Category Archives: teachers

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The Boob Tube Ruined Algebra

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Land of Confusion.”

Which subject in school did you find impossible to master? Did math give you hives? Did English make you scream? Do tell!


Ninth grade algebra made me want to scream. It was a combination of things: my mind didn’t connect with the math and the teacher stunk.

Yeah, I’m blaming the teacher. She hated me. I had long, dirty-blonde hair, wore wire-rimmed glasses, and looked countercultural (early 1970’s and hippie like). She invited any student that was having problems to come in after class for extra help. When I did, she blew me off and said just read the math book, it will explain it to you. She frequently made remarks about how the protesting students on campus were scum and I guess she pegged me as scum.

Besides hating me, she was nearly as clueless about algebra as I was. So many times the smartest kids in the class had to correct her work on the blackboard since she got all confused and couldn’t solve the math problems.

She was short, chubby, and big-busted. And she insisted on wearing sheath dresses from a few years back when she was thinner. That’s how the students gave her the nickname of Boob Tube.

I nearly failed that class. The next year I took geometry and got an A in it. So it wasn’t just me being totally stupid.

In college, I took algebra even though I knew it may bring down my grade-point average. I was averaging an A all through that class until the chapters on algorithms. Then I got lost and ended up with a B. Yet I was thrilled that I understood the algebraic concepts and passed with a decent grade.

I should have visited my old algebra teacher and shoved that B grade into her face. Then I should’ve told her she needed to get an algeBRA.

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Instruments of Writing Destruction

I stabbed him. He pushed me to the limit. He kept pushing me while we lined up to walk to the library in the first grade.

The weapon: my freshly sharpened #2 pencil.

This elementary school stabbing elicited very little reaction from the teacher. Although she did give me the evil eye as she took my stabbing victim to the sink to wash off the lead mark I left on his arm.

My mother always told me I was too passive and sensitive and that I should stand up for myself. So I stood up and lashed out. Today I might have been suspended, if not arrested.

On another day, this same teacher’s lesson plan included a writing assignment. I listened to her directions and grabbed a piece of paper to start writing. In a misguided fit of enthusiasm, I pulled out my box of crayons instead of a boring (and deadly) black-lead pencil.

I carefully formed each letter on my paper, aiming for printing perfection. I alternated a different crayon color for each letter I printed. It was colorful, joyful, and beautiful.

After I handed in this assignment, the teacher pulled out my multicolored paper and held it up for the whole class to see. I thought she was showing off my stellar bit of work.

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Instead of praising my choice of writing instruments and creativity, she used my paper as a prime example of what not to do. Emphatically she said, “Never, ever hand in a paper like this one.” Of course my name was boldly printed at the top of the page and everyone could see who the culprit was of this crayon-writing crime.

In addition to being called out as a coffee-swilling first grader, assault with a pencil and deviant-writing behavior was also added to my record. My public school education was off to a great start.

The Philosophy of Parakeets

When I was young, a neighbor friend of mine had two parakeets. The family was tired of these birds and since I always enjoyed them, they asked me if I wanted to keep them. I said yes.

These neighbors were German, or I should say they were Americans with German ancestry. They gave the birds German names: Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

Now those were some complicated names for a kid and a couple of parakeets. My friend’s brother explained that they were named after some kind of philosophers. At the time, that explanation didn’t mean much to me.

The birds kept those names. I spoke endearing little things to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer every day.

I ended up being interested in philosophy. Recently, I read The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche and enjoyed it.

It didn’t start out that way. I tried to read it about two years ago and couldn’t get past the language and ideas. But if I put a book down and restart it at a later date, I discovered that not only can I get through it, I often have a good reading experience after all.

The first thing The Birth of Tragedy reminded me of was Camille Paglia. She also wrote extensively about the division between Apollo and Dionysus. And this Nietzsche guy was writing this way before her! How fun. I love to make connections between the past and present.

Also it reminded me of an English professor that taught 19th century American literature. He used to drop philosopher’s names in class in order to illustrate some point. I wanted to know more. I had already read some literature from the 19th century and loved it; his class increased that love. I still reread sections of Moby Dick as if it were scripture by just randomly pointing to a sentence in the book and going wild with the implications and deeper meaning. The 19th century Nietzsche with his deep and dark is right up my alley.

Back to reality. My mother used to force me to call my father. She wanted me to beg him to come back to her even though she divorced him. Between the calls she made and the calls she forced me to make, he was getting in trouble at work. I started to refuse to call him. After one such refusal, she grabbed one of my birds and threatened to kill it if I didn’t call him. She eventually released the bird, and I did not call.

I never knew which bird she grabbed. Was it Nietzsche or Schopenhauer that nearly bit the dust? A question for philosophy.

I must continue my readings.

I Have a Bone to Pick With Language Teachers

Reading is my first love and writing is a second love. I have the wanna-be-a-writer disease even though I let few people read my stuff and receive no paycheck from my painstaking arrangements and rearrangements of those same 26 letters across a page.

So I’m no expert but I beg to differ with many experts that I have run across in the past. The language teachers I have met have given me both good advice along with some advice that I bristle against even to this day. Cases in point:

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Almost Always

My high school composition teacher singled me out for both my good writing and bad writing. One time I used the phrase “almost always” in a sentence. I don’t remember the context, but there it was. He wrote the phrase on the board and said that this combination of two words is an impossibility and should never be used. Over the years I heard these two words used constantly in the electronic media and in literature. Sometimes these two words make perfect sense. I almost always use it in my day-to-day life.

Brevity and Clarity

That same high school teacher used “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White as a textbook. One time he asked the class a question, “What is more important, according to Strunk and White, clarity or brevity?” He then called on me to answer this question. I  believed that both writing virtues were important, but since I was given an either/or question I answered “brevity.” He said, “Wrong.” Clarity was more important and that I should have clearly known it.

According to the Introduction of the book, the importance of brevity is mentioned first. Then later on in the Introduction it is noted that,”Strunk loved the clear, the brief, the bold.” And that, “boldness” is perhaps the textbook’s chief feature. But boldness was not in my multiple choice. In my copy of the book: Chapter II, rule 13. Omit needless words; Chapter V, rule 16. Be clear.

I quickly rest my case.

How Goes It

My high school German teacher translated a sentence into English. He said that sentence meant, “How’s it going?” But the literal translation meant, “How goes it?” He proceeded to add that no one would ever say it this way when speaking in English. Over the years since I last set foot in that class, I have heard the phrase, “How goes it?” spoken in English many times. Then I hear Herr W’s voice claiming the impossibility of this utterance and I laugh.

To Boldly Go 

William Shatner has angered a college English professor in the Midwest. Ever since he spoke those words “to boldly go” in the introduction of the television show Star Trek in the 1960’s, people refuse “to go boldly.” To boldly go splits an infinitive. The powerful voice and popularity of Shatner and Star Trek have made her teaching life hell since she tries in vain to correct this error in her student’s writing.

In class we argued that this grammatical rule applied to Latin and not to English. Or this just sounds right even though it may be wrong. She refused to listen to our protests. As for me, I will almost always be ready to boldly go.

And Another Thing

A high school English teacher friend of mine gives poor marks to her students if they start a sentence with a conjunction. Conjunctions can be great transitional words. She didn’t like her students to end sentences with a preposition either. What’s the harm if it makes sense? Like a good cook don’t overuse one spice in your recipes. Let those kids mix it up.

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I love the sound of the written word. I’m not talking about the sound of pen on paper, although I like that too. I love the way the written word sounds to the ear. I would rather break rules than offend the ear.

Or maybe I just want those teachers to leave me alone. Too much Pink Floyd coupled with my problem with authority.

So I will write boldly but won’t forget to be clear and brief. Stop me now before that word count climbs any higher.

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out: How Home Ec Made a Radical Out of Me

Back in my high school days, Home Economics was a requirement for girls while the boys took Shop class.

I remember the cooking class. One lesson stressed that a healthy family must eat meat three times a day; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The girls in class were shown slideshows of one cut of bloody red, marbled meat after another. Future family, here is your nutritional guideline.

But the real danger of Home Ec was the sewing class. I found out I could sew well enough. Woodstock already happened by the time I took Home Ec. So I started sewing clothes that were cutting edge in my eyes based on images I scanned from magazines, movies, and television.

Billowing sleeved poet blouses with oversized collars were popular for both sexes, so I sewed one in olive green cotton. I made pants out of an olive green, gold, and black striped fabric. Bell bottoms of course.

So one day while wearing this outfit I started walking to a friend’s house down 8 Mile Road. Yeah the same 8 Mile Eminem sang about.

An older man came walking toward me. Slowly he inched over to the far end of his side of the sidewalk, then he started walking on the grass. He held out his hands in front of him as if to protect himself against me and said, “Stay on your own side.” I must have scared the hell out of him as he saw this radical type walking up to him.

My Home Ec project propelled me into the counterculture without my doing much else to warrant this label. If he only knew me, he would have known that I hit the honor roll on every report card. Drugs were never part of my list of must buys. Outside of the one Zero Population Growth meeting I attended, I didn’t take an active part in political groups. My reading list included Soul on Ice and Fanny Hill but I also read many classics.

Today people think I look like a librarian. And not the naughty version of one, the dull, boring version. But in the back of my mind, I can reflect on this wild, radical image from my past. I could scare the ruling class and all I had to do was turn on a sewing machine. Power to the people.

Elegy on a Gym Class

Gym teachers hated me.

I was a tall, slender kid that at first glance gym teachers assumed would have some athletic ability. At every turn, I would sorely disappoint each and every one of them.

On the basketball court, I got knocked down by the opposing team. Sometime my glasses flew across the floor. No penalty. This kid counts for nothing. No faith, no foul.

Later during a free throw test, long after the series of basketball games were over, I managed to get every free throw in the basket. Where was I during all those games she said? Getting knocked around by all the other real players.

The 50 meter dash during sixth grade. I had a strategy. At this point I had already spent a few years reading Greek and Roman mythology from books I checked out from the library. Since I was odd and impressionable, I was not just going to run, I was going to fly like the gods in those stories. Unfortunately the time I spent trying to fly between my running steps, cost me too much time. I came in dead last. The teacher said he thought a kid like me should have been much quicker. Yea, if only that kid would have concentrated on running and not flying.

High school swim class – diving. The teacher explained the proper diving technique. I processed that info and followed every step resulting in a perfect dive. This was the first time that I ever attempted to dive off a diving board. She was stunned at my ability and she made me dive again. This time it was an arm-flinging, belly-flopping mess. So the teacher and I gave up on me on the spot. I never had a chance at getting a perfect dive again.

I lived the zero incentive program. All belief in me was zero. But aren’t I too old to still keep whining over all my lost chances?

Besides, I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late for my interval training class. By my seventh decade, I should be able to kick some butt on the competitive circuit. Retribution at last.