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Posted by on in General

school door

The new school year was in full swing with the first month nearly history when the new kid arrived. The smiling spiky-haired eleven-year-old bounced from class to class easily making friends with all he encountered. He was quickly absorbed into the close-knit sixth grade class.

Happily, he bounced throughout the day…everyday.   His reading teacher stopped him on the sidewalk one afternoon before he entered her class. “César,” she inquired, “Why are you always smiling?” He looked at her and grinned. “I’m just blessed,” he innocently responded, and then with an extra surge of energy, he joined his friends inside.

I make it a point to be a fairly visible administrator on campus everyday and to get to know all of the kids at my school. With over a thousand in attendance, I am lucky to know a first name or a last name (rarely both!) and a little something about each student. I involve myself in hundreds of conversations daily and really try to connect with all of "my kids." Sometimes I call them to my office just to check on them. Sometimes they pop in just to say hello or to ask for help with something that is bothering them. Most of the time all of these very important exchanges occur somewhere along the sidewalk leading to class.

César's bubbly personality and constant good cheer had won me over as he introduced himself his first day at school. I was intrigued by his simple comment to his teacher. Sixth grade boys rarely are that insightful, rarely willing to speak from the heart. I had the secretary call for him to come to my office.

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Posted by on in General


Mrs. O’Reilly opened her teacher manual to the next lesson in the approved sequence. It was time to confront multiplication of proper fractions.  Before the kids left for home the day before, she had informed them that they would each need to bring an apple to class. “Hands-on, real-life application of mathematical processes,” she announced, reading precisely from her script.

Her overzealous fifth graders and their parents now arrived in their family sports cars and luxury sedans. Mothers and fathers walked their progeny to the classroom and offered to stay to help with the class project. Each student clung to his or her own magnificent beribboned basket filled with a dozen large red apples each. Clearly students and parents had communicated through social media the night before and had attempted to outdo their peers in presentation. Mrs. O’Reilly beamed and provided abundant effective praise. They sliced and diced fruit all morning and, before the end of the day, whipped up enough apple muffins for every child and his parent to eat on the way to the parking lot.

A mile away, Mrs. Jones opened her own teacher manual to the same lesson. After all, it was the fourth Tuesday in January, and she had to adhere to the pacing calendar, just like every other fifth grade teacher in the state. Wearily, she welcomed her fifth graders to class as well.   Half of the children arrived late with excuses from their parents: “It’s all my fault…” “We couldn’t decide how to do Amelia’s hair today…” “I was watching Fox News and just lost track of the time…” One-fourth of the children brought other excuses: “My child really doesn’t like apples…” “Please excuse my son from math – we don’t believe in playing with food…” “I forgot what you wanted – will oranges work?”

It was a good thing that Mrs. Jones was a proactive teacher and planned ahead. She had visited the neighborhood grocery store the night before and spent twelve dollars of her own money on thirty-four apples. These were stacked in an empty cardboard box that the bagger had pulled from the back of the store. To be politically correct, she had used a piece of duct tape to cover the word “Budweiser” on the side of the box. The apples were chopped and otherwise manipulated during the morning lesson. Most of the class met the standard for the day and were awarded with their very own paper cup filled with juicy slices of the fruit to eat during snack time. Most of these were dumped into the garbage can at the back of the room as the kids opted instead for their Hot Cheetos and Oreos.

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Posted by on in General


"Mr. President, the pilot has announced he will be landing the plane in Dallas in ten minutes."

"You know, I don't have a good feeling about this. Tell the pilot to turn the plane around and head back to Washington. Okay?"

Such was a typical exchange between me and Luke, an eighth-grade special needs student. He usually provided the set up leaving me to improvise some witty response. Genuinely entertained and fully understanding my comeback, he did what any junior high student would do: he grinned, he groaned and he walked back to his seat.

Luke was a member of the developmental education class which consisted of several wonderful teenagers with intellectual disabilities. He was autistic and academically delayed, and his inability to fully socialize with others had greatly interfered with his learning over the years. He was intensely aware of his personal space and was fairly choosy as to who could be in it.

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Third graders flew from their classrooms in an effort to be first on the playground equipment during their fifteen minute morning recess. Such "frivolous" use of school time was frowned upon by the experts, but those experts obviously never read the research supporting the effects of exercise, play and fresh air on the learner's brain. They obviously never worked with a room full of eight- and nine-year-olds either. I stopped my morning tour of campus for a moment to watch the children scatter and their teachers relax in the warm Arizona sun. I am sure there must be some research out there to support the benefits of recess on the teacher mind as well.

I walked over to Mrs. Loughlin who had playground duty while her cohorts went to check their mail and grab a soda from the lounge. We shared a few pleasantries before I was tackled from behind, the full force of little forty-pound Rogelio hitting me with a thud. He wrapped his arms around me and giggled. "Did I scare you?" he chuckled. I ruffled up his hair and told him he shouldn't be giving this old man such grief.

"Aw, come on old man!" he squealed, and he was off to play in the sand.

"He sure loves you," Mrs. Loughlin noted.

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Posted by on in General



My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson, was a pudgy little lady with hair cropped close to her head. She looks mean in the yellowed class picture near the front of my school days’ scrapbook. But I can’t recall a single angry word ever spoken.

I do remember that Mrs. Thompson was allergic to chalk. And I remember her compensating for this disability with charts. Math charts, writing charts, spelling charts, reading charts...every wall was plastered. We judged the day simply on the number of charts we had to conquer.

Something in my mastery of the charted standards must have caught Mrs. Thompson’s attention. One day during math, as the rest of the class copied and solved the math problems from the latest chart, she came to my desk with a reprieve. She told me that she was impressed with my writing and that I was going to be allowed to write stories instead. She led me down the hall to Miss Manning’s room (where I had lived my first-grade days) and asked if I could borrow the story starter box, a collection of pictures to inspire creative writers.

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