught the respect we were taught to have, and they don't have the support our parents gave.. the KIDS RULE, sadly.

      Don't you both think?

    5. Z,
      Too many parents try to be buddies with their children instead of being parents. I've actually had parents tell me, "He won't like me if I do that."


      Clearly, teachers can be most effective if the parents are involved in their children's education. Unless, of course, the parents are helicopter-and-constantly-running interference parents in certain ways. Do you know what I mean?

  6. Interesting thing happens with me when I'm in the classroom (or tutoring privately)...

    I don't feel pain while I'm focused on teaching!

    I'm nearly on my deathbed when I call in sick.

  7. Well, I had somes nuns with your teaching credentials, and I'm a better person for it.
    People ask why my knuckles are numbered and I show them how the ruler landed.

    1. Ed,
      I got my knuckles rapped several times in 6th grade. That year, a boy named Allen Walton distracted me a lot. Haha.

  8. I never studied for spelling tests. Never knew what words would come up, as I never cracked a book. I only misspelled one word in all of my years of spelling tests. I misspelled the word "floor" because my 3rd grade ears heard the old black substitute teacher that day say "flow."


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