Coffee Stain: I’m _So_ Gay

Posted Wednesday, 16 January 2008 by vergil66
Categories: running

Or at least that’s what a student said I was.

The student wasn’t too happy with an answer I gave to a request and then in the next few minutes used her creative energies to pull a picture of me off the school’s web directory into a MS Word(r) document and write in a 24-point bold script “He is so Gay!” Mind you, the students were working on an annotated bibliography about an important jouralism person or publication during the classtime–At least that is what I had intended the time to be used for.

So, what did I do? Mostly what I normally do: ignored it. She was upset because I didn’t grant permission for her request and funneled her ire into Microsoft Word (and I can deal with that). I have that effect on some of my students: I make them mad sometimes and I’m okay with that. Question is: should I have been upset at being called “so Gay” or even that the student was using a “derrogatory term” to channel her passive agreesive anger?

Again, I chose not to respond. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. What I usually do in these situations is pretend to ignore the behavior, the comment, the DDJD LookSneerCurse. But what I then will do is use proximity: I lean or walk in the student’s general direction. I might walk right by their desk. But most of all, I will make sure that the student knows that I acknowledge their presence by my presence and that’s about it.

Besides, I think she was having a bad day anyway.

Now on the “so Gay” part. I grew up in Northern California during the 70s and 80s and I have generally, for the first part of my teaching career, been trying to remind the students and youth (and perhaps adults) in Northern Indiana that to call someone “Gay” borders on being homophobic. And, as a sidenote, it really is the worst thing to call another male student (as if to be gay is to be one on the Highway to Hell).

And so, I would have a talk with my classes as it came up (as someone loudly would namecall another student “gay”) and remind my students of what exactly they were saying. And generally, like most teacher lectures on proper EmilyPost “be nice to one another” lessons go, it fell on CharlieBrown AdultTalking “wa wa waa, wa wa waa.” You get the picture and you hear the tone. The problem, though, is that I wasn’t any better than my students were: I and my friends, did the same things and made fun the gay community also.

As I mentioned before, I grew up in Northern California and our family moved to the Russian River community during my 8th grade year and then back for grades 10-12. We lived near the community of Guerneville and we had fun saying some things about the folk that would come up during the weekends and the summer. See, Guerneville, as I remember hearing, was a fairly “clean town” and “many of the business were owned by people who were gay” (mind you, we lived about 60 miles north of San Francisco and to many of my students that means I lived by the gayest community the world). And so– and I learned this from a high schooler whom we thought was cool (probably because we was stoned most of the time…no kidding)– we would yell out the window some name or title when our car went by two men holding hands along the sidewalk or road.

I’m not proud of it; I’m just saying that I did it.

Along with that, my church buddies would come out and visit me and one particularly funny kid in our group thought Guerneville should have a tagline underneath the city limits sign: Guerneville: Where the women are women and the men are to. And we laughed and thought we all were quite witty (remember, to be funny as an adolescent wins more points than being good-looking and being a decent athlete).

So, when I denied the student’s request to go to her locker so she could retrieve her electronic listening device, I wasn’t really shocked that she used a term, though I don’t think was too witty, to project her distaste for my declining her request.

Before you remind me of my duty as a classroom teacher of a public school, think for a moment and remember that we all are guilty of name-calling. It is human and yes, it is ugly, but it is very human to do so.

Though one of my former newspaper students, who happens to be African-American (see how careful I worded that), calls me her “wigger.” She’ll say “Hey, are you my ‘wigger'” and I’ll remind her that she realizes that I can’t say the same thing back to her and she’ll say “I know.”

Now that’s witty.

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Consolidating webspace

Posted Sunday, 13 January 2008 by vergil66
Categories: All Things Organized, education, Tools

Tags: ,

bashing education is no longer…well, as far as a separate site, I’ve just deleted the wordpress.com blog and moved all the entries over here to vergilscoffee.com. (And, perhaps, you can imagine why).

My hopes for bashing education will still live and I figure that instead of having special sites for special topics really doesn’t make too much sense (especially because I wasn’t generating a lot of content on bashing education anyway).

So, I’m doing what many other are: consolidating all the stuff we have out there and trying to put it in one place–one Miscellaneous place, if I may–and let you the reader stumble upon and find stuff here.

Setting up DesktopBSD in the Basement

Posted Saturday, 12 January 2008 by vergil66
Categories: Belief, Culture

And it’s the wireless that’s giving me problems now. (Oh, btw, that’s the original eMac 700 box in the corner…which is still kicking fine).

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Save Big Money at Menards!

Posted Saturday, 12 January 2008 by vergil66
Categories: Belief, Culture

On a trip to Menards, I ponder store music and arrangement of merchandise: I left with only one more item than I planned on.

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Sledding fun

Posted Monday, 7 January 2008 by vergil66
Categories: running

Times of being a kid are great. 

A Merry Lego Santa Claus Family Portrait

Posted Tuesday, 18 December 2007 by vergil66
Categories: Belief, Boys, Coffee Stains, Star Wars

Familiar friends at the Lego store The first 15 minutes of the Lego® Store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago is fairly entertaining; anything beyond that becomes a form of Chinese lead torture.

It’s what they love now, Legos®, and both Evan and Colin arrange much of their living space around the mighty investment into the building brick sets. Evan counted up how many pieces are dedicated to the Lego® Star Wars® sets and the number is approximately 11, 561.

We have a lot Legos® in our house.

And I think we can justify the purchases on the idea that both Evan and Colin still play with the Legos®. They might rebuild the set or might morph together sets and create new vehicles for Luke or Yoda or Darth Vader to do a flyby over Luke the cat. And as parents we like the idea of the boys creating stuff from bricks; it’s the good stuff of play. And it’s really hard to break the little things and no batteries are required.

But they do burn…or melt as I found out in 3rd grade.

The story is sometimes still in dispute, and is probably as controversial as the fire alarm story. In the fire alarm story (and I’m not kidding, my brother who is 5 years my senior and I still “discuss” it) I am the victim of a coercive brother. In the fire alarm story (it’s amazing how much of our childhood had some type of pyromania in them) Mike and I are at Yulupa Elementary School and it’s summer. And we’re roaming the hallways of school and around the corner from the water fountain by the bathrooms was a red “Pull for Fire” object about 4 feet up the wall. I’m watching Mike and he says (at least from my version of the story) that nothing happens when you pull it and he pulls it (or at least it appears that he has) and nothing happens. Then he says, “Now you try it.”

You cannot turn off a school fire alarm by banging your shoe against it. Apparently you need a key. Also, it is difficult to run across an uneven field and across a busy road with a shoe on your left foot and the other shoe in your hand: it just isn’t efficient in trying to make a quick get away when you hear the fire trucks coming to the school where you have just pulled the fire alarm. Lastly, it’s amazing that you might know that your brother has tricked you into doing something bad, and yet you still will be at his beckon call when he tries another stunt on you.

But that wasn’t the case with the Lego® house that we built when my mother was away. It was a group project: Mike, Steph and I are digging through the basket of Legos® and we’ve decided we’re building a mansion. We use the large green plate pieces for the foundation and then begin the two-story structure. We give up a strict color scheme on the second story when we run out of red bricks, but we’ve finished the house. It has windows, a door and a chimney.

See where this story is headed?

Again, I maintain that it was Mike’s idea, but perhaps we all wanted it and Mike lit the paper that we stuffed through the top of the chimney and I think I remember running for some reason (as if that would save me from the nasty burning Lego® house that was all of one foot high). The fire (or smoldering) was put out and we quickly cleaned up the mess and I even think we did the cartoon whistle-with-hands-behind-backs strolling about the house toward the door to the back yard.

Mom was not happy when she found out. It wasn’t the melting plastic from our realistic Lego® 2-story, but perhaps she even swore something silly when we sat down to eat dinner sometime later (that day or week or perhaps a month) and she saw the burn stain in her beautiful oak table.

Later, I was playing with the Legos® and found that some of the melted pieces didn’t make it into the garbage. I might have even used the evidence against Mike or Steph, but more than that, I didn’t have enough pieces to build whatever structure I was making at the time.

My sons haven’t discovered the wonders of fire but their lives do encompass Legos® and building and creation. I’m sure (and I know…I’ve heard it) they try and make their creations real: through battle sounds and often tossing the plane or ship into the spinning blades of their bedroom ceiling fan.

The big guy and the family And it continues to amaze me that when we go to the Lego® Store in Chicago around Xmas that we will inevitably stop by the Lego® Santa Claus, in his sleigh, with his reindeer. We will gather around the big guy in Red Suit (lots of red bricks) and get a picture of our entire family much like a family picture during Thanksgiving in Schamburg or during the summer in Pennsylvania.

Coffee Stains: The Five People you meet in School

Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2007 by vergil66
Categories: Belief, Coffee Stains, Culture, education, Politics, Writing

I’ve just finished emailing a former student and saying that I couldn’t attend her wedding reception in a few weeks. And it’s got me thinking about a previous comment that I’ve made to a student when they asked “Do you like all of your students?” To which I replied simply “No.” And I think that conversation then pushed the limits of typical classroom scripting when the same student asked “Are there teachers here that you don’t like?” And I simply said “Of course.”

And you can probably see where the script goes from there…well actually this is more improv stuff as we’ve strayed from some point about Sentence Patten 2 and making sure that the verbs are in the same tense to create balance. It’s the stuff I like about school: the unscripted things.

“What teacher or teachers don’t you like?” he asks and before I can answer he says, wisely: “You said we can ask anything…you said that you are looking for us to ask honest questions…”

(I hope you can envision that smiling, smart alecky senior boy, trying to use the teacher’s words again him). It’s a double-dog dare moment and I still answer him truthfully in front of the class.

Nope, not going to tell you my response because you didn’t ask the question. But I think it may be safe to say that teachers are as much students in school as the students are.

My mom tells me that she simply couldn’t find me and that the office would call her and say “Mrs. Judson, your son is here at the school. Will you be picking him up?” The son was me and I was 4 years old. I wasn’t in preschool and I wasn’t enrolled. And here’s how I remember it:

When my mom wasn’t looking, I would simply walk down Washoe Court, turn left on Neotomas Ave, cross Tachevah Drive and walk across the amazingly large field to Yulupa Elementary school. You’d run into the original playground first (the one with “all things metal-tubed”: monkey bars, balancing bars, swinging bars and lots of kid-smashed sawdust). The community chipped in a couple years later (I think the National Guard even showed up) and built a huge playground to the southeast out of recycled tires. Anyway, from the playground you crossed the blacktop and headed through a corridor and I decided to turn right and opened the door in the corner.

No one saw me slip in and so I waited a moment, closed the door and saw that several classes were spread out this enormous open space (California was still playing with the open classroom concept). I scouted the groups, found one that seemed interesting, and simply plopped myself indian-style (as we called it then…now it’s “criss-cross apple sauce,” so my sons tell me) and listened to the story being told.

I’m not sure how long it took, but eventually (I think it was about an hour) I was asked a question by an adult (such as “So what is your name?”). And I remember her looking at me with that look. I think the expression was a cross between the look that Julie Vogel gave me after our first kiss and the look that Lois gives me when I say something in which I am trying to cross a social line. And I think it was my response that prompted the look, because, I’m told, I had a speech problem. Apparently, as my mom reminds me, I was inarticulate and what came out of my mouth sounded more Chinese than English.

[Insert way-too-obvious student quip here such as: “Not much has changed, eh?”]

The adult then walked me to the office (sort of that “lost boy in the big mall thing” scene) and I was greeted by soothing and understanding tones (yes, I could understand English…I just couldn’t speak it very well). The secretary (that’s what we called them back then) called my mother while I got to do “real school work”: color. Mom arrives, nervous smiles/apologies/thankyou’s, driving away in the 1968 Ford Galaxie.

I don’t think she yelled at me, but I think I remember some type of “You had me worried” thematic explanation. What I do remember is that I couldn’t wait to go back…and so I did–a year later–sort of legally. My mom’s gift to me was to sort of fudge my birthday date so that I could be in school a bit earlier than originally planned. And that was okay by me, because I couldn’t wait.

And I have to say, most days I still can’t wait to get to school. And I find that what I like and hate about school is about the same as when I was a student. Under the “Things I like” list, and at the top, is one of the reasons why I keep coming back. Sorry, it’s not students. They’re probably second or third. But really, it’s the same reason why students come to school: their friends. I like the people I work with. We drink coffee and occasionally go out to breakfast and, yes, we might even sit by the same people at lunch. We have stuff in common and we know each other and they let me hang around with them. Yes, students are a big part of my day, but frankly, you people don’t stick around for very long. I’m not sure if you realized this, but we get you for maybe an hour or two a trimester and then you’ve graduated. The constant in my work are the people I work with and that’s what brings me back.

Ah, I can see the smart alecky kid ready to ask about the things I hate and to that I will list the usual suspects (and, btw, some of these are fairly universal along many career lines):

  • A seemingly endless amount of non-classroom things-to-do that simply lack cohesion, for the purpose of trying to show something that the organization is not. (Busy work)
  • A loss of vision of what we are really here for and in its place check lists from outside experts who are not even practitioners of education. (Vision)
  • A underlying, smirky and patronizing attitude from the people that make the decisions– that don’t acknowledge the teacher as professional. (Respect)
  • A society that has given into the notion that one can effectively, efficiently, and accurately quantify learning. (People as numbers)
  • A belief that all people learn the same way and the same pace and that a moving target called a “benchmark” is the trump card for whether a student passes or fails. (No achievable goals)
  • A notion that education is the magic bullet for all of societies ills. (“We can always do better”)
  • A belief that students are simply not as smart as they were back when and that schools are simply watering down the basics of a good education.
  • And, my favorite: A “commonsense” notion that education’s purpose is to turn out better workers in society (say nothing about living and thinking).

I simply hate and abhor those things; some are out of ignorance and most are simply not true.

And I take a look at the list of things that I like and the things that I hate and I think “Not much has changed from when I was a student.” I have about five or so people that I really like and, I have control issues. And, I still sometimes show up in the classroom simply speaking something Chinese…oh, that’s for next year.