Archive for the ‘Classroom’ Category

ASHWAUBENON— A student wearing a Star Wars mask and costume prompted an evacuation at Ashwaubenon Middle School Thursday morning, May 4th.

Officials say a concerned parent called police after seeing someone walk into the school with dark clothing and a mask.

“There was no legitimate threat at AMS today. It was a misunderstanding where a student wore a Star Wars costume for “May the Fourth Be With You” day. There was no intent of a threat, but the student will be held accountable,” said Ashwaubenon School District said in a Facebook post.

Number one, what kind of a degenerate anti-American Putin-loving communist assclown snitch doesn’t know who Darth Vader is? And why the hell will the kid be “held accountable”? How is showing up on Star Wars Day as Darth Vader wrong? I mean, how does this school expect to deal with Halloween, man? Seriously though, a kid walks into a middle school dressed as Darth Vader and the entire school is evacuated. Never underestimate the power of the Dark Side, huh?

Just an outstanding effort here by the Collin Walker. Little bro didn’t try to get out of school for a day, he went for the entire WEEK. And not only can he stay home, Mrs.Teague has given her permission for him to play video games. Pure freakin’ genius. And the “I am the teacher!” at the end just topped off the masterpiece. Damn it, if he’d only been better at the grammar and spelling thing I think he might’ve pulled it off. Good effort, Collin Walker. Good effort indeed. You gotta dream big, brother.

Yep. Five years today. Hard to believe, really. After months of meticulous and careful planning, conducting arduous interviews while assembling my crack staff, and clearing a myriad of government regulations, we launched Shoe: Untied on an unsuspecting world.

Since that warm, sparkling Spring Day back in 2012 I’ve posted over 5,300 times and have been viewed by citizens from all over the world. For reasons unbeknownst to me, our humble little site is very popular in Belgium and the Philippines. I know, that makes absolutely no sense to me either.

The site has had as many as 300,000 hits in a single day as we’ve covered sports, politics, education, history, kids, animals, music, entertainment, and God knows what else. We’ve posted original writing, weird, funny and outrageous videos, and we’re 87.3% sure Lebron James himself messaged us to defend himself once.

I’ve received death threats and angry messages from racists, nazis, clowns, midgets, Trump supporters, fans of Peter Cetera, the People of Facebook, and angry mothers of high school bowlers.

The other day somebody made the comment on Facebook (after I’d made fun of something or other) that we, “Shouldn’t judge.” My response? “If I can’t judge I should probably shut down my website.” Honestly, that’s true. A large percentage of my content is making fun of people. Not sure what that says about me, and I may not want to know.

I’ve also received some great response from stuff I’ve written that sort of came straight from the heart, blogs like Remembering Andy, Jigger, Jigger’s Tree, Sara’s Last Wish, Trusting Robbie, A Man called Pop, A Right Cross, With Love, “You Saved Me, You Know“, Losing Tim, and WE ARE PAINT VALLEY.

See, I might just have a heart after all.

Of course, a lot of my writing is an attempt at humor, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Some of my more popular humorous blogs include Regarding Beach MidgetsTop 40 Eternal Musical Questions Answered! Sort of.OSU vs. Michigan and the Road Trip to End All Road TripsDodgeball: A Microcosm of LifeAn Incident at the MallHow a Convict Killed My Relationship, But Probably Saved Me In the Long Run, The All-Time Cartoon Football Team, My Reviews of the VMA Awards, and many more.

Of course, a lot of my writing involves my best friend, a 25-pound bundle of smarts and energy called Sparky. Just type is name into the search box up there to read all about him. Fair warning though – you might be up all night. I’ve written about that pup a lot.

A few of my articles have been picked up by newspapers and national websites, so that’s always cool. One piece, Requiem for a Tradition: The Demise of High School Sports, was linked to on The Big Lead, nationally prominent sports website.

Of course, sprinkled throughout has been funny, interesting or just plain strange videos, new articles with my commentary, and various other weirdness. I’ve had regular features like Cool Animal of the Day, Map of the Day, Incredible Photo of the Day, music videos, and a bunch of other stuff. I read somewhere once that if people visit a website 3-4 times and nothing new has been added they don’t come back, hence the crazy filler stuff.

Honestly though, writing is therapeutic for me. It’s an outlet that, quite frankly, I need. Is there ego involved? Absolutely. I get a thrill out of getting good feedback when I write something that touches somebody enough to make them cry, laugh, or feel something. Hell, I even get a kick out of the people I piss off. You know, except that one insane lady. She actually scared me a little.

All in all, though, the whole thing has been a positive experience. I’ve made a bunch of new friends a few new enemies in the last 5-years, I think more of the former than the latter.

I think.

Will this site make it another 5-years? Who knows. But hey, I’ll give it a shot, and hopefully you’ll hang around with me.

Especially my good friends in Belgium and the Philippines.

Well, honesty is a good quality, right? And hey, it is fried chicken.

Well, hell.

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(NBC)Hamden High School was placed on lockdown and evacuated this hellreadmorning after an altercation was reported and police said a student making “basketball” moves prompted the response. Police said a school employee reported hearing someone walking toward her, then saw a teenage boy raise his fist as if he was going to punch her, so she hurried her pace to get away and alerted coworkers. The school investigated and police said the student was running in the hallway and made believe he was dunking a basketball when the school employee turned around, according to police. Hamden High School students were brought to Hamden Middle School during the lockdown and have been allowed back into their own school.

First off, how can a school be put on lockdown and evacuated at the same time? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Anyway, what we have here is, first, an overreaction from the teacher. Have a little fun for once in your life, Miss Buzzkill. And even if you felt disrespected take the kid to the office and give him an in-school suspension or something. Secondly, it’s an overreaction from the administration. Clearing the building? Really? It’s not like the kid had an uzi or something. He fake-dunked on a teacher. Big whoop. Sadly, this type of reaction is typical of the wussified society we live in.

PS- Can’t wait until Trump fixes this. Maybe after he builds that wall, bans Muslims, throws Hillary in prison, and kills ISIS. January 20th can’t get here too soon.

I’m literally in tears over here.

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Can’t fault the logic, man.

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A Lesson Learned

Posted: September 23, 2016 in Classroom, Life
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Note: I’m going to leave names and locations out of this story, although a lot of you will know who and where I’m talking about. There are no hard feelings regarding any of this, as I was young, hard-headed and stupid in many ways, sort of like I am now minus the young part. In addition, some people may remember what happened differently, and that’s cool. This is simply how I recall what happened.

It was during my third year of teaching when I learned a valuable lesson, a lesson that I’ll explain at the end of this recollection. As I said, I was young at the time, wasn’t particularly involved in teacher unions or anything like that, just excited about teaching and the future I had to look forward to. Anyway, here’s what happened . . .

I was teaching middle school Reading at the time and we had a pretty good thing going at our school. Our principal was a great guy, loved the kids, got along well with his staff, blah-blah-blah. Our high school? Not so much. The principal there was having some problems. I don’t even recall what those problems were, but suffice it to say trouble was afoot.

As administrations sometimes do, they made a decision that made zero sense. They simply decided to switch principals. Yep, their answer was to move the middle school principal to the high school and the high school principal to the middle school. While this decision was great for the high school, we at the middle school were pretty pissed about it.

So, a meeting was called. I’m not even sure who called it, all I remember is walking into a classroom where the entire staff had gathered to discuss this act of egregiousness.  As the teachers in the room were going back-and-forth regarding possible ways to deal with the problem,  I distinctly recall sitting in the back, talking with my buddy Joe about something, probably basketball or politics. At some point during the teacher’s discussion a decision was made to send a representative to talk to our superintendent, let him know how we felt as a staff.

To this day I don’t know how I was chosen to represent our staff, but maybe it was because I was young and idealistic, possibly because I didn’t give a damn, likely because I was naïve enough to think there would be no repercussions.

I should have recognized the foreshadowing of events to come when 4 or 5 of the more vocal teachers pulled me aside after the meeting or early the next morning and whispered something along the lines of, “Hey, you’re not going to mention any names over there, are you?”

Uh, no? But as I mentioned, I was young, idealistic, and evidently a little dumb.

The meeting had been after school, so the next morning I called over to our Superintendent’s Office to schedule an appointment, which was made for noon that day. After eating in my room I headed that way.

As I walked over I passed my aforementioned good friend and fellow coach Joe’s room, where he was sitting at his desk finishing his lunch. I stuck my head in and said, “Hey, I’m heading over for my meeting. Want to walk over with me?” He sort of shrugged, replied, “Sure,” and hopped up to join me. Just providing a little backup, nothing more.

Or so we thought.

We walked into the Supe’s office, sat down, and I expressed the feeling of the staff, being extra careful to not mention anyone by name. I basically just said the middle school staff was happy with the way things were and didn’t agree with the switching of principals. My friend Joe sat there and didn’t say a lot, although he did pitch in with a thought or two along the way.

When I finished I was basically expecting a “Thanks for your input Mr. Shoemaker. I’ll consider the staff’s opinion. Have a nice day.”

What I got instead was, “Well, if you two don’t think you can work with your new principal we can make other arrangements.”

Hold on a sec there, boss. What?

Number one, I was just the spokesperson. Number two, aren’t we all professionals here? Just because I don’t agree with the decision doesn’t mean I won’t continue to do my job the way I always have. What the hell?

At that point things got a little tense, but not out of hand. I sort of vocalized the points I made in the previous paragraph, and my buddy Joe added his 2-cents as well.

So, the meeting ended with some awkward handshakes and terse goodbyes, but I otherwise thought we’d made our point, been unceremoniously rebuked, and sent on our way. I was sort of shocked but otherwise unscathed. End of story.

Wrong.

The next morning I stopped at my mailbox, and in it was a letter informing me I was being transferred to one of our outlying middle schools in the district for the next school year. Stunned, I walk down to my room. Shortly thereafter Joe, the guy who had walked over with me because his room was on my way to the meeting, walks in holding a letter of his own. He was being transferred as well, to our other outlying school.

Nice.

And you know what? Although some parents complained, not one teacher spoke up in our defense.

In the end it turned out fine for me because I spent two wonderful years at the school I’d been transferred to, and I met some outstanding students and families who are friends to this day. Then I moved to Paint Valley where I taught until I retired. Joe only spent one year away before moving back to his original school when a job opened up.

All in all it was quite a learning experience, but my biggest lesson was this:

When things go bad a lot of people will talk big, but when it’s time to go to battle and you’re the one leading the charge, don’t look behind you.

There may not be anybody there.

Weird but honest.

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This teacher is getting all kinds of praise online for this “innovative” idea. My comments are below the photos. But first, from the interweb:

Bethany Lambeth has placed cycling machines under her students’ desks to get them to stop fidgeting and start focusing. “Before they were drumming on their desks, they were touching other people, they don’t do that anymore,” Lambeth said. “Their feet are getting the movement out. There has been a huge increase in the quality of our student’s work and a decrease in the amount of missing work.”

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Blah-blah-blah. As a 30-year teacher I’m calling bullshit here. First off, the noise alone would be a distraction. Secondly, the last thing you want to give students is a prop. Hell, the props were for me. Students? They’d be racing each other, pedaling backwards, making motorcycle noises and everything else short of attaching wheels on this thing and motoring out of the room. Thirdly, nobody wants to sweat their ass off in Advanced Physics. Phys Ed class? Sure. While writing an essay in English class? No freaking way.

PS: What’s next, one arm chin-ups while doing Algebra? Good Lord.

The kid on the right.

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Yep.

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A teacher asks her students a simple question every year. The answers always touch her deeply.

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As a teacher you get the occasional invitation from a student to attend one of their out-of-school activities. It might be an athletic event (I’d go sometimes) or a birthday party (I’d never go), maybe even a church play or something like that. Anyway, I’d try and go if it seemed important to the kid.

Back when I was teaching 6th grade a little girl named Erica asked if I’d like to come to her piano recital. It was going to be on a Sunday afternoon, so I said sure, why not? I figured I’d drop in for a few minutes, watch her little performance and be on my way.

Hey, a little support is always a good thing with kids, right?

Sunday arrived, and the recital was to begin at 1:00 PM in a local church. I got there a few minutes early, grabbed a program, and took a seat in one of the back pews. From the front row Erica saw me, and when her face lit up I was glad I’d come. It was then that I glanced down at the program to see when she’d take the stage. The first ominous sign was that they were beginning with the real little kids and moving up chronologically. Trust me, there were some real little kids there. The second thing I noticed was that the list of performers was a long one. Oh well. I planned to give her a thumbs-up after she was finished and sneak out anyway.

I ran my finger down the list, looking for Erica. Down and down I went until I found her name . . .

27th out of 27. She was the last kid on the list.

I sat through all 27 kids that day. I thought of leaving and coming back, but she kept glancing back at me and I was afraid if she saw I’d left she’d assume it was for good. So, I listened to 27 different piano recitals from kids ranging in age from 4 to 12. I heard Amazing Grace, Do Your Ears Hang Low?, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Itsy-Bitsy Spider, The Wheels on the Bus, the ever-popular Bingo (3-times), and a slew of other children’s songs.

By the time Erica’s turn came it was almost 4:00, and my ears were numb to the music. All I wanted to do was listen to her version of Mary Had a Little Lamb or The Entertainer or whatever the hell she was going to play, applaud politely as I pretended to love it, and rush home to catch the second half of the Bengal’s game.

But then, she started playing her song.

Let It Be.

A Beatles song she’d learned for me.

That’s why she’d asked me to come, and that’s why she’d kept looking back at me.

Turns out I didn’t have to pretend. It had been a long day, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t worth every minute.

Today has been one of the strangest days of my life. On one hand I’m really thefirstdayhappy to be retired, knowing I don’t have to go to school every day if I don’t feel like it. On the other hand I know how badly I’m going to miss being around the kids. Not going back this morning has just been weird, and it’s put me in a melancholy mood for sure.

Sure, I’ll be subbing as much as they’ll have me, plus I’m still coaching, so it’s not as if I’ll be lying around doing nothing (although I plan some of that too).

Bottom line, for the first time since 1984, I had no first day of school this year. Some teachers dread going back for the new year, others can’t wait to get back in the mix. I was always one of the latter. As soon as August hit I’d always start getting the itch to get back.

I can still recall vividly my first day at Greenfield McClain back in ’84. I was a little nervous, but I was so excited to be teaching. Hell, it took me years to get over that little rush I got when I’d open the Teacher’s Edition. Remember when you were a student and you walked up to the teacher’s desk to ask a question and you caught a glimpse of the Teacher’s Edition? Well, now I had one! I had all the answers! Right there in the book! And kids called me Mr. Shoemaker. For awhile I couldn’t get used to that, so I’d look around for my dad. Oh, you mean me?

From that very first day on, every first day was special to me. The smell of the classroom and school, the waxed floors, the freshly-painted rooms, all that stuff made me excited to get going. And the kids. The kids would show up in their new school clothes, checking out the rooms and teachers, wondering who was in their homeroom, asking questions about their schedule. Oh, and somebody always needed help with their locker, whether it be just finding it or not knowing how to operate their combination lock.

For the first few days kids would always be going to the wrong room so teachers would have to stand in the hallway and point them in the right direction. But that’s sort of the definition of a teacher, right? Pointing students in the right direction?

And you always had new kids who were a little scared, so you had to look out for them and make sure they were comfortable. I always used to take one of my good kids aside and tell them to look out for the new kid. They seemed to enjoy taking the “new kid” under their wing.

The first few days were always fun as I’d start giving out nicknames as I got to know the kids. Some students were always very wary of me, mainly because I wasn’t exactly the type of teacher that they were used to having. You know, being a tad non-traditional and whatnot. It usually didn’t take them long to figure me out though.

Anyway, none of that for me anymore. This  morning I took a drive with Sparky and enjoyed this great weather we’re having, stopped for a walk by the lake, watched Spark chase some geese, just generally had a good, relaxing morning thinking about the beautiful day and my plans for the future.

But mostly I thought about what I was missing.

The school year is starting soon. Well, at least for some of you. Not for me of course. Have I mentioned I’m retired? B-W-A-H-A-A-H-A-A-H-A-A! But I’ll try and not rub it in too much. Ah, screw it. I can’t lie. While I’m looking forward to my retirement from teaching, the truth is I’ll miss it.

A lot.

But anyway, with the kids returning this week I thought it might be a good time to give my advice to future teachers. Hey, I don’t claim to have all the answers so you can take it or leave it, but I do have a little experience ya know. I had to learn something in 30+ years, right?

Right?

Let us proceed with my pearls of (hopefully) wisdom . . .

  1. Be yourself. By this I mean don’t try and emulate your favorite teacher, your mother, your coach, etc. While you can learn from others, you have to stay true to who you are. If you’re a phony the kids are going to see right through you, but if you’re honest the kids will appreciate it and respect you for it.
  2. Teaching is the best discipline. Yep, the best way to avoid problems in the classroom is to simply keep the kids engaged. Teach. Keep them interested and focused. Don’t hand out a bunch of worksheets or quit early. Downtime leads to trouble. A couple years ago I had a kid who’d had trouble focusing in years prior, and of course this led to behavior issues. Anyway, he was doing fine for me and during a meeting with his mother the principal asked him why he paid attention in my class. His answer of “It’s sort of hard not to” was probably the best compliment a kid ever gave me.
  3. If you don’t know, say so. You don’t have to pretend to be some all-knowing brainiac because you aren’t. Again, the kids will see right through you. It’s perfectly alright to say, “Hey, good question. I don’t know the answer to that one. Let’s look it up.” That’s what Smart Boards are for, folks. In addition, admit it when you’re wrong.
  4. Never, ever, talk down to your students. The best teachers I’ve ever known are the ones who just talk to their students as if they’re talking to an equal. Sure, kids need ripped from time-to-time but it’s best just to keep them on your level, not below you.
  5. Be prepared to fail. Try as we might, we can’t save ’em all. You can’t let one kid drag down the entire class. And remember, when you make all those grandiose plans on Sunday evening? There’s a good chance they’ll all go straight to hell by Tuesday afternoon. Be flexible.
  6. Don’t have a preconceived opinion of your students. Don’t listen to a teacher who had some kid last year tell you what a horrible child he is. Let all of your students start the year with a clean slate, and tell them that the first day. You might be surprised as to how they respond.
  7. Manage your classroom. Want respect from your principal? Don’t send a student to the office every time he or she looks at you funny. I actually had this conversation with a fellow teacher after laughing when she’d sent a kid to the office because he kept forgetting to bring a pencil to class. Teacher: “Oh, and what would YOU have done?” Me: “Uh, give him a pencil.” See, you can buy a box of 72 pencils for $5.99. Hell, give the kid a pencil every day. He’s winning the battle otherwise. It ain’t Rocket Science, folks.
  8. Trust your students. I always believed that, with students, to receive trust you have to give it first. I used to pick the so-called “bad” kid early in the year to perform some task that required some level of trust, like maybe taking the lunch money to the office or something. The point is, when the kid performed said task without hightailing it to parts unknown you’d built a level of trust. Sure, if he failed miserably you dealt with it but if he met your expectations you had something to build on. In addition, listen to your students. Ask them what’s working and what they like and dislike about how you’re teaching. They’ll tell you the truth.
  9. Treat your co-workers with respect. In particular custodians and secretaries. They know what’s going on in and around the school. You can learn a lot from them. Learn every name in the building and call them by name. In addition, these folks can get things done for you when many others cannot. I always assigned different “trash ninjas” to pick up at the end of the day. I’d yell “trash ninjas!” and they’d leap and bound around the room gathering up random pencils, paper and whatnot. Fun but efficient, and the custodians will love you for it. And secretaries can take care of you and help you out more than you could ever imagine. Trust me on that one.
  10. Teach beyond the test. I know, you’re supposed to be teaching directly to the test. Screw that. There are going to be times when you have one of those “teaching moments” where every kid in the room is focused on you and what you’re saying, and it may have absolutely nothing to do with your Course of Study or Content Standards. Take advantage of that focus and go with it. The state has been trying to take creativity out of the classroom for years. Keep fighting the good fight. Don’t let ’em do it.
  11. If you don’t enjoy teaching, please do something else. Listen, I’m not mad at ya if you don’t like teaching, but this isn’t a regular job we’re talking about here. I mean, you can hate your job selling Veg-O-Matics and the only person who’ll suffer from it is Ron Popeil (I know, that’s sort of an obscure reference but if you don’t get it search it up on The Goggle). My point is that, as a teacher, you’re affecting a lot of young minds and attitudes. Don’t let your unhappiness with the vocation you chose carry over to the classroom. And don’t bitch about your job. Believe me, there are a lot of people who would love to work 8:00 AM-3:00 PM with weekends, holidays and summers off. Don’t be one of those teachers who breed resentment among those who aren’t lucky enough to do what you do.

So there ya go. And remember, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Lord knows I screwed up as much as anybody. But remember this, new teachers – you’re going to want to quit about 17-times during your first year.

Don’t do it.

Trust me, it’ll all be worth it. Every time a former student comes up to you on the street and mentions something you told them years ago, something that may have seemed small to you at the time but obviously had a lasting impact, something that left an indelible and positive mark on a kid, well, it makes it all worthwhile.

Have a great year.

I got into a little back-and forth the other day with a couple of teachers who were moaning about school starting, and I was basically just making fun of them for complaining about what they do for a living. In the end I threatened them with this blog. So hey, I gotta follow through, right? I can’t go back on my word.

In addition, after I made a positive post about returning to school somebody asked who I was sucking up to. I know she was joking, but anybody who knows me understands I’m not real good at the “sucking up” thing. That attitude has actually gotten me in trouble a time or six with my superiors.

So fellow teachers, you can roll your eyes and shake your head because I don’t give a damn. I love teaching. I just do. Always have, from Day 1. As a matter of fact, I’ll issue this challenge. If you can find a student I’ve had in class since 1984 that can honestly say they believed I didn’t love teaching I’ll buy you dinner. Not even kidding. Not every kid has liked me, but I’m pretty certain they knew I was having fun every day.

I must also tell you I work with a bunch of great teachers who I’m pretty sure love what they do. Otherwise why would they do it? Yeah, the summers are great but if you hated teaching that alone wouldn’t make it worth it, trust me. Anyway, I’m not criticizing the jobs they’re doing. Just consider this some good natured teasing about the whiny, “we have to go back to school” garbage I heard the past few days. If it upsets you I’m sorry, but not really. If it pisses you off maybe you need to look in the mirror. Boom! Roasted. Seriously, if you don’t like teaching please go do something that doesn’t influence a bunch of kids. You know, like be a park ranger or something. Nobody to talk back to you but the bears.

Oh, of course I’ve had my days where I’ve complained about a certain kid, administrator or parent. But I defy anyone to name an instance where I complained about going to school and doing what I do. That doesn’t make me special or anything, I just consider myself very very lucky.

Perhaps it’s because before I became a teacher I had several jobs, both full-time and during the summer, that have helped me to appreciate what I do now. I started teaching a little later than some, at the age of 28. Full disclosure: I was a complete loser from about the age of 16-25. Because of this I graduated 60th out of the 80 in my high school class and I flunked out of Ohio University after only one pathetic year. So, from the age of 20 to 26 I took on a variety of jobs. Among other things, these jobs included:

  • Construction. I almost died falling from the 2nd floor to a basement in a house we were building once. I wasn’t real, shall we say, focused.
  • Cleaning bathrooms at a state park. Just as fun as you’re imagining. Advice: Always yell before going in the ladies side.
  • Lifeguard. Hey, nobody drowned on my watch. I think.
  • Roofing houses. Whenever my room at school gets too hot I remember those August days on the roof. Mercy.
  • Garbage Man at Rocky Fork Lake. Actually a pretty fun job because you got to ride around the lake all day. On a negative note, those dirty diapers were a bitch.
  • Barber. Yep, I used to cut hair and I think I was pretty good at it. For whatever reason it wasn’t fulfilling for me though. Maybe because I don’t care for most grown-ups? Bingo!
  • The Mead Paper Company. I worked in the cutters and rewinders for almost 2-years. The money was great but I hated it. Those 12-hour days and trick work just weren’t for me.

Anyway, my brother-in-law Jigger heard me complaining one day and basically told me to get my ass back to college and do what I’d always wanted to do – teach. After all, my mom and sister both taught for over 30-years each and loved it. Both were amazing teachers. Anyway, to my first wife’s credit she took a job and I went back to school (after I graduated and got a teaching job she did the same).

From that point on I never looked back. From the day I stepped foot in that junior high classroom at Greenfield McClain in the late summer of 1984 I’ve never dreamed of doing anything else. Hell, at some of my other jobs I’d go days without laughing. For the last 30-years I’ve never made it to the front door, let alone my classroom, without some kid cracking me up. What can I say? I love kids. They’re idiots. Some say that’s why I relate to them, and who am I to argue?

I know this is a little irrational and sort of makes no sense, but I actually hate it when I hear a teacher talk about “going to work” or “getting off at 3:00”. Too me it’s just not a job in the literal sense. Whenever I hear a teacher speak of “going to work” I always think,“Huh? Are you remodeling a kitchen or something? Putting in a fence row? Laying some asphalt?” But that’s just me. Because of this I always say “going to school” rather than “work.” And to me, “getting off” is something else entirely.

Remember a few years ago when Senate Bill 5 was up for vote? Remember there was a bit of a backlash against teachers? I think complaining about returning to school after 3-months off contributes a little to that type of thinking. What do you think the average person working in a factory, laying blacktop in 95 degree weather, or guarding convicted murderers 12-months a year with a 2-week vacation feels when they hear you complaining about going back to school after your summer break? I know everyone has a choice about what they do for a living, but I’m pretty sure they don’t give a rat’s ass about your schedule.

I know and understand the normal person doesn’t comprehend the problems we face as teachers. We’re the most underpaid and underappreciated professionals in the world, I get that. The expectations are sky high. The average person doesn’t see that our salary is for 9-months spread over 12-months and we’re not actually paid for doing nothing in the summer. They don’t see the after-school work we put in or the paperwork and pressure of state testing that is put upon us, and the crap we put up with a few irrational parents. Still, a lot of people would kill for our jobs. You know why? Because even considering the negatives I mentioned, the positives more than outweigh them. By a lot. The rewards earned by a teacher are something the average person will never get to receive. It’s something unique and special, something to be cherished.

I know that sounds corny and sappy, but when a former student tells me on social media or in person that I inspired them in some small way it makes me feel good. Really, really good. You see, I can still drive by one of those houses I helped build and it’s a nice feeling. But when a 33-year old soldier tells me I changed his life forever back in the 6th grade, well, you just can’t put a price on that, now can you? Again, it may sound silly but if that was the only kid I helped it in my career it would be worth it, right? For that reason alone I feel so very lucky to have taught for the past 30-years.

Imagine you could start over and choose a new profession. Anything you like, maybe own your own business, something where you’d make a boatload of money. Would you do it? Would you start over doing something else? Lord knows I’d change a million things regarding my personal life, but when it comes to teaching I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.

I can’t imagine doing anything else.

And I wish I didn’t. Here’s the lowdown . . . 1

Years go when I taught sixth grade I had a kid named Donnie whose father didn’t have the best of reputations. Nice guy and all, I got along with him just fine, but I’d heard several rumors about him. Most involved, shall we say, certain shady business practices involving substances that are illegal in these United States of America.

I usually laughed it off when I heard such innuendo, because without proof I ignore that kind of stuff. That’s how I roll, kids. Hey, I’ve had rumors spread about me that would curl your toes, buckle your knees and make your jaw drop to your belly button. If you want to know what some of them were feel free to ask, but I’m not writing them down here for fear it would reignite the smoldering embers of my past.

On a related note, those last two sentences were straight fire, weren’t they? Damn I’m good.

Anywho, back to the father with the less than stellar reputation. I refused to believe the rumors, but one day evidence indicated that they just might just be true.

You see, one day early in the year I was having a discussion with my class about their summer vacations. Kids were telling me about going to Disney World, Myrtle Beach, all the usual summer haunts. Some just went on long weekends to Kings Island or Cedarpoint, and I made sure to let them know it was cool if their family had decided to stay home rather than take a typical vacation.

Note: Some folks call sticking close to home a Staycation. I want to punch those people in the solar plexus.

It was near the end of the discussion when I turned to Donnie. He hadn’t raised his hand so I called on him . . .

Me: “Donnie, did you guys go anywhere on vacation or just stay home?”

Donnie: ” Not really. Dad and I did take a trip for a couple days though.”

Me: “Really? Where’d ya go?”

Donnie: “We just went down to Texas for a couple of days. Dad had to run over to Mexico but he came right back.”

Me: “Alrighty then. Hey, who wants to go to recess early?”

Hey, I’m a pro. Nothing to see here. I knew when to cut and run. And you know, I didn’t want some cat named Carlos showing up at my door with an AK-47.

Yikes.

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Not Streak. The eyes aren’t soulless enough.

There once was a gerbil named Streak. His life was eventful, his story legendary. But let us start at the beginning . . .

I was teaching junior high at a small, rural school in southern Ohio when one day before Christmas, out of the blue, a student brought in two white gerbils in a small cage. Can we keep them in the room, he asked?

Since he said they were both male I didn’t see a problem. We promptly christened the gerbils Sunspot and Brownie, Brownie being an interesting choice because both gerbils were white.

All was well until we returned from Christmas Break. A janitor had promised to keep the gerbils fed and watered, and as far as I knew they were fine. However, on the first morning back one of my students, after looking at the gerbils, came to me and uttered the now famous words:

“Uh, Mr. Shoe? There are 7 gerbils in there. Sunspot and Brownie had kids. “

Wait. What? One of the gerbils, I have no idea which one, had given birth.

Seems Sunspot and Brownie weren’t dudes after all. Well, at least one of them wasn’t.

Being the open-minded class that we were, we accepted our new family with open arms, named the new family members, and proceeded to raise them with love and care.

Little did we know it was just the beginning.

Long story short, a few months later we over 70-gerbils. How did we accommodate them all, you ask? Well, although the original cage was wood and wire we rigged one of those plastic cages you get at Petland to attach to it and went from there. We eventually had an entire wall of the classroom covered, floor to ceiling, with gerbil cages connected by tubes. It was a glorious sight, lemme tell ya.

Nobody complained, and every Friday at 1:00 we’d spend the rest of the day cleaning the cages. We’d herd the gerbils out of one cage, clean it, re-attach, herd them back in, and repeat at several locations. It was an educational experience and a lesson in responsibility for all, believe me.

But then it began.

One morning we came in and there, in one of the cages, was a couple dead gerbils, throats seemingly eaten away by a vampire gerbil, blood matted into their wet, white fur.

‘Twas carnage.

We couldn’t figure out what had happened. Something horrific had invaded the sanctity of Gerbil Nation. Trouble, and something very evil, was afoot.

We kept a close eye and nothing happened right away, but a couple days later the same awful scene awaited us as we arrived at school. Another slaughter, this time resulting in three more dead gerbils.

What the hell?

But then, a cry rang out from one of my students. There, at the far end of the cages he stood, pointing in, a stricken look on his face:

“Mr. Shoe, it’s Streak. Streak’s the murderer.”

We ran down to the cage in question and there, cowering defiantly in the corner and smiling maniacally, was Streak.*

*You ever see a gerbil smiling maniacally? Terrifying.

But there he was, bloodstained fur around his mouth down his neck.

Streak, man. Streak was one of the more notable gerbils if you will, always darting around or on the exercise wheel, seemingly full of vim, vigor, and life.

Little did we know he was batshit crazy. A deranged, blood thirsty, mini-murderin’ gerbil from hell.

A decision had to be made. What do do? Put Streak down in our own form of capital punishment? If so, how? Hanging? Lethal injection? A pistol shot to the temple? For the love of God, a tiny gerbil electric chair?

Someone even suggested burial at sea, but I couldn’t bear the thought of flushing the little guy down the toilet.

In the end, we didn’t have the nerve to pull the trigger (so to speak). Being a class influenced by one of those bleeding heart liberal teachers, we decided to spare Streak’s life. Possible rehabilitation was discussed, although for the life of me I can’t imagine how that was going to happen.

We finally put it to a vote and decided that Streak would be put in isolation. Perfect! He’d have his own little padded cell (well, not really padded), safely away from the other, more innocent gerbils. You know, the ones who weren’t intent on ripping out throats and whatnot.

The first few days were uneventful as Streak just lounged around nibbling on carrots, corn and other gerbil fare that didn’t include cannibalizing his own flesh and blood.

Little did we know he was simply biding his time and plotting his next move.

The weekend came, and we returned on Monday to find our large gerbil family right where we’d left them.

Except for one.

Streak had chewed through his plastic cage and was gone. He’d bolted.

Vamoosed.

Scrammed.

Streak was on the run.

Although an all-points bulletin was issued and passed along to students, teachers, cooks and janitors, Streak had vanished, seemingly for good.

I was teaching a few days later when it happened.

I was standing in front of the class talking, when suddenly one of my students stood up:

“Streak! IT’S STREAK!!!”

She then pointed to the top of a file cabinet to my right and behind me, and sure enough, there he stood on his hind legs, taunting us with his brazen fearlessness.

I swear I saw a gleam in his eye and he dared us to approach.

But that we did, myself and a few brave students who made a charge towards the tiny dynamo that was Streak.

Of course, before we could get there he dove down behind the cabinet, disappearing into God knows where.

And so it began, the periodic Streak sightings. Streak darting across the classroom floor during class. Streak spotted in the kitchen atop the freezer. Streak on the stage in the gym.

Amongst the janitors, Streak became legendary:

“Oh yes, I saw him last night. He was in the principal’s office nibbling on a doughnut.”

“Yep. Clarence saw him last Wednesday. Said he was in the gym up on one of the backboards.

And so forth and so on. Streak was seemingly everywhere, and the legend grew.

Although Streak was sighted from time-to-time the rest of the year, he was never caught, never found dead, somehow avoided all traps and poisons set out for him.

And you know, although Streak had committed some horrific acts against his fellow gerbils and I hated him for it, I damn sure came to respect him. He was a gerbil that would not be denied.

Those who remember that historic Spring of Streak will never forget his tenacity, his audaciousness in the face of all who attempted his capture.

Is he still out there somewhere? Sure, gerbils are only supposed to have a lifespan of 4-5 years, but Streak was definitely not your ordinary gerbil. So yes, we wonder. Is he still there lurking, living off cafeteria scraps, rodents, left-over children’s lunches and the occasional stray kindergartner?

We may never know.

Note: I’ve since learned that baby gerbils should be separated from the parents after a period of time. Live and learn, huh?

Note II: There are former students who recall the aforementioned animals as being mice. I could have sworn they were gerbils. Who knows.

Yeah. Check ’em out. My comments are under the kid’s answers.

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Warren, you are a realist. I ain’t mad at ya.

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Yep. Can’t mark that one wrong, now can we? Kudos to this kid’s obviously awesome parents.

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On the other hand, this kid’s parents have raised a judgemental little smartass.

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Hey, when you’re right you’re right.

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Frankie knows who he is and isn’t going to lie about it.

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This kid is destined for success, guaranteed.

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I wish I’d known Ricky’s secret two marriages ago.

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I’d actually give bonus points for this answer.

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Again, you can’t mark it wrong, now can you?

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Now THIS is my kind of kid. Absolutely, 100% gonna win at life.

————————

We’ve all had teachers that have had significant impacts on our lives, haven’t we? The best teachers are the ones that really care about their students. Not just certain students, but all of them. And kids can tell if a teacher doesn’t like their job, right? Students can see right through a phony teacher in a heartbeat.

That said, a few teachers in my life have had a tremendous impact on me in more ways than one. After a lot of thought, here are the teachers that have meant the most to me . . .

My MotherMom

My mom, Kathryn Shoemaker, was one of the best teachers I’ve ever known. There are many, many people who will tell you how she changed their lives. Mom was an old school disciplinarian who was the epitome of “tough love.” I remember the summer before my 5th grade year when mom took me aside to tell me she was going to be my teacher. I was thrilled! Mom was going to be my teacher! I’d have it made! She paddled me the third week of school. In retrospect, I now know why she did it. She wanted to show the rest of the class that there would be no favorites. And oh, by the way? I deserved it. From my mother I learned to treat every kid in my class equally. Family background, previous history, none of that mattered. Because of Mom I always judged kids from the moment they set foot in my class. Everything that had happened before was erased and everyone got a fresh start. If my mother hadn’t been a teacher there’s slim chance I would have ever had the desire to teach, simple as that. I’ve written a lot about Mom on this site, but only because she deserves it. She was an incredible teacher.

My Sister Karen

My sister Karen was an amazing teacher as well. I don’t think I’ve ever told her this, but I learned a very important lesson from her. That lesson was this – my sister never talked down to her students. Ever. She could be teaching a group of 3rd graders and it was as if she was talking to a group of her peers. And you know what? Students respond to that, especially hers. Nothing makes a kid shut down quicker than an adult treating them like they’re a kid. Sounds funny but it’s true. Every good teacher I’ve ever known has that same quality. And my sister truly cared about her students and was genuine with them as well. Kids can see right through a phony, and Sis was never, ever that, believe me. Oh, and by the way, students always loved my sister and her class.

Mrs. Arrington

I had Mrs. A as a 1st grade teacher and again as a high school English teacher, which I would guess is pretty rare. Mrs. A always and unequivocally believed in me. When I was being an idiot in high school (which was often) it was always she who took me aside and told me I was better than I was acting. She always saw something that a lot of others didn’t seem to see. Somehow, she saw the potential in me and pointed it out to me many, many times. She had every right to give up on me but she refused to do so. In turn, as a teacher I’ve tried to carry on that philosophy – stick with every kid no matter how badly they’re behaving or how poorly they’re doing in the classroom. Mrs. A also pretty much helped me graduate, which I chronicled here. Mrs. A passed away a couple years ago, but her influence lives on.

Mrs. Ritchie

Mrs. Ritchie taught me, among other things, to look at life’s Big Picture. She always spoke of living in the moment, to not let life pass you by. Sort of a precursor to Lennon’s “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” quote. And her classes were fun. Hey, you can learn and have fun at the same time! It was something I never forgot and did my best to emulate throughout my career. I already told you the story of “A Clap in the Face” and that illustrates Mrs. Ritchie perfectly. I was asked to read that story at her funeral, and I was very touched and honored to be asked to do it. Mrs. Ritchie’s class was one of the highlights of my school experience, and it was because she taught me things way beyond the course of study.

Mrs. Rannells

Mrs. Rannells was my mentor during my first year of teaching. As you might expect I was nervous, anxious, and had a lot of questions. Mrs. Rannells was always there for me with patience, advice and a kind word of encouragement. I think she was a little bemused at my teaching style, but she was always there with a positive word. She probably doesn’t even remember this, but she once told me this: “The kids like you. You’ve already won half the battle.” That gave me confidence to be myself in my classroom. I also watched as she calmly dealt with problems and never got too excited or upset with her students. I don’t know if a kid ever got to her or under her skin, but if they did she sure didn’t show it. Mrs. Rannells had a similar demeanor and style to to mom, and she was the perfect mentor for me that first year. She set a tone for the rest of my teaching career, and I’ve never forgotten that.

There’s another common denominator among the five teachers I just wrote about, and that is that every one of them had complete control of their classrooms. They rarely, if ever, sent a kid to the office. They handled their own problems without giving up and sending a kid to the principal. That’s classroom management folks, and believe me when I say it’s the mark of a great teacher. Because of these teachers you could count the number of students I sent to the office on one hand over a 30-year period.

Oh, there were other educators who had a great impact on me, teachers like Beverly Gray and principals like John Miller, Bob Sigler, and of course the greatest of all, Jigger. But as far as classroom teachers go, those five meant the most to me.

I’m not sure a lot of young teachers understand how powerful an impact they’re having on their students. A simple statement that might be inconsequential to you might become imbedded in a kid’s head forever. Trust me, I’ve had former students repeat something I said 20-years ago that I’d long forgotten about. It’s amazing really.

Historian Henry Adams may have said it best:

“A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.”

And that, my friends, is a fact.

paddleNote: The names  in the following story have been changed to protect the parties involved. Except mine of course. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has passed by now.

If the story I’m about to recount had taken place in 2006 or even 1996 everyone involved would have probably been fired. But this was a different time, a different place. This was 1985, and the place was Greenfield, Ohio. Read on …

It was mid-morning and I was teaching Reading at the time. Teaching Reading was great because they basically let me write my own curriculum, which is either downright horrifying or spectacularly exciting, depending on your viewpoint and opinion of me as a professional educator. Let’s just say I created some unorthodox lessons plans, such as deciphering the lyrics to Don McLean’s “American Pie”, or “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Am the Walrus” by my beloved Beatles. Hey, there’s nothing more fun than explaining what John Lennon meant when he wrote “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” or “Yellow mother custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye” to a bunch of impressionable 13-year olds.

Good times.

Anyway, I was in the middle of class when I heard the principal’s voice over my intercom: “Mr. Shoemaker, you’re needed in the high school office immediately.” I responded, “Sure, let me get someone to cover my class and I’ll . . .”  At that point I was interrupted. “Never mind that, just get over here right away.”

Uh-oh.

I immediately walked/jogged to the office, mind racing as I went. What the hell had I done? Was it taking the kids to the roof for that lesson last week (don’t ask)? Was it discussing evolution? Was it letting  that kid walk over to the Kahlua Cream to grab me a milkshake the other afternoon? Since I usually did 2-3 things a week that could be considered controversial, the possibilities were endless. Alas, when I arrived at the office my fears were allayed.

I walked in the door, and in the corner stood Joe, a high school kid who had been in a lot of trouble, mostly involving physical altercations. Joe was sort of in a crouched position, looking around wildly, waiting to pounce on the first person brave enough to approach him. Watching him was my principal and the high school football coach, who had also apparently been called in as an enforcer along with yours truly. At this point my principal looks at me, grinning, and says,”Mr. Shoemaker, Joe here took a swing at Mrs. Blipnoid (not her real name) and he’s refusing to take his whoopin’.”

Keep in mind these were the days when paddling, or corporal punishment as it was called, was commonplace. Joe then demanded to speak to his father, but my principal had other ideas. He said, “Tell you what. I’ll call Charlie myself.”

My principal knew every single person in town, I kid you not. He then proceeded to call Joe’s dad, explains the situation, listens, and hangs up the phone. He then looks at Joe, grins maniacally and says, “Looks like the whoopin’s a go, Joe.”

At that point Joe knows the deal and decides to go for broke. He leaps over the desk and makes a break for the door, except I was in front of the door. Before he runs me over the football coach steps over and sort of blindsides the kid (using perfect form tackle I might add) and takes him down in one fell swoop. As this is happening the principal clears everything off his desk with one sweep of his giant paddle. The football coach and I then body slam Joe facedown on the desk. The principal actually proceeds to paddle Joe by raising the board over his head, swinging straight down, while using both hands. If I recall it was 4-whacks give or take a whack.  We then let Joe up, he apologized, shook our hands, and went back to class. No suspension, in-school restriction, Saturday school, nothing.

Problem solved.

If it happened today we’d all be on 60-Minutes trying to explain ourselves. Back then? Just another day at Greenfield McClain.

Hey, I told you it was a different time.