Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Creative Thinking in Teaching

I have to give him credit...I would never have thought of it. Creative thinking requires one to step ouside the boundaries of a domain in order to create new boundaries, and this is exactly what happened last week with an industrial arts teacher whom I know. And it all happened over a cell phone.
It seems as if his school forbids students to carry andor use cell phones during the school day...not unusual these days. It was Bob's approach to the problem of students defying the regulation that stood out. Many teachers simply take cell phones away, hand them over to the principal and make the student retrieve the phone from the administrator. This is a common response and, as such, not particularly creative. It might seem to be not particularly effective, either, since many students are back at texting and calling the next day. Be that as it may, I have strayed somewhat from the creative aspect of the tome.
Sam, another instructor, has a "Wall of Shame" on which he hangs pictures of himself displaying captured phones and listing the perpetrator's name and date of said acquisition. OK...that's a step outside the boundaries of normalcy, and I'll give him props for that, but it pales in comparison to Bob's approach.
Having warned a student numerous times concerning the phone, Bob decided that a more persuasive argument should be used. Finally exasperated by a lack of cooperation from the student, Bob took the offending device away and SAWED IT IN HALF ON THE BANDSAW! When the student complained that he was going to call home and complain, Bob handed him the phone-in-four-parts and said, "Fine. Call home!" Genius. No word on any fallout at this time, but students definitely refuse to IM in Bob's class!
For the record, Bob is said to have noted that "...batteries are really hard to cut! It shot right out of the phone without being damaged."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

It's Prom Season

High schools all over the country are festooning gyms, banquet halls and the local Holdiay Inn with crepe paper to celebrate that eternal rite of spring: junior prom. Many mothers look at this as a chance to relive their high school days, just as fathers do each Friday night as "rope coaches" at football games. This, of course, explains why mothers take over the decorating, often arguing about details and claiming that their prom was the greatest ever until those boys from a rival school showed up...and the night was a fabulous success. "Footloose" is wasn't, but memories being what they are...
I love the Duct Tape company's take on prom. Each year, the corporate world sponsors a contest to see which male and female can come up with the most unique formal wear MADE ENTIRELY OF DUCT TAPE! This challenge to the creative spirit has always fascinated me, and each year the winners seem to get better and better. With the myriad of colors now offered, the imagination is the only limit. No more hundreds of dollars for a tuxedo or a dress that will be worn once. Save that money for the menu at Taco Bell!
Our school has prom this coming week, and I am one of the class advisors which means I will have to attend, for no other real reason except to limit the amount of "booty dancing" that goes on to the suggestive lyrics pumped out by the DJ. It promises to be a real tricky affair...especially if I have to judge what's a suggestive lyric. Does "Super Freak" count? I mean Rick James is widely known as something of a deviant himself. What if someone requests "Baby Got Back"? Students will line up just to test the old people then snicker when we miss hearing something we would find distasteful. The whole thing is ridiculous. The Ashburn, Goergia, THAT was something to write about!
This past weekend, Turner County High School in the aforementioned Ashburn, Georgia, held prom. This one, however, was historical. (mind you, the year is 2007) For the first time in the school's history, both black and white students were allowed to attend THE SAME PROM! Previously, each race held its own, separate but equal (Brown vs. Board of Education ring a bell?) proms. It is notable that the decision to hold one prom was made by the students, not the school administrators. HUH? The administrator was quoted as saying that the change needed to come from the students...HUH? What the hell passes for education in Georgia anyway? To have students lead the way on such an important issue simply amazes me...mind you, this is 2007.
By the way, at least some white students held their own prom last week anyway, calling it a "tradition." And I'll bet nobody objected to the "tradition," either, especially the educational community (or what passes for one in Ashburn, Georgia.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Liu Yang: My Kind of Guy!

Quickly, what do the following phrases mean?
"Shangri-La is in your mind, but your Buffalo is not."
"Please lead your child to tare the life."
"Careful. Landslip. Attention Security."
They must mean something because they are real-life signs found in Beijing, China. The first is on a billboard, the second in an elevator, and the third is located in the airport.
Now, THAT clears everything up, doesn't it?
That's why Liu Yang is the man; he's the head of the "Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program" in China. His job is to prepare the city for the upcoming Olympics, an event which will draw upwards of 500,000 visitors, many of whom speak English. Thus far, Yang has placed 6,500 common English phrases on signs around the city. I hope these are not examples!
However, a country that forbids spitting and bad manners in public annot be ALL wrong, as far as I can see.
In fact, I would like Liu Yang to come here to put up signs in real English for the edification of all. That would mean I would not be subjected to things like this:
A senior at our school is floating a petition to allow the use of MP3 players in school. He is even soliciting teacher signatures because, as he puts it, "The students will be more quite in class."
Every day I drive past (or is it "passed"?) a sign for an ornamental plaster business that advertises display models "in side." Nothing there but a wall.
A local business gives directions to potential customeers to "turn left at the lite." I looked for hours and could not find the beer bottle, margarine container or even a bulb anywhere.
All this poor usage makes me so angry that I could spit. Good thing I don't live in China.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"The Die is Cast"

I've got to admit that this is hardly on a par with Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon River despite orders from the Senate that forbade any general from taking an army into Rome itself. When he decided that he was going to defy the Senate ( I mean, he HAD the army...what were they going to do?), the line in the sand was the river. When he crossed that with his legions, he was placing himself into a position from which there was no turning back. Thus, his famous quote indicating that he was taking a gamble which he hoped would pay off handsomely...and it did...for a while. There was that darned Ides of March ("I'm Your Vehicle, Baby") thing during which he got a major beatdown from his erstwhile homies.
It is at that point which I currently find myself. As of 3:30 today, I am
officially on the no-turning-back road to retirement. I could have changed
my mind up until that fateful hour (well, half-hour really), but I did not. I am inexorably placed in a position which will either provide new and exciting vistas to search or long days of listless boredom, looking for continued meaning in a life in which the augurers continually tell me not to go to the Senate on that day. Truth be told, I suspect it will fall somewhere in between. After all, the Green Bay Packers called me today and almost begged me to return to my tour guide job for the summer...well, there was a message on my machine just checking if I intended to return to the tundra.
I have spent three or four years planning this day and my future endeavors, and so far things seem to be falling into place. A man, a plan, Panama. (that really means nothing, but I like writing palindromes when the occasion arises, Bub!)
So, I have possibilities! At least until next March when I have to start looking over my shoulder.
Of course, there is STILL the matter of the next seven weeks of school to handle: testimonials, flowers strewn in my path, gold watches, new cars...all that yet to come.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bowling for Fitness

My normal metabolic rate just sitting here is 1.0; I'm not certain how it's measured, but there's only 1 of them. Of course, typing might generate more, but...Let's just say I'm not getting much exercise at the moment.
With the Boston Marathon coming up on Monday, exercising is on my mind. Back in 1984 when I ran in that race, I averaged a few tenths of a second under six minutes per mile for the whole race...all 26+ miles of it. Now, I doubt I could run more than one six-minute mile in a row. Why have I fallen so far (other than the ensuing knee operations?) Was the fame of finishing 583rd too much for me? Did I get sick of pasta? nah...the real reason? Bowling.
I teach bowling to high school students not noted for going out of their way to engage in exercise. Since sitting on the couch gives a metabolic rate of 1 (something), bowling for them is great exercise! Shoot, the metabolic rate of bowling is 3.5. Bowling burns 4 calories per minute on average. That is eqivalent to biking for a minute at 6 miles per hour, canoeing at 2.5 miles per hour, vacuuming the living room and/or gardening. During each class period, we burn in excess of 250 calories...good for me, but about equal to what they consume daily in Pringles.
Nobody will claim bowling has the capability to enhance cardiovascular fitness, but, like golf (and equally boring to watch on TV) it does build muscle strength, increases flexibility and does the same for range of motion. I find it too quiet, though. Last week, it was so quiet that I could hear a pin drop at the alley.
Still seem boring to you? The National Federation of State High School Association reports that it is the fastest growing sanctioned sport in the country for our kids, both in the number of active bowlers and the number of school-sponsored teams. The state of Illinois alone had 184 girls' teams and 141 boys' teams as of 2005. I know there are high school teams here in the Green Bay area, and I think I read something about a state tournament as well here in Wisconsin. No word on how the beer frame is scored in high school or whether the coaches like myself are constantly remionding kids to get their minds out of the gutter.
So the next time you feel a bit sluggish and want to claim a fitness regiment without actually, you know, breathing too hard, get to the local lanes and kegel a few. Swearing at the pins will deduct extra calories as well.
You could also pedal a stationary bike between frames. I think the canoe and/or the gardening tools will be a problem, though, so you'll just have to bowl more than one game.
Just avoid the beer frame and those see-through balls with flowers inside them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Life Changes

It's at least quasi-official. I began this two years ago in order to chronicle my last year in public education (you do the math!). I have five more days until it becomes official: after the 15th I can no longer call for a do-over an "un"retire. It's going to happen barring a suden panic attack on my part or another cataclysmic happening like the need to get a projection TV AND a new car. The feeling hit me the other day as I mailed my retirement statement in to the Wisconsin Employee's Trust Fund indicating my last day as June 5th (a day that will live in __________fill in the blank). I can never go back once I've left, and there's this nagging uncertainty. It fills my wakeful nights and is never far from my thoughts: the last time to act as a classroom teacher, something I've done for more than 30 years, is rapidly approaching. Will I weep unabashedly or kick my heels together as Mabel Waterstreet did when she retired during my first or second year of teaching in Algoma? Will the new teacher in my place have enough pictures to fill the office the way I did with Doc Savage and Elvis Costello posters as well as a myriad pictures of my family, or will those holes in the wall stare forlornly for the next 30 years? Does it matter? Probably not.
At least I've had my turn. A local college coach just moved on to the big time recently, and his three assistants are now looking for work. That's got to be a punch in the least I get to make the call that affects (or is it "effects," grammarians?) just me and my immediate family, all of whom are incredibly supportive of my decision. I won't be as well off financially, but teachers seldom get rich will be just another dimension to the old "paycheck to paycheck" lifestyle.
Our superintendent mentioned to me that I should go to the Business, Industry and Education dinner to be held soon so that they (the ubiquitous "they") could recognize me with a free meal and a pat on the back. My response was that I would not attend in order to be recognized for something so ordinary as retiring. He presumed I was attempting to be humble (go figure!) and pressed me to attend. What I meant was that I feel as though I've done remarkable things for the school district during my tenure and was never recognized for any of them. Cynical? maybe, but like a good relationship of any kind, I feel it's important to recognize the positive as many times as possible, not just when the other is leaving.
"Oh, I'll miss you so much" carries little weight when it seems as if you haven't noticed me for years.
So, it sounds to me like I'm ready. Besides, the union gives retirees $100, and I just bought a new iPod! Granted, it's not a projection TV like my kids want me to get, but I'll soon be on a fixed income, and I cannot afford to be a spendthrift!
BTW, "affects" is correct...a teacher 'til the end :)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What's In A Number?

It's all about the numbers, it would seem. Oh, some are more important than others: 16 is big; 21 is huge; 40 is a major turning point in anyone's life. I guess lottery numbers are important if one is foolish enough to give away money every week in faint hope of the big payday (I'm more of a Butterfinger guy myself). We no longer have to remember phone numbers since they're all on speed dial. The numbers involved in gasoline prices...well, let's forget them. I've just discovered something about MY numbers. I'm not as old as I thought I was!
That is not to say I have lied about my chronological age like Satchel Paige or some of the modern-era big leaguers from microscopic Latin American countries. As far as I know, I am the age my driver's license purports me to be. Mom's no longer around to ask, but I cannot imagine her lying to me all those years about something like that...unless it involved getting me out of the house and into kindergarten sooner. This is important because my retirement is based on that age. The surprise is that I'm not, physically, that old.
I came across a website,, which uses numbers from blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. to arrive at a number which indicates how "old" a person really is. Fortunately for me, I live a relatively healthy life though not perfect. Not being addicted to heroin counted points in my favor. Exercising more than my options also gave me positive numbers, and not smoking anything more than my tires occasionally also added plus numbers. I think I scored big because I watch romantic comedies, too, but that might have been the Netflix profile...memory going...must remember.
All in all, I'm eight years younger than my driver's license says I am. That's good news, but my wife says that I'm now too young to retire...just when she was looking forward to having me do all the cooking and cleaning.
Serves her right. I'm going to look at HER numbers.