Adios, Suckaz!

"It’ll be an adventure!"
At the end of the school year of 2012-2013, I made a locker-room oath that I would never come back. The whole school, not to mention my sanity, was circling the drain. The students were getting worse and worse, and we had fewer and fewer options to deal with them. Compounding this was the fact that the campus was under TEA scrutiny because some kid in a sub-pop failed to fill in some bubble on a segment of one of the many statewide tests. It didn't help that a person who shouldn't have been put in charge of a broom closet was put in charge of a high school.

Of course, being an adult, I thought maybe I should consider some financial planning. After I committed to making to making it a reality, I decided to keep a running journal of my last year in education. Hope you enjoy reading about the adventure! - Patrick Hubbell

The first day of inservice is always a cold slap in the face. After ten weeks of going to bed and getting up as late as I want doing whatever I want, the thought of returning to duty makes me want to put on an eye-patch, hoist the Jolly Roger and slit throats, as H.L Mencken said.  

Fortunately, our first day back is set mostly set aside to allow teachers to work in their classrooms. We were bribed with ice cream to meet the new staff after lunch.

During the summer, a lot of administrators were moved around to plug in vacancies and move up all the rest of the ladies-in-waiting.  The one administrator that needed moving the most was the one who convened this little meet-and-greet with a topping of chocolate syrup.  

The principal introduced the new faculty. It’s a good thing she set aside an hour for this because there were quite a few. “43 new teachers! Isn’t that great?!” she exclaimed. Well, that’s not MY interpretation. And we’ve had almost as many new teachers every year over the last three years.

One of the new principals was moved up from her AP slot here. Yes, after one year as an AP on our campus, the Head Shed decided to put her in charge of Liberty Academy. Due to the new schedule, several core content teachers were needed to fill in classes. Our principal commented the newbie had called for more teachers, and added, “Don’t send any trash.”

Obviously, someone wasn’t attending any workshops on maintaining good employee relations in spite of the evident need for it. 

No new school year would be complete without a rousing convocation with cheerleaders and marching band, although I’m pretty sure the guest speaker could have gotten by without either one. He fit the template of every motivational speaker all across our fruity plain: young, energetic and came from a broken home. I’ve nothing but admiration for anyone who can pull himself up by the bootstraps, but I always measure the time I spend in these sessions against the time I could have spent sleeping in. Sorry, buddy. My childhood didn’t suck, and I don’t want to hear about yours. 

The first days of inservice meetings are a mixture of interminable boredom and sphincter-tightening anxiety. It appears that although foreign language teachers had thus far eluded the perils of C-SCOPE, the solons of our district have found another way to put a noose around our necks. It's not the same name, but the effect is the same - death by strangulation.

I thought my head was going to explode during a meeting about lesson plan formats. Word-walls, high-order questions, writing across the curriculum . . . it’s like getting a drink of water from a fire hydrant. Wait, that’s not quite true. Water is never poisonous, not even immoderate amounts.

I’ve always congratulated myself for not murdering a single miscreant in my charge over the last 30 years, but the truly remarkable feat is not being charged with homicide after being in the same room with the innovators. When I first started, lesson plans were supposed to reflect the concepts and include TB page numbers. Later, someone decided that lesson plans should state “The learner will” followed by specific cogitating verbs.  And to quench the thirst of the student who desired to know, the statements should be stated on the board along with the TEKS objectives.

This year, objectives must be phrased in the first-person plural form: WE will . . . and culminate with how the student will demonstrate his educational prowess with “I will . . . “Yeah, that’s a game-changer. WE WILL! Together, hand in hand, WE WILL roll this boulder up the hill and WE WILL step aside when it rolls back. Well, I WILL, anyway.

Thankfully, I belong to a sub-pop of teachers which is notorious for rebellion. The Professional Learning Community of Foreign Language Teachers – aw, hell – Spanish teachers, because there ain’t nothing else left – realized that three of us are retirement-ready. This puts everything in a whole new perspective. Here's a "we" statement the personnel department should consider on its letterhead: "We will quit abusing the Spanish teachers because there aren’t any replacements and, God knows, we sure as hell don’t want be stuck in there as a permanent sub."

We can breathe a little easier. Our campus is now rated M for Meets Expectations. Somehow, I doubt it’s going to make life much easier. At this point my only concern is making it through the day. We’re on a seven-period schedule, and I have a first-period conference. My only break will be lunch. I have four Spanish I classes and two Spanish IIs. My head began to pound when I saw the numbers – I’ll be facing down close to 180 students. My SMALLEST class has 25. In the past, the numbers always changed after the first day, but I don’t believe they’ll change very much this time. We’re still one or two Spanish teachers short, enrollment is up, and all the Spanish teachers are stuffed to the rafters. Water won’t flow downhill if the hill is inundated.  

I ran off all my copies, scribbled a brief agenda on the board and printed/saved a perfunctory version of a lesson plan. One of the teaching coaches will have a conniption if she reads it on my door.

The weekend before the first day of school is never pleasant. To make matters worse, my wife said the district deposited LESS than I made last month. Obamacare kicked in, and I have almost $300 less to show for all my work. 

In desperation, I pulled out my TRS folder. I looked, and looked, and I looked some more. Then I showed a piece of paper to Lisa. She looked, and looked, and . . . well, you get the idea. I’d be better off retired. Well, almost. Another job would bring us up to previous standards, and I wouldn’t have to hump concrete under a broiling sun in a chemical plant. Wise woman that she is, she forbid me from thinking of retiring tomorrow. Instead, I have to spend the year pursuing good job offers. “You’re not going to settle for something and be just as miserable.” 

AUGUST 26-30
I'm thinking maybe I should reinvent myself as one of those motivational speakers that fire up the crowd for the school year. But I don't think I'd have the energy to run around the crowd after doing five or six pushups and leading a cheer. Besides, my home life was pretty normal, so I wouldn't have some hardship story to regale the audience with.

My back-up plan for retirement will be to get a job at Hastings. At least I'll be surrounded by books and people who read them. 

“In my life I have had many difficulties – most of which never happened.” – Mark Twain
Mark Twain knew too well about life’s disappointments. He poured a fortune into a scheme cooked up by an inventor that never got beyond a test demonstration that broke down in front of Twain’s very eyes. His only son died in infancy, and he mourned the loss of two of his three daughters late in life. His beloved wife - and severest literary critic - died six years before him.  

The wind was out of his sails – rather, the steam was out of his boiler – but he wasn’t done yet. He would go on to write Adam’s Diary, The Mysterious Stranger, What Is Man? and Letters From the Earth.

The truth is difficulties can be liberating. Nothing is worse than not knowing what lies ahead. But once we know, we can open the petcock to release the gas building up and avoid a boiler explosion.

The first week of school has come and gone. I’ve managed to do this for the last 31 years of my life. The difference now is the Rule of 80 and grandfather clauses. If teachers’ age and years in the classroom equal 80, they can turn in their stapler and frolic in fields of clover. That rule was changed by the state a few years ago; fortunately, I was “grandfathered” in. I’m a little aggrieved that I’m not an actual grandfather, but that’s a family matter.

The outline of my life for the next nine months emerged during a workshop for the new gradebook . That’s when I learned have first period conference. The pressure to get up early and arrive on time is entirely alleviated when you know it’s your last year and you don’t give a rat’s you-know-what if you show up late according to district policy. I no longer have to make the students stand up and observe a moment of silence, which isn’t silent enough or long enough to suit me. But when that second period bell rings, it’s a marathon.

My load comes to exactly 180 students. Two of my classes have 33 students, IF they all show up. That’s an average of 30 for each class. Hallway scuttlebutt says 300 extra students registered for school, and we’re short at least one Spanish teacher. In spite of earlier threats, it appears new teachers aren’t circling the parking lot. Certainly not foreign language teachers.

I understand a principal wanting to convene a first-week faculty meeting to touch base for 15-20 minutes. A meeting that runs over an hour to provide information that could be handled with an email is nothing short of criminal. When we are scolded that “sometimes we come empty-handed” I have to wonder why should it be otherwise? The only reason to bring a pen – and I always do- is to work on my crossword puzzle. When a faculty meeting runs over an hour, someone isn’t paying attention to the hourglass. Even the Wicked Witch of the West had keener eyesight. 

One week down, only 35 to go. 

The first full week of inservice reminded me of those hotel convention set-ups where you go to four sessions a day. I didn’t get a chocolate mint on my pillow, but they at least provided candy. Come to think of it, candy is just empty calories, same as the candy they serve as wisdom. 

"Don’t use a dictionary because they often use harder words to define a word."
When I heard one of our educational experts utter this, my mind flew back to a day in junior high when a young, petite, black English teacher wearing large spectacles with hair pulled back ruled the classroom. Don’t mess with Mrs. Shakesnider. She meant business, and English was her business. None of that ghetto Ebonic bullshit, either. Didn’t understand a word? “If you don’t know what it means, look it up in Big Red” she said, and held a dictionary above her head, trembling under the weight.

Reflecting on my experience in public school, it occurred to me that my greatest saviors were all black women who didn’t tolerate any deviation from standard grammar. Mrs. Boyd was my English teacher twice during my junior high days. I never saw her in the hallway without a book tucked under her arm. The aforementioned Mrs. Shakesnider was probably a beautiful woman, but we were too scared to think of her as anything other than a teacher who could turn you to stone with a glance. Same with Mrs. Sheppard at Jones High School who said her favorite author was William Shakespeare.

“Don’t be the kind of teacher who doesn’t allow any talking.”
I know, I know. We can’t just put kids in rows like we used to, as a previous district expert reminded us. It’s like cooperative learning. It’s not cheating if a tenured professor of education in a university with a grant from the Department of Education says so. Like the song from Brick in the Wall says, “Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone!” Did Pink Floyd get a DOE grant?

Recognize and Reinforce is another brick in the wall. Justin turns in his first assignment in three weeks. What to do? Lavish him with praise! Seriously? I’m supposed to praise this? Hey, Justin, your average is below a 20, but I’m so proud of you for turning in an assignment that was due two weeks ago!

“Everything we do should be fun!”
Someday I’m going to put all the quotes I’ve been collecting at inservice and put them in a book. Would it be stocked in non-fiction or fiction? Would anyone believe it?

I sat through the second faculty meeting in as many weeks. There was the customary reminder of group norms to arrive on time, turn off cell phones, and offer suggestions that help.

Like this one from a new faculty member: “If you’re having problems with your kids, you might want to check yourself and how you’re dealing with them.”

I’m picturing my secondary English teachers in a Spaghetti Western with a flinty-eyed Clint Eastwood facing down the upstarts. If you’re the teacher, you’re the man with the smoking gun. And the rest? Well, a man’s got to know his limitations.

Every meeting starts with celebrations. What better way to start a year off the TEA Dirty List than a celebration led by none other than Joan E.? Joan, you will recall, came in at the end of the first year of our existence when we were declared Academically Unacceptable. She recalled that she was not always the most popular person here. Well, she wasn’t the least popular. That distinction was reserved for the principal. Thanks anyway, Joan. We’ll continue having those conversations.

Friday the 13th.

If anyone could be blamed for starting this superstition, I am absolutely sure it wasn’t a teacher. If you ask anyone who ever served in a classroom, there is no such thing as an “unucky” Friday.

I went to my last homecoming game as a teacher tonight. One of my students from last year saw me and told me she really missed me. “You were my favorite class.”

I had just been telling someone about Lisa’s New Year Pep Speech. Usually, she says, “Suck it up,” or “Play the game,” or “Get off the floor and quit crying.” This year, she said, “This is going to be your best year ever.” And then she said I couldn’t quit in the middle of the year. I was thinking maybe my last year should be my worst so when I retired I wouldn’t look back. But I keep running into these students who tell me things that make me wonder if I’m making the right decision. I know that on Monday I’ll be jerked back into reality. But for now I’m touched to the core.

The superintendent was also there. He asked how my year was going. I simply said, “Well, I have 180 students.” He said, “Wow, isn’t that great!” I played along and said, “Well, they must really love me.” “Yes, they know what a great teacher you are!” he enthused. Is he drinking the same Kool-Aid as the principal? She’s the one who gushed how great it is to have 43 new teachers at our first campus faculty meeting. This guy eats Skittles and shits rainbow-colored turds.

The bell schedule changed again on Wednesday. First period had run an extra 20 minutes to allow for morning announcements until someone decided it was too long. One of the APs – and the only one I know of with an ounce of common sense – suggested the time be added to lunch because students didn’t have enough time to eat. He was told it would be -illegal. Really? More time to eat is ILLEGAL?! What would happen? Would the police swoop down and arrest everyone with a mouthful of food? Instead, five minutes were added to second and third period classes. Great. Not only do I have less time to myself for my conference period, I have to spend more time with my overloaded classes.

“If you’re having problems with your kids, you might want to check yourself and how you’re dealing with them.”
I’m always grateful for the time I spend with my trench-mates at lunch. All my worst suspicions are confirmed, and my heart is warmed with their observations of the mouth-breathers in their classrooms and the administrators, those wielders of flaccid truncheons. Today I mentioned the young blonde woman who stood up at the last faculty meeting and piously reminded us that maybe WE are the ones copping an attitude. One of us said that this same woman would sit lotus-style on her desk during class. Just what we need – a hippie amid the barbarian horde. It reminds me of when Jimmy Carter was in the White House putting daisies in gun barrels while the Ayatollah and hundreds of bearded, turbaned wackos were surrounding the embassy in Iran chanting “Death to America!”

As much as I hate bus duty, at least I got to skip half the faculty meeting. I missed out on all the celebrations, the meeting norms, and an agenda chock-full of informative innovations that will change rubble into rubles. Our mission statement should read: DIFFERENT FLAVOR OF KOOL-AID, SAME RESULTS.

One of our new instructional coaches – Little Mary Sunshine – came to my room this week with a packet of colored paper stapled together like a collage of educational fantasies. Mozart was playing in the background and I’m easily distracted so I only remember her saying that I should read over the data and make suggestions at a meeting. I nodded and uh-huhd and made a point of putting it someplace where I wouldn’t lose it. I’ll get right on it. It’s cute how these self-important experts believe what they think is important. I wonder what flavor Kool-Aid she’s been drinking?

I ran into the principal this morning while I was checking my mailbox. I thanked her for the kind words she wrote on a newspaper clipping of my son and his Eagle Scout ceremony. It was gracious of her and I genuinely appreciated it. Then she mentioned a rumor she had heard that I thinking of making this my last year. Well, it wasn’t exactly a state secret, and I told her I was pretty certain of it. I mentioned that the student load was overbearing. To her credit, she acknowledged the fact. She wants to push the school board to hire new Spanish teachers. I resisted the temptation to point out that teachers aren’t circling the parking lot after all, as she had boldly stated a couple of years ago when we were first declared academically unacceptable.

I wish her the best of luck in that venture, but I don’t expect any relief. I’d be happy if I could just jettison my 7th period class. It’s a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with public education. I have a load of 30 students, if they all show up, which never happens. Not that it matters. If two or three of the worst are gone, there are two or three others that take up the slack for them. Yesterday, two of them talked all the way through a video. One was in the wrong seat, but he refused to sit in his assigned seat. One smartass told me, “Go ahead and write me up. They won’t do nothin’ to me.” She must be right. About 15 minutes after I sent her and her companion on their way accompanied by a security guard, an AP came to my room with the referrals reminding me that I needed to call their parents each time I made a referral.

Today, same class, one of the other slouchers came into class after the tardy bell rang. He said he was inside the room when the bell rang. I and another teacher knew he was lying. I called for a security guard but there was no answer. When I looked up after I entered the attendance - lo and behold! - my AP materialized in a desk for another walk-through observation. He stayed for about 10 minutes. As he left, I stopped him to tell him about the late arrival and his refusal to leave. He actually asked me if I wrote a referral. Yeah, dumbass, I stopped everything I was doing while you were sitting there so I could write a referral for someone that should have been pulled up out of his seat by his ears and dragged to the office for a good old-fashioned whaling. I wonder what flavor Kool-Aid he’s been drinking?

He posted his observation by the end of the period. I read it just to see if I would have material to use for sarcasm. I wasn’t disappointed. He was generous with check marks for positive stuff, but at the very bottom he added, “Students having conversations during lesson. Some classroom management issues.” I’ll have whatever he’s drinking. But without the cyanide. 

If you’re new to education, take some advice from an old-timer. Drink lots of coffee and eat lots of fiber before you show up on the first week of school so you’ll have an excuse to leave the world of educational fantasy where research shows whatever a doctoral candidate wants to show.

During one particularly grueling PowerPoint presentation, I left the room filled with inspiration to relieve myself. Afterward, I reached for the soap dispenser near the sink. My eye caught the school district motto emblazoned on the dispenser: Everyone Can Learn.

Several millions of dollars ago, everybody in Texas got slogan fever. Every school had to have a slogan and a mission statement. Imagine the thoughtful discussion over the precise wording of the sign that hangs at the entrance of our own district office:

"Should it be `EveryBODY' or `EveryONE' can learn? Shouldn't we call William Safire first before we make a final decision on the wording?"

No, I'm only kidding. They didn't call Safire. Why should they when we have paid experts right here? And they don’t need a dictionary, either. In fact, they actively discourage it.

Advertising is a major component of any company’s budget. You may have invented the world’s greatest mousetrap, but if the public has never heard of it, you may as well be holding a patent for a sundial. What better place to advertise than a soap dispenser? After all, teenage boys are fastidious about clean hands, right? I’d think a better place for this advertisement would be on the soda and chip vending machines, but the Food Police have already scoured and scrubbed all trace elements of grease, salt, sugar and empty calories.

Nobody touches the "yam fries" or carrot sticks, so I wouldn’t bother pasting a sticker on the cafeteria trays. How about book covers? Snorf!

Well, as long as we’re advertising in the bathroom, I couldn’t think of a better place to put that logo than on toilet paper. That way, every time I need to wipe my - well, you know – I would be reminded that our district is meeting all our educational needs. And then some. 

My in-box never fails to deliver material worthy of comment. This week I received three risible messages.

1. “During 7th period, we conducted a data walk to look at lesson plans posted on the doors of classrooms. Thank you to 60% of the teachers for having updated lesson plans posted outside your classrooms! Next week will be even higher!!!”

Or else! You vill post official updated lesson planz! Ja, you most assuredly vill post der lesson planz!

2. “Our school board, through an energy management policy, does allow us to lower the setpoint to 73 degrees when the outside temperatures (high’s) are below the mid 80’s. . . For a short while, you may feel warm and think we have already got heaters running. . . Our goal in your Maintenance Department is to provide the best, most comfortable, learning environment possible for Every Child, Every Classroom, Every Day.”

In other words, don’t forget that anti-perspirant. I can count the fingers on one hand the days I’ve actually felt comfortable all day in my room. And spare me the slogan-jargon about every whatever, wherever, whenever. It reeks of “Thanks for all you do to ensure the safety and success of all our students” from a previous and eminently forgettable administrator.

3. “The paper cutter has disappeared from Mrs. R’s workroom.  Please return it as soon as possible.”

If you’re going to steal something, steal something useful, like a paper shredder.

It rained this week – a rare event. Rarer yet was the rainbow that appeared in the sky. It was a spectacular sight. The arch appeared in the western sky, leading me to imagine a pot of gold at the end. I drove off to work with that whimsical notion in my head. I found a pot, all right, but there wasn’t any gold in it. Least not when I pulled the handle. 

An intriguing rumor circulating in our libel of a faculty lounge posits that our two high schools which opened to overflow capacity three years ago were deliberately built that way so that another building would be necessary. That sounds devious, but I think it gives way too much credit to the planners. Otherwise, I’d have to assume we’re going to tap into that large reserve of prospective teachers circling the parking lot will help reduce our class size.

We are now twelve weeks into the new school year, and not a moment too soon for administration to send out salary notification letters. After all, nobody likes an unpleasant surprise, although we kind of got an early clue from the last month’s paycheck. So, the rule is they don’t have to let us know we’re coming back next year until a week before the end of the school year, and they don’t have to let us know how much we’re getting paid until we actually get paid.

Teachers are paid with taxpayer dollars, so naturally many of those taxpayers feel qualified to tell teachers how to run their classrooms. They’re confusing public office with public school. 

Just when you think things couldn’t be stupider, news went out that all the APs have to make at 15 walk-throughs a week. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to get three in a single day. What made the day more memorable was having the principal sit in my room during “advisory,” formerly known as “homeroom.” The only reason it’s on the schedule is to allow time for students to arrive from other campuses and eat lunch. The objective, near as I can figure, is to give them a place to sit for twenty minutes.

Imagine my surprise when I read that my objectives weren’t posted on the board. So just how should I word this according to the acceptable Famous Five rubric?

We will sit for twenty minutes.

At the end of this lesson I will be able to state that my ass is numb from sitting for twenty minutes.

Capping off a perfect storm of idiocy, new teachers were called to a meeting last week. One of the new teachers, someone with 2-½ years of experience was invited, much the same way a convicted felon is invited to his sentencing trial. And why was a not-so-new teacher invited to attend a meeting for new teachers? In his short time here, he has done everything possible to accommodate the teaching coaches, the assistant principals, and the solons from the head shed. He is compliant in every respect, even if he voices some befuddlement over their rationale. Somehow, he has resisted being warped into their image.

Our beleaguered colleague reported at our daily lunch/bull session that one of the teaching coaches said, “You know, if a student has a 20 average it’s hard for him to feel motivated to continue,” and suggested if teachers recorded a 65 instead of what he actually earned, maybe he could see his way to at least start bringing a pencil to class. I have several of those on my roster. They would sooner bring an alarm clock to bed as a pencil to class. 

Not long ago even the most hostile state legislators agreed on a law to require public school teachers to post grades actually earned by students. I can’t say I’m surprised the experts don’t know this, especially after seeing the results of their suggestion that their plaything change the arrangement of student desks.  Evidently, the former arrangement was too traditional to suit their tastes, so they leaned on him to reconfigure furniture and common sense. See for yourself - 

As you can see in the before picture, desks are arranged in rows, allowing for students to work independently and maximizing student attention to the teacher in front of the classroom where most of the teaching takes place. This arrangement, according to an assistant principal, was not conducive to good teaching. So she strongly suggested (forced) him to rearrange the desks to allow him to “get in the zone.”

“Getting in the zone” is the newest fad in our hothouse of idealists. It used to mean circulating among the students. Of course, there is nothing to impede this in the before arrangement, but the mere appearance of any kind of tradition for the Innovative Class of Instructional Coaches is like garlic to werewolves. Next thing you know, teachers will start demanding autonomy and authority over their charges. Then they’ll start wearing red caps and carrying pitchforks to storm the Bastille where the experts are hunkered down in carrels. The insurrection must be crushed before it gets a foothold in the classroom. 

You just can’t make this stuff up.

The long-suffering teacher down the hall hears from the “instructional coach” that specific and targeted lessons are not as effective as “broad” teaching. That is, instead of narrowing a lesson, students would learn more with a bewildering amount of material. It is as if someone decided that filling a glass with water to consume isn’t good enough. We must open the hydrant and drown the little bloke. 

Our intrepid rebellious soldier decides to carry on with the previous lesson because, as he believes, it will help the learner more. Then he leaned on me to whisper, “I’m not coming back next year, so I it doesn’t matter what they say or do at this point.”

So, that’s the game all along. Let’s harass and intimidate teachers to the point that they’ll do the right thing with an eye to resigning at the end of the year. If enough teachers are backed up to the wall, the sky’s the limit on how high the scores will rise. The trick will be to recruit enough new teachers every year to pull this off.

November 21
I received a notice of a job fair at the University of Houston – Victoria two weeks ago. I immediately sent my RSVP and polished up my resume. I labored for an hour over the exact wording of my “objective.” My jacket was still in the garment bag after it was cleaned in May. I ironed a shirt and picked a tie. Everything was ready to go as soon as I got home on Thursday evening.

Instead of a platoon of employers looking for prospective employees, it turned out to be a panel of consultants answering questions about interviewing skills, creating a resume, etc. I got a couple of tips worth knowing, like don’t bother putting an objective on top of your resume. I’ve always thought it sounded like something a motivational speaker would write on his brochure.

I like the suggestion my son-in-law made about printing my resume on scented paper. I’m thinking WD-40, spent shell casings or freshly-mowed lawn clippings.

It wasn’t a complete waste of time. There was food. And bacon! You can’t go wrong with bacon. Come to think of it, a resume scented with fried bacon might just be the ticket to a new career. 

November 22
On the day before a week-long Thanksgiving break, a teacher oughtta feel pretty comfortable and maybe let his hair down a little. My agenda for the day was simple – shut up and watch the movie. We’d just covered the cultural aspects of the quinceañera, so letting them watch Sweet 15 seemed like a no-brainer. My first class filed in to the music of the Beatles. They seemed to enjoy listening to Hey, Jude as they began the quiz. In fact, some of them were singing along. This might actually turn out to be a pleasant day after all.

Ten minutes before the end of class, my AP came in for a walk-through evaluation, or as we call them, a drive-by. He left before the bell, but came back to ask if the movie was approved. I assured him it was. Then he wanted to know why I was showing it. Uh, well, it went with the lesson. “You showed a video already this week, didn’t you?” I wanted to say, “Well, you should know. You were there for that, too.” The movie suited the lesson, and everything fell under the heading of cultural extension as expected by the TEA. He told me that he was looking for more actual instruction. I told him that to my way of thinking the movie was part of my actual instruction.

Having to explain the obvious to an administrator makes me realize why teachers aren’t allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus.

November 26
My beleaguered comrade was told by an AP that his voice is too loud and he’s distracting the students working on assignments. Of course, having an AP walk into your room for one of the 5-10 walk-through evaluations at any moment is NOT distracting. So, tone it down, bud. You might be distracting an AP documenting that you’re too distracting.
* * * 
The day before the new school year, the missus assured me, “You’re not going to quit before school begins. This is going to be your best year, and you’ll have all year to look for a new job.” We’re not halfway through the year, and if someone offered me job to start tomorrow, I’d be clearing my desk right now.

Wal-Mart just opened up a new store on this side of town, so if I had to work there, at least I wouldn’t have to drive all the way across town. My closest competitors for a job are teenagers who can’t make change without a calculator. Unless getting a job is a condition of their parole, I wouldn’t even count on them showing up for an interview.

I spent part of my Thanksgiving week at the Texas Workforce Commission. My resume and education/work history is out there for potential employers. I took a typing test (50 wpm, good enough for light clerical work) and spoke to a counselor on how to tweak my account to improve my chances. I’ve already received a couple of leads. One would be as a trainee with the juvenile corrections department in the county sheriff’s department. The job entails driving juvies to their drug rehab, court appearances, etc. It pays rather well – almost $20 an hour. Plus, I’d get to see some of my former students. The application is 16 pages. One page requires me to fill out all the tickets I ever received for the past ten years.

Lisa said I should pass on that one because I’d hate it. Would I hate it more than what I’m putting up with now? She responded that I should put some more thought into getting something that would be more suitable for my experience, degree and temperament. She’s right, of course. But driving thugs around town might be the ideal job. At least I’d already have a personal connection with some of them.  

WawaWAH? Waah-wa-WA-wa-WA-waaaah 
December 6
Since the year began, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there are only two kinds of days – the ones that suck and the ones that don’t suck as much. Thanks to a shortage of foreign language teachers, I have more students, and the students I have in abundance look forward to a career in pushing grocery carts from the HEB parking lot. On top of that, the day is even longer now. I have first period conference which gives me just enough time to run off copies and respond to e-mail. After my first class arrives, it’s a Bataan Death March.

Wednesdays will be even longer for the foreseeable future with my morning duty and after-school faculty meetings. Teachers wearily filed into the auditorium last week to hear the principal announce, “Unfortunately, I don’t have any good news.”

The news was so bad she didn’t even start off with celebrations.

The TEA is a-coming to town in March, and they won’t leave any stone unturned, no mountain of paper unrecycled, no vegetable unbaked.

We have eleven weeks to prepare and, by golly, this far-sighted educational leader is going to make sure we know how to respond to all the important questions that might be thrown at us. Questions like: Do you know where you can find the rights of students of limited-proficiency in English as defined my federal law? Do you have documentation of your educational interventions of 504 students?

The questions are disappointing because they are too low-order. If they were creative, they would pose more challenging high-order questions. For example: What if students took more responsibility for their education? What do you think would happen if a worker failed to show up for work on time without necessary materials for his line of work?  Do you think capital punishment is appropriate for a student who curses a teacher? Why or why not?

I recall a similar visit being threatened about ten years ago. Teachers were told to have some “sponge questions” prepared to throw at students to keep them busy if the SS Storm Troopers – I mean, TEA agents – called you out of class to dangle you by the ankles from the balcony. I wrote “Who’s your daddy?” on a transparency sheet to slap on an overhead projector. That should keep the little bastards busy for at least an hour. 
The good news is my blood pressure didn’t shoot up, I didn’t begin sweating profusely, and my sphincter didn’t tighten. Indeed, the more she talked of the ominous implications, the giddier I became. The longer our district bilingual expert pored over fifteen pages of information, the more I heard an adult voice in a Charlie Brown special going “WawaWAH? Waah-wa-WA-wawawa-WA-waaaaah.” 

December 13
Ronald Reagan famously commented that “When you’re up to your keister in alligators, it’s easy to forget you came to drain the swamp.” When the swamp is up to your armpits, and the alligators are yawning wide, it’s easy to overlook the angelfish in the tank.

My third period class can only be charitably called a fetid swamp of alligators. An alligator’s brain, according to the National Wildlife Federation, is the size of three olives. The National Wildlife Federation wants to SAVE alligators. If it were possible, I’d try to save my alligators, but from what I’ve seen so far, the best I can say is they’d be better off if they were turned into boots. Metaphorically speaking, of course. 

I’ve got several students who are well worth the effort of hitting the snooze button on my alarm only once instead of . . . well, I’d just as soon pulverize it with a ball-peen hammer. But, you know, you still have those alligators.

As usual, at the end of class the alligators are slithering toward the door. I foolishly try to block their release before the bell because I don’t want to endanger innocent life that may be in the same ecosystem. One kid who is two olives short of an alligator brain lowers his head and shrieks, “WHAT THE F***!!!” Let the record show that olive-brain was in class the rest of the week with no record of consequences for his outburst, or any of the others, including the day before when he took his shoes off to do a Lord of the Dance routine.

One girl, a relative newcomer, stayed behind after the rest left. She said, “Mr. Hubbell, I want to tell you something.” I braced myself. “NOW what?”

“I just want to tell you I appreciate what you’re trying to do.” I was stunned. “I think I’m going to cry,” I said in a knowingly mocking manner. I asked her point-blank if it was just my class or is it like this in her other classes. “No, it’s all over the place. I’ve never seen so much disrespect for teachers in a school. I can’t believe you have to put up with this. If they treated teachers like this where I’m from, they’d walk out.”

Funny that gold is a heavy, dense metal, but can be useful as a life ring.  

snugglers + suckers = snucklers

As my tour of duty winds down in public school, I often scan the newspaper for ideas on employment in the real world. One enterprising huckster – er, affectionate purveyor of goodwill – offers hugs. Yah, for 60 bucks, suckers – I mean, customers starving for human contact – can spend an hour at the Snuggle House in Madison, Wisconsin, with professional snugglers.

Sadly, many skeptics look askance at the visionary mission of this bunkum – ahem, business – most notably Madison officials who suspect that the business is a front for prostitution, or may lead to sexual assault. One assistant attorney, a woman, stated, “No offense to men, but I don’t know any man who just wants to snuggle.”

Well, no offense taken. I’ve always thought that snuggling was just a euphemism for foreplay. I grew up in Houston near Telephone Road where plenty of snuggling was available for about the same rate, allowing for inflation and bribery. 

Still, I fear for the future of free enterprise when prissy officials feel the need to clamp down on inventive perverts – that is . . . um, well, perverts. Hey, where were these concerned officials when Leo Buscaglia was making a laughing-stock of hundreds of gullible patrons who lined up for hugs on his tours across this fruity plain? - December 15, 2013

January 10
Rumor has it that a new teacher at the other high school “lost it” during what could only be described as a typical day in the district. Apparently, she let loose a volley of profanity sufficient to disturb a boatload of sailors. She actually pointed out one or two students to make sure they felt included. Well, as we always say, if you’re going to go, go big or go home. She went big AND went home. If some of my students are anything like hers, she has my full %#@*ing support.  

The next two weeks should be pretty easy for this ready-to-retire teacher. On Monday I have an appointment to have my teeth cleaned. The following Monday is MLK Day which turns out to be an actual holiday for teachers as well. The day after that is a workday for us to enter grades. Of course, the district could never give us a whole day to work on our own. Half the day will involve "professional development." I can never say those two words without breaking out in laughter.

I often get something in my e-mail that makes me scratch my head. One such was a notice from a school district north of San Antonio. Burnet is looking for Spanish teachers. So is Victoria. In fact, we’re short in all over our 612 square miles of excellence. At one time I might have wondered if the district was trying to suggest I start packing my boxes and look elsewhere to ply my trade. But I was not alone in receiving this notice. Besides, I’m too close to retirement to give a razzazz. Still, I have to wonder who’s keeping track of what gets into the system. Surely it isn’t the personnel department. Whatever we have to offer, it isn’t Much, Much More!!!

January 17
Our regularly scheduled faculty meeting convened this past Wednesday and ended an hour later. Not quite a yawning chasm, but I rated it a three out of five on my Barcolounger Scale. I use this scale for inservice, but it’s easily applicable here. For the record, this is how the scale is calibrated:  

Shut eyes intermittently. Tried to picture Pamela Anderson in spite of glare from overhead projector.

 Hit head on table when I dozed off. Woke up immediately, but confused spots in front of my eyes with light from overhead projector.

Used inservice manual as headrest. Caught 15 minutes of sleep.

   Pushed three unoccupied chairs together in back row. Woke up when janitor ran vacuum cleaner under me.

    Comatose - had to be thrown in hotel pool to be revived.

The meeting encompassed a lot of things that seemed like fussing, but needed to be reiterated for the benefit of providing administration an excuse to fuss at someone. One of the administrators stated that “we’ve lost control” where the dress code is concerned. It was probably the one honest thing I’ve ever heard at a faculty meeting at this school. The same administrator stated that “never before have we had the kind of vandalism we’re getting. Students are pulling pipes out of the bathroom walls, burning books in a stairwell,” etc. The solution to this is more paperwork. Every time a kid leaves your room, you have to write down the time he left and returned where he’s going, and why he left.

“I’m telling you, right now, we’ll back you up.” So, the most honest thing I’ve heard was followed by the biggest whopper. On the Bullshit Scale, this is off the chart. I specifically recall sending a student a month ago to the office on a dress code referral to the same admin making this speech, only to have him return ten minutes later with a note stating his shirt was okay. I saved the note for future reference. Maybe I need to develop a Whip-Saw Scale to calibrate the cognitive dissonance that goes on in faculty meetings.  
January 24
From: [district spokeswoman]
Date: January 23, 2014, 4:16:44 PM CST
Due to expected winter conditions the normal start time for VISD schools will be delayed by two hours Friday morning. School buses will run all routes two hours later than the normal time. ALL STAFF SHOULD REPORT TO WORK AT THE NORMAL REPORT TIME.  If there is a travel danger that prohibits an employee from arriving at the regular time, contact your supervisor.

It’s all about the kids. Every kid, every classroom, every day. All 612 square miles of them. When some of that acreage is coated in ice, by golly, you know we’re gonna make sure they arrive coated in warmth and concern and love and security. If only we could find a way to make them warmer with kitties and puppies.

Science asserts that the laws of physics are universal, but in our 612 square miles of excellence, employees, i.e., the folks who cook the food, empty the trash cans, and write the mission statements and the Essential Fives on the whiteboard, are exempt. Don’t expect any quotes from Sir Isaac Newton in future messages from our superintendent.

A former teacher and wag responded to this update with a sharp observation: “Amazing how VISD employees are exempt from all natural conditions.  You can work in the heat, drive on the ice, and work in a leadership vacuum.” 

January 26
I had the pleasure of running into one of my former colleagues recently at a community event. She was one of several who left the campus along with several others in the middle of the year. The reasons would take too long to explain. She retired to care for a family member who doesn’t have long to live. It was the right time to leave and, she added, “I’m deliriously happy.”

Ponder that awhile. A woman with more cheer and vivacity than a person has a right to have and was devoted to helping students in her capacity endured three years of a workplace so hostile that leaving to take care of a loved one who is dying is an improvement. It is a testimony to her character that she didn’t view this as a burden, but a privilege. Certainly, she would prefer to be home enjoying his company in good health. Either way, she’s home, and away from a toxic environment poisoning our most valuable professionals.
When the school board was soliciting the public for names for our school, I had suggested Roy Benavides, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. Maybe Bhopal or Chernobyl High School would have been more appropriate.  

January 28
I woke up this morning to a radio ad the school district is running that asks, “How would you like to look forward to going to work every day?” A resounding YES was heard throughout 612 square miles of excellence. Teachers understand irony, being educated and all, but this is just cruel.

The personnel office is just trying to keep up with the loss of teachers. And custodians. And bus drivers. And cafeteria workers. As LBJ put it, they’re jumping like ticks off a dead dog. And it turns out people aren’t circling the parking lot trying to get in. The only circling we have is the circling around the drain plug. Or buzzards circling the carrion.

We need someone – anyone – to fulfill our mission to reach every child, every classroom, every day. But as it is, they can’t fill the vacancies we already have. During lunch a newly-minted graduate with a degree in music told us he subbed for a 5th-grade teacher at one of our elementary schools. At the end of the day, after ONE day of subbing, the principal asked if he would like to become a full-time teacher at the school.

Mission creep has eclipsed our real mission to educate students. We have to be truant officers by calling parents of students who are missing. We have to keep account of every student who leaves our classroom with a sign-out sheet. We have to check for dress code violations. Lesson plans must document state objectives along with a dozen other Fundamental Five/Framing the Lesson items, not to mention the C-Scope objectives.

And all along, we’re picking at a glacial mass of indifference, ignorance and outright hostility with olive forks.

As G.K. Chesterton said, “We have had no good comic operas of late, because the real world has been more comic than any possible opera.” 

January 29
I played hooky for three days this week, or will have at the stroke of 4:20 p.m. on Friday. Wednesday morning began with me skipping school – at school. The newly newly-revised duty schedule calls for me to be at my post at 7:45 Wednesdays intercepting students attempting to go upstairs without an admit. “You haff paperss, ja?” I could have put out a campus-wide plea to swap, but that would only cause me to serve duty on another day. So, I fulfilled my obligation as a Hall Nazi then skipped out to the parking lot.

Lucky for me, I dodged the faculty meeting in the afternoon. I’m almost sorry I missed it because they’re always such a rich resource for my journal. Last week, for example, the principal – or should that be "Professional Learning Communities Campus Leader"? - announced that “We’re going to ask some things of you and expect that they be done.” It’s a polite robber that holds a gun to your head and asks for your wallet, but a robber all the same. And who’s this we? Is she royalty or does she have a tapeworm, as Mark Twain would have suggested?
A chart was passed out that may have been in hieroglyph for all I know, but it was helpfully deciphered by the queen - or woman with a tapeworm. Take your pick. On a statewide Writing Performance Scale for the campus, NOs went almost all the way across for mastery: African-American – no; Hispanic – no; At-Risk – no; white – yes. “So what does all this mean to you?” The sound of cicadas could be heard, and this is winter. It would be politically incorrect to draw any conclusions, other than the conclusion to draw a conclusion would result in a lot of unpleasant consequences.

The meetings always yield nuggets of material, but it’s like an ethnobiologist digging through mounds of excrement to find remnants of corn, rice and beans to write a paper for a graduate degree. I’ll pass, if you’ll excuse the expression.

February 8
An old teaching colleague passed away this week. One of the Venerables, he was a former football coach. He commanded respect with his calm demeanor and imposing size. The obituary mentioned that he was a member of the Victoria High Breakfast Club. I chuckled to myself at the insider humor. It was a club, after a fashion, of long-time teachers who arrived early to hang out in the teachers’ lounge to drink coffee and swap stories.

I became a “member” by virtue of being there, which was no small feat. At that time my only transportation was a ten-speed bike which I rode several miles across three major intersections and past a neighbor’s plucky, determined three-legged dog who invariably chased after me a full city block. One day I arrived in a polo shirt after facing a north wind that arrived when I was too far to go back for a sweater. I entered the lounge stiff with numbness.

“What’s the matter, Hubbell?”

“Cold front’s in,” I announced. They laughed merrily.

I was pleased with myself not just for getting there, but for the fact that I was addressed with my last name. I felt I had arrived. I had paid my dues.

The visitation at the funeral home was closing the circle. I escaped another faculty meeting to attend this reunion of VHS Breakfast Club members. There was no ceremony involved. The family wanted him to be remembered as he was in the vigor of life.

I introduced myself to his wife. “Oh, he always spoke so highly of you!” What a nice thing to say. I shared one of my favorite memories of him, the Curtis Rollins Method of Filing, which I’d used in a column years ago: “I put all the papers I get from my box and make a pile on the edge of my desk. If it’s important enough, they’ll send a student worker for it. At the end of the week, I push the stack in my wastebasket.”

A toast in memory of someone who worked smarter, not harder.

February 28
Taking off for a week takes a lot of preparation if you’re a foreign language teacher. Never mind planning a lesson for a non-existent Spanish-speaking sub. You have to pick a movie that will keep the attention of the students, and throw in a few other things to keep them busy. Idle hands are the workshop of the devil, grandma used to say. A mind is terrible thing to waste, went another commercial. Idle hands and idle minds spawn government programs, inservice workshops, Geicko ads and a host of other pernicious things.

I had scheduled oral surgery for the Wednesday before spring break. Suddenly, it occurred to me that if I had my wisdom teeth yanked on Monday I’d be well recovered by spring break. Why take chances?

The week ended with TWO assemblies in the gym which took up most of 3rd and 7th periods. The 3rd period assembly was a celebration of Black History Month which has morphed into Rainbow Diversity Month. The event was led by our district superintendent who has a mania for two-clap recognitions. 7th period was a pep rally for the wrestling team. It was a pretty good display of athletic ability, but where were the folding chairs?

Later that night my wife and I went to see the Fake Beatles – actually, 1964: The Tribute. The foursome is touted as the greatest Beatles music tribute band by Rolling Stone magazine. This is the same magazine that thinks Al Gore should have been our 43rd president.

We arrived ahead of time. Good thing, too, because the parking lot was full, necessitating an exploration of the parking lot behind the Region III Annex, formerly the High School Formerly Known as Victoria High School. It’s good to know that in spite of a stagnant economy, we can put educational parasites to work sucking the life out of people who actually teach.

Our seats were well-situated away from stage right. In other words, we were way in the back. Good enough. I don’t need to see them, just hear them.

Unfortunately, the show was preceded by the superintendent with his two-clap thing. He thanked the audience for supporting the Foundation for Education and our 612 Square Miles of Excellence and the school board and apple pie. If I’d known I was going to pay $54 for inservice I would have bought two six-packs of Shiner beer, stayed home and watched A Hard Day’s Night.

March 24
There should be a uniform for these people, the enlightened purveyors of the latest model of best practices and educational excellence. I would suggest a white lab coat. In a better world, they’d be wearing a white straitjacket.

Mike Royko, a venerated syndicated columnist in Chicago, got his start by covering Cook County meetings and repeating verbatim the wonderfully ridiculous things he heard the commissioners uttered. I suppose I could eke out a living by doing the same. There is never a lack of material.

Teachers reported for work to post grades for the 3rd nine weeks. Next week begins another round of statewide testing, so we also had to sit through a refresher training to make sure we remember to make students put away their cell phones, sharpen their pencils and, for once, take a test seriously. Our fates are in their hands. That always makes us rest easy. I’m reminded of the response Mercury astronaut John Glenn gave when asked how he felt while sitting on top of a smoking rocket that sent him into orbit: “I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts - all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”

We were divided into two groups so we could sit through the test training and receive the latest wisdom of our experts. Personally, I think the time could have been better spent on a workshop on writing resumes.

One of the solons declaimed “We’ve got to think of ways of getting them involved. They don’t do anything like they used to do in middle school with hands-on activities instead of just worksheets.” Two questions popped in my head.
1. How do we know they were “authentically engaged” back then?
2. This is high school, okay? They’re not children, and many of them would be tried as adults if they committed a felony.

The latest in inservice-speak is repetitive redundancies (get it?) or useless add-ons. For example: “I want to piggy-back off that.” If you’re riding piggy-back, aren’t you ON something? "Entered into" and "share out" are used a lot. "Answer out" has to be one of the top ten dumbest locutions I’ve ever heard.

If the phrases were dumb enough, there were also the hopelessly naïve ideas, like the notion that “cold-calling” on students is effective because “they know they have to be ready.” Ready for what? Ready to say “I don’t know”? 

Will the last teacher who leaves please turn off the lights?
March 26
We’re down another teacher – a Spanish teacher, to be precise. We started off the year two short, so now we’re even worse off. After yours truly shoves off and paddles away furiously, there will be a need for four Spanish teachers, unless more defectors join the exodus.

This does not bode well for next year. As for THIS year, or what’s left of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if all his students were parceled out to the rest of us. Earlier this year, an English teacher did not come back after having a baby. One English teacher now has 36 students in her classes. So, the district is running short on qualified teachers in all subject areas, bus drivers and even custodians. The only people circling the parking lot are trying to get OUT. 

At least I quit saying “How much worse can it get?” three years ago.

March 27
After 32 years of being a teacher, I’ve learned that students are fascinated with pictures of my family and me, especially the ones taken when I was their age. I guess they just want to see for themselves that their teachers aren’t really space aliens after all. Perhaps they see a little of themselves in the pictures, and a promise that they’ll turn out okay, too.

March 1
I was called out of my class Friday afternoon to meet with the principal. I got a bad vibe when I entered the big office and she got on her walkie-talkie to summon my AP (assistant principal) who does my formal evaluation.  She warmed things up with the word “concerns.”  Uh-oh, looks like we’re about to have one of those “conversations.” 

The good news is my reign as King of the Referrals is secure. The bad news is I’ll be rewarded with a growth plan. It seems some students or parents or both have been telling the principal that I “just seem to have it out” for . . . whomever.  So, in spite of doing everything I’m supposed to be doing, I still can’t win. I’ve called more parents this year than all the past years combined. I can’t make them answer the phone, of course, but it’s a step in the process of getting an AP to call in the little bast—er, miscreant. I’ve assigned detention scores of times, with a handful showing up. Scores more refused to surrender their cell phones, which means I had to sharpen my pencil again and bear down on the NCR paper. I don’t think I’ve ejected more than anyone else with a roomful of freshman mouth-breathers.

What am I doing wrong? I just don’t know. Maybe I’m just unsuitable as a teacher.

Or maybe nothing. Is it too much to ask for students to just shut up and let me speak for 15 uninterrupted minutes? Or expect them to bring a pencil and paper every day? Or turn in an assignment within a week, or come up their own answers on a test? Or stop throwing F-bombs? Or not fart loudly and draw attention to their lack of manners? Or not throw objects across the room, or not scrawl graffiti on the desks, books, walls, or my own property? Or keep their cell phones put away until they leave? I mean, WTF!

Well, as I’m fond of saying, to ask the question is to answer it. Still, I have to wonder why I’m the leader. I have it on good authority I’m not the only teacher with problem students. Recently, a student stood up in a fellow science teacher’s room and unleashed a volley of epithets. The scatological rant was recorded and posted on the Internet for the locals to enjoy. She returned the next day as if nothing happened.

Teachers are now required to have students sign out any time they leave the class so that administrators can narrow the range of suspects of who might be destroying the toilets and trashing the restrooms. A note was sent out for teachers to keep a close eye on students in the computer labs because we had to put out about ten–thousand dollars for repairs. 

All I ever wanted to do in my life as a teacher was to impart some knowledge and appreciation for another language and culture, and to leave the stage with a sense of honor and maybe even some appreciation for a job well-attempted, if not well-done. So now I have to decide if this is something I want to contest, or make better, or just say the hell with it.

A bumper sticker I saw on a car ahead of me at a stop light sums it up for me: “I think I’m a mushroom. They keep me in the dark and feed me bulls***.”

March 21
The TEA finally came this week, not the week before spring break as I had anticipated. I have attention-deficit disorder when it comes to reading office memos. And grocery lists. And instruction manuals. And books by Russian authors. I had no desire to meet any of the team members, so I put in for a medical leave the day before to avoid them. The secretary asked if I could reschedule my appointment.

“What appoint—that is, what for?

“The principal doesn’t want the TEA to visit classrooms if a sub is in there.”

“What happens if I just don’t show up?”


Really, I can’t imagine why administration didn’t fill out a medical leave for me. It’s not as if I have a reputation as a team player. We were prepped for this event with weekly faculty meetings three months ago, including handouts and possible questions. The only thing missing was role-playing and props.

One couldn’t help but be amused at the irony of administration’s eagerness to put on a dog-and-pony show in spite of constant reminders for teachers to NOT put on a “dog-and-pony show” when evaluations are conducted. Of course, teachers know what the stakes are, so we read over past evaluations and comments to ascertain what worked and what didn’t work. We have to be doggier-and-ponier than ever. But at least the effort is our own. We can’t hold others hostage for an hour after a full day of work for consecutive weeks to make ourselves look good. Teams were sent to make sure the right posters were posted in every classroom. Dozens of e-mails with attachments were sent out to ensure we were up to date. It was the doggiest-and-poniest of all evaluations.

They came. They saw. They walked all over. But it didn’t end there. Apparently, there was one loose cannon on deck. One of the faculty members gave the TEAm an earful that shook them so much that they went directly to the superintendent.  Scuttlebutt is that the reaction was not pleasant. Well, imagine hoping to make a good impression on someone doing your evaluation, then finding out you failed to wake up someone sleeping in class, or using a cell phone, or didn’t have his effing shirt tucked in, or you forgot to put “We will ____” on the board or posting your lesson plan on the door for no good reason whatsoever. Gee, what’s that like, I wonder?

For once, I'm above suspicion. I was well out of the way burning another one of my 123 sick days. 

April 13
Signs are posted all across our 612 Square Miles of Excellence to ensure campuses are handgun-free, drug-free, even air pollution-free. Or have you overlooked the idle-free signs? Try putting a sign like that in your classroom. But then, I wouldn’t be surprised if our instructional coaches are already having them printed for teachers to post in their classrooms along with the rest of the posters everyone ignores.

Too bad the district didn’t post a violence-free sign. It might have been an amusing distraction for some thugs who arrived on a recent Friday afternoon for some thissin’ and thattin’ with some other thugs. The most amusing aspect is that the perps didn’t take into account the fact that there is only one way in and out. If you intend to commit mayhem on this campus and escape you better have a helicopter at your disposal. Otherwise, you might as well be on the George Washington Bridge trying to get out of New Jersey.

One of the security guards took a picture of the car and license plate number. Chances are he was able to take a picture of the occupants, measure the radio antenna and check the tire pressure. If this isn’t on a future episode of World’s Dumbest Criminals, I take back everything I ever said during inservice for the past thirty years.   

April 24
As everyone in our 612 square miles of excellence is aware, the state attorney general and front-runner for governor paid a visit at West High School. Speculation immediately arose as to why he chose this place. The governor chooses the commissioner of education, and it is widely-rumored that our superintendent is on Abbot’s list of likely candidates. That explains the obsession for cleaning the windows, waxing the floors, painting the rooms, hanging decorations, power-washing the concrete, and if I left anything out it’s because my view was blocked by the flurry of activity. Naturally, I wish him well because I’d hate to think all this attention to appearance was for nothing.        

Post-script: A reader suggested that our superintendent would have to take a pay cut if he left here to become the state commissioner of education. Indeed, this is true! Jackalack now makes $275,086 (they couldn't round it up to $275,100?). Michael Williams earns a paltry $215,000. He would have to give up $60,000 (I rounded it up even if our school board couldn't), which is way more than I'm making after 32 years. 

But, you know, it's not always about the money. It's about making a difference in the lives of childr--oh, I can't go on with this farce. Of COURSE it's about the money, but it's also about power. Besides, he'll find a way to make up the difference.

Another reader asked, “Does this mean that we will invite Wendy Davis to speak as well?” Suits me. Sauce for the goose and all. Maybe they could clean up East HS for her.

May 1
If you have an internet connection you’ve been bombarded with ads that tell you how you can stay home and earn money. Every year our school loses a teacher or two or three or four or . . . [BONK!] As I was saying, notices of non-renewal of contract are frequently hand-delivered to employees following some breach of etiquette or decorum or policy or . . . [BONK!] As I was saying, it’s delicate statecraft for the solons in the employment office, trying to balance the needs of the employee versus the needs of the district to put out a good image and stay off the front page of a newspaper outside the district. It’s already hard enough finding people willing to stay here.

The Foreign Language department might as well be renamed the Spanish department. Latin was first to go, followed by French in the middle of the year, then  German in the middle of another year. We began this year two Spanish teachers short. Then another became persona non grata following an exchange with a belligerent and obnoxious parent at an athletic event. And if you ask me, it’s a shame the parent didn’t get his head caved in. But that would probably cause a public relations problem our former radio jockey couldn’t handle with a script.  

A couple of years ago, a science teacher in North Carolina posted sarcastic comments about students on her Facebook account. She had directed comments toward Bible-thumpers with supporters gleefully chiming in with the kind of chatter you’d expect at a wine-and-cheese party in the lobby of some post-modern art gallery. I expect that. Indeed, I welcome it. I wouldn’t have a problem with enjoying the attention of, say, Kim Basinger. But having to listen to her whine about people who eat cows or drive Hummers might drive me to putting a Craftsman drill to my head.

The professional damage control experts in human resources put their heads together to come up with an appropriate resolution, one that would satisfy the parents, administrators and attorneys – the teacher was suspended with pay.

What am I doing wrong? I’ve been shooting my mouth off in the newspaper for over twenty years. Once, I wrote that ARD is also used as a verb, as in “We ARDed a student into your class, although he's incapable of writing legibly and is prone to emotional explosions and may stab himself in the hand with a compass, unless he stabs you first.'' Well, you’d think I’d suggested gassing retards along with stray dogs and feral cats. I was excoriated in print for two weeks. Yet, somehow it still didn’t rise to the level of being put on paid administrative leave.

After more than thirty years of pissing off administrators in print, all I ever got was an invitation to teach another year. The Powers That Be never offered me a cubicle in the administration building where I would never have to listen to someone in class ask for a pencil, a restroom pass or what page we were on for the umpteenth time. Maybe I was just not pissing off the right people.

May 2
This week I’m going to let other people write my update.

First up is a request one of our teachers sent out to switch duties. The subject line read Join the Fun! 

I knew if I listed the Subject as "Sub Required" this amazing opportunity to volunteer might have gone unopened in your INBOX!

There is a joyful opportunity to volunteer for my duty today after school to 5 p.m. at the bus detail!  I stand by the fence and guard the opening.  It's a beautiful day; you'll get a nice start on your tan and our students are always in a good mood on Friday afternoons!

I'm going to be chaperoning students going to our Lady Warrior's basketball game and AP Jackson can't do it by himself!  He has terrific mind bending puzzles so you won't be bored!

Don't procrastinate!  I have to limit my volunteers to one, so first come is first served!

It’s a rare e-mail that makes me laugh out loud, and I told her so.

Next up is a note I received from a substitute teacher who took over my duties on another one of my five-day weekends. For one of my classes, she wrote, “Not bad, although the class as a whole should perhaps be on some sort of medication.”

Which kind?  

And finally, one of my good teaching buddies graciously put her talent for poetry to work during one of our faculty meetings. I am honored to say she dedicated it to me. Who says faculty meetings aren’t inspiring?

There once was a scholar named Hubbell,
Who told the truth about VISD trouble.
Until one day he discovered
His Rule of 80 was covered.
Then Hubbell left West on the double.

Being composed as a limerick added a sort of piquancy that most poems often lack. Limericks invariably remind me of a man from Nantucket. Maybe I’ll use a Sharpie and write it on a bathroom wall on my last day. 

May 21
I don’t remember who passed this along, so I couldn’t divulge my sources even under oath. More mobsters should claim Alzheimer’s. It would save a lot of concrete and taxpayer expense.

Anyway, whoever it was assured me he heard girl in the hallway effin’ this and effin’ that at one of our middle schools because one of the APs had the temerity of correcting her behavior – probably for effing everything within earshot. After the customary eye-rolling and head-swiveling and “Oh no she didn’t!” she bellowed, “We’re EIGHTH-GRADERS! Who does she think she is?! We RUN this school!”

What’s sadder? That an eighth-grader student thinks she and her cohorts run the school, or that what she said may actually be true?

May 22
So goes the old saying. I found out it still holds water after hearing from a venerated figure who has been subbing on our campus. This woman is the Bill Spiers of high school. Spiers, if you haven’t been following the Astros for the last 20 years, was an all-around utility player. There was no position he couldn’t play, aside from pitcher, and he consistently got on base. Our own Spiers filled in as a math teacher when she wasn’t filling in as a tutor or an office worker. Lately, she has been filling in as a substitute teacher.

I had the honor of having her take my place one day last week. She fulfilled the perfunctory duties of taking roll and passing out a quiz. She requested a key from my department chair, and she graded each and every paper. THEN she put the papers in alphabetical order. She closely monitored the students as they took the quiz, and she set aside a quiz for those who were absent, putting their name on the paper and putting THOSE in alphabetical order.

Along the way, she encountered my 6th-period class, or as I call it, the Class from Hell. Their assholery consistently exceeds normal expectations every day. So I was not surprised to learn that she had sent three of them to the office. She stopped by my room the following Monday when I put in my appearance on campus to check if I was satisfied with how she handled things. Satisfied?! I sent a message to the principal expressing my gratitude for having such a super sub, and praised her remarkable restraint with the aforementioned class. She brought my attention to a paper some artist obsessed with phallic imagery left for me. If it were up to me, 5 or 6 of them would be clawing at boards in a crawl space under the building.

The next day she informed me that the principal fussed at her for not handling the class differently. She should have called for security, she said. Funny. When I call for security, I have poor management control. The day after that, the sub told me the principal had softened her tune, and they were going to try to discover the creator of the Johnson Brothers missive. Yeah, good luck with that. While you’re at it, find out who’s scrawling obscene images on the wall, the desks and my personal property.

I’m astounded, dumbfounded and agape at the whole scene. It seems to me the LAST people you want to piss off are subs. Of course, you would think that maintaining good relations with your regular teachers would of foremost importance. But if they’re leaving in droves, wouldn’t you at least make sure the back-up system is in good shape? 

June 4
It’s almost the end of the year. Close enough to smell the salt air, fish and beer. Or the pine trees, barbecue and beer. Or fresh-mowed grass, books and beer. Or just beer. Close enough, in any case, to not care about over-reaching administrators.

Ah, but one must be on guard at all times throughout 612 square miles of excellence. Every child, every classroom every frickin’ day never ends until the last healthy government-approved-and-subsidized meal is fed to the at-risk population and put on board energy-efficient school buses and driven back to their blended homes for the summer. So imagine my astonishment when an administrator popped into my room during one of the final exams. Not once, but twice. Keep in mind that my summative evaluation has already been signed and submitted.

The amusement never ends.

Speaking of amusement, I had quite a time at an end-of-year/retirement party. Food, friends, fizz: What more could one ask for? In addition, a pit was set up for me to set fire to 32 years’ worth of teacher evaluations and professional development books. My favorite put the "fundament" in "fundamental." It could not have been more fun unless we burned a couple of administrators in effigy.

July 26
Too bad I already retired, or I could get one of those sweet t-shirts coming your way. Chances are you'll have to wear it, and LIKE it. The shirts are royal blue with red and white lettering. The back side will have that slogan you can't avoid - Every Child, Every Classroom, Every Frickin' Day. 

And how do I know this? The missus works for a company that is applying the logo to 3,000 shirts at a cut-rate cost of only $8 to 10 thousand to property owners. I'm guessing every one of you will get one to wear to your opening pep rally with an obscenely overpaid motivational speaker.

Me, I'll be at home sleeping in, or sitting on the front porch with a cuppa joe and wearing a baseball tee that says NOTHING. Nothing about education, nothing about self-esteem and nothing about umpty-ump square miles of blathering nonsense. 

August 17
Sometimes I come across a word or phrase that makes me think, “Hey, I’ve gotta work that into something.” The phrase was sui generis, Latin for “one-of-a-kind.” I’m pretty sure I saw this used this week by a reader on the Victoria Advocate website.

Speaking of which, I am happy to announce that following my retirement from public school, I have taken a new job as an assistant copy editor at your local newspaper. That means I get paid to be a Grammar Nazi. Is there a law against having fun at work? No? I must have been thinking of my last job.

On my first day on the job, someone next to me was talking about the story of a grassfire in Carancahua (I corrected the spelling of the area using a map). I suggested with a hint of humor that they should have used the word conflagration in the headline. He liked the idea, but laughed it off because the average reader wouldn’t know the meaning of the word. That’s too bad. If conflagration won’t survive, what hope does sui generis have?

Sui generis perfectly describes Aric Bostick described as a motivational speaker who returned with his Superman cape for a second time at this year's VISD convocation.

"Love is not a noun; it's a verb," Bostick said during his presentation. "We're rebranding at VISD."
I’ve got some bad news for Bostick. I may be new at the news desk, but I’ve been using English long enough to know that love is both a noun and a verb. Or wasn’t he paying attention while he had everyone sing “All You Need is Love”? Put in simple terms: You (subject/pronoun) need (transitive verb) love (object/noun).

Oh, why bother. Motivational speakers aren’t on stage for their grammatical prowess. They’re on stage to move the crowd. If Aric Bostick were a rock star, they’d be flicking their Bics. At least the superintendent tried to look like one with his Beatles wig.

Not that I cared. I wasn’t there, so I was spared the indignity of showing up wearing one of the 2500 blue t-shirts paid for by the district with the slogan “Every child, every classroom, every frickin day.” Okay, it didn’t say that exactly, but all of the teachers were thinking it. All but the ones crowding the stage to touch Aric Bostick’s Superman cape, that is.

I wasn’t doing crossword puzzles; I wasn’t texting “HELP!” messages to the outside world; I wasn’t making sarcastic asides to my seat-mate; I wasn’t taking notes to use for a guest column.  I wasn’t there because I was sleeping. At home. In bed. Next week I’ll repeat the performance. Maybe I’ll write down my plans and tape it to my door. 

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