A Letter to No-Homework-Johnny from His Teacher

This letter is dedicated to students, parents, and teachers who are on the front lines of the homework battles.

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Dear Johnny,

You don’t do my homework, but I’m not going to address that now. I prefer to consider your strengths.

I want you here. We are not in a war, and if you think we are, I surrender. Please, no battles; I want YOU to win.

Let’s build on what you do well, Johnny. Here’s what I know about you:

You’re perceptive, Johnny. You can read others. Cultivate those kids who no one else will cultivate. Find their strengths and their interests. If anybody can get to them, you can. You might be surprised to learn that one of those kids can offer something special to you too.

You need a lectern, Johnny, for that powerful voice of yours. OK, so sometimes I call it your big mouth, but when I throw out questions like, “Agree or disagree?  Andrew Jackson was a friend of Native Americans,” you love to share your thoughts, and you are a born speaker.  (Please try to wait until I call on you so that other people get a chance to think too.)

  • Using academic language will make you sound even smarter, and because you are a leader, your classmates will follow your example. I’ll show you how to back up your ideas, with true evidence. The debate team awaits you, my friend.

You have a very strong moral code, Johnny, sticking up for the underdog—even if it is against the school authority.

Others may not know this, but I know that School Johnny is very different than Home Johnny. On the block, Home Johnny helps the old people carry their packages, walks his little sister to school, and sings his heart out in the church choir.

You can make the other kids in the class laugh. Yes. I know you drive us all crazy, Johnny, but the ability to make others laugh is really a gift. I’d like to celebrate that strength with you.

Please know, Johnny, that I like to laugh too, at myself and at all the crazy stuff that goes on in our class. We teachers are human too, even though we sleep in our coffins.  A little secret—often when a kid like you is giving me a hard time, I imagine him at home in his bed, wearing his pj’s (the ones with the feet), and clutching his teddy bear, Then I smile and I keep on going.

Feel free to do the same with me, even if you need to substitute my coffin for the bed.

It is not me against you, Johnny.  We’re in this together, and I want YOU to win!

Sincerely,

Your Teacher

 

 

Johnny and His Homework

 

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The Great Slump

The teacher greets them at the classroom door, “Put your homework on the left side of your desk, and get started on your “Do Now.”

Fourteen-year- old Johnny comes in and sits down. He has no homework to put on the left side of his desk, so he plays with the strap on his bookbag while his teacher walks up and down the rows.

She stands above him, and even though he pretends not to know, he can hear the scratch of her damn pen on her damn clipboard. So much for fresh starts, positive climate, and “I believe in you.”

It’s only 8:03, first period, first failure. Only six to go before he gets the hell out of here, unless he leaves after lunch.

The teacher begins the lesson with a powerful question designed to get them all talking and arguing. Johnny has much to say, but why bother? He drops his head and shoulders, leans back in his chair, and thrusts his legs in front of him. His teacher notes his body language.  It’s the familiar slump and sprawl of defeat— with its jagged edge of defiance.

She asks another question of the class, waits a while like good teachers do, and then calls on people– some of them with hands raised, some not. Clearly her question has stoked their brain fires. Then she says, “Johnny, what do you think?

No answer.

She tries it again. “Johnny?”

“Hate this school!” He pushes himself out of his chair, grabs his backpack, and slams out the classroom door. He knows he will get in trouble, a phone call, a detention, or an in-house suspension — but he doesn’t care.

Johnny knows in two years he will be sixteen, and then he will walk out the school door, and he will never have to come back.

My Thoughts

Johnny is one of many kids who don’t do homework. Many of these kids, if they could start class positively, could thrive instead of fail. In this blog, in future posts, I will describe some of these kids, both high school kids like Johnny and elementary kids who may grow up to be Johnnies.

On Facebook I came upon a viral post by a Mom, Bunmi Laditan. She writes a letter to her ten-year-old-daughter’s school declaring her home to be a “Homework- Free- Zone.” I shared the post on Facebook and wrote a quick comment. I’m sure that Bunmi Laditan and I are part of a growing movement to change the way homework is being done. Here’s the link to her post. http://twentytwowords.com/moms-viral-post-declares-her-house-a-homework-free-zone/

 

My First Principal

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Do you remember your first real job? Did you cry? I did.

I cried, often. As a first-year teacher in an elementary school in 1966, I was sure my first principal, Hurricane Grace, was going to fire me.

Trending in the world at that time was the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, an area in the Atlantic where planes, ships and people mysteriously disappeared. Hurricane Grace was her own Bermuda Triangle, gobbling up designated probationary teachers. Tales abounded of first year teachers called to her office at 9am, being sent somewhere (We all figured Central Office.) and then disappearing, forever.

All of us quaked in Hurricane Grace’s path, and I knew my day was coming when she came into my classroom and raged about my lousy bulletin boards.  She said something like, “Your room looks like you teach in a poor school!  Where is everything? Your room is naked!” (I remember the word naked clearly.) I spent the rest of that day trying not to sob in front of my first graders.

Thank God, my dear friend Sandy, a year older and wiser stayed with me until six o’clock that night and helped me to fix up my classroom. We put out books that had been hidden in cabinets, freshened up my ugly bulletin boards, put out new erasers, chalk, charts, and manipulative materials that I had never thought to display. Sandy threw in some plants from her own classroom, and she told me that the next day I needed to get Hurricane, bring her to my classroom and show her how I was an obedient little probationary teacher.

“You’re kidding,” I said to Sandy.

“Do it,” she ordered.

The next morning, I knocked on Hurricane Grace’s closed door. “Mrs. Bartter?” I squeaked like a little girl. “I fixed up my classroom. Sandy helped me. Would you like to come in and see it? I hope it meets your approval.”

Sandy was right. Hurricane eased up after that, and I didn’t get fired.  To this day, however, if Hurricane Grace came back from the dead I would tremble in her presence.

Also, to this day, when I see a blank bulletin board in a school hallway or classroom, I feel great empathy for the sorry soul who is responsible for filling it. I’m not even going to talk about all that Common Core Standards stuff teachers today must display; that post will come later.

Did Betsy DeVos Change Her Mind?

Betsy DeVos , Trump’s new Secretary of Education visited a public school in Ohio yesterday with Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.

Allegedly, Betsy DeVos was originally planning to visit several Brooklyn, NY public schools instead of going to Ohio. She changed her mind however when she learned of the actions of a courageous Brooklyn teacher, Saul Revere.

Saul allegedly commandeered the gym teacher’s megaphone and somebody’s unlocked bike. He then raced from public school to public school broadcasting, “The Rich Bitch is coming! The Rich Bitch is coming!”

Three cheers for Saul— one of Brooklyn’s boldest!

Good Morning, Boys and Girls!

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In early 2016, I retired from teaching and consulting after working for 45 years, thirty as an elementary school teacher, and fifteen more as an educational consultant. I posted occasionally to The Nothing Expert, but I was not focused; I wrote about Everything and Nothing.

Perhaps I was afraid to write about education.

I’m not afraid anymore.

To warm up for my new focus on education, I wrote a list of my best days in schools.  When I say best, I mean the days you relive over and over and sit there smiling to yourself as you remember your pride, your absolute wonderfulness!

Take a minute, dear Reader, and remember one of your own wonderful work days. Savor it. Pleasure in it. Ahh!

To continue my pre-writing I made another list of my worst days in schools. When I say worst I mean the days you want to bury and forget—the days when you felt alone, stupid, worthless,  humiliated—the days when you got home from work and drank too much wine, slept too many hours, thought too many terrible thoughts, and were in a funk deeper than Hell.

Take another minute, dear Reader, and force yourself to relive one of those days.

Not fun.

Now, just to relieve your pain, pull up one of your silliest days—For me, I remember the kindergarten kid who walked the halls of our school smoking an empty applicator tube from a tampon, the way Groucho Marx (some of you won’t know him) smoked his cigar. Hilarious! The kind of stuff that makes lunch in the Teachers’ Room the best reality show there is.

After making my lists, I found my mission for The Nothing Expert’s new direction. I will write about education and my mission will be to:

  • empathize, entertain, comfort, and occasionally offer an old-timer’s tip.
  • write with seriousness, humor and compassion. I will frequently reread my lists of best, worst and silliest days and remember my feelings.
  • reach you and assure you that “We all went through this, and we survived and thrived!”
  • write as honestly as I can, grateful and mindful of the hand that feeds me my pension as well as the hand that has fought for my rights.
  • connect the trends of today with the trends of when I started…so long ago.

A heads-up before we start—If you expect state-of-the-art info on technology, do not waste your time reading this blog. I miss my chalk, the smell of it, the feel of it, the potential of it.

Time and Tides

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Photo Credit: Curt Smith

As autumn is approaching, I offer you the “summer vacation” essay I wrote in 1985. In August of that year, my daughter was 15 and my son was 12.  I thought it might be interesting to others, especially parents whose kids are at any slippery age.  Here it is.

Low Tide

The day was crisp as only a California day could be. The binoculars looped around my neck and the sweatshirt tied at my shoulders reassured me of my youth and vitality.

My husband and children and I were in Point St. Lobos Nature Preserve just south of Carmel, California. We stopped there at my insistence since I’m the “off the beaten path” tour director for my family’s vacations.

We skipped and leaped our way down the slippery sea rocks to the shore. My children were far removed from their worlds of videos, box radios, and computer games as they stopped to examine an orange crab imprisoned in a tide pool.

There were plenty of other tourists around, but the haze of sunshine and shimmers of heated air isolated us from them. The wall of heat locked my family in, together.

We got down on our bellies to examine the tide pool.  My children were oblivious to all but their fascination with the crab. We wondered what other sea animals might have washed over this hole at high tide. Which creatures had escaped and drifted back out to sea on the turbulent waves? This crab was trapped, and its only release would be the next high tide.

I watched my family as the sea water trickled from the tide pool. I watched and I engraved the sight of my children and my husband; the sky, sun, and ocean in my mind. Memories are like waves. They resound around us, and we struggle to hold them just as this tide pool held on to this crab. I didn’t want this precious moment to trickle from my mind.

My family lives the suburban life. We rush from tennis lessons to Little League to computer schools. We strive to improve our bodies, our minds, our lives. My children seem to be growing up so fast. Sometimes I just want to stop the clock and take the time to savor my blessings.

As we examined the tide pool, I thought that just for this brief moment in time and space my family belonged to me. There was no phone, no meetings, no friends to pull them from my grasp. I reveled in the feeling.

It was getting late and the tide was rising. Soon the crab would probably be washed out to sea. It was time to leave. We gathered our cameras and binoculars, and we piled into the car. My children requested the hard rock music station on the car radio. I turned it on. The music resounded in my ears. 

My Blogger’s Blooper

Yikes! What did I do? I was wrong, and my friends told me so.

They were absolutely right!

Re: Yesterday’s blog piece, “Showdown at the Double Doors”

The Truth”

  • I did meet another woman at the double doors of the post office.
  • We each opened a door and waited for the other to walk through.
  • We eyeballed each other.
  • I am seventy-one.

The Lie

  • I wrote… “she was 10 to 20 years older than me.” That would make my readers believe she was eighty-one to ninety!  Big mistake, Rosie.

The Truth

  • She was probably about my age.
  • I would never, never, never be mean or rude to an eighty-one to ninety- year-old.
  • In fairness to me, when my friends chastised me for my elder abuse, they said something like, “Rose, it was so out of character for you to treat an “old” person that way.”
  • Sometimes my “creative non-fiction” exaggeration backfires on me. There was another time when I wrote that I received a $75,000 dollar advance on my book, and some of my dearest relatives believed me!

I do apologize.

Showdown at the Double Doors

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I was leaving the post office. She was arriving.

Through the glass, we saw each other approaching the doors.

We arrived at the doors at the same time, on different sides.

She pulled open her door for me and waited for me to walk out.

I pushed open my door and waited for her to walk in.

We stood there, letting all of the air conditioned air out of the post office, sizing each other up.

I’m seventy-one. She was at least 10-20 years my senior. Her hair was “done” and not a hair was out of place. She wore those Florida resort clothes that only snow birds back in New York for the summer can sport. “Go ahead,” she said, holding the door for me, a vicious smile spreading all over her “worked on” face.

“No you go,” I replied sweetly, ever so sweetly, never speaking the B word.  I made a slight bow as I motioned her to walk through.

Her eyes narrowed and locked on mine before she walked through her own open door. Those eyes said, “It ain’t over, bitch. We will meet up again.”

I got in my car, put on my soft rock station, opened the windows, and sang along with my music.

Conservation of Energy

Hello Folks, any of you who might still be left out there…

You might relate to this block if:

  • You talk to yourself
  • You aspire to be a person who is “organized and gets things done.”

As I was staring at the birds at my feeder this morning and talking to myself, this is what I said:

“Rose,  stop it.  If you use up your eyes on the birds now, your eyes will not work for you when it’s time to write.

Rosie, if you look at the birds and think about them now, you will use up your mind and it won’t work when you are trying to plot out the novel.

Girl, if you work on plotting the novel now, you will surely need a nap. Then you won’t be able to start the new project…the one that was going to make you and the family….lots of money.

Doody Head, if you use your energy to write on your sweet dying blog now, you will not be able to do any of the above—so you might as well go back to bed; remember 40 years of going to work; remember traveling there on snowy, rainy, icy mornings; and then snuggle in and sleep late.

Nighty night.”

The Best Frying Pan in the World!

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When I was a child my mother made us blintzes (thin pancakes, crepes or blinis). We usually ate blintzes on summer days, and those were the days we left our third floor apartment door open, and we used a screen door. First, my mother used the frying pan you see here to prepare the thin pancakes that she would later fill with cheese or blueberries. Then after sautéing her filled blintzes in butter in the same frying pan, our family would eat them with dollops of sour cream and/or sugar. Yummy!

On one of those blintze-making days long ago, my mother said to me, “Rowie, someday this frying pan will be yours.” According to her, this amazing frying pan was the only frying pan on all seven continents that could prepare blintzes the right way!

I offer Ma’s frying pan here for your consideration. It’s aluminum and it’s about sixty years old, give or take a decade.

My mother died on December 19, 1988, and I wanted to write about her a few days ago, but nothing I drafted— worked. I posted nothing on December 19th. I was trying to stick with my theme of writing about introversion, solitude, and the effects of too much stim (light, sound,) on my delicate psyche.

Normally, I am calmed by textures that are dull and natural looking. If I could decorate my whole house with driftwood, and soft earth colors, I believe, I could be more serene. Shiny makes me crazy. This whole holiday season with its bright lights, loud music, and the in-your-face commercials makes me as frenetic as the squirrels at my bird feeders when they find the peanut butter. I’m an introvert. I need solitude. I need softness and muted colors.  I need time with my own thoughts.

The other day, I found my mother’s shiny blintze pan on a back shelf in our basement. After she died, I made blintzes at my home, but only once. I stopped making blintzes because Jerome the Great and Good didn’t care for them; they’re a pain in the neck to make; and blintzes are very rich. The word, rich, has become a bad word in foody circles. I know many people who screw up their noses like squirrels and say, “Oh, I couldn’t eat that. It’s too rich.” Then they go eat their kale.

I make kale soup and it is really great—but it’s not blintzes! Blintzes, eaten on a hot day in Apartment 33B on the third floor, with the screen door open and the smells of the vanilla, butter, cream cheeses, and dough wafting into the entire apartment house, is an experience that I will remember, forever.

I stared at the blintze pan a long time. Then I picked it up and kissed it, and I held it close. I was alone.

I’m sure extroverts do things like kissing their mother’s frying pans too, but I’m an introvert, and my moments of solitude sustain me. So I am sharing my holiday thoughts with introverts, extroverts, and everyone.

Once in a while, eat stuff that is rich. Tomorrow there will be plenty of time to diet.

Go off into your little private place; caress your grandma’s old recipes or your ma’s old pots or your dad’s old work clothes…the ones you packed away because you couldn’t bear to part with them.

Find that box where you packed away your kids’ size 3 month undershirts and stretchies. Pick them up, hold them, and let your senses overcome you. Cuddle them, smell them, talk to them, have a good cry, and then come back out and join the party with your best smiling extrovert face!

It’s good to remember and it’s great to be alive!

Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Happy New Year to Everyone!