Publius Moves On

I always wondered what it would be like on my last day of work. I thought I would be sentimental. I didn’t think the feeling would be relief.

There are many other things I didn’t think. I didn’t think that the fun bits of my career would be the early parts.

I used to think that what made a great teacher was that they had an interesting life. Larry Walsh published a book of poetry. Ralph McGuire spoke sixteen languages, eight fluently, two with native fluency. Larry Russel’s wife was a photographer for National Geographic, and Larry every year played at the North Sea Jazz Festival. I’m not saying that every teacher need be a scholar or an artist. I am saying that the job’s purpose, in part, is to make possible the more interesting bits of our lives, not to crush them. Yet crushing the job has become.

So many years ago, when I got my Ph. D., I wanted to teach the poorest of the poor. Be careful what you wish for. Now it’s come to this: I need to retire to save my own soul. I once thought I was one of the strong ones.


The Teacher’s Retirement Speech

When I’m gone, I don’t want a tree or a bench named me.
I’d like someone to find a pay stub and ask “Wasn’t he…”

Someone gave me a card that said the stuff that makes the sun makes us.
For my part, I’d like everyone to take a breather—–to hell with the sun and the uplifting

stuff and think of light as an innuendo, a glance from your lover over dessert,
the glance that says sex tonight. Then think no more

about it. So let the answer to “Wasn’t he” be—–something that flashed
past an unwashed window, something glanced out the corner but gone,

a lesson you forgot when you were interrupted, the desire you feel
when you kiss the lipstick left on her last glass of wine.


Wherefore Art Thou

And the best comment of the week comes from the young lady, who calls the play I’m teaching “Roosevelt And Juliet”.

She says, “Why do adults want us to admire them? I mean, he’s cute, so I can see doing him. But I’m not going to kill myself for his dumb ass. I mean, really—Off myself ’cause he can’t give me ten minutes?”


Memo (I Couldn’t Make This Up)

by Publius


Dear Colleagues,

Please note that, for the rest of the academic year, if you need anything printed, you need to go to the men’s bathroom.

As you know, our departmental printer broke. And, as you may also know, as a cost-cutting measure, the district fired all but one printer repair person. Which means he can only get to one school at a time, which also pretty much means he only gets to each school once a year.

Unfortunately, this year his manifest read “Room 125,” the men’s bathroom, rather than “Room 215,” our work room. Thus was the new printer installed in the men’s bathroom.

For the sake of the ladies in the department, in order to pick-up and distribute copies, I would like to suggest that the gentlemen start rotating their bathroom breaks on an hourly basis. I’ll post a schedule in the bathroom/printer room.


Professional Development

by Publius

As a former acid freak, I’m trained to handle extraneous bullshit. My dead pet schnauzer humping my leg while he lights the fuse to a dynamite stick he’s crammed up his ass for example. Stuff like that. But today? No one is trained for today.

We just went to an all day professional development. The whole district gathered in an indoor sports auditorium downtown. Next to me is a buddy from another school, a former ballet dancer. We promise to periodically stab each other for stimulation.

The day begins with motivational speakers. Actual motivational speakers. Here’s how I made my first million in real estate — speakers like that. What this has to do with teaching in an inner city school, who knows? By the end of it, however, about half the audience is motivated to leave teaching.

Just before lunch comes this guy, a local TV anchor. I’m not sure what his theme is — I’m well known locally because I learned to have a facile smile while I read a teleprompter? Anyway, he actually sets up a TV link in order to interview his former 8th grade teacher, who is now retired and in a home somewhere that’s not here. She comes across as lovely Miss Sally from Sweet Bird Of Youth Middle School. The problem is that she hasn’t been retired for so long that there aren’t plenty of folks here who remember her.

I ask the guy in front of me, “So what was she really like?”

He says, “She had a reputation for being the meanest teacher in the metropolitan school district.”


“Because she actually was the meanest woman in the metropolitan school district. If she liked the student, like she must have liked this guy, then the kid was fine for as long as the kid answered with a smile and otherwise remained motionless. But if she didn’t like the kid — or anyone else for that matter — that dislike immediately went to hate, which immediately went to revenge for any offense real or perceived. That was true for students as well as colleagues, family, neighbors, even some buddy for the forty-five minutes she’d occasionally have one. She’s crazy. But, in her defense, she was an equal opportunity sadist. I remember the first day she taught at my middle school. It was like someone threw a crocodile in a koi pond.”

In the afternoon, there was supposed to be actual information. Something about a new curriculum. There was only one problem. A power failure. Soon as the presentation began, all the lights went out. Except for the one little light on the presenter’s podium. So this dude, the presenter, he’s fine. He’s got his little light. So he just carries on.

He introduces his power point presentation. He uses his laser pointer on the blank screen. He even says stuff like, “Let me clarify roman numeral II.” There are hand-outs. The poor schlemiels, who distribute the hand-outs, have to feel their way aisle to aisle. Judging from the grunts and the curses, and that distinctive a-bunch-of-papers-just-fell-on-the-floor sound, more than just a few of these distributions ended sadly. This goes on all afternoon. All afternoon. About a glaciation into this presentation, I realize my buddy has been gone for like an hour, so I too excuse myself to “go to the bathroom.” I find I’m not the first to get this idea. In the lobby, it’s like intermission at the symphony, except it isn’t.

I heard later that the lights finally came on just minutes before the day was over. There were like fifteen people left in the auditorium. Twelve were using the opportunity to catch-up on their z’s. Three teachers were taking notes.

But the day had a trick ending, one last shtook. In the morning, we all gathered at our various schools, parked our cars, then were taken by yellow bus to the auditorium. In the afternoon, the district forgot to schedule buses to take us back. The feeling was not unlike finishing a long day, finally getting home, only to be leg-humped by your pet schnauzer. Except for the getting home bit.


Lenny Gates or One Morning In The Life

by Publius

There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like this in his sentence.
…The three extra days were for leap years.
from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

As I park my car this morning, I notice some guys working in the football field, and others carrying bricks to the football field.

Lenny Gates bought the newspaper today. That’s so we can take roll. We pass the newspaper around. By the time it gets to me, the sports section, the funnies, the editorials and most of the news is gone, leaving me only the law and order section. But that’s all I need. That’s how we take roll. Or at least part of it. We check the newspaper, the law and order section, what my wife calls “the murder and mayhem page”, to see which of our students have been arrested. I’ll have two absent from my second period.

Lenny has instructed his first period to bark today. The educational consultant is supposed to be helpful. She has the people skills of a wolverine in heat. Last week, she told Lenny’s department chair that his classes are “going to the dogs”. The department chair immediately told Lenny. She’s supposed to inspect his first period today. So Lenny’s instructed the kids to bark at her. I can already hear a few woofs down the hall.

While we wait around before school starts, Lenny tells me how took his social studies class to the state penitentiary yesterday. It was supposed to be one of these “Scared Straight” sorts of things. Instead, it turned into a reunion. As he and his class walked down the central corridor of a cell block, instead of feeling intimidated, he kept hearing stuff like, “Hey, Mr. Gates, remember me? It’s Dontel Freeman. I’m the one who got the B+ on the mid-term in 1993!” The students weren’t scared. A lot of them spent their lunch hour with friends and family.

Lenny spent his lunch counseling a kid, a kid in his first period, about how to get his homework done. The kid lives in a one room flat with his mother. Between about four in the afternoon and one in the morning, the mother needs the flat. It’s where she turns tricks. The family business. The kid’s out on the street. There’s no public library near-by. Hell, there’s nothing near-by except crackheads and Crips. So no homework. But Lenny knows an old, retired teacher just off a bus route near the kid’s flat. He called her last night. Lenny tells me she’s cool with the idea of helping the kid with his homework. She stays up late anyway, now that she’s retired. So he’s got good news for one kid today.

Just before the bell rings, I mention the bricks. Lenny knows about the bricks. These workers don’t have anything to do. So one of them wrote-up a work order for a wall. Just that. Nothing more. “Wall. One. Brick. Metropolitan High School.” The principal had no idea what to do with the workers or the wall, so he tells them, “I don’t give a damn. Build it on the fifty yard line of the football field for all I care. Just get this damn thing out of my life, and don’t tell me about it.” So they do what they’re told. Wall. One. Brick. Metropolitan High School. Fifty yard line.

Apparently they go and like lay a row of bricks across the fifty yard line, take a three hour breakfast, lay another row, a three hour lunch, and so on. But the story has a trick ending. It’s freezing cold right now, so, when it thaws in the spring, when the ground gets soggy, the wall will fall, and have to be rebuilt who knows where but anywhere but there. (I suggest the principal’s office.) But at least those workers are getting a paycheck this winter.

Today is Records Keeping Day

by Publius

I just get back from Christmas Vacation and walk in, when I see Dr. Galvin running down the hall swinging a broom over his head. Literally. Running down the hall swinging a broom. Later I learn that a bat got in the school. Later. But since I didn’t see the bat — the bat was having no part of this swinging broom thing — there was no ready explanation for Dr. Galvin.

Nor was there any ready explanation for Records Keeping Day. We’re having Records Keeping Day on a day in which there are no records to keep. It’s the day before second semester. We’ve turned in all our first semester records. There are no records yet to keep. I haven’t even seen a second semester student. Hell, I didn’t even see the bat.

Professional Development

by Publius

I asked Andrew how he felt after yesterday’s professional development.

“It wasn’t epically soul crushing.” Andrew is a nice guy. This, it must be noted, was his idea of something good to say.

That said, we spent the entire day at a faculty meeting pondering the following question. “How does the ability to read complex texts relate to the student’s potential for college and career success?” Andrew keeps a list of the top ten “soul crushing” workshops he’s attended. It’s chilling to consider that this one didn’t make the list.

I usually write poetry at these things. It looks like I’m taking notes.

7:45 Roosevelt High

for ND

it’s been a dark dawn and at the last minute
Arianna grades the long student

she smells the stale ink
and something akin to her mother’s old
age home

her sweater smells of Tide
and chalk she rubbed off the board
she’s been beat for an hour and a witness

to nothing but D’s and lipstick
that smeared on her cuff
a yellow bus crunches low gear

and this is how she begins
nervous over her bell
shaped curve

and the next unit
which she promises
everyone will love


The Unfairness of Life

by Publius

Best quote of the day from a high school kid:

“I don’t know why she gave me an F. She got nothin’ to complain about. I never do nothin’ in that class.”


The New Kid

by Publius

There’s a rule. Whatever goes on the very first form of the very first day, that’s what you’re stuck with all year long. Misspell your first name, and that’s who you are all year.

4th period and I have my really bright kids, my honors class. I’m in Room 205, but, right at the beginning of the year, the very first form of the year put me down as Room 206. That’s Bob Spire’s room, a nice guy, special ed., went to Northwestern. I know where my classroom is, and he knows where his special ed. room is, so the room number mess-up doesn’t make much difference.

Or at least it doesn’t make much difference to me and Spire.

Some kids care. Like today. This new kid transfers into Dr. Publius’ 4th period honors class. So they sent him to Spire’s special ed. room. As the new kid takes-in Spire’s special ed. room, what he presumes to be a super-smart class, he’s thinking that this is going to be a really long four years. Spire is having them do a worksheet, “They’re, Their, and There”. The class is getting excited about the new crayons.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some new special ed. kid working on Christopher Marlowe’s “Tragical History Of Dr. Faustus”.

Keeping Secrets

by Publius

I’m sworn to secrecy on this, so I just had to tell everyone. Some secrets are just too good not to share.

So I ask a colleague about my old school, Metropolitan Middle. Her lover works there. She tells me that, thus far this year, they’ve had three principals. “The one they got now, and one who just walked off the job. The other one got fired.”

And I’m like, “Really? Fired? That school is gang infested, drug ridden, violent — what do you have to do to get fired from Metropolitan Middle?”

She swears me to secrecy. Then she tells me that the principal was paying a teacher to come to his office — and spank him.

I kept the secret for about fifteen minutes. I don’t know what more can be expected of me?


My Father

by Publius

He wasn’t much of a father, but he was the family lyricist. He once described himself as sitting beneath “the dangling dick of destiny.”

Another time, speaking of my mother, he said, “The problem with Catholic women is that, when they get old, they become all priest infested.” This was followed by a shudder that, given his farmer roots, spoke to an intimate knowledge of infestation.

He had memorized the entire Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. On his deathbed, he recited from memory the whole of Bryant’s Thanitopsis.

He was a lousy father, a drunk and a wife beater. That said, the first memory I have of poetry is sitting on his knee while he read to me The Cremation Of Sam McGee.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
Where the men moil for gold …

I can still recite it …


Young and Cheery

by Publius

So I say to my student teacher, ‘I know what my teaching looks like compared to the other teachers in my building. I see Art The Art Teacher and Mr. North and the others in these halls. But how do I compare to other supervising teachers? They’re like in other buildings, other school districts. I’m almost the only one around here. So when other student teachers talk about their supervisors, how do I compare?’

He thinks very seriously.

‘Well, the others say their supervisors are young, cheery and uplifting. But you, well, you’re none of those things.’


Directives from Downtown

By Publius

The following directives have come from the head office, known to all of us simply as “downtown”.

1. Downtown has mandated that 70% of all English lessons involve the teaching of non-fiction.

2. We are not to use our textbooks for the teaching of non-fiction. We are to xerox everything.

3. We need to cut back on xeroxing. Thus, we are given only one ream of paper per month. The two broken xerox machines will not be fixed.

4. We are to prepare an extensive semester pre-test. When I review the directions, I estimate that mine will be fifty pages. No one is to collaborate. Each test is to be individually prepared. All tests must be pegged to state standards. The state standards are things like, “The students will write in Standard English.” Nonetheless, each item in our test is to contain a justification of, for example, why I want my students to master Standard English.

5. We are to have a “word wall”, vocabulary words that we put up on our wall.

6. We are to prepare to have our walls painted.

7. The “company snitch”, our academic consultant, tells us that she will visit each class, following which she’d “like twenty minutes of our time” for a follow-up consultation. One year, she visited my class 38 times in one semester. Think about it. 38 X 20 = you count the hours.

8. I’m to attend an all-day meeting on Saturday, this to discuss how to teach college level courses offered in the high school. I mentioned to the downtown poohbah that I taught college, as an adjunct professor, for twenty-plus years. She just stared at me like I’d handed her my bowtie and asked for change.

9. I am to give individualized instruction to each of my 150 students, a third of whom are reading below grade-level, a quarter of whom have been speaking English for approximately an hour and forty-five minutes.

10. We may give a state test. Or not. But we are to prepare for both.

11. The art department was told to ignore all the directives this year, because that department is not involved in the state test, and, therefore, is not important.

12. The French and Spanish teachers have been laid off, because “Those aren’t important languages.” This from a principal who goes on to remind us to beautify our rooms with “decorums”, the same guy who periodically addresses the “freshmens”.


Data Driven Research

by Publius

In education, we are fond of data. Data driven instruction. Data based results. So here is a bit of data. I have 160 students, seven classes. And counting. This is only the first week. But let’s say I stay at 160 students.

And let’s say I give each student a few paragraphs to write. And let’s further say I take three minutes to grade each paper. That’s eight hours of grading. That’s my Saturday. Another assignment, and there goes Sunday. If I am foolish enough to give each class so much as another sentence to write, then, come Monday, I’m behind on my grading. And I’ve got the data to prove it.

Oh, yea, and I usually don’t grade a lot of papers after school, because, for one, I supervise some after school activities, and, two, I’m in bed by nine because I’m tired. I get up at 5:30, and I’m at school around 6:30 or 7. I don’t grade papers before school. I use that time for planning. I only have one free period every other day. I’ve got data on that, too.


My First Girlfriend

by Publius

The other day, all the teachers had to put security checks on our payroll accounts. So there’s ten questions. Your mother’s maiden name. Your high school. Like that. Then there’s, “What was your first girlfriend’s name?” Three of us are doing it together, so North says, “Sally.” And Art says, “My first girlfriend was Emily. What about you?”

“I called her Mama-san go boom-boom five dollar?”


Where White People Come From

by Publius

My student teacher is answering questions, explaining where his people come from.

“I’m 100% European,” he says.

A young lady who’s black says, “You come from England or some such?”

“Oh, no, I mean you have to go back generations …”.

“Oh, I get it,” she says. “You mean your family comes from wherever it is white folks get kicked out of.”


Run Did I

by Publius

In the parking lot, maybe a half-hour before first period, just as I pull-up I see our crazed educational consultant pull-up in the parking lot. She has this way of hovering around the door, and, without so much as a “Good Morning”, just goes some onerous task she wants the teacher to complete. Our rule is that a minute of her time is an hour of our time. And it’s never a happy ending. Invariably a waste.

Like the other day she comes into my room during lunch, and promises, “This will only take five minutes.” She goes to my computer, fails to find this, fails to log onto that, and then freezes the screen for a bit. Finally, she manages to return my computer to its original state, and says, on her way out the door, “See, I told you this would only take five minutes.”

So this is all a long way of saying, first thing this morning, I see her in the parking lot, and go out of my way to avoid her. Instead of signing in at the front office first thing, I went to my room, taking as much time as I thought it would take for the consultant to sign-in and go to her office. Then I went to the office.

That’s when I hear the screams. In the distance, I see the consultant scurrying off like a rat with a ticket for the Titanic’s return voyage.

I go in the office. There’s this mother hollering at our crazed vice-principal. “You gave my son a three day suspension ’cause you say he sinks his pink into this girl on the bus yesterday. But everybody knows my boy is a butt fucking faggot! These charges are bogus. You gotta un-suspend his fudge packing ass, so I can punch-in work by eight.”

The vice-principal keeps mumbling incomprehensible ed. jargon. “ACT/SAT disambiguation data need we,” and such like she’s some crazed front office Yoda.

For my part, I think, ‘Student I know. Nice is he. Too bad this is. But out of here I need.’ So fast I sign-in, and unnoticed escape I make.

Over my shoulder, I see the vice-principal just walk away from this woman. In the hall right outside the office, she grabs Mrs. Hussein. (Hussein, it’s worth noting, is an observant Muslim.) The vice-principal tells Mrs. Hussein, “In the office talk to you a woman must.”


The Millardians

by Publius

It’s Senior Prank Season. This year’s Best In Show goes to the kid who snuck out of class, and put lubricated condoms on each of the outer third floor doorknobs. I don’t approve of this, which is not the same as saying that it doesn’t garner a certain perverse respect on my part.

Today at lunch, we had nominations for the annual Millardian Award.

Mr. Avril calls us to order, and begins, “First, an announcement. The last day of school will be March the 3rd.” Which is to say that it will be the last full day of instruction before — field trips, more fields trips, emergency field trips, cramming for the state exam, the pre-state-tests, the state test, the post-state-tests, benchmark tests, preparing for senior prom, senior prom, preparing for junior prom, junior prom, Culture Week, and senior skip day, just to mention a few.

Then the Millardian Nominations.

The Milliardian is named in honor of Millard J. Fillmore, deemed by our Social Science Department to be the president who came — and here is our single criterion for the award — as close as is humanly possible to doing nothing at all while still breathing.

In the administrator category, one nomination went to Dr. Hendricks, who, during her professional development session, showed a half-hour film without turning on the sound. It was like some bizarre silent flick without the sub-titles. And nobody in the audience said anything either. The session was so inane that the silence was greeted as a relief.

In the teacher category, we nominated Mr. Martinez. He was asked to sub for a language class. Since he’s Mexican, he goes in, lectures for a whole hour in Spanish. It was a Chinese class.

Mrs. Lane, our next nominee, began a lecture on Melville by saying, “Moby Whale is a big white dick.” Then she just dismissed the class. What would be the point of carrying on? The sweet little detail I love is that, during this one sentence lecture, she stretched out her arms as a kind of measure of length. Or perhaps hung-ness.

In the Total Dissociation category, we have Mr. White. He had a meeting with our batty vice-principal. She talks, and he stares. And stares. And stares. He becomes so dissociative that she runs into the hall for help, because she thinks he’s had a brain seizure.

The nomination for Best Announcement goes to Mr. Danbury. Danbury read a list of maybe fifteen foreign students. Slaughters, just slaughters, every single name. Then he gets confused and announces, “Ah, the names I just read, ah, you don’t need to do anything. Everybody else needs to go to 314.”

Avril concludes, “Nominations will be open until March 8th, the day Millard Fillmore died, as near as anyone can tell. Lunch is adjourned sine die.”


I scorn to change my state with kings

by Publius

There’s an announcement, an “emergency faculty meeting” immediately after school. On the way, North mumbles something like, “Somebody better be having sex with a student, because I was planning a barbeque.”

It turns out that we, the district, need to spend half a million dollars by Friday. Someone downtown didn’t read the bit that said this grant money had an expiration date, Friday. So now, rather than spend it over the course of a year, we’ve got Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

There are some conditions. The grant it’s not for core academics. It’s for stuff like field trips, extra-curricular activities and like that. All of which have to be ordered and done by Friday. So field trips are out, as are 99.9% of all extra-curricular activities, because we couldn’t possibly get a bus, plan, get the thing done and all that by Friday.

We can also spend it on “perishables”. No one knows what a “perishable” is. North mutters, “Can you spend it on me? I’m perishable.”

There’s some talk about educational movies for the kids. I suggest “Into Great Silence” and “Last Year At Marienbad”, both of which are duly noted. I’m asked to spell Marienbad. No one ever explains “perishable”.

In the end, we settle on are three huge pizza parties for the entire school. For three days, every day from one to three. It’s being billed as a celebration. North asks for his pizza to be vegetarian. The principal gets so mad he puts North in charge of the events.

Last thing I hear is North on his cell phone ordering “854 pepperoni pizzas, and one vegetarian, for tomorrow at one. And the same order for Thursday. And the same order for Friday.”

I’m guessing that , for the first time in human history, by Friday there will be teenagers who will be tired of seeing free pizza.

The rest of the money we just throw back.

The Why Jar

by Publius

Debbie came to work with her sweater tied around her waist. For that, she got a letter of reprimand from the principal. Debbie is beautiful, Phi Beta Kappa from Northwestern, and extraordinarily competent after only two years on this job. So, of course, the principal hates her. But she doesn’t ask why.

I miss The Why Jar. Lenny Gates used to keep The Why Jar. But, sadly, it is a custom that has, like so many great customs, fallen into disuse.

When I first began at this school, everyone had to put a quarter into The Why Jar every time someone asked a why-question, a how-question, or tried to use logic when confronted with absurdity. For example, one might ask, “Why am I making two copies of lesson plans nobody reads?” There’s a quarter for The Why Jar. Or, “How am I supposed to answer the vice-principal when she says, Don’t forget – What was it? – you’ll remember then remind me”? Cha-ching goes The Why Jar. Sometimes you can compound a Why Jar Violation, like “Why do they make announcements before school? How are the kids supposed to act on that announcement when some of them are not even off the bus yet? Here’s what they need to do …”. Such a compound cost Sullivan about sixteen bucks one lunch. Art The Art Teacher just drops-in a saw-buck every once in a while, this for violations he makes while ranting to himself. At the end of the year, we treat ourselves to lunch. I think the year we started state testing, we treated ourselves to The Ritz.

Speaking of the state test, rumor has it that The Great State is opting out of No Child Left Behind! Instead, there will be a leaving exam created by the state. This does give rise to consideration of Publius’ Third Law Of Educational Dynamics — A bad idea in motion tends to stay in motion until it is acted upon by another bad idea. Nonetheless, there is some cause for celebration.

I’m also a little worried about the loss of material for my blogs. Some folks are inspired by beauty. I’m inspired by absurdity. That said, beauty comes and goes, but absurdity is forever. I’m actually somewhat comforted by my wife’s notion that “We live in a stupid state,” because there will always be fresh material. And we do live in a stupid state. I thank Jesus for Arkansas and Alabama, because that’s the only reason my state comes in 48th on most shit lists.

On a brighter note, the School Board and the City Council today are honoring our basketball team for being State Champions. I’m also touched by the comment of one sports reporter, who notes how polite our kids are. And it’s true — they clean-up real good. It’s nice to have something unequivocally good to celebrate.

Speaking of good news, I just heard that Valerie this year graduates from Howard, and is going to Georgetown law school next year. I almost cried when her mother emailed me the news. I taught Valerie in 7th grade. That middle school had all the sadness, indeed tragedy, of a Black ghetto school in America. Three of her classmates were killed in drive-bys. One got killed when her older sister was driving 90 down Lakeside Boulevard. But Valerie made it to law school. And her old teacher almost cried. Why? Because today I didn’t need to ask why I do this job.


Why We Have War

by Publius

This afternoon, we had a faculty meeting, during which the vice-principal explained that we need to be nice to foreigners. This is because, “When Ho Chi Minh was in Wisconsin, he hated it. They weren’t nice to him. And that’s why we had the Vietnam War.”

I found this weirdly inspiring. For decades, I’d wondered why I fought in Vietnam, and now I had the answer — people are just not nice enough. Her remarks reminded me of a poem by Ernesto Cardenal in which a lonely Hitler waits for a young lady to pass. Below is my poem followed by Cardenal’s in Spanish:

for E. C.

every afternoon she’d stroll with her mother
along Mockingbird Lane and every afternoon

where Mockingbird crosses Bishop
Boulevard there at the corner

George Bush waited for her to pass
as university students learned how to kiss

and even the little children held hands
W. never learned how to dance

and he never dared a word with her
one day she passed without her mother

one day she passed with an ROTC cadet
then one day she didn’t stroll by at all

that’s why he bombed Iraq
that’s why he tortured anyone with answers


Todas las tardes paseaba
con su madre por la Landetrasse

Y en la esquina
de la Schmiedtor
todas las tardes

Estaba Hitler
esperándola para verla pasar

Los taxis y los omnibus
iban llenos de besos

Y los novios alquilaban botes
en el Danubio.

Pero él no sabía
bailar. Nunca se atrevió
a hablarte

Después pasaba sin su madre
con un cadete.

Y después
no volvió a pasar.

De ahí más tarde
la Gestapo
la anexión de Australia,

La guerra mundial.


The Vice-Principal

by Publius

Over the years, I’ve had several principals and vice-principals who were truly mentally ill. A drug addict. A sadist. Tons of narcissists. I’m no diagnostician, but I believe my current vice-principal had brain damage a few years ago, when she had two severe back-to-back falls. Some days, that makes me sad. But it doesn’t make the day easier.

Like yesterday, when she goes up to Brian, and says, “Mr. Reuther, we need to” then just stares, then concludes, “you know.” Then just walks off.



by Publius

We had “an emergency faculty meeting”. So I took these notes.
“– The state test is coming up. Get worried.
— Teach the test and nothing else.
— We need everyone to pass the state test. So don’t give it to any kids who won’t pass.
— According to a new state regulation, we can now exempt some kids (they’re described as the lizards) who we know will flunk. Kids, for example, who have been speaking English for an hour fifteen minutes. So flunk anyone who won’t pass the test.
— On the other hand, the state mandates that we have a 95% passing rate. So don’t flunk anybody, because that makes us look bad.
— Also don’t give anyone a D. That makes us look like we’re passing kids we would otherwise flunk. Which, of course, is true.
— So if a kid is going to flunk, give the kid a C.
— Everyone is here all the time. We also need a 95% attendance rate. The last two weeks, we will have 100% attendance.
— To repeat. Do well on the test, and get the lizards out. But don’t flunk them. And everyone is here all the time.
— Oh, and don’t write the answers on the board. That made us look bad last year, because it made us look too good. That’s why we have to get a 91% this year. We got an 81% last year.
— Have a good day.”


A Dream

by Publius

In the dream. I work in an office. The company has something to do with aerospace inventions, which I know nothing about. In any case, it is my job to meet with clients, who are satisfied with my work. I have an elaborate office with a living room and a dining room. I go out for coffee. I go down a long corridor filled with people, down two hills, one after the other. I order my coffee, go to put on the lid, and spill the coffee. Suddenly, I’m surrounded by coworkers, who reassure me and buy me another cup of coffee. It is longer to return than it was to leave. My mother abandons me. I feel both sad and relieved. My work buddies and I rest in a large room, and chat. I ask them, ‘Is this job as simple as it seems?’ They laugh almost shyly, and ask me not to repeat this truth. Someone says, “Let’s have fun.” Women go out on the lawn, and dance right in front of the window. I’m about to join them. I wake up. 5:30.



by Publius

My student teacher gets back from a meeting at his university. So I say to him, “I see other teachers in this building teach all the time. So I know what I look like compared to Mr. North, say, or this one and that. But I have no idea how I compare to other mentors of student teachers. So how do I compare to what your peers say about their mentors?”

He thinks seriously for a second. “Well, they say, for the most part, that their supervising teachers are young, perky and uplifting. And you’re — well — you’re none of those things.”

The Inspection

by Publius

On Fridays, it is my custom to do a reading for my students. I’ve done this for years. I am on the state arts council, which means that I get free subscriptions to great literary magazine published in the area. I also subscribe to several national journals, and am familiar with the production of respected publishing houses. My point being that I often read what I receive, and like, during the week. I tell my students that, on Friday, “I bring you my mailbox.”

So I do a poetry and/or short story reading. The instructions are for the students to simply lay back, enjoy it or not. “Think of it like a song on the radio. You like it. You don’t like it. If you like it, great. If you don’t, there will be another song. In any case, you will hear what folks, alive right now, are writing.” Thus do I expose my students to W. S. Merwin, Amiri Baraka, Yusef Kumanyaka, Jo McDougal, Tim Seibles, Rita Dove et al. “So lie back. Pay attention. Enjoy.”

Last Friday, I get inspected by district pooh-bah. The class was Advanced Placement English. My evaluation reads —

According to Mr. Publius, the class was just “chilling.” All the teacher did
was read poetry to the students. The students were asked to reflect with
their hearts and minds. That’s all.

How does the teacher test that? The teacher needs to add rigor — what skill
is being taught? How do you measure that skill? How does this help the
school, and/or the district, with the state test?

It is worth adding that I have edited slightly the district pooh-bah’s remarks — edited for grammar, mostly sentence structure and punctuation.

These reports just go into a drawer. That’s all.


Student Teachers

by Publius

I love working with student teachers. Perhaps, in part, it’s a way of revisiting my youth. Perhaps, in part, it’s an act of hope.

Today, Mr. Palmer, my student teacher, made one of those mistakes we all make when we are young teachers.

My students, his students now, are writing non-fiction. So Mr. Palmer brought in a love story he studied a few years ago when he was an undergraduate. My class, his class, is an A. P. comp. class, in theory a college class. In theory.

In any case, a love story. A young American, lonely, taking a train from Paris to Beirut, meets a young man, and falls in love. They want to be alone, so they head for the bathroom.

This is the point at which I perked-up, stopped grading papers and —

It turns out that the young lover is a cross-dresser. In the bathroom, they fire-up a joint. At which point the Lebanese dude bends the cross-dresser over, and humps his ass. He rather tenderly gives the American a reach-around. The story ends with the narrator, years later in a gay bar in New York, sadly recalling his one true love.

In truth, the story is narrated with great tenderness and nostalgia, to the extent you can get nostalgic about a reach-around. That said, I see why my student teacher recalls it as moving. I also believe it to be the only story to which my students paid unflagging attention.

When the bell rings, when the students are gone, Mr. Palmer says, “You don’t even need to say it.” I give him that ‘We all make these kinds of mistakes when we’re young’ speech — then I immediately run to David North’s room with that whole ‘You wouldn’t believe’ thing going on.

When to Run and When to Hide

by Publius

On Monday, the faculty of the Social Studies Department was informed that they wouldn’t need to teach for the next three days. Instead, they are to give a test. A standardized language test. The students will be shunted into the music rooms, because those rooms are big. There aren’t enough chairs, but there is enough space.

Some pooh-bah somewhere downtown decided that a standardized test, this one to be given to the immigrant kids, should not take so much time. Right idea. So, instead of administering it bit-by-bit over two weeks, they decide to give it all day everyday for three days. This is where the fuck-us bit comes in — if you’re a social studies teacher. Someone decides that teaching psychology, or, say, the constitution, isn’t as important as giving a standardized test. Thus the social studies teachers have to give the reading portion of the test. All day. 8 AM to 3 PM. For two days, plus a make-up day..

The test is for the kids who speak English as a second or third or whatever language. The reading bit involves listening to the kid read a paragraph. A paragraph. The same paragraph. For two days. Plus a make-up day. 8 AM to 3 PM. A paragraph. The look I saw on Mr. North’s face when he heard this will forever define for me the concept stupefied. I mean the poor dude had to lose at least fifteen permanent I. Q. points in five minutes.

Thursday is make-up day. And it’s really strange, because nobody can find the immigrant kids. Someone gets the idea of checking out the bathrooms. And, Allah Akbar, the bathrooms look like Little Baghdad. Yea, you gotta love these kids. They can’t do that she sells seashells by the seashore thing – but that doesn’t mean they don’t know when to run and when to hide. Unlike some social studies teachers I know.


Rules and Procedures

by Publius

There are rules and procedures. Whenever something is confiscated, say a cell phone, we’re required to tape it to the referral form, make a xerox copy, then send said form, said contraband, and said kid to the in-house suspension room.

So this morning a wet kid showed up to the in-house suspension room with his referral form reduced to soggy wood pulp. The teacher confiscated a water balloon, wrote the kid up, and taped the water balloon to the referral form. The kid, and the balloon, made it about half way down the stairs. Luckily the damn thing didn’t break while it was in the xerox machine.

Then there’s Kim. This afternoon she tells me she referring this kid for having a tampon on her forehead. I don’t even bother to ask. At which point she shows me the referral form, the tampon, and asks me if I have any tape because she’s out. I tell her to not forget to xerox the referral, making sure it’s xeroxed with the tampon attached, and ‘I just got to have a copy. Please. Really, please.’

Fuck Us! A Public School Teacher’s Rant

By Publius

Christine got called downtown for a disciplinary hearing. The central office was looking to fire her. Her offence? An email which reads, “I hear you. I’ve also got a class of 42. Fuck us!”

Apparently, there is some policy somewhere someplace against saying “fuck”, although there doesn’t seem to be any policy against getting fucked.

Christine survived. As did most of the thirty other teachers whose emails were flagged. They are untenured, young. In other words, vulnerable. But they also have choices, choices not available to the many of us who are older, tenured, and getting close to a pension. Meaning that, instead of “Fuck us!”, Christine’s next email might read “Fuck this.”

The great irony is that downtown is angry about the use of the word “fuck”. Nobody seems to care that a teacher has forty-two kids in just one class of her seven classes.

Then there was Mary, with whom I taught at a Catholic high school. Mary was called to the door by the principal, a nun. As they chatted, the kids behind Mary got boisterous. Mary was a bit embarrassed. The principal was right there. So, in frustration, she turned to the kids and shouted, “Will you shut the fuck up?!” The nun, in her wisdom, decided to treat it like a UFO sighting — think I saw something, but I’m not going to report it because nobody would believe it.