Looks like trouble

I needed to stop judging kids until I had a good idea of who they were, where they came from, and where they intended to go.  I had to learn their story.

Continue reading Looks like trouble

Standing Up for the Ladies’ Room

Must parents now worry about some creeper peeking over the stalls just because he says he’s feeling like a woman today?

According to that defender of liberalism The Huffington Post, Americans aged 18 to 29 favor letting transgender people use the restroom of their identity by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Additionally, according to The Huffington Post and the rest of the liberal media, only states inhabited by slack-jawed booger-eating morons would deny transgender Americans their God-given right to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Tell me something:  If a guy identifies as a man on Monday, does that mean he can identify as a woman on Tuesday?  Or does it depend upon who he watches walk into the Ladies’ room Tuesday afternoon at Target?

Seriously, what the hell happened to common sense?  You want to know why “Americans aged 18-29” are okay with guys going into girls’ bathrooms?  Because they don’t have kids!

Consider this:  There are far more pedophiles among the citizenry than there are people who identify as transgender.  And while it’s true that parents should always accompany their small children into a public restroom, there are those in-between years when parents should and do let their elementary or upper elementary-aged children go into a restroom by themselves (especially when it’s a mom trying to shake a crying preschooler off her leg while attempting to distract her toddler from grabbing the Pez dispensers in the checkout aisle).

Must parents now worry about some creeper peeking over the stalls at their little girl because he claims he’s feeling like a woman today?

I could paint the various scenarios for you to consider, but really, folks—it doesn’t take a forensic psychology degree to figure this one out.   Our children should not have to face a member of the opposite sex while they’re using a public restroom, no matter what age they are.  Furthermore, children lack the maturity to process the absurdity of seeing a male in a supposedly female and private setting, or a female in a supposedly male and private setting.

And no, it’s not a “good lesson” in tolerance for our children.  Like learning about the intricacies of sexuality at too young of an age, the complexities of transgenderism are hardly a topic any parent should have to deal with on the car ride home from Target.

Look, like their mother, my kids were never wimps about things like this.  My husband and I taught them to be aware that there are all kinds of people in the world, which, generally, makes our world a pretty cool place to be.  We didn’t shield them from delicate subjects, but neither did we expect them to handle situations or concepts that were not aligned with their level of maturity.

Furthermore, if my daughters had ever reported to me that there was a man present while they went in to use the restroom, that man better damn sure be wearing a cup.

Does this make me a homophobe?  I don’t see how.  This has nothing to do with homosexuality; rather, it has everything to do with the media grabbing onto the tail end of an issue and running with it because Donald Trump hasn’t said anything stupid in a few days, and what else are they going to write about?

(That’s not necessarily true, though.  I had to laugh when I heard Donald Trump say he didn’t give a crap [pun intended] if transgender folks use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.  His children most likely never had to use a public restroom without their being accompanied by armed security and a retinue of nannies.)

So put away your rainbow posters and your LGBT placards, because this isn’t what this bathroom issue is about.  It’s about attaching an absurd concept—the “anything goes” restroom—to a cause that, frankly, I’m still scratching my head over.  My gay and lesbian friends are great people who appear to be living the American dream, as well they should.

And if you’re among the infinitesimal number of people in the country who identify as transgender—get over it.  If you have a penis, use the Men’s room.  If you don’t, use the Ladies’.  If you’re a “Dude (who) looks like a lady”, keep it in your panties until you’re behind a locked stall.

Using guilt to force the majority of Americans to bend to the will of a pocket-sized sampling of the population is hardly an example of doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, no matter where or how you take care of your personal business.

I don’t know about you, but right now I have enough men in my life peeing on the seat.

The Magnificent Aschenbachs

Lately, many people have been asking me if I’m writing a sequel to The Gym Show.  While I think a sequel would be an excellent complement to what will always be (maybe) my favorite novel, I had already begun my second novel before The Gym Show became so popular.  So will I write a sequel?  Yes.  But first, my compulsive personality insists that I finish my second novel, The Magnificent Aschenbachs.

Would you like a peek?  Thought so.  Here is an excerpt from The Magnificent Aschenbachs.

   After that rather strange greeting, January’s initial reaction to Richard’s home was one of awe, but she fought the urge to appear wide-eyed and naïve, and tried desperately to appear as if it were an everyday thing to walk into a spectacularly furnished and appointed mansion like the main character in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.  And, like the nameless protagonist, January felt childishly out-of-place and wished she had worn something a little less showy (Gold lame, January, really?) and a little more conservative.

    Sadly, she didn’t have clothes in her wardrobe to match the splendor of the home, and she certainly was not dressed in the same manner as Richard’s mother, the formidable looking Angelika.  What did Angelika say to Richard when he had introduced her?  She knew it was German by the accent, but she had no idea what she said.  Richard had seemed rather taken aback, and even now, he was still somewhat quiet as if Angelika’s words had generated in him some meaningful response that he was still trying to piece together in his perplexed state.  January felt as if he was going through the motions of shepherding her through the house without really considering her at all.  This was turning out to be one of the most awkward and uncomfortable experiences she had ever remembered and wondered if all first dates were this excruciating.

The story is set in the mid-80’s in Indianapolis, and if you’re a Booth Tarkington fan, you might recognize that the title is a play off his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Magnificent Ambersons.  Think of my interpretation, though, as another slice of life in Indianapolis, told mainly through the eyes of a young inner-city teacher who faces daunting challenges both in her professional and her personal life.

It’s going to be spectacular, I promise!  Estimated time of completion?  I’ll keep you posted.

Do What is Best for Children

I know, let’s turn Indiana schoolchildren into prank monkeys!

While it’s true that I’ve been out of teaching for four years, and with my youngest in the second semester of his junior year in high school, I really don’t have a dog in the fight, I still can’t wrap my head around what legislators—and not just those in Indiana—are doing to children.

Before you start with the mistaken notion that I’m one of those liberal, union-loving, child-coddling, tree-hugging, GOP-hating left-wing nut jobs, let me put that to rest.  I’m not.  I’m a conservative Republican with Libertarian leanings who believes the federal government should not feed schoolchildren (their parents should) nor subsidize preschool (cut taxes so that one parent can stay at home).  So there.  Those two radical ideas might be off-putting to some of my friends, but we’re about two generations into a Great Society that has another mistaken notion that the federal government exists to take care of us.  We need to get back to taking care of ourselves and get the federal government out of education.

That said, I truly do believe in public education, even though my own children were mostly educated in Catholic schools.  My parents were public school teachers, and between my husband and me, we have around 45 years’ experience in public schools both in the inner city and in suburbia.  Public schools should serve as the great equalizer—a level playing field—even though school funding is a complex and counterintuitive formula here in Indiana.

The takeaway?  Provide a level educational playing field, yes, but hold each family accountable for how that education makes their children productive and responsible American citizens.

But back to what legislators are doing to children, because if what happens within the walls of the school are not things that are best for children, then they ought not to be happening, right?  Marathon standardized testing, mandated by state and federal regulations that are tied to funding, staffing, and a school’s A-F ranking is something that happens to children, not to adults.  Explain to me how making a third grader endure nine hours and 25 minutes of standardized testing is good for him.  Because I’d really like to know.

In my last year of teaching, I was told that I was to “get” each of my 27 fifth graders to pass ISTEP.  I laughed.  Seven of my 27 young scholars spoke limited English.  They might soar through the math part, but they wouldn’t even be able to read the language arts portion.  In a hilarious twist of irony, these students would have the instructions read to them in Spanish, their native language, but would be forced to take the test in English.

I wonder how many state legislators could take the test in Spanish.  More hilarity.

Moreover, several of my students with IEPs were not even close to reading on grade level, but they, too, were expected to pass the test.  C’mon, their IEPs mandated that they would have extra time to complete the exam—all they needed was a little extra time, right?

Hell, they could still be taking that fifth grade ISTEP today as freshmen in high school and still not pass it.  Time was not what they needed, fellas.

My point is this:  How is standardized testing good for children?  Does it make for better schools?  No.  Does it make teachers better?  Hell no.  Do teachers have any control over who walks through their classroom doors at the beginning of the school year?  No!  Does standardized testing eat up instructional time?  Yes!  Does it take away from authentic learning opportunities?  Hell yes!  Do I need to go on?  No!  Because common sense tells us that high stakes testing doesn’t do anything but create nail-biting, anxiety-ridden teachers and students, and turns school administrators into monocle-wearing, whip-bearing SS officers threatening to unleash their torrent of fury against any teacher who dares question the hours and hours of mandated test prep being forced upon them.  After all, their necks are also on the line.  Administrators who do not produce passing test scores shall be eliminated!

There are parts of the ISTEP exam that make sense, and there are parts of it that are thoughtful and well-written.  Well, at least there were in 2009, the last year I administered the test.  I’m not saying, “Abandon standardized testing forever!”  What I’m saying is to be reasonable.  Use the test as one piece of the assessment pie.  Much of what happens to children while they’re in school cannot be and should not be reflected in the results of a standardized test, no matter how well written it is.  Children’s writing, their ability to communicate, solve problems, seek out answers to questions, their technological prowess, their curiosity, and their affective learning cannot be adequately measured by a standardized test.  Which is more important?

To legislators, politics are more important, and schoolchildren serve the state as their pint-sized pawns.  To them, a school’s poor test results means that those children’s teachers are bad, bad teachers and should be fired, their schools nothing but dens of iniquity full of leftist commie teachers who care more about their rights than the children they refuse to educate.  Fire them!  Fire them all—no, better yet, parade them throughout the streets of the capital city and throw rotten tomatoes at them.  Make them a spectacle, an example of all that is wrong with public education.  Heads on a pike!  Burn them at the stake!

And then we can turn all the public schools into charter schools, because that’ll solve everything.

And all the time, those teachers were just trying to do what was best for children.

Sixteenth and Martindale

Is there a difference between perception and reality?

The story I am about to tell is true. It describes an event that took place early in my teaching career, and it is one that I will never forget.

First, some background.

I taught sixth grade at IPS School #26 beginning in November 1986. School #26 was predominantly Black. I did not have much experience working with Black students; I didn’t have much experience working with any students. I also did not have much experience working with Black teachers and para-professionals–teachers’ assistants, if you will. I had recently graduated from Penn State, hardly a bastion of diversity when it comes to Black and White.

Eventually, though, I became better at recognizing and appreciating the differences between me and my African-American students and colleagues, and an easy symbiosis evolved among us. In the spring of my third year at IPS School #26, I was on playground duty with another staff member, the venerable fifth grade teacher Mrs. Edwards. Mrs. Edwards was at least 70 years old if not older and had more seniority in the entire IPS school system than any other teacher. She was also the most beloved member of our staff, and rightly so–her students were well behaved, her classroom was immaculate and thoughtfully organized, and her bearing was formidable if not intimidating. She dressed each day for work as if she were attending church–sky-high heels and all–minus the hat. And she never, ever was seen without a Bible in her hands. She often used it to beat children who got out of line while waiting for their breakfast, intoning, “Oh, I do so hate to hit you with my good Book!” One swat with the Bible for every word in the aforementioned sentence. I loved her. And she scared the hell out of me.

Mrs. Edwards had a cloak hall in her classroom–not everyone had a cloak hall. Her cloak hall was used to store coats and boots and backpacks and naughty children. Mrs. Edwards also had a paddle–nothing special, just a paddle with her name emblazoned on the handle in perfect Palmer penmanship. If you had a student who needed paddled, Mrs. Edwards was your go-to lady. Don’t judge: This was 1989.

Back to playground duty or, rather, I should call it “parking lot” duty. Because we didn’t have a playground at IPS School #26. We had a blacktop parking lot. We had some balls–a couple of basketballs and a kickball, and in the past we had had some jump ropes, but they were lost somewhere along the way. There wasn’t much for the kids to do, and there were a lot of kids to keep busy. Three sixth grade classes, one special education classroom of fifth and sixth graders, three fifth grade classes, and another all-fifth grade special education class. Remember, it was 1989, just before Inclusion.

What did the kids do for thirty minutes of what was supposed to be recess? Some kids played with the few implements we had available for them, but most of the kids–pre-adolescents–stood around and talked, or stirred some unseen neighborhood pot they had dragged to school, full of hatred, jealousy, and vindictiveness. As you might have guessed, then, on this particular beautiful spring day, a fight was brewing. The antagonist, an African-American student named Glenn, started posturing in front of another male student, also African-American. Mrs. Edwards, heels and all, started toward her student, the one who was being confronted. I managed to get myself between that student and Glenn.

In the back of my mind, all I could think of was, “She’s wearing heels! She’s going to get shoved to the pavement and break a hip! She’s old!” I, on the other hand, was dressed in a t-shirt, jean skirt, bobby sox, and white Keds. I positioned myself in front of Glenn–a young man the same size as me–and held him by the shoulders, looked him in the eye, and said, “Not today, scooter.”

Apparently, that pissed him off enough that he decided to take a swing at me–in the ensuing confrontation, he managed to relieve me of a rather sizable chunk of my hair, tore off my necklace, and ripped my t-shirt enough so that my bra was exposed. That pissed me off enough to turn him around, get his arms behind his back, kick him in the backs of his knees, and force him onto his belly. Whereby I sat on his butt, pinning his arms behind him until the paddy wagon came. I am sure I surprised him with my chutzpah.

Between the time I forced him to the ground to when the paddy wagon (IPS Security, not IMPD) arrived, I do remember telling him that he f***ed with the wrong person. Yep, I tossed the f-bomb at a sixth grader. Countless times.

After IPS Security relieved me of my duties as butt-sitter and f-bomb tosser, I found myself in the principal’s office, giving a statement to one of the officers. I did not wish to press charges, but I did want the kid suspended for the remainder of the school year.

After IPS Security left, my principal unleashed a torrent of fury against me that stunned me speechless. I had just saved Mrs. Edwards from a dangerous situation that could have hurt her, and I broke up a fight that would have most certainly disrupted the educational environment for the rest of the day if not for the rest of the school year. And here was my principal ripping me a new one for doing what any sane person would have done. Through the roar in my ears, all I could hear was him saying, “Racist, racial, race, relations.”

The rest of the day was a blur–I do remember my students’ ooh-ing and ah-ing when I returned to the classroom; I summarily I turned off the lights and read to them from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. None of my colleagues came by to ask if I was okay, no one asked me if I was hurt. No staff member talked to me for the rest of the day.

The next day a fellow teacher who happened to be White pulled me aside and whispered, “You’d better be careful. The paras (teachers’ assistants–all of whom were African-American) have told everyone that you whipped Glenn with a jump rope then tied him up with it.”


It got worse. The para-professionals had spread the lie that I called Glenn a ‘n*****, that I was indeed whipping him with a jump rope, and that after I was finished whipping him, I tied him up. They knew this because they were all watching out the window while it was happening.

Another staff member, also White, pulled me aside and told me that Mrs. Edwards had stated that she was disappointed with me. When this staff member, who had also watched the entire tableau the previous afternoon, asked her why she wasn’t standing up for me since she was right there and saw everything that had happened, apparently she replied, “I will always stand with my race.”

That was my first experience with racism. Moreover, it was a lesson in perception. What those para-professionals perceived and what Mrs. Edwards perceived were one in the same–even though what Mrs. Edwards saw was what really happened. And she knew it.

I’ll never know why Mrs. Edwards’ and the para-professionals’ perception of the incident was so different from the reality I experienced that day. In my mind, the only thing I did that I should not have done was swear in front of a student. To them, though, I did everything wrong. I was the privileged White girl asserting my authority in the way that, historically, they remember White people asserting their authority over Black people.

Why tell this story today? While I don’t agree that the officer who shot Michael Brown in August 2014 was guilty of any wrongdoing, I also understand that others’ perceptions might be different. This is because my experience with Glenn at IPS School #26 located at E. 16th and Martindale on the near eastside of Indianapolis in 1989 was perceived by others as a racist act of aggression when I know in my heart that all I was trying to do was to protect Mrs. Edwards. It broke my heart that she sided with those who made up the story about the jump rope, but then again, I had not lived her life, I had not experienced her experiences, and I had never walked around in her skin, so from her vantage point, what I did was just another instance of a White person beating down a Black person.

I learned that day that you don’t have to agree. Just understand.

How to Teach Your Child About American History With One Weird Trick

fences I can’t remember if I loved history before I had Mr. Chesko in eighth grade Pennsylvania history or if it was his unique brand of teaching that made me love history. It doesn’t matter, though. If I had walked into his classroom already loving history, I left it with an absolute passion for it.

I must admit that I was fairly intimidated by Mr. Chesko at first–well, maybe throughout my entire tenure at Linesville High School. You see, he didn’t put up with anybody’s tomfoolery, shenanigans, or monkeyshines, least of all mine. Which was good, because I was not always a very nice little girl at age 14. But I always knew where I stood with Mr. Chesko.

When he first began teaching at Linesville, I used to hear some of the kids call him “Chico”, which I guess was a play off his last name. Whereas I never called our band director anything but “Touch” (even, shamefully, to his face), I could not imagine calling Mr. Chesko anything but ‘Mr. Chesko’, and if he were sitting here beside me right now, I’d still call him ‘Mr. Chesko’. You see, he did not encourage familiarity. He was not the type of teacher you could walk up to and make ridiculous demands of–like Touch. Oh, no. You did not make demands of Mr. Chesko.

And as a veteran eighth grade teacher, I can tell you that this is exactly as it should be.

So what was so special about Mr. Chesko? For one, he didn’t sit behind his desk and assign a chapter in the book to read and the questions at the end to complete and hand in before the end of the period, even if he had a game to coach that night and a series of plays to put together beforehand. In fact, I never remember him sitting behind his desk–he was always moving, even if he was tired because he was up all night with a newborn baby.  Nor did he fling down with a sanctimonious fury that Rand McNally and expect us on the first try to point to Valley Forge, even if we should have known it was somewhere near Philadelphia. Neither did he force us to memorize speeches, dates, or obscure facts about the Revolutionary War and then chide us about our lack of knowledge when we didn’t get it right. Instead, he inspired us to learn about the substance of those speeches, the significance of those dates and timelines, and the interlacing of facts–the causes and effects of history–all by painting pictures with words, maps, and whatever other media he had on hand.  He taught us about the events that shaped our history–our history. He reinforced his stories by asking us questions that had us on the edges of our seats, begging him to call on us, with questions that began with, “How do you think …?” And “What do you suppose it was like …?” Or “I wonder how …”  He compelled us to become curious by default.

At once, learning our history was thrilling.  It was messy, it was gory, and it was fascinating.

Which brings me to the fences.

One of our assignments was to build a series of fences–fences that one would have encountered in pre-Colonial, Colonial, and post-Revolutionary Pennsylvania. Split-railed mortised, split-railed snake, log fences, stone fences–we were to build models of these fences, and we would be graded upon the historical accuracy of our creations.

I heard some kids grumbling about how fences had nothing to do with Pennsylvania history and that this was a dumb assignment. Those were the kids who didn’t have a recently retired father at home itching to build something, one who also had a penchant for cabinet making and a passion for history that surpassed even his daughter’s. But I knew that Mr. Chesko was wily enough to figure out within seconds of seeing me walk into his classroom with my arms full of fences whether or not my dad had a hand in the building, so I told my dad to chill (no, I really didn’t but it was something along those lines), and I made the fences myself. As a consolation prize, however, I let him help my friend Dede with her fences, much to Dede’s delight. My dad and Dede worked all night on her fences while I furiously flipped through encyclopedia pages to find just the right images to replicate in order to make my fences historically perfect. To do anything less would have demonstrated a deep disrespect for the unique nature of the assignment.

So what did all of this fence-making have to do with my passion for history and my reverence for Mr. Chesko? While making those fences (with my dad hovering over my shoulder giving me mortising tips), I thought about how folks during the Colonial period didn’t have power tools and had to split logs into rails with an ax. I wondered about how farmers in the Colonial period knew where their land ended and their neighbor’s began. I thought about how long it must have taken the Colonial surveyor to determine the farmer’s property lines without the benefit of modern maps. I thought about how, while the men in the community were splitting rails to divvy up their properties, their children were kept busy placing the split rails in the snake pattern formation. I wagered that, at the very least, the Colonial wives, with their aproned skirts waving in the wind, were stirring a big iron pot of something stew-like over a huge fire because their men would certainly be hungry after all that rail splitting. That got me wondering what kinds of vittles the Colonial folks ate–was it all rabbit and squirrel with the occasional deer thrown in? And how did they keep all that meat fresh without modern refrigeration? I thought, and I wondered.

And that, my dear friends, is how you teach American history by asking your students to build fences. Weird, huh?

Mr. Chesko, you taught and coached two generations of western Crawford County kids how to win and lose graciously, how to build character through sportsmanship and academics, you helped those two generations grow into productive and active members of the community, you coached a girls’ basketball team that brought home the first-ever state championship to the little town of Linesville, and best of all–for me–you taught me how to make those fences.

You are loved, you will be missed, but know that you are now, without a doubt, a dear and cherished part of Linesville’s history.

Child of God, I love you.

You are a child of God.  You are precious.  You are mine.

I read again today of the passing of another local teenager who committed suicide. The details of this heartbreaking news are immaterial; instead, what remains incumbent upon us as adults is trying to figure out why a young person on the very cusp of a long and seemingly abundant life would ever choose to end it and, more importantly, how to prevent this from ever happening again.

I can only imagine that parents of teenagers, upon hearing this kind of news, get that sick, I-want-to-throw-up feeling, wondering if their own child could ever conceive of doing something so horribly permanent, so heartbreakingly sad.

And, invariably, we all ask, “Why?”

could jump to all kinds of conclusions about how kids these days are spoiled, and when things don’t go their way, they resort to all kinds of dramatic means to get attention (because some of them do).  I could make asinine assumptions about how today’s kids have no structure at home, no boundaries, always get what they want but it’s never enough, or how drugs and alcohol wreak havoc with a child’s psyche, and that’s what probably caused this tragedy (because sometimes it does).  Or I could foolishly point a finger at these kids’ parents, wondering what kind of home life the children had that would compel them to do this.  Because, truthfully, all of these factors do have merit.  One or all of these instances could be valid reasons why these tragedies have occurred.

But are these instances the cause, or is there an underlying motif playing with our children’s minds? And does sanctimoniously pointing out the faults of other families do anyone any good?  Because whatever heartbreak was happening in these children’s lives has just been multiplied a hundred-fold in the suffering of their parents and families.

No, I believe it’s something more ominous altogether.

Sadly, even a child growing up in a loving, nurturing, and spiritual home can fall prey to suicide because, unfortunately, we live in a society that has devalued human life.  The horrifying images of Americans being beheaded by the insidious evil that is Isis are broadcast on the internet for our kids to witness.  Women and even underage girls can walk into a Planned Parenthood facility, have their babies viciously sucked out of their bodies, then walk out a couple of hours later after the staff has given them a collective high-five, praising them for their “brave” decision to end their babies’ lives.  The violent nature of many of our kids’ video games doesn’t help lend credence to the sanctity of life; instead, it actually glorifies death, making it appear fascinatingly cool to kill and be killed.

These are today’s hardships, the yoke upon this generation’s shoulders.

Instead, what if our society valued every human being—from conception and beyond.  To this end, we have some work to do.  We must look for signs of depression in our kids and take seriously their anxieties, their worries, and their fears.  We must dedicate ourselves to teaching every child that he or she is valuable beyond measure.  Children must know and understand that God has created them in His image and that however insignificant they may perceive their lives to be, their very existence is a priceless treasure—a gift.  We may not like everything they do, but no matter what, we love them.  When they make mistakes, and they will make mistakes—some of them even colossal mistakes—it’s okay to lay down the law.  To do anything less is unforgiving.

But most importantly, we must make sure that our children know that they are loved.

To our children, know this: You are a child of God.  You are precious.  You are mine.  And I love you with every breath I take, with every beat of my heart, and I will continue to love you long after I am gone from this world.


Back to School

Few phrases have the ability to render depression in a teacher as the words “back to school”. In fact, four years after I went “back to school” for my twenty-fifth and final year of teaching, I still cringe when I hear the carefree, twinkling television commercial voices urging parents to drop what they’re doing, head into Target, Wal-Mart, and Kohl’s and get those kids ready to go back to school now! Because, Heaven forbid, if your child isn’t armed with the entire contents of Wal-Mart’s “back to school” section (which, curiously, now often includes tissues in boxes that look like school busses, hand sanitizer in gargantuan sizes, and Clorox wipes for those booger-y desk-tops), it’s a sure thing that his teacher will sneeringly look down her wart-riddled nose at you for not having heeded that all-important school supply list (which, incidentally, probably took seven or eight rather heated in-service meetings with the entire staff to compile).

In short, as a parent, you suck. You have every reason to be depressed.

But why are teachers depressed? And before I answer that question, let me apologize in advance to all of my teacher friends. I am sorry I feel compelled to reveal this ugly secret, but really, the public should know what you all (and what I did, at one time) go through while getting ready to go back to school, actually going back to school, and the weekend after you go back to school.

It’s simply the worst time of the year.

Here’s why: The getting-ready part–those few precious weeks before the FDOS–are, typically, fun. You get to reconnect with your colleagues after the few short months weeks you’ve not seen each other since the LDOS and, if you have a nice tan or you’ve been somewhere fun, you have that going for you, or if you’ve decided to do something different with your hair then you get to bask in the oohs and awes of your fellow girl-type teachers who decided not to go blond-y blond over the summer months weeks (I did that once), so yeah, it can be fun. And invariably, someone’s pregnant, someone’s gotten engaged, or, more likely, someone’s getting a divorce, so there’s gossip a-plenty.  And then there is the anticipation of a new start, a fresh set of students, eager babes who can’t wait to learn all that there is to learn in a year–because who wouldn’t be eager to learn at the end of the summer July?

Yeah, there’s that slice of hope, that nugget of “maybe this year it will be different” and the determination to make this year “the best school year ever”.

Then there’s the day–usually one or two days before the FDOS–when you’re contractually required to be at school at your contract time–7:00 AM-ish for elementary teachers, typically an hour later for middle school and high school teachers. There’s no room for error here–as in don’t be gettin’ used to the Starbucks drive-thru every morning–and you resign yourself to the fact that there’s no going back. School has started.

But wait–once your contract day begins, instead of those last minute touches to your classroom, you get to sit in meetings for the entire day! Even lunch–that sacrosanct hour twenty minutes when teachers are free to bitch about all the things teachers need to bitch about in order to maintain their sanity–becomes someone else’s agenda because you’re forced to eat a poorly catered lunch provided by the PFO where you can’t sit with your besties and tell it like it is because Mrs. So-and So is standing behind the pulled pork and you’ve got her kid in your class this year. The last thing you need is for her to overhear you grousing about how *&^%$#@ annoying the morning meeting with the superintendent was or how you hope this Christmas the PFO gets a freakin’ clue and hands out Trader Joe’s gift cards instead of those boring-ass United Arts and Education cards (five bottles of Two-buck Chuck v. ten dollars-worth of bulletin board borders? Wine me, please).

Then there are more meetings to learn about more procedures that have changed just enough from last year the end of May that you are forced to pay attention when all you really want to do is go home and take a nap (or watch Days of Our Lives). So you hurriedly spend the end of the contract day making sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row lesson-wise and giving your classroom another once-over to make sure it’s kid-friendly (hide the empty cans of Diet Coke you were meaning to put in the recycling, clean out a drawer so you can hide your purse inside of it, and wish you had some Clorox wipes already because there’s a definite dried streak of a booger-y snot-like substance on the aluminum frame of the bulletin board you just finished putting up, and you know it’s not yours). You want to get home at a reasonable time because, as your mother used to say, “You have a big day tomorrow.”

I do not know one teacher who has slept the night before the FDOS. Not one. Which means for teachers the FDOS is one long-ass day, and all you can think is, “Why didn’t I buy a coffee maker to put in my room? I could have hidden it inside my purse drawer!” The FDOS is surreal–you either have 30-35 names of kids to memorize, or you have 180-200 names of kids to memorize. Regardless, it’s a day when you are expected to be in charge, you’re expected to know what you’re doing, you aren’t used to going more than an hour and a half without a tinkle, and, well, you’re just plain miserable. And tired.

The weekend after the FDOS (or FWOS) is fraught with two emotions: The first, relief at being able to relax over a cup of coffee and The Pioneer Woman on Saturday morning; the second, an abysmal depression that hits you sometime Sunday afternoon because …

You have to go back to school tomorrow.

So why am I writing this when I am no longer teaching? Because, even though I have not had a weekday off work since December 12, 2011, the whole “back to school / work” malaise does not affect me. Teachers, most of whom work during the summer months weeks–they work at another job, they take classes, they participate in professional development, or they take care of their own kids–are still not burdened by the need to always be “on” as they are when they are actually teaching. I wish I could take credit for this, but I read it on another teacher’s blog: Being a teacher is like being an actor on a stage who is also responsible for writing the script, directing the play, building the set and scenery, designing and sewing the costumes, and selling the tickets–but most importantly, marketing the entire enterprise to an apathetic public. The energy it takes to be a teacher is as gargantuan as that liter container of hand sanitizer you just bought, and then some.

Why do I still care?  Because I love all of you and because, if you’ll let me, I can be your voice.  You can’t say these things publicly (especially the swear words about the superintendent and the PFO) because the Teacher Police will find you and make your life miserable.  You’re not free to vent any longer.  The Teacher Police can find me and chastise me all they want.  I don’t work for them.  So there.

The good news is that around mid-September, the dust will have settled, you and your students are into a routine, the weather will have begun to get a little crisper, there’s football, and most of all, you’re over that “back to school” period. Normalcy replaces utter exhaustion, your bladder slowly begins to accommodate an hour’s several hours’ worth of pee, and the promise of a nice bottle of Pinot Noir on a chilly Friday night makes the week go a little bit smoother.

Until the last week of school. But that’s another blog altogether.

Have a great school year, my friends!  Few people can do what you do and live to tell about it!

I swear.

I do. I’ll admit it. It’s one of my worst habits, after biting my nails–yes, my twice-monthly manicured nails.

I’ve had a potty mouth since about 1975, a year after my mother died. She used to have a potty mouth, too, but not surprisingly, when she began getting herself squared away with the Lord, she put aside her swear words, and I have to say that at the time, it was quite unsettling. Not because having a mum with a more evolved vocabulary was a bad thing, but knowing that she was shelving her words in order to be a better person was. And because my dad was the world’s all-time champion swear word utterer, I began to worry about his standing with The Almighty.

My dad took swearing to an entirely new level of intellectual prose. He eschewed the “common” language of the swearer–never, ever uttering the big kahuna of swear words–you know, the one that begins with an ‘F’ and ends with a ‘K’ (unless you changed the verb to a noun, in which case it ends with an ‘R’). No. His swearing was a patois of strung together adjectives; all colorful, threaded together by the occasional swear word. A master of both hyperbole and figurative language, my dad had the innate ability to generate a variety of words to describe one’s mother as well as one’s suspect parentage.

To wit: My dad had an ancient International Harvester Farmall tractor, bequeathed to him by his dad. To start it, he had to crank it, like an old- fashioned automobile. Then some levers had to be pulled, then pushed, then pulled again, and, if the planets were in alignment and the gods were on his side, the thing started. Most of the time, though, it didn’t. As a child, I thought the magic words to start the tractor included his long string of cursing, combined with several rich and vivid adjectives, combined with his kicking of the front tires. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

So yes, I come by it honestly. That damn apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Ironically, as a teacher, I only once made the mistake of swearing in vain: I called a kid a smartass. I meant to say “smart-aleck”, but I was way pregnant with twins, short of breath, short of patience, and had a serious case of cankles, and this kid was such a smartass that the word just flew out of my mouth before I could think. After the collective “Oo-Ee-oo!” of the other students, I got someone to watch my class of fifth graders (Oh, stop it. You’d have done the same thing if you had had that particular class of fifth graders. They were monsters.), marched down to the office, and told the principal what happened. He laughed. It was 1993–a time before principals got their panties in a wad over the shenanigans of their teachers. But I still called the kid’s mom to tell her I cussed out her son. She asked, “Well, what did he do?” I told her he back-talked me. She assured me that when he got home he was in for an ass beating–her words, not mine.

I smiled and triumphantly waddled back upstairs to my fifth graders. Prospective teachers–do not try this today. Times have changed, and you are the one who will suffer the ass beating.

Even before that incident, when I was teaching sixth graders and I had taken them camping for a week, I purposely let a swear word fly. I, along with two other milquetoast first-year teachers, were with the girls in our cabin, lights out, and I was exhausted. Not sure about the milquetoasts–they weren’t saying much–and besides, these were my kids and I was in charge. Naturally, the girls, ages 11 and 12, were all a-twitter with the excitement of being away from home for the first time with their friends. Repeated entreaties of “It’s time to stop talking, girls,” and, “Stop talking please. It’s time to go to sleep,” were of no use. Unless I took drastic measures, no one was going to sleep that first night in the woods. So I did it.

I said, very plainly and loudly, “Shut. The. Hell. Up.”

The rest of the week was just ducky.

When I taught eighth graders and the subject of connotation and denotation came up, I would proffer this lesson about swear words: Use them judiciously. You never know when you might need them. Why?
If you’re not a habitual swearer, when faced with a seemingly critical situation, you can throw in a ‘damn’ or a ‘hell’, and you’ll end up getting everyone’s eyebrow-raised attention and maybe even a little bit of respect. Swear all of the time, and those same folks will brand you as no better than the wheelman of a canal barge or some such low-life occupation. I try to remember this bit of counsel that I’ve offered to others when I, the world’s current champion swear word utterer, swear out of habit.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to remember my own damn advice.

Next month, I’ll tell the story of when I told the parents of one of my students, “Every time I try to have intercourse with your daughter, she doesn’t respond.”

Stay tuned.