Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Why Teachers Deserve More

March 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 10, 2018


When the teachers in the state of West Virginia went on strike for a pay increase I found myself conflicted. I agreed…some, but also was uncomfortable with it. So I had to ask myself why I was uncomfortable with the idea of teachers holding picket signs and demanding more?

The answer I found spoke to the images I held in my own mind of who teachers are and what they are about. When I think of teachers- the teachers I had in my growing up years back in the 1960’s, and the teachers I know today- I seldom think of how much they are paid. I think of sacrifice, impact, dedication, influencers, passionate people, shapers, leaders, and guides to help students discover

I don’t think about compensation and pension plans…and that’s part of the problem! When I look at the whole picture of teaching, compensation is just one of the many colors that are used to paint the portrait. We rely on teachers to do so much that we often forget that they deserve more.

Most of us have heard the arguments. “Well, they only work nine months out of the year! I wish I had a job like that!” Right!!! As a pastor I heard the same jab at my calling. “Must be nice to only work one day a week!” I wanted to reply “If I didn’t have a congregation filled with messed up people I COULD just work on Sundays!” People who are stuck in a time warp of the belief that teachers only work nine months out of the year are as clueless as a first grader in trigonometry class! Summers are now filled with preparation for the next year, reviewing textbooks, continuing education, interview committees, team meetings, getting the classroom ready, strategizing, etc.

Meanwhile, I could almost justify what teachers are compensated…if all they had to do is teach! But, guess what? Now their job description has been compounded and multiplied (I substitute taught 6th Grade math yesterday!). They are now classroom counselors, social workers, expected to straighten out the mess of the increasing number of students who come to school from dysfunctional families, caregivers, educators of students with attention spans resembling hyper puppies, and judges giving rulings about misbehaving students whose parents still think they are angels in disguise.

As a substitute teacher this year I’ve encountered a student who continually fell asleep in the first class of the school day because he’d stay up until one o’clock in the morning playing video games; a student who did not come to school regulated four out of the five school days that week because he, evidently, was not taking his medication; a student who was disruptive numerous times in a class period and, literally, could not help it; and numerous students who came to school without having anything to eat and became more sluggish as the school day went on.

Teachers are expected to be the problem solvers of the messes that many parents drop off at school at 7:30 in the morning. For many parents, teachers and school are seen as cheap child care. Thus, when school gets canceled because of the weather, or even has a two hour delay, the number of irate parents goes off the charts. What are they expected to do with little Johnny on a Tuesday work day?

When I think of my school days growing up I can remember, and see the faces, of my teachers. I remember Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Nuzum, Mr. Cooper, Mrs. Waybright, Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Lewis, Mr. Trent, Ms. Gruber, and Mr. Burcham…fifty years later! I can not remember the names of my banker, doctor, pharmacist, tailor, and others. I can remember the name of my elementary principal, Mr. Morton, but not the name of the town’s mayor or police chief.

Teachers have been taken for granted and taken advantage of. They deserve more, and when I say they deserve more I’m not just talking about compensation!

The Box

March 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 8, 2018


It arrived yesterday, filled with familiar scents and memory items that no one else would see with any value.

It’s been three weeks since my dad passed away. My sister and brother-in-law have been sorting through his belongings after moving everything out of his apartment. It was a major task just to get it moved, but, for starters, she simply was moving it from one place to another…her house. The last week for her has been a time of sorting through the items that are reminiscent of our father.

In sending me “The Box” she was bringing part of Dad to our house. The box did not contain items that I necessarily need, but it contained some of who my dad was- kind of like a small museum!

I was looking at some of the contents this morning and pondering Pops.

I now have four University of Kentucky ball caps. One of them- a blue cap with a large letter “K” on the front- was worn by Dad, a UK grad, to the UK basketball game back in December of 2016 against Valparaiso. My sister took a picture of him in the lobby at Rupp Arena that night alongside former UK coach, Joe. B. Hall. Each of them had their “hurry-canes” by their side as the camera snapped the photo.

In the box are my mom’s Bible and one of Dad’s old Bibles. Each have their names scripted into the lower right corner leather.

There’s his personal calculator from about thirty years ago. He had not transitioned to using the calculator on a smart phone, because he didn’t have a smart phone. He had one of those flip phones that resembled the walkie talkie’s on Star Trek.

There’s a tube of Brylcreem! (“A little dab will do ya!”) That takes me back! Most of my uncles, plus my dad and grandfather, used the hair cream. That was the thing back in Eastern Kentucky. Dad didn’t need to worry about his hair blowing all over the place. The cream kept it firmly matted in place. When he started having some skin cancers on his scalp, ears, and nose he had to ease up on the Brylcreem. I’m not sure if Brylcreem has an expiration date!

There’s a trophy recognizing his achievement of finishing last in a euchre tournament back in 1975. Mom and Dad went to Florida with three other couples from our church, enjoyed the sun during the day and played euchre each evening. The trophy features a gold horse’s rump! I remember Dad telling me about it in detail. It always elicited a chuckle, remembering the razzing but mostly remembering his friends.

There’s a shoe horn still in mint unbent position. Putting his shoes on properly was an indication of my father’s emphasis on doing things correctly and not in a hurry.

There’s the photo album with the title on the cover “Our Son’s Wedding.” Yes, it’s our wedding from almost 39 years ago. As I look at our youthfulness, and who my parents were back in 1979 all I can say is “Wow!”

There are a few of my mom’s Longaberger baskets. She collected them like baseball cards!

And a stapler! And replacements blades for his electric shaver! And a cookbook put together by people from his church!

And handkerchiefs folded neatly, like they were a part of a J.C. Penney’s catalog display.

I’ve experienced families that descend like vultures on the possessions of the deceased. It’s an occasion where the lust for someone’s valuables devalues the life of the one who has passed on. My dad’s valuables are on the other end of the spectrum. I am like Don Quixote as I look at them, seeing rich memories in a shoe horn and value in a tube of Brylcreem.

I stare at the collection that brings stories and moments back to my mind. Saying goodbye to someone is never painless, but recalling the shared times and conversations…that’s priceless!

My Last Day With Hair…For A While!

March 4, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               March 4, 2018


Back in November I made a promise to one of my basketball players. He was worse than pitiful shooting free throws during our practices. His shots weren’t even close! Clank! Bam! Crack! Airball!

And then I said it. “Verle, if you shoot 90% for the season I’ll shave my head!” That got his attention, plus all of his teammates. I figured my hair was as safe as an Old Spice  deodorant stick in a middle school boy’s locker room.

Through the first 14 games of the season Verle did not shoot a free throw, and then in Game #15 he got fouled and got two shots. The first shot hit every part of the rim, bounced off the backboard, rolled around three times, stopped for coffee, took a nap…and then fell through. I called timeout to ice my own shooter, but Verle calmly stepped to the line and sank the second free throw after the timeout.

Those were the only two free throws he shot the whole season! I did not qualify my promise very well. Years from now Verle will be telling people that he was the leading free throw shooter on his 9th Grade team.

Tonight we have our team banquet at 5:00. At 6:30, Darla, my friend and barber, will be coming to the school to shave me down! And so today I had to worry about shampoo for the last time for the next couple of weeks or so. I had to pick up my comb and put the part in the left side of my hair. I’ve let it grow out for a while because I knew this day was coming. For the past couple of weeks I’ve resembled a college philosophy professor. The hair has started to curl around my ears. Two more weeks and I could have done one of those “man buns”!

Verle and his teammates are pumped for tonight’s festivities. They will feast on barbecue and all the fixings before their coach gets fixed! I made sure Darla would come and give me the buzz instead of one of them. I could just imagine Verle with an electric hair trimmer in his hands. As it is, his hair looks like two rows of wheat bowing over in the wind. I could just imagine what permanent damage he would do to the top of my scalp.

“Hey! Did you have some skin cancers on the top of your scalp and have to have some radiation treatments?”
“No, I had one of my basketball players give me a haircut!”

When Darla hits the ON switch tonight the chanting will start in a circle around her. The whooping will reverberate around the school cafeteria. My players will break into their usual rendition of “Who Let The Dogs Out?” and, hopefully, Darla’s hands will remain steady in the midst of her laughter.

And at the end I’ll resemble one of those Thanksgiving turkeys that have had all of their feathers plucked!

I’ve got to remember to bring a hat tonight! Wide brim, and one that sinks down low on my head!

Living Longer, Living With Purpose

March 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W                                                         March 3, 2018


My father passed away two weeks ago three months shy of his 90th birthday. He lived a long life, and for that we are thankful. Carol and I are now the oldest generation of our family. There is no one above us and two generations below us.

Death makes a person ponder and think about where he/she is in the living of their life. I turn 64 in two months and, although I’m fairly healthy and active, I understand that I’m closer to entering the pearly gates than I am to the memories of those high school days.

There’s more research and study being done of the longest-living people around the world. Are there common themes? Are there communities that have a higher percentage of people who are a hundred years of age or older? Are there certain aspects of our world’s opportunities that tend to decrease the possibilities of living longer?

Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones and The  Blue Zones solution draws out some secrets of living long in his books. Blue Zones are places that he has identified in different places around the world that have a high number of people who live long lives. It’s interesting that Loma Linda, California is the only Blue Zone he mentions in his sharing of information with TIME magazine in the February 26, 2018 issue. Loma Linda is a haven for Seventh-Day Adventists, a denomination that avoids meat; eats plenty of plants, whole grains, and nuts; and emphasizes community and a day of rest (Sabbath) each week. Loma Linda Adventists live 10 years longer than their fellow Americans.

This is not to convince everyone to become Seventh Day Adventists, but rather to note a few of the trends that seem to be “preaching” to us.

Community, rest, diet, and (I’m putting this one in there as well!) purpose. Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside also draws out the importance of some of the values that are a part of a faith community and our religious traditions: respect, compassion, gratitude, charity, humility, harmony, and meditation. Of course, when a faith community becomes more about power, bickering, discord, and being judgmental the opposite can happen. People can lose their spiritual relationship in the midst of the chaos of congregational dysfunction.

Although I grieve that my dad has passed on, I rejoice in the fact that he lived a long life that had purpose. All of those values that Friedman draws out as a part of a faith community were also evident in Dad’s life.

And the thing is…people are more and more wondering how to live longer and seeking to live longer, but living longer just to live longer is kind of like hitting the golf ball twice as many times during a round of golf. It’s not really what it’s about! Living with purpose and, hopefully, longer…like my father, is where I seek for my life to follow!

6:30 A.M. 7th Grade Basketball Practice

February 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 28, 2018


There usually are loud moans and groans when I make the announcement, but I expect it. The pained expressions on the faces of my 7th Grade basketball team are the result of finding out that most of our practices will be held before school at 6:30 in the morning.

The eyes get big and the mouths drop open. There is a momentary weeping and gnashing of teeth…and then they accept it for what it is.

For the past several years I’ve made that unpopular decision for a few reasons, which none of the players think are good are to begin with. When we practice after school we have to share the gym with the 8th Grade team. Our middle school has two gyms, one a full-size court and the other a small gym that resembles an elementary school facility. When both teams practice at the same time we get 30-45 minutes in the larger gym and 30-45 minutes in the small gym.

6:30 A.M. practice…problem solved! And it helps the 8th Grade team, also!

Some of them come dragging to the front doors of the school looking a bit disheveled. I greet each one of them with words like “Good morning, handsome!” and “Looking good this morning!” Some snap out of their weariness and smile. Others are not yet to the conversational level of their day.

As they’ve gotten used to the the fact that practice is that early most of them have adjusted. There’s more spring in their step and a few more smiles as they head to school long before anyone else does.

The blood gets flowing and by 6:40 they are at full speed and wide awake. Last week I asked them if they would rather practice before school or after school. All but one said before!

Amazing! Thirteen players and five others who are designated the practice squad, and seventeen of the eighteen said 6:30 rules!

A couple of teachers have commented to me that they’ve noticed how my players are wide awake and ready for class on days we practice early. I’m sure that when the season ends in a couple of weeks that they’ll revert back to their usual school wake-up schedule, but for a few weeks they are learning what it means to be early risers.

It’s one way that I make sure they are committed to what we’re about. It’s one way to make sure they know I have higher expectations for them, and it’s one way I emphasize discipline. I wait at the front doors for each of the boys to arrive, but at 6:30 I head to the gym. You arrive late…too bad!

Tomorrow we have a game. It’s tie day. I’ve told each one of them to dress up for school tomorrow…shirt and tie. I’ll wear one for the game, also! When I told them that the teachers would be impressed they just stared at me, but when I said the young ladies would suddenly see how handsome they were…they grinned!

Seeing The Cousins

February 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 26, 2018


Cousins are cool!

I grew up living two to three hours away from most of my cousins. Most of them lived in the Paintsville area of eastern Kentucky. My grandparents on my mom’s side had a farm a few miles outside of town. It was on that farm that cousins got together to run around the yard, explore what was on the other side of the creek, and jump from the barn loft onto bales of hay.

We chased the barn cats, made noises at the hogs, and swung in the front porch swings as if they were their own playground.

John Jerry Whitt taught me how to play chess. About five years after he taught me the game I was runner-up in our high school’s tournament as a freshman.

Matthew Helton and his sister Kelly Michelle were three or four years younger, but fun to play with. I remember that they had cool toys, toys that I longed for but never received!

Judith Annette Helton was the feisty one. She was just as willing to kick you in the shins as to look at you. I was scared of her, but I was faster than she was. I idolized her brother, Danny Michael, because he played high school basketball. I never actually saw him play, so I’m not sure if he could walk and chew gum at the same time…but he played high school basketball.

There were Uncle Doc’s kids who all lived in California. They got back to Kentucky once every five years or so. I thought they were celebrities, being from California and all! Johnny Carroll, Barbara Gale, Suzanne, and Scott, they were the ones people craved to see. My first love crush was a cousin crush on Barbara Gale, but it was not meant to be. A cousin with a shaved head and freckles was not who she had in mind to hang around with. Three days later she was back in California anyway.

These were my cousins on the Helton side, and I have great memories of the occasions we were able to be together.

A week ago I saw a few of them again at my dad’s funeral and the visitation time the night before. In the midst of the grieving there was the reconnecting with one another.

Now, years later, we have shed our middle names. I’m no longer Billy Dean, but simply Bill. The others had abbreviated their cousin names and are now John, Judy, Matthew, and Kelly. Part of the maturing process in eastern Kentucky is to no longer be referred to by your first and middle names. Billy Ray Cyrus is the exception!

Seeing the cousins was like being back on the farm, and yet it was also a bit sad. I wished we could be together more, play John in another game of chess, get into a conversation with Matthew about American History (he being a high school teacher in that area), have Annette try to pinch me again, and be delighted by the warm personality and conversation with Kelly.

We’ve moved to different parts of the country, but the mental video of swinging in those front porch swings is still vivid in my mind.


February 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 21, 2018


The first time I was on an airplane was in 1974 when I flew from Chicago O’Hare to Rock Island, Illinois. It was a short trip, but no one told me that the conveyor belt that I put my suitcase on DIDN’T go all the way to the plane. I didn’t know! No one told me…and I wore the same clothes the whole weekend in Rock Island.

That’s a symbolic picture of my relationship with various airlines. Confusing and not on the same page communication-wise!

We flew back from West Virginia Tuesday night…and Wednesday morning!

There are more people flying these days than ever before, creating competition between the airlines and heightened anxiety and new levels of stress for the passengers. Last night I asked my wife where she would like to go for spring break. Her answer, dripping with frustration from the recent trip to West Virginia and back, was “Anywhere that does not involve an airplane!” It is a comment that signals a trend. Kind of like when you see a picture of a delicious looking entree in the restaurant’s menu, order it, but when the plate comes it does not come close to resembling the menu pic! Airline commercials are filled with smiling passengers, courteous flight attendants, and scenes of joy-filled peace, and then there is the reality!

One of the things that every airlines seem to do these days is push their credit cards. Sign up and receive so many flying miles that usually equals a “free ticket.” Free is a skewed term. It usually means an annual fee of just under $100.

It seems that on every flight I’m a passenger these days there is “the smoozing moment” of welcoming the elite, premier, gold, platinum, platinum plus, platinum pro, and other upper crust people who have paid the extra money to be recognized on every flight. Listen! Do we really need to give them a special welcome and have the flight attendants slobber all over themselves? I wonder if they did that on the Mayflower ship…gave a special welcome to those of the Puritan Premier club? If the plane goes down will the elite have a softer landing?

I know, I know, I’m cynical! It comes fairly natural after being squeezed up to the window of Seat 14A for three and a half hours. This is my rant!

I also know that every airlines has to contend with some people who are so obnoxious and demanding that even the Baptists wouldn’t take them. They are the entitled who could possibly be a part of the elite.

What’s the answer? In regards to obnoxious passengers, I have no clue, but in regards to how the airlines treats its customers…ask Chick-fil-A to come in and do some training for you!