Teacher Abuse

Monday, July 29, 2013

I have one of the coolest jobs on the face of Planet Terra. 

Uh, let me rephrase that just in case someone I know reads this... or worse, a customer. I have a horrible job that reminds every day why we use phrases like going off to the salt mines or keeping our noses to the grindstone. Everybody in our company has pretty much the same problem. We all hate our jobs, especially when the bookkeeper calls us names. We're her technogeekgoobguys, but like most women she has absolutely no appreciation for a good pocket protector.

Around our place we work on electronic hickiebobs that can be, and often are, used in manufacturing and service in almost every facet of our day to day lives.  This requires a working knowledge of chemistry and physics, often heavy on the math, including pi, sometimes with pie (apple, with rum sauce and cheese, is preferred... or cherry or blueberry or rhubarb or...), electronic principles, computer programming, writing, mechanical drawing, and a lot of other skills in between. Also required is knowledge of the proper and improper use of hand tools, sometimes a 1/4" common screwdriver has to be a chisel, power tools like a bandsaw or drillpress or grinder, machine tools like a lathe or milling machine, metal forming tools like a brake or sheer, and of course those other electronic hickies like meters and scopes and logic analyzers and transducers and network analyzers. For fine work we always have the sawzall. It's a horrible job. 

But we also need to remember: the bigger the boys, the more expensive their toys.

How did we get here? How does anyone find a job they really enjoy? Generally a teacher, isn't it. Not just any teacher, it's usually a true educator who inspires a kid to become a seeker. But first a confession. 

I flunked Kindergarten.

That's right. Flamed out, failed, cratered in, tanked, washed out, struck out, flopped, did a perfect swan dive off the three meter board into an empty pool... Kindergarten.

Mom says it was because I wouldn't pay attention and refused to participate in all those kiddie games. In retrospect, I think it was because of that tall, skinny kid with high-water britches who looked to be about six feet tall and picked on the little kids. He was probably 12, just hiding out in Kindergarten, maybe in some witness protection program, but that didn't give him the right to pick on the rest of us. Then came a day out on the playground after several days of rain... he was bent over in front of a mudpuddle... a short sprint... a shoulder in his backside... and he went sprawling face first, spreadeagled in the mud.

To this day I can hear my late father asking "Why did you do it in front of everybody?" as he took off his belt, and with those famous words "you know this will hurt me a lot more than it will you" slap wore out the seat of my britches. Yeah, right Dad. 

I'm certainly glad they didn't have Ritalin back in those days. There were only special classes where administrators stuck, let's call them difficult children, children with learning problems or other issues. Everyone called it the "retard" class, even teachers and administrators back in those days 50 and 60 years ago, and it took Mom weeks to get her little heathern out of there.

Years later I found myself in a similar battle, saying "My son, flunk Kindergarten? Nuh, uh!" Like me, they were trying to pigeonhole a boy who had more important things to do than play kid games. Digby Wolfe once wrote a poem he called Kids Who Are Different. 

Here's to the kids who are different,

The kids who don't always get A's
The kids who have ears
Twice the size of their peers,
And noses that go on for days...

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids they call crazy or dumb,
The kids who don't fit,
With the guts and the grit,
Who dance to a different drum...

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids with the mischievous streak,
For when they have grown,
As history's shown,
It's their difference that makes them unique.

Mom always said the only reason I wanted to go to school was to learn to read. I suppose she was right, but I also remember watching her write letters and asking her to teach me to write in cursive like she did. She always had beautiful penmanship, but I also remember the frustration of having to wait for her to sit down to read to us... and having to listen to those fufu girlie stories my sister liked before we got to the good stuff like 20,000 Leagues Beneath The Sea or Tarzan or White Fang. 

So she finally got me into a real class where we learned our letters and to sound out words. "Look Jane. Look, look. See Jack run." Then it was off to the races. I could read on my own about Davy Crockett, atomic energy, George Washington, Daniel Boone, Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, snakes, stars, mountains, Hercules, Odysseus, Injuns, light bulbs, electricity, Arabian Nights, Knights, trees, fish, Thor, thorium, Alexander, platypi, Komodo, sharks, Krakatoa, and anything else my little old heart desired about this wonderful universe of ours.

Mom left lifelong scars taking away all those flashlights when she'd bust me for reading under the covers at night.

I've known a lot of educators over the years on both personal and professional levels. I've had several business associates who were former teachers, often became friends with my children's teachers after the kids were no longer studii, and have for one reason or another come to know many present and former teachers. 

As I interact with them, teachers, educators, a lot of people actually, I'm often reminded of a passage from one of Hermann Hesse's short stories, Siddhartha. In the story Siddhartha meets the local capitalist pig, otherwise known as a merchant, and is asking for work so he can afford to chase Kamala, the local hooker. Kamaswami, the merchant, asks what Siddhartha can bring to the party, why he should hire someone whose only qualifications are that he's spent his young life to date seeking Nirvana. To this Siddhartha responds "Everyone gives what he has. The warrior gives strength, the merchant gives merchandise, the teacher teachings, the farmer rice, the fisher fish."

Sit in the classroom of a teacher, a true educator not one who's marking time until payday or who perceives the job as one of social engineering. Their passion for the subject matter, teaching in general, quickly becomes obvious doesn't it. 

Back in the old days teachers may have been charged with teaching a subject such as English, math, science, or basket weaving but they taught other subjects too. Mrs. Edwards taught English, but she also taught us logic and reasoning in our speech and writing. Mr. Johnson taught science, and how scientific process could be used for detective work... like the time he busted me trying to double-dip using the electric motor I was building with some nails and wire for both my Electricity Merit Badge in Cub Scouts and my science fair project for school. He suggested having the motor drive a generator to light a lamp, then showed us how to vary the speed of the motor to vary the lamp intensity. His son was a Cub Scout too.

Then there was Mr. Hemmen, Mr. Hemmen who taught Junior English in high school and pulled a Mr. Miyagi on us. Instead of "wax on, wax off" we were required to read at least one book every month, then give an oral book report if we wanted. There was only one stipulation, the book had to be in the school library or else have his approval. Every Friday was a quiz and we were always amazed at our progress. During other class times we discussed politics, existentialism and stoicism and other philosophies, world history, a book someone was reading, or what ever else we wanted to talk about. Some days there were even debates. He'd stir the pot, then sit back and smile as we went at it. The Monday after we TP'd his house he came in and told us the least we could have done was knock on the door so he could help... we would have cleaned up afterward, but he would have helped do the deed. He never was much on teaching spelling, grammar, verbs, nouns, past participles or pronouns. You see, he'd learned the more books a young mind reads the more it's exposed to all of those things... as well as sentence and paragraph structure, word usage, context, and all those other, quite boring, things we're taught in regular English classes. We learned all of those without being taught, a lot of other stuff too. 

But excellent teachers like those of 45 and 50 or more years ago aren't gone. I've watched a teacher who'd spent months working with a problem boy smile, tears streaming down her face, as she told of him finally understanding the course material, that something had finally made almost an entire year's instruction click together. I've watched a teacher scarf up dress clothes and coats and jackets for her studii who couldn't afford them, and she was trying to teach them, in addition to their course material, about going on job interviews and other life skills. "Don't worry about cleaning them. I'll handle getting everything laundered." she would say. Some tough guy she turned out to be. Just because she's a babe doesn't mean she has to be such a softie. I've listened to tirades by teachers about having to teach to a test instead of how to think and reason, that our schools were much better when they were controlled locally, not by some bureaucrat hundreds of miles away, who's probably never spent much, if any, time in front of a real classroom. I've listened to the frustration of high school teachers with studii who can barely read, much less write and cipher... and every day we all see the product when a cashier gets bumfuzzled about being handed change at the checkout after he or she has already rung up a sale.

We have teachers who want to put out a good product, kids who can step out into the real world and be self sufficient, who have the tools to learn what's necessary to perform their jobs, support themselves, and pay taxes. And what do administrators and parents do to them? 

We promote children who can't read from grade to grade, passing the problem on to someone else. We allow parents to bully school administrators and teachers. We allow administrators to worry more about numbers, for State and Federal dollars, our tax dollars, than what's truly best for the children in their charge.

We give teachers the responsibility to educate our children. We charge them with maintaining order in the classrooms, then parents and administrators refuse to support those efforts. Teachers and school administrators, those who are down in the trenches, aren't allowed to punish poor behavior, but they'll be personally liable if someone is hurt by one of those misbehaving heatherns... not the parents or Big MahMoos, where responsibility lies. Merely on the accusation of a child with known behavior and truth-telling issues, administrators will ruin the 20+ year career of a good teacher. Has Coach Eller ever been made whole? How about Assistant Principal Mr. Barber? Others? 

That's teacher abuse.

Administrators will put thieves, vandals, drug dealers, and convicted violent offenders into classrooms with teachers and students who actually do want to learn. They'll refuse to hold parents responsible for their children's truancy, or bad behavior. They'll put a child who's threatened another student or a teacher right back into the classroom after a short vacation, if any punishment is administered at all. 

That's child abuse... and teacher abuse.

Parents and administrators give teachers all the responsibility to educate their precious progeny, both heatherns and those who really want to learn. Then turn around and refuse to give them the authority to perform their jobs. 

Responsibility with no authority, a sure fire means of setting teachers up to fail. And when their teachers fail, so do our children and grandchildren.

Don't they. 

Royce Burrage, Jr.
Royce@Officially Chapped.org


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