Archive for March 2023

The End of The Never-ending Quarter

March 19, 2023

Yesterday it finally came! The last day of our middle school’s third-quarter. There are certain things in life that you think will never end: a college basketball game where one team keeps fouling to stop the clock, completing your tax return, the drive-through line at In-N-Out, political commentaries, and the third-quarter of the school year.

Our third-quarter begins after the Christmas break and runs to the exhaustion line of March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, but even leprechauns don’t have that much energy to finish it. Eleven weeks, populated by a multitude of teacher-pleaded prayers for a foot-and-a-half of snow to be divinely-dropped on our school district.

In the midst of student and teacher mental exhaustion, there had been numerous moments of absentmindedness. It was as if we were driving through Kansas with Dorothy and oblivious to the school hallway tornadoes of carelessness and chaos. We trudged on, the “E” light (Education) begging us to stop. I went from 4 cups of coffee a day to 6, felt no remorse for a few students who were home sick, thus reducing the number of hyper-active bodies sitting in front of me. Quite honestly, there were a few days where I came home in need of an attitude adjustment.

During the never-ending quarter, I intentionally threw in a few lessons for shock value to shake up those who were expecting the ordinary. There’s nothing like a good class period right after lunch on the cannibalism of the Donner Party to cause the consumed lunch nachos to bring some indigestion, or create uncertainty about that cheeseburger that tasted a tab different. If I would have thought of it, I would have dressed up as Bela Lugosi, complete with fangs, to add another element of surprise; or maybe I should have fixed a platter of barbecued chicken legs for students to munch on.

We were able to read the book The Cay and then watch the 1974 movie of the same that starred James Earl Jones. The visual effects in 1974 were a bit less sophisticated than what the students were used to, but they seemed to enjoy watching what they had already read. And a couple of weeks ago they did their own 30-second pitches, where they made up an idea or product, recorded their pitch, and then tried to sell me on what they were selling. The creativity was a nice break, but also prepared them to do their own 2-5 minute speech in front of the class.

But there were other signs of boredom rising to the surface in the midst of the student population. Restroom antics, cafeteria chaos, hallway pranks, Little Johnny discovering he could say four-letter words that would make his mom blush, and the emergence of “couples” and hoped-for romantic interests. The spring sex-ed classes should have been placed in the midst of the third quarter…right after the Donner Party!

One day at the end of school, one of my students pilfered my candy stash. A couple of pencils have been broken on purpose. My room phone rang several times, asking me to send a certain student to the office. On a number of occasions, that student did not return to class…for a few days! Our security officer, Mr. C., has kept busy watching video from the security cameras to identify the “guilty” in various escapades. The office has been in need of a number system like at the DMV, where students pull a tab and wait until their number gets called.

The never-ending quarter has taxed patience, damaged friendships, caused pizza to seem tasteless, sent teachers searching for available flights to tropical climates, and had our custodial crew pray for certain numbers in the mega-million lottery to be drawn so they can hire someone to clean up after them.

Of course, there needs to be a P.S. at the end of the never-ending quarter. It will come on Monday in the form of a few students falling to their knees and pleading for grace in the form of excusing missing assignments and the D letter grade miraculously being turned into a B. I’ll look at them and reference the Donner Party: “Bad decisions sometimes are remembered for generations to come. For you, however, whatever was eating at you in the last quarter can be solved by the new adventure and effort of this final quarter.”

Pleading faces will become indignant and further practice of four-letter words will commence out in the hallway.

Hankies and Middle Schoolers

March 12, 2023

I have come to realize that I am a creature of habit, as well as a reflection of my past. Those two news items in my bio don’t really cause any eyebrows to rise in amazement, unless there is a handkerchief involved while there are eighth-graders in the vicinity. You see, I’ve always carried a handkerchief in the back right pocket of my pants. The back left pocket is for my wallet. Depending on what I’m doing, my left hand reaches for the wallet and my right hand reaches for the handkerchief. Once I switched the two items, but kept pulling out my billfold to wipe my nose.

I learned the handkerchief thing from my dad. It’s what he taught me back in the days when there wasn’t a slew of tissue boxes around. Handkerchiefs were used to wipe the sweat off your brow, unscrew the top to check the car’s motor oil level, stop a blood flow, handle evidence at the scene of a crime (Okay, I guess my dad never used one for that, but he would have!), and blow your nose. Handkerchiefs were practical, as necessary as your underwear and socks. In fact, I have double the number of handkerchiefs than I have of boxers!

But now we live in an age where students and tissue-addicted adults don’t use handkerchiefs, don’t carry handkerchiefs, and don’t think handkerchiefs have any purpose except to gross thirteen-year-olds out. For my students they are listed in that column of gross that includes picking your nose, picking your teeth, and using the gym locker room showers.

Here’s the thing! When I sense a sneeze is coming, I don’t have to run halfway across the classroom and grab a tissue. I reach in my back pocket, pull out my hanky, and capture the moment. That sequence makes no sense to my students who watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while munching on popcorn saturated with butter.

So we have discussions about the different ways we were raised, family traditions, and how we are reflections of our parents. They don’t understand handkerchiefs and I don’t understand pants that have more rips than fabric. They don’t understand why I tuck my shirt in and I don’t understand piercings in noses and eyebrows. They don’t understand why I go to bed shortly after the 9:00 chimes occur and I don’t understand why they think midnight is a good time to cook up some nachos and watch Tik-Tok. They don’t quite understand the grey in my hair and I don’t understand their purple, orange, pink, blue, and tutti-frutti colored-hair. I don’t understand why so many of them don’t eat breakfast and they don’t understand why I do. Thus, I get asked for granola bars several times a day, something I keep a box of close at hand.

I’m a creature of habit. Part of the habit is not being able to NOT think about what needs to happen in the coming week. Last week I took two days away from the classroom TO WORK ON TAXES, mind you! However, I found myself thinking about school, what the kids were doing, hoping they weren’t driving my friend, Ron McKinney, crazy, and pondering lesson plans for the next day. Every time I pulled out my handkerchief I could see their disgusted faces in the corners of my mind.

Strangely enough, it brought a smile to my face.

The Apathy of Comfort

March 4, 2023

I recognize I have been infected with the “Baptist Mom Guilt Syndrome”. It’s this condition that develops in your thinking, decisions, and emotions in your growing-up years that continues to reoccur throughout adulthood. There is no known cure, even becoming a Unitarian (which I ain’t!). The BMGS hit me yesterday when a lady and her son in the parking lot of Safeway approached me with a sign that said, “Please help! We need money to buy food!” I said no and felt BMGS all the way home.

On the other side of the argument, BMGS has its benefits, because in much of our American culture today there is an apathy that has come as a result of the comfort level of our lives. Comfort is nice. It’s our preferred grazing grounds. It’s like that recliner a person always…and I mean always…sits in when he watched TV, and then one day he comes home and finds his oldest grandson sitting in Grandpa’s usual spot. Comfort just left the room. Grandpa is confused, maybe angered, and unsettled.

Comfort is where we live, white picket fence, the smell of barbecue, and characteristic of the good life. Just have the doorbell ring when you are in the midst of your comfort zone and take note of the immediate change in your demeanor.

The world has been pierced with crises and tragedies that become 30-second news blurbs. Earthquake in Turkey, a tornado in Kentucky that devastates a town, hurricanes in the Caribbean, shootings everywhere, Ukrainian heartache…the list goes on page after page. We see and hear and go for a walk around the block to stretch our legs.

I wonder if Jesus had a comfort zone. He seemed to be the happiest when he was sharing a meal with people or encountering those who needed encouragement or a momentary touch. I can not pick up any sense of apathy that was a part of his life. Anguish, anger, anticipation…yes, those were some ‘a-words’ that resonated with Him, but not apathy.

And now I go back to my BMGS. Seeing an image of my mom with her hands on her hips, giving me the look that brought cringing and correction…that look that electrified me with the error of my ways. Maybe I need a new dose of that. Maybe I need some recliner-repentance and a heart stab concerning the hurting.

If not me, who?