Spring Break

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Any time is a good time to thank my readers. Thanks!
My school experience pile of notes is down to a sheet or two, so I’m taking a personal early spring break from blogging. However, if a thought burning within me is hot enough, I’ll drop one in.
I have several self-imposed deadlines staring me in the face or at least seem to be sneaking up on me. Remember Jason Finn from Nescient Decoy?


Impression Sketch

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Several times in my career I needed a substitute.
A good report from a sub makes a teacher feel good about his/her students.

I had been invited to make a presentation of an article I had published at a National Vocational Association conference in Los Angeles . I would be gone three school days, so I worked up two sets of very specific lesson plans. One set was for a sub who had training in math and electronics, the other was for a ‘generic’ sub.

The conference was informative, and I felt good about my presentation. I arrived home on Saturday evening and had most of Sunday to be in recovery from travel and unfamiliar food. I went to school a little early to check on turned in papers and determine what was accomplished by my sub.

My first day sub was a math and science teacher before retiring. He followed my technical lessons and reported good student response. The second/third day sub was as not technical as one could get, but I’ll say no more about that. Her report was one no teacher would like to get. I’m sure the students, girls and boys alike, were not the satanic beasts she described. Never-the-less, had to assume their behavior was not what I would expect.

I usually greeted at least two or three as they filed in first period, but I stood behind my desk with arms crossed as they came in. My body language would tell the least observant of them what I thought of their behavior.
My lecture was to confirm my body language controlled by my thoughts. I didn’t point out individuals as did the sub notes; I knew each would know his or her role in the inappropriateness of their behavior.

I gave the same basic lecture to each class. I don’t remember which class Jeremy Newman1his real name was in, but he gave me his impression of my mood with this sketch.John Morris Benson sketch I still have it in a frame these 34 years later.

At least two more times in 1987, I needed a sub, but I don’t believe I had the depicted expression again.


Court Order

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Many students are memorable for the wrong reasons.
This experience was started with a juvenile judge’s decision.

The same spring quarter Marl Boromann was in my first period class I had a student in sixth period nearly everyone had been calling Tom Miegunn. Like Marl, he entered the first day of the quarter, so I didn’t know him.

Real Name had all the stereotype behaviors of a loner. He sat in the desk farthest from mine and it didn’t matter to me – I had no seating chart. However, the first behavior of the other students was their not talking to him and filling up desks away from him. My first suspicion was BO, but that was not so.

After everyone had left for the day, I saw the book and orientation papers I had given him still under the desk. I figured his being new and not having conversations with other students, he wanted to just get away. I put his name on a sticky note and put the book and papers next to the student assignment in box.

My surprise was when Real put a book assignment in the drop box when he came in. Another student was turning in an admit after absence ticket so my only words to him were, “Your book is there,” as I pointed. He took it to the back desk. Other students’ reactions were the same as the day before. I made a mental note to get acquainted with him before the dismissal bell rang.

I gave my lesson for the day, answered student questions, and assigned a set of problems from the book. Most students took advantage of the remaining class time to work on the assignment, some did work for other classes, and Real just sat. I had it in mind to talk with him, but as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, I was answering a flurry of questions from students working on the assignment. All but a few squeaky wheels left as did Real. His book was on the desk.

He was tardy with an admit as excused slip from the attendance office and the Wednesday routine was much as the previous two. On the way to the Wednesday afternoon staff meeting, I had a grade transfer slip from Real’s 3rd quarter teacher. I had thought he was new to the school but put the new information aside as a lost in the shuffle.

At the end of the routine meeting, Real’s teachers were asked to stay behind. “As you know,” the principal started, “Real Name has been attending here under juvenile court order.”

I was in the 10% who didn’t get the word. Well, 17% because he had 6 teachers during the day.

The principal continued with what had been reported to the judge in order to have the student tutored at the juvenile detention facility. Having had him only a few days in class, I hadn’t been involved in the behavior documenting process. Both students and teachers were intimidated with knowledge of what he was capable of doing. A number of students were actually doing his homework as a favor under covert pressure.

The Tom Miegunn pseudonym I had not attached to Real Name in my class came from his firing an automatic rifle at his former girlfriend’s home in a neighboring town.

The judge changed his order to 24/7 incarceration for Real Name and a retired teacher was hired to tutor at the juvenile facility.


New York, NY

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Many students new to a school bring their norms with them.
That norm may not fit the new environment.

Marl Boromann was in the classroom first period Algebra before the rest of the students. I gave him a class orientation folder and desk near the front so he could stretch his long legs and left for the office to pick up some paperwork.

When I got back to the room, Marl was sitting in the back of the row nearest the window with the desk moved back and his legs stretched. “Thought I could open a window,” he said.

I told him about our circulation system and went back to my paperwork. I looked up and he took something out of his backpack and put it on his desk. I continued to busy myself. I smelled cigarette smoke and what I saw was breath catching. Marl was tapping the ash from a freshly lit cigarette into a small ash try on the desk.

By the time I was at his desk side, he was allowing the circulating system to draw the smoke away from the cigarette held between his fingers. He seemed to be confused when I said, “smoking isn’t allowed in classrooms!”

His reply was something like, “I didn’t know. I brought my ash tray, but I’ll go out to the hallway.”

“No,” I said, “smoking isn’t allowed in school at all.”

I’d had conversations about smoking with other students and wondered why he was so brazen. His explanation was easy enough to understand, but I wasn’t immediately sure he wasn’t lying. He said, “in my New York City school, we could smoke in the hallway, but had to bring our own ash tray if we did in the classroom.”

I wrote a referral and sent him to the vice principal. Later in the day, the VP told me that Marl Boromann’s father confirmed his story. A formal warning was the boy’s only consequence.

Marl earned an A in my class.


A Few Words

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Sometimes a few words have enough impact to get you through the day.
Complete conversations aren’t always necessary.

A high school at which I substituted had a large minority of students who did not have English as their primary language. Interrupters were hired to help students integrate and learn English.

Two of the classes in the regular teacher’s schedule were not even close to my skill set or training – plant technology. When one is working as a sub, there is some financial necessity involved, so we didn’t always take subjects we knew best. However, his other three classes were in my skill set – math related.

The regular teacher’s prep period was second period, so I was reading in the classroom next to the greenhouse when students entered nearly en masse. Most were in student volume speaking something I recognized from far in my past – Russian. The bell rang and ‘we have a sub and we’ll never see him again’ conduct continued.

I spoke loudly, “Dobroye utro [good morning]! Sadites’ pozhaluysta [Be seated please]!” Most went silent. Their sudden change in demeanor told me I had their attention.

A male student who seemed to be a group leader of sorts stood and in testing posture said something I didn’t understand at all. To which I replied, “govori medlenno, pozhaluysta, potomu chto ya ponimayu i govoryu tol’ko po-angliyski [Speak slowly because I understand and speak only English].” To this day, I don’t know how the phrases popped out automatically.

Before there was more conversation in which I would be the loser, their interpreter came into the room. He glanced around the silent room and motioned me to him. He asked in a whisper about how I’d settled them, and I told him. Then he spoke to them in Russian saying more of what I didn’t understand. “And,” he said to me, “I took the liberty of telling them that they will never know how much you understand.”

Based on how they responded to the assignment I was supposed to give them, I knew their English was more than adequate for where they were. When the next class came in, many had accents, but they all spoke English. The same was true the next time I substituted at that school.

I used a similar routine when I was on lunch duty while subbing as a vice principal in a middle school. Several Russian speaking boys were not overly loud, but loud enough as I passed by their table. One was stirring what was on his tray and I recognized the word pomoi which means swill or slop in context.

I just said, “YA ponimayu tol’ko angliyskiy!” I of course don’t know if they continued in non-English other times, but they didn’t when I was on duty.

Several years later the one who challenged me in the high school class was a substitute interpreter at a middle school. I had casual contact with him and told him about faking it. He said he suspected, but never told his classmates.

Disclaimer: I flunked out of the Russian language program at the Army Language School in Monterey, CA, in 1959. But for whatever reason some phrases were still in the recesses of my brain 45 years later.