The Con Artist

This year has been one of many trials and tribulations. There have been times when I don’t know if I’m going to make it, and other times that I just want to cross my arms, give up, and pout. But I know that if I don’t go through that, then the cool things won’t be as cool. 

Monday morning was our first day back from our Spring Break. Our tutoring time has basically turned into TAKS prep time for our homeroom students. This is a waste of time for my homeroom because they’re the Pre-AP bunch that has consistently done well on the exams. I’ve grown tired of bucking the system on this, so I’ve given in for the time being. Anyway, that morning, one of my students walks in and asks where she can put a tri-fold poster board. Even though my class is cluttered and overrun with student desks, my kids always ask me to hold stuff because I’m one of the few that will, I’m on the way out of the building, and I’m always there after school. So I didn’t think much of it. Later, curiosity got the best of me, so I opened up the tri-fold poster board.

Upon opening, I discovered Shakespeare information. This kid had gone home during the break and on her own, looked up more information, and put together this poster board and made it look “preeety.” I was shocked and honored. See, before the break, my students had done some research on Shakespeare’s life and times. Then we’d read some adaptations of King Lear, Twelfth Night, and Othello. The kids had really gotten into it. They were upset when the bell rang on Friday before we left for Spring Break because “it was just getting good!” 

We finally finished reading Othello yesterday. We had such cool conversations about who was the real villain, what the characters could have done differently, what kind of injustices exist in our times and how they are similar to Shakespeare’s.

I shared this with the people at my training today, and one lady couldn’t believe I had gotten 7th graders so interested in Shakespeare. Then, when she thought I wasn’t hearing, she dismissed the idea of teaching this because she “woudn’t want to step on any toes,” meaning that Shakespeare should be reserved for high school. Well, that’s her opinion. In the meantime, I will continue conning my kids into learning things they might otherwise hate because someone may not take the time to draw them in.


Mr. Hinz

On my Facebook status earlier this week, I posted about being on spring break and limiting the work to a maximum of three hours, which turned out to be a total lie. I spent three hours yesterday browsing bookshelves, doing research, typing up my quick start power point, and planning out lessons. I still have to grade some things, enter the grades onto the online system, find a decent Othello clip, create the Othello summary sheet, and type up my lesson plans. That could easily take up all of today and half of tomorrow. I don’t know that I’ll dedicate that much time, but I’m definitely dedicating the rest of the afternoon today. 

So before I get back to school and life gets all crazy, I want to spend some time remembering one of the reasons I went into teaching.

I’ve always been one of those people that will bend backwards for friends and family. I mostly do this because it makes me feel good to help out others. When I was in high school, I had a friend who used to get to school really, really early. The band room didn’t open until 7:30 AM so a lot of times, she was left sitting outside for a long time. So me, being me, would get there really early, too. It also worked for me because I hated being seen walking to school on the other side of the canal and I really hated crossing the four lane street during morning rush hour.

We used to meet by the rock wall/bench in front of the hallway where most of our classes were. A lot of times we sat there doing homework or reading. When the chill of fall started to greet us in the morning, I’d often arrive to find the rock wall/bench empty. A few minutes later, my friend would come out of Mr. Hinz’s class, our Algebra teacher, and invite me to his class.

Mr. Hinz was this very tall and loud man. He walked with a limp and wore a brace on one of his knees. He once told us that he’d been injured while working on the Panama Canal when he was in the military. He had tons of toys and knick-knacks displayed throughout the classroom. He often wore vests and khaki shorts and a button that said “He with the most toys wins.” And he always, always had his radio tuned to the oldies station The Fox 92.3 FM. I loved going into his classroom because it was a place that I felt I could work.

My friend and I had the same exact schedule all day long. So of course, we would go everywhere together. When Mr. Hinz would see us walking down the hall, he would announce, “Here come the Bobbsey Twins!”

We would always giggle. It never bothered or embarrassed us. We just took it as one of the things Mr. Hinz did. 

We had our blocked algebra class with him. He would teach his lesson, show us a couple of ways to find the answer, and give us time to practice. During the practice time, he would always turn on the radio to the oldies station. Sometimes, I would misbehave by talking or laughing too much during practice time. Surprisingly, he only kicked me out of his class once.

For Christmas, the class decided we wanted to have a gift exchange. We were an uneven number, so he threw his name into the hat. When the day of the exchange came, he gave me a box wrapped in the comics. I thought it was odd and he laughed at my face. When I opened it up, there was another box inside wrapped up nicely with post office paper and raffia bow. Inside was a beautifully crocheted white stocking. His wife had made it for me. It was something I hung onto for years. I’d never really had a stocking before that.

The next year, we had moved onto Geometry, so we no longer had Mr. Hinz. He had however nominated me for Honors Geometry since I had a consistent A average in his class. When he saw my friend and I in the hallway, he still continued to call us by our nickname. Sometimes he referred to us as “slothmores.”

The day of my graduation, I was elated to be done with high school. The future was chock full of potential. When I was walking around the grounds afterward to find my family, I ran into Mr. Hinz who gave me a hug and said, “You’re super kid.”

Such a simple little phrase that looks so cheesy on paper, but it’s something that’s stuck with me all these years. In a place where one could easily get lost in the masses, he made sure my friend and I were someone worthy of announcing in the hallway. He gave us a place to hang out and made sure we moved on with some knowledge of Algebra. He also made sure I knew what I was worth.

When the teaching worm starting working its way around my brain, I thought back to this experience. Mr. Hinz was part of this superhero teacher crew at our high school. The superhero teacher crew that cared about kids and wanted us to make it, and I owe it to him to pay it forward. 


The Rubber Room

For the last couple of months, as a means to maintain my sanity, I’ve taken to putting myself to sleep with a Podcast. I usually listen to Latino USA or recently, This American Life.

The other night, I was listening to This American Life #350 Human Resources. One of the segments was about The Rubber Room. In New York City, when a teacher can’t be fired because investigations are still being done they are sent to an office off campus where they wait, and wait, and wait until they are either terminated or reinstated. During this time, they are paid their full salaries and there are some who have been there for years.

When Dan the Man came to bed after a few rounds of Madden, I slurred the facts of the story to him. “What?”

More slurred, blurry facts.

“Whatever, you’re lying. You’re just dreaming and making this up.”

“No, I’m not. It’s true.”

Then, as quickly as I woke up, I passed out again. When I woke up the next day, I remembered the conversation and thought I must have been sleeping. So I listened to the Podcast again, and sure enough, I was right.

Since then, I’ve been having nightmares about work. These nightmares come at night or during my daydreams and I zone out while cleaning or showering. I doubt anything like that would happen to me, but it’s sad to think that it does happen.

I know some of those people are to blame and they probably did something ridiculously obtuse—something children should never have to witness. However, I know there are some in there that don’t deserve to be there, but because they used their voice, they got on someone’s crap list.

It also makes me wonder, is there such a place in Houston?


The Problem with Education

I’ve been out of the loop this week because I had to make an impromptu visit to Dallas for a funeral. It was interesting to return home and check my usual websites and listen to my regular radio station and people were squawking about Education in America. I find it interesting that the people who make the most negative claims about education are normally those who have been out of the loop or have never even been in a classroom have the most to say.

They are right, public education for the most part sucks. It is not preparing the type of future generations that this nation or world needs. Here is what I see as the “problem” with education.


There are some bad teachers in our schools. Heck, I know we have at least one confirmed bad teacher at our school. No, it’s not one that the administrators claim to be bad, but one that the kids have said is bad. Why do I listen to the kids? Because these kids have come to me to say, “Ms. we’re not learning anything in Mrs. X’s class. We have been reviewing the state mandated exam for a week now and we’ve been on the same question the whole time.” This same teacher refuses to adhere to our campus literacy plan, and she is a reading teacher. Also, she has awful classroom management. I’ve had to sub for her class and have witnessed it first hand—the lack of procedures, no “go to activity” when kids are done with work. Next year, she will still be around because she brown noses enough so that they find a way to keep her.

Then there are those who are there for the easy hours. And they truly are easy for them because as soon as their duty time is over, they are gone. Heck some of them are racing the kids to the parking lot. These teachers are kept around because their kids do fairly well on state mandated exams. And they should do well, this teacher’s lesson plans include a fair amount of test practice since it’s readily available material.

Lastly, teachers don’t use their voice outside the classroom. In our classrooms, we are the dictators. We create our own little worlds where we are the sole leaders and all must do as we say. But outside of that, we are followers. We allow those who are not aware of the ins and outs of our jobs to tell us what we need and should do. Those that do use their voice end up reprimanded or fired.

State Mandated Exams

I’m not against them. I think there should be some sort of exam that holds me accountable so that I don’t wake up one day and decide, I’d rather teach art than Language Arts. Plus, I want my kids to know how much they have learned. I want them to get their score back and know that they are capable. 

However, I don’t want my entire life dictated by these exams. When preparation for these exams takes precedence over real learning there is a huge problem. Now some people may think, “Isn’t that the whole purpose? Shouldn’t you have to teach a certain amount of standards and then kids be tested on it to make sure you’ve taught what you need to teach?”

Yes, of course. But herein lies the problem, we are not just teaching a few standards, we are teaching load of standards. Currently, our English Language Arts Standards repeat each year. It would be impossible to teach any of those things in depth. That’s not going to help our cause. If I teach say roots and affixes at a superficial depth, do you think kids are going to remember next September? Some may, but most don’t. So next year’s teacher feels like they need to start all over again because “no one has taught these kids anything,” and when it’s all said and done, that teacher is only able to teach the same concept superficially because the kids didn’t learn it the first time. This happens year after year until the get to high school or college and the student realizes they really don’t know anything.

Sometimes the answer isn’t to add more to your plate, but to take some off. That’s what needs to happen here. This would change the way we teach. We may have to say goodbye to some of our favorite lessons, but maybe true learning will occur then—the kind that forces/allows kids to acquire knowledge.

Parent Involvement

Lastly, there is parent involvement in the higher grade. I can’t tell you the number of times I have called parents to discuss a student only to be hung up on or the phone has not been answered. I’ve sat in on numerous parent conferences knowing that everything I was saying or suggesting was going in one ear and out the other. 

This week, I spent a few days with a second grader whose homework was to read 20 minutes and study math facts for 10. By the time 9 PM rolled around, she had done neither. Even if she had wanted to read, there weren’t any books around. It made me think of my students. Their parents are probably the same. 

It is the job of parents and teachers to educate children. If a kid’s home life doesn’t value education, guess what the kid will do.

If anyone is going to truly do anything about education, they are going to have to read the research, employ some of the good theories out there, form a council of real teachers that are still in the classroom, and most importantly, not be so quick to judge. Good teachers bust their butts every day fighting an army of giants while answering 30 e-mails, grading papers, attending meetings, serving on committees, and delivering rock star performances to their students.