Tag Archive | Jacksonville High School

Funny how time slips away

Well, hello there – my, it’s been a long, long time

Today was a nice and coincidental day. Mother and Cathy and I headed way out west to YaYa’s for a mother/daughters birthday lunch (birthdays seem to extend into weeks when you’re older). Definitely worth the drive. Food, wine and service were great, and complimentary baba ghanoush will win me over anytime.

Just before we left, the manager, a nice-looking young man, came over to our table. He’d been by earlier to ask how our meal was.

This time, he looked at me quizzically, bent down, and asked me if I used to teach. I said yes, and he said, “I knew it! You were my teacher.”

Turns out he was one of my sophomore English students the second year I taught, way back in 1986-87 at Jacksonville High School.

He said he’d been telling his coworkers he knew it was me but it couldn’t be because that was so long ago I’d have to be old now, and I looked (to him) “exactly the same.” Nice to hear, but I assured him that I am old, having just turned 56 this week.

His eyes got big and he said, “Oh, my gosh, you weren’t that much older than us – a bunch of us from my graduating class have been on Facebook talking about how weird it is that we’re all turning 40.”

Big dose of perspective – time is flying. I knew the seniors from my first year were turning 43, but the sophomores were still kids in my mind. (And it also makes me wonder how old they thought I was then. I was 31, which to 15- and 16-year-olds seems pretty indeterminable, I suppose.)

My personal children were precious and little back then (they’re precious and big now and have precious little ones of their own) and loved to go way out to the school with me  if I needed to hang out with yearbook or newspaper staff in the evenings or on weekends. Liz especially loved to write on the chalkboards (yes, chalk – these were the olden days).

Jay said our principal had been in recently too, but

he recognized Jay before Jay recognized him. Anyway, it was a nice visit that brought back some pleasant memories.

Siegfried Sassoon

Then we girls wandered through a couple of stores. At Coldwater Creek, while Mother was shopping, I picked up a very cool book called “The Little Big Book of Dogs” and opened it randomly to a poem called “Man and Dog,” by Siegfried Sassoon.

He just happened to be one of my favorite World War I poets, one I taught heavily to my senior English classes at Jacksonville High School all those years ago.

No biggie, but a nice coincidence. And a really great book for dog lovers. Would make a good Christmas present for someone who, say, has two German Shepherds or something.

Later I met John and our friends Julia and Rich at Breckenridge to see “Contagion.” Good movie, bad news. The $5 feature between 4 and 6 p.m. is no more. Makes you long for the good old days of last month.

Then I came home to a new “Rolling Stone” (Jon Stewart made the cover again) with articles about Pearl Jam’s 20-year-anniversary and the 20-year anniversary of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” – and that the Rolling Stones might, just might, tour next year to celebrate the band’s 50th(!) anniversary. How’d that happen??

Gee, ain’t it funny how time slips away?

It’s all over now, baby blue (or why I’m no longer a teacher, though I loved it, part one)

For years my husband has said I need to write a book about what’s wrong with public schools. I’ve always countered with A. I don’t want to and B. who would care what I have to say? I’ve been an alternating teacher/journalist since 1985, but I’m just a veteran of all three districts in Pulaski County, not an “expert in educational theory.”

Heck, I don’t even have a degree in education. I majored in English, minored in psych and got certified to teach on the side, while taking some journalism courses along the way. I have a bachelor of arts and a teaching certificate that will expire this December (again).

So rather than inundate you with opinions unsubstantiated with “empirical data” (educational buzzwords), I’ll just tell you my history in teaching and let you connect the dots – a skill that’s sadly lacking in many students today. When you teach to a test, you don’t teach children how to think, you merely teach them how to take tests. When you teach children to write three-point enumerations, you don’t teach them how to think creatively – you teach them how to follow a formula.

But I’m getting ahead of myself and the story.

Chapter 1: The early, excited years

My first full-time teaching job started the fall of 1985, just before my 30th birthday. (I took some mom years before starting a career.) It was in the Pulaski County Special School District at Jacksonville High School. I had newspaper staff, yearbook staff and four periods of senior English the first year. I also had total control in my classroom and quite a bit of latitude in curriculum choice in my English classes.

(The position I was hired to fill was for four Honors English classes, but when I reported for duty, I had Regular English. These were the pre-AP days, and English came in four flavors: Honors, College-Bound, Regular and  Basic. A teacher with more time had swooped in and claimed the Honors classes. No matter; I was still excited, if a bit let down.)

I learned quickly that what my beloved high school journalism teacher, Myrna Gail Hopkins, said was true: If you teach newspaper or yearbook staff, someone is always mad at you – as in other teachers. Whatever. All I cared about was teaching and my students.

For some reason, in those days, the current wisdom in the district was not to teach any grammar in senior English. If the kids hadn’t gotten it by then, the powers that be thought, they wouldn’t get it in one more go-round. And it certainly wasn’t considered important for regular kids, who, it was assumed, would fill blue-collar jobs or join the service. My students begged to differ. Some of them told me they wanted and intended to go to college and were worried about their grasp of grammar. They actually asked me, please, to teach them grammar!

We had no textbook, so I collected $1 from each student to help offset costs, went to the local print shop and made grammar pamphlets to use to teach them, along with some worksheets.

One of my favorite teaching stories happened during the grammar lessons. During first period one morning, when you could have heard a pin drop the kids were working so quietly on grammar worksheets, a boy named Chris loudly pronounced, “I’d rather step in shit than do this.” The entire class looked at me with shocked, round eyes as I stifled a laugh and said, “Well, Chris, you’re in it now.” The entire class erupted in laughter, and I wrote a behavior document and sent him to the office for D-hall (had to – someone would have turned me in otherwise, but I wasn’t offended at all). The next morning, Chris came to school extra early so he’d have time to apologize to me before class. He was sincere as he told me he didn’t know why he said it and that I was his favorite teacher and he’d never want to offend me. Of course I accepted his apology. He did his D-hall (unlike today, when he’d have to miss class for in-school suspension, one of the many silly reasons kids miss class), and life went on.

As I said, teachers had quite a bit of latitude in curriculum choice – we had some basics to choose from, but nothing was etched in stone tablets and handed down from the education gods. Some thought I was crazy to teach Alice in Wonderland to regular seniors, but once some of the boys got over their initial resistance, they loved it. Regular students and poetry? Especially the boys? Please. We did a heavy-duty, college-level unit on WWI poetry written by soldiers and those kids loved it.

Seniors had to do research papers, but since these were “only” regulars, not college-bound or honors, they didn’t have to do literary topics, so I let them choose things they were interested in. One boy whom I’ll never for get – we’ll just call him RR – asked if he could do his on the heavy-metal band Metallica. I told him sure, if he could find enough research to support it. He was thrilled, worked his rear off, wrote a decent paper and mentioned it every time I ran into him after he was grown.

Speaking of research papers, one boy who struggled to write a sentence and was really over-placed in regular classes, turned in a very advanced paper about nursing. When I kept him after school to ask who wrote the paper and what he thought he was doing, he immediately apologized and told the truth. It was his aunt’s nursing school paper. He was so overwhelmed by the project that he was paralyzed with fear. We talked about how he struggled to keep a D in my class, then I met with his counselor and mother, and  we moved him to Basic English, in which he thrived. No one questioned whether I had a right to make that call or whether he was being treated unfairly. A teacher’s opinion and wisdom were respected, and ability grouping wasn’t taboo.

Ability grouping may have fallen from favor and become “discriminatory,” but used properly, it’s the best situation for teaching. So it’s not PC – sue me. My husband’s an attorney. And why is it OK in some situations and not others? Journalism classes today are a hodgepodge of National Merit scholars and special ed students. Not ideal for teaching, to say the least. But again, I’m getting ahead of the story.

Funny story (as in, isn’t life strange, not “ha-ha”): One boy who caused trouble on a regular basis – again, I’ll never forget him, but we’ll just call him RB – made me so furious one day when he refused to look at me as I tried to talk to him that I blew a gasket. I always treated him respectfully and he couldn’t even look at me?! I told my class to behave, marched RB to the assistant principal for seniors and said, “He’s banned from my class! I’ll send his work to your office every day and he can come take tests, but he’s sitting in here during class time. I’ve had it.” We only had a month or less of school left, which may be why I got away with it, but, again, my decision was unquestioned. The funny part is that years later I saw an adult RB at Target, where he was working. He made a beeline for me (“Uh-oh,” I was thinking) and told me how glad he was to see me and how much he’d liked me as a teacher – and how fair I was. Go figure.

Another funny story – when my daughter was about 13, we ran into another former student from JHS in a guitar shop, a young woman this time, who excitedly greeted me and said, “You was my English teacher!” “Gee, good job, Mom,” my daughter said as we walked away. You can’t win them all.

The second year at JHS I had newspaper, yearbook, one period of senior English and three of regular sophomore English. At the end of that year the county was broke, so a young enthusiastic coach, a young, enthusiastic drama teacher and I were let go under the last-hired, first-fired principle. Same old story – teachers who went through the motions (or didn’t even bother) but had years with the district were guaranteed their jobs, along with the very fine teachers who worked their rears off for years. I don’t have the solution for that dilemma, which persists to this day. The coach and I were recalled by mid-summer. The drama teacher wasn’t so lucky. The coach returned, but I went to work for the Arkansas Democrat editing a section called “The High School Times.” Fun, fun job.

That was the first time I left teaching forever.

This story is running long, so I’ll save Chapter 2: The Glory Days for next time.