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.


My Own Tools

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This didn’t happen in my class.
But the student was in one of mine.

Mal Content was in my third period technical drawing class. I knew him from when he was in my junior high general shop and mechanical drawing classes. Even then Mal had very little few positive comments about anything. His auto shop class was the period before my technical drawing session. Several times over a period of a few weeks at the beginning of the year he complained about the auto shop class.

The auto shop teacher had loaner tools for students who wanted to work on their cars evenings or weekends. One of Mal’s complaints was that there weren’t enough kits to go around and Mr. Otto just didn’t understand his need. Mr. Otto encouraged his students to have a purchase plan for their own tools. And told them about getting his first tools with earnings from doing engine minor work for family and neighbors.

Mid-week I asked Otto if Mal had been in his class the prior two days because I thought I had seen him before school on Tuesday and he missed my class then and that morning. Otto told me Mal was in juvie (juvenile detention).

The rest of the story:

Sometime between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon Otto’s truck had been broken into and his toolbox was taken. On Monday morning, Mal announced to other students that he had his own tools and wouldn’t need to check out loaners. Mr. Otto hadn’t told his students about the missing tools, but one who was his neighbor knew. That student told Otto about Mal’s brag sometime before the end of class that Monday.

Otto set a trap by saying something like, “So I can make up better loaner kits, I’d like to see what individual tools you need supplement your personal tool kits. And I can make suggestions for what tools you might need to add to your own. Tuesday morning each student who had tools spread them out on one of the benches.

As I was told, Mal puffed up a little and said, “Finally, I have my own tools.”

A small logo on each of the tools Mal displayed told Mr. Otto who had broken into his truck.


Knowledge v Wisdom

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Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand
Or 1internet research attributes the former and latter to more than one originator
Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass

One of the first questions I was asked by someone in the high school basic electronics class I taught was, “Mr. Benson, can you make a bomb?”

“‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?’ The shadow knows!” This introductory line from the 1930s-1940s radio show The Shadow seems fitting here.

Being honest, I confirmed that I learned when I was in the Army Security Agency during the Berlin Wall era.

The story is on I, JMB Say

The next question was easy to anticipate, “Will you teach us how?”

My answer of course was a resounding, “NO!”
The vocational class was focused on both theory and practical applications, so one of the optional projects I had for them was to build a car alarm. The option was a hit with several boys and one girl who had just become drivers of their own car.

Well, anyone understanding the wisdom level of a teen boy wouldn’t be surprised with an adaptation of his newly gained knowledge. In this case, I was a little startled, but not at all surprised when I heard horn blasting in the hallway during class change. My first thought was that the boy was just showing what he had put together for his car. But the horn kept sounding after the tardy bell rang.

The boy had put the trigger device in another student’s locker, the electronics in his own locker, and the horn in still another. The custodian with vice principal opened the horned locker first and disconnected the horn. A hall locker inspection ensued, and the first suspect was a girl in whose locker the trigger switch was found. She wasn’t in my class, but her boyfriend was. He got suspended for a week.

The VP told me I would get a letter of reprimand because I taught students how to assemble a disruptive device. My counter was that he should also reprimand the boy’s elementary teachers because they taught him to read well enough to follow the kit building instructions. I also suggested he confer with the parents about teaching a little wisdom. I didn’t get a letter.

Although similar in perception, there is considerable difference in knowledge and wisdom.


Applied Math

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Students are sometimes permitted to bring goodies to class for special occasions.
One occasion in my class had nothing to do with special events.

I taught an applied math class to sophomores after I moved to the high school. The applied math principle was to go from real life situations to theory instead of the other way around.

I brought in commercial bakery goods for a lesson in calories. Students were tasked with using a scale, a recipe, and a table of ingredient calories per weight unit. When they showed me their calculations for a good estimate, they were allowed to eat the treat.

Calculating the calorie content of home baked treats was included in the series of lessons. I gave the class a recipe for brownies, provided some calorie references for raw ingredients and assigned them to do the calculations as a homework assignment. They also had an option to use a favorite family recipe but had to supply it with their homework.

One girl who had been in my all girl English class at the junior high school asked if she could make the brownies and bring them in with her completed homework. Another said one batch wouldn’t be enough for the class and said she’d bring in a batch too.

I agreed.

Eating wasn’t generally allowed in classrooms, but like I said, I was teaching applied math which was based on activities followed by theory. The girls told me that they actually did the baking together and just made a double batch. Since it was homework, I allowed the class to finish the product of the project while I introduced a new lesson. I set my ‘teacher size’ brownie to the side planning to eat it with lunch.

The vice principal came to me at the end of third period class and asked what the kids had to eat in my math lesson. He knew about what I’d been doing with the bakery goods, but not the brownie assignment. Then he said some of the students my class were reported as being goofy or sleepy after class and one was sick.

I told him about the brownies. Then he said one of the boys told him the same thing and added they had cannabis baked in but wouldn’t say who brought them. I gave him mine for analysis and the two girls spent two weeks suspended.

Ironically, the one who got sick was one of the bakers. Applied math provided an unexpected lesson for her.


Not in That Illusion

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Home and neighborhood environments like those for Dick, Jane, Sally, Mother, Father, their dog Spot, and their kitten Puff did not exist in every home during their era nor did they in the early 2000s. The Dick and Jane stories with idealistic settings for the characters were used to teach reading from the early 1930s through to the 1970s. I remember them well, but also remember my home was not like theirs. One could also consider the how life looked in Leave It to Beaver episodes.

I was a frequent administrative substitute at an elementary school with a measurable transient population of multiple ethnicities. And I often used what I had learned after suspending the homeless boy at a different school (“Suspend the Homeless” Jan 9, 2021).

In a scenario similar to my previous post, I had to suspend two students for fighting. Follow-up on the previous incident led to my getting full access to computer posted student records, so I knew their family circumstances. Well, so it seemed.

The least frequent offender lived with a foster family and was picked up within minutes of my call. A little later, the non-custodial father came to pick him up, but I wasn’t authorized to tell him where the boy went. He seemed to understand my following the rules. Then the mother, also non-custodial, called, for information about the boy’s whereabouts. She was not so understanding or civil in her remarks. I have no idea how the non-custodials found out.

After several tries, I was able to contact the more frequent offender’s mother. Her English was broken. She put the boy’s teenage sister on the phone to talk with me. I could hear both sides of the conversation as the sister explained the situation to their mother. Then the sister excused herself saying, “Someone is at the door.”

I heard a male voice in the background, but not what was being said. Then there was a shout, “One ‘ethnic’ going out the back window!” Crashing and rustling sounds followed the shout.

Sister came back on the phone, “Sorry lotsa stuff happening. We’ll come and get him.”

A shabbily dressed woman and trendily dressed teen came into the school about an hour later. She and the woman talked to the secretary. The woman spoke in language and the girl used educated vocabulary in flawlessly pronounced English as I came out of the principal’s office space. Sister apologized and explained they had to walk because her stepfather took the car.

I’m sure she didn’t know I’d heard what was going on in the background when she had put her phone down to answer their door. I said nothing about it. Mother signed the student sign-out sheet with instructions from Sister.

I gave them the suspension documents and explained when the boy could return to school. They left, but as I was returning to the office, I heard Sister say to the secretary, “Oh, we’ll be moving, so Mother needs to sign him out of school, and she’ll have his new school send for his transcripts.”

A few days later there was a daytime criminal incident in the suspended boy’s neighborhood. Local TV was there after the fact and the reporter interviewed the suspended boy who allegedly saw everything.

The boys certainly didn’t live in a Dick and Jane or Beaver Cleaver illusional household and neighborhood.


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