My Journey of Life and Learning (with occasional digressions)

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Maybe, Just Maybe…

Another great day and experience in substitute-teaching!

Today I had the privilege of working with some wonderful young people who had some challenges – physical or developmental. I never really had much interest in working with special need students before, but I’m using my substitute experience to get a feel for working with a broad range of students. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to work with these special learners a few times now and they surprise and inspire me in so many ways!

It dawned on me during my drive home that until fairly recently, society sidelined people who had disabilities or challenges. What a tragedy! As a species we’ll never be able to recognize or make amends for how many talented, gifted or true geniuses we shunted from the mainstream. The number of lives tragically wasted in this way boggles the imagination. There may be a few cases in which a person has conditions that truly prevent them from any degree of independent functioning, but I strongly believe that with patience, redirection and proper facilitation many more “challenged” individuals can learn and attain a reasonable degree of personal achievement and live fulfilling lives. I’m sure those are the barest of minimal requirements for anyone working with that special population.

The rewards, though, are sublime.

I love to see the “lights come on” whenever a student discovers a new connection. Working with learners of any age, ranging from “full-bird” colonels to infants, witnessing that response is magical for me. That “lights on” moment is even more profound when working with someone who, for whatever reason, has trouble making those connections.

My first interest in teaching was simply to teach English. The more I learn about young learners, though, the more I’m becoming interested in working with those identified with special needs. I finally scheduled my certification exam. After that I should be able to find a full time teaching job. Once that happens, I can consider my further educational goals and it is steadily becoming apparent that certification to work within the Special Education field may be a part of those goals.

I don’t know if I love teaching or learning more! Is there really a difference?




Got to Bring It Full Circle!

Today I had the chance to work with the same students I had when I introduced the topics of Antigone and Macbeth. That post is here if you wish to go back and read that so you have some better context. Bottom line is that I actually had the experience of watching students come full circle – from start to finish – with a couple of serious texts. There were, of course, the few that would make a point of goofing around and not paying attention if you told them that what you are about to say would earn them a million dollars with no effort whatsoever. The most, though, were actually willing to work through a decent discussion of the texts, their historic and literary contexts and formed coherent interpretations of their own. During the discussion of Antigone, a student commented, “These guys keep coming back to questions and stuff.” I explained that most of the old Greek playwrights were philosophers. After the bell dismissed the students, I went back to the teacher desk to take a look at the text for the next hour. There was a handwritten note left on my notepad thanking me for my patience and explanation of their text. What an awesome feeling!

There are times when I look back and wonder whether or not I’ve made an impact or been a positive influence. Of course I had positive feedback from soldiers that I taught when I was in the Army, but when you’re teaching someone how to actually survive or enable others to survive, it’s not really challenging to know that you’ve “done a good day’s work,” because you MUST do a good day’s work. When I worked with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and youth in Church activities, I always kept in mind a quote I saw in a store, “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” If anybody reading this can help me cite that correctly, or knows who first said/wrote that, I’d appreciate knowing. I’ve run into some men who had been Scouts in my Packs, Dens or Troops and I’ve been proud of each. Now I get to teach. One point raised in both of those literary works is the unexpected/unanticipated results of someone’s actions. I hope that little note is just the first indicator that I’m doing it right.

Just an Observation

This isn’t important, but had me scratching my head a bit tonight.

My wife and I watched Young Frankenstein, the Mel Brooks spook on horror movies. While watching it, however, I kept seeing things that were almost exactly like the filmed version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now, I understand that both films were spoofs and both films were made about the same time – Young Frankenstein in roughly 1974 and Rocky Horror in 1975, though the Horror show was on stage long before that.

Was Brooks giving a nod to the play?

Both plays have engaged couples who end up with different partners. The monster has sex in both movies. The henchman is hunch-backed. Magenta and Frau Blucher (horse whinny) are counterparts – the don’t really have much of a role, but Blucher plays violin, Magenta has a guitar in her room and she does ring the gong when dinner is served, thus summoning everyone just as Blucher (horse whinny) summons the monster.

The laboratory actions are almost all the same, including raising the monster up to the ceiling and bringing him back down. Also, Frankenfurter kicks Riff Raff when he’s turning a wheel, Frankenstein does the same to Igor. Riff Raff tortures Rocky (the monster) with candles causing the monster to break free and run amok. A constable teases Frankenstein’s monster with fire and the monster breaks free.

Rocky Horror has a floor show, Young Frankenstein has Gene Wilder and the Creature singing and dancing on stage. The tap-dancing mirrors Columbia. The investigator in each film has lost the use of at least one limb – the inspector has a wooden arm in YF, Dr. Scott (or should I say VON Scott) is in a wheelchair.

Update from Planet Academia

emcee So, it’s been about a month since I posted anything, maybe longer. Things have been happening. Strange things. Like tonight – a bout with gastro-reflux that will have me up for a couple of hours, so lucky people like you will have something to read!

Found out last week that a good Army buddy passed away. I left an entry on the website announcing his obituary and such. What puzzles me is that they didn’t give the reason of death. He was a damn good soldier and when he retired I’m sure he was excellent at whatever field he pursued. He was only 47 with four boys. I guess when you enter your 50s, I’m 52 now, you start seeing people you know die. I want to use a euphemism there, but “passed” or “passed away” are SO much like what my parents, both 87 now, used. When I croak off, please use terms like “his boat slipped its mooring,” or “he sped off into the stars.” Something poetic. Heck, I’d even be happy with my dad’s old saying, “He croaked!” May not be respectful, but it’s kind of cute. I think I may actually write down some things for people to say about my death, so they don’t have to split their brains thinking of something nice to say and so I can die knowing nothing too ridiculous will be said. So with all that in mind, and I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, I’ll try to share some classroom stories. As always, and if you haven’t guessed yet, I’m trying to maintain privacy concerning the schools, districts and students. I think that’s ethical. I know I’d have raised hell if I found that one of my kids’ teachers was blogging about them.

Macbeth, the Scottish Play…what a joy it was over the last couple of weeks to entice students into a dark, dreary and damp castle to witness the downfall of a mighty Lord. On this reading, I noticed so much about how Shakespeare addressed the damnation of not following along with the “natural order” of things. Macbeth and Banquo are buddies who have been fighting in a war. This naturally makes them friends. Then they meet the witches who are performing unnatural rites and make an unnatural prophecy. When Macbeth balks before murdering Duncan, a natural reaction, his wife, dear Lady Macbeth, goads him on, unnaturally demeaning her husband. Murder is always the unnatural ending of a natural life. I wonder how many times literature or Shakespeare teachers/professors read papers along those lines? Oh, and don’t forget the old man’s scene in which an owl attacks a hawk!

The second literary work, Antigone, dealt with the after effects of Oedipus’ actions. The difference in the two works lies that in Antigone the question of human and divine law become at odds. This question is much more prominent than in Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy in which most stage members have to die.

Can all literature be reduced to an argument of what is natural versus unnatural or what is lawful versus unlawful? It almost seems so, since any plot, by our current model (thank you, Greeks) requires a protagonist, antagonist, conflict and resolution. Now, I’m NOT a stage or theatrical major, so anyone reading this, fill me in as to whether or not all mankind’s infinite mental faculties can be reduced to such a simple formula. I’m also asking this here because when I tried to point out those schema to the students in the class I was substituting, about all I received were blank stares.

As for the students I’ve met and continue to work with, what a great group of young people. I can’t say that the future generations are safe and that there isn’t an issue with general mass complacency, but there are leaders among them! And they do learn when we give them reading and writing assignments, but it seems they don’t dare show that in front of peers. I can’t wait to see what my next lessons bring!

Life in the Jungle – Among the Sixth Graders

(…I want to write this post in the manner a military student of mine used in a short piece he wrote concerning his military training…it was long ago and far away…)

With the chiming of the bell, the smallish tribal members entered the clearing. Oddly, the females of this group were generally much larger than the males. After briefly pronouncing my customary introduction, communication was tentatively established. I began the ancient ritual of deciphering names from a list which elicited some degree of tittering among the more ebullient of the group. I made the unfortunate mistake of demonstrating my German skill when I commented about one member’s name being of Nordic origin. I used the correct pronunciation but this diminutive person was quick to laughingly “correct” me with the ill sounding English version. I offered a German verbal response which silenced the throng as they attempted to discern the intent of my words. I quickly regained control and continued the ritual to its conclusion.

The goal of this meeting was to introduce, discuss and clarify matters concerning number usage. Some quickly demonstrated a sound understanding of the concept. Others were tentative in their attempts, but repeated clarifications, varied according to how much comprehension they had shown to that point, enabled the small band to practice several pre-designed exercises. By the end of the hour, I felt comfortably assured that they could demonstrate ample mastery of the subject. A sounding chime prompted each of the group to put away what items they had removed from their respective kit bags and depart, leaving me alone in the clearing.

During the short time of isolation, I could hear the sounds – sometimes softly, sometimes roaring – amidst the mystery of this other world in which I found myself. My self indulgent congratulatory interlude was all too short.

After approximately five minutes, another small group of about the same number entered the clearing and after a few brief attempts to test the bounds set for these encounters, the bedlam subsided. The proper introductions and rituals were then observed. This process repeated a total of six times, each iteration proving successful. At the end of the day, I found my way through the labyrinth of hallways to the office, surrendered my pass and found my way to my conveyance home.

So, in short…Sixth Grade math…some apprehension but another great day! I’ve thought for some time that I had a calling to teach. So far, my experiences are only confirming my suspicions. I accepted a call to substitute tomorrow, but there was no subject or teacher mentioned in the posting. I guess maybe I get to venture deeper into the jungle…hopefully, nothing becomes anything like Conrad’s tale!



Junior High School English

Today I was lucky enough to substitute for Junior High English. The students were a bit more active than last week’s high school students, but were easy enough to handle. Again, I’m impressed by they positive behavior. I had one young lady that wanted to keep her hat on, two young gentlemen who decided that their sport drink bottle was a better projectile than drinking implement and another who had to be the focus of attention regardless of what was happening in the classroom. I firmly asked the young lady to remove her hat and put it away or it would become an issue that we would have to address more formally, she complied. I had the young men bring me the bottle and I kept it at my desk, funny that they forgot it when the dismissal bell rang. The young fellow who wanted attention responded to firm reminders about his behavior and his neighbors in the class were quick to remind him before I had to say much more.

Monday I have the privilege of substituting in a sixth grade math class. I developed my aversion to mathematics between the eighth and tenth grade so I’m  curious to see what and how they have students working on that now.



Seems I may finally be progressing toward my goal of teaching. I finished up the Substitute Education and Certification required by the local school district. Yesterday I went to Orientation for another district. My email with information for my fingerprinting came about the same time I finished the orientation course and that’s a good thing.

So, I don’t know how many other folks actually go through all the slides and complete all the assignments, but I appreciate the refreshers on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Bloom’s Taxonomy. The course also touched on Glasser’s Reality Theory and Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. All good stuff, so I shouldn’t complain.

Now, if I can try to keep all that stuff somewhere up in my cranium and use it whenever I get in front of students….  Hmm…