Archive for July, 2012

Some Friendly Advice for Young Teachers in a World Poisoned by Power-Mad Bureaucrats and Clueless Billionaires

July 29, 2012

After I transferred from a junior high school to an elementary school, my former colleague Dave* asked how I liked working with my new colleague Walter*. (Both Dave and Walter were veteran teachers with decades of experience.) I reported how impressed I was by Walter’s remarkable patience and equanimity in response to a roomful of unruly kids. Dave smiled and said, “He wasn’t always that way.”

Years ago I heard former United States Secretary of Education (and raging hypocrite) Bill Bennett on CSPAN saying that the the best way to ensure quality schools in this country is to “hire good principals and allow them to do their job.” Oddly, Bennett and several other self–identified conservatives support intrusive (and blatantly unconstitutional) laws like Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which inject the blunt, debilitating power of the federal government into the quotidian workings of local public schools across the county.

Before NCLB, for example, wise principals would often place a few of the more emotionally needy students at a particular grade level in the classroom of a more capable veteran teacher like Walter. (This practice is particularly advisable when one or more of Walter’s grade–level colleagues are newbies.) Such sagacious principals would constantly praise teachers like Walter for taking on this extra burden, and they would also grant Walter a little extra leeway as far as end–of–the–year test scores were concerned.

Today, however, thanks to an ill-conceived reform movement forced down our throats by ignorant billionaires and power-mad federal bureaucrats, principals no longer have such discretionary latitude. And experienced teachers like Walter who hope to hang onto their jobs would say this to a principal who wants to overload their classrooms with “challenging” students: “I’d like to help you, but the Secretary of Education wants to publish my students’ test scores in the paper and then punish me if those numbers don’t go up every year from now until the end of my career.” This is just one of many unintended consequences which result when education policy is devised by people like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan who don’t know shit from shinola about teaching.

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden toiled at his craft for several years before suddenly winning ten championships during his final twelve seasons. When somebody asked him what happened he said, “I finally learned how to relax.”

It took me a while to figure out how to relax in the classroom. Watching teachers like Walter helped me learn that getting upset and raising my voice in response to unruly students only increases the rancor. It is actually more effective for a teacher to stop talking in mid-sentence and wait for the students to lower their voices than it is for him to try to overpower an entire classroom with displays of stentorian prowess.

The best advice I can give to young teachers is to relax, take your time, and learn from your mistakes. And don’t get into power struggles with your students. Never go to work in the morning full of vengeance over something that occurred the previous day thinking, “I’m gonna get that kid.” (Let it go, and never forget who the grownup is.) Endeavor always to treat all your students with kindness and respect under all circumstances knowing full well that this is a superhuman ideal, impossible to live up to.

A little respect goes a long way. I learned a lot on the occasions when I substitute taught at a “camp” school—camp is a euphemism for prison. Once when a student remained standing as I was preparing to start a lesson, I said in a firm but friendly voice, “Sir, would you please sit down.” He melted into his seat and turned to the kid next to him and said in a tone of bemused disbelief, “He called me sir.”

And as much as possible, try not to be too grumpy. It’s not always easy, but do your best. (And for all of you out there who would like to have a positive impact on America and her future, here’s something you can do to reduce teacher grumpiness—invite a teacher to bed some time. The world will be a better place for your kind work.)

* Not their real names

by Richard W. Bray

Twelve Kinds of Stinky

July 27, 2012

You’re an eight-faced scoundrel
And a natural-born liar
A fraudulent trickster
And a bully for hire
A backstabbing rascal
And a world-class fraud
Hiding all your mischief
With a friendly facade
A double-dealing sinner
With a mutilated soul
Mendacious commander
Of the lowlife patrol
A hoodwinking devil
Prevaricating cad
A two-timing villain who’d
Swindle your own dad
Perfidious varmint
And an underhanded lout
Your delinquent credentials
Are beyond all doubt
A double-crossing blackguard
And a treacherous sneak
A shiftyshady grifter
Who preys on the weak


I’ll tell the whole world
You’re twelve kinds of stinky
Cuz you’re the dirty scamp
Who took my last twinkie

by Richard W. Bray

Slivers and Scraps

July 24, 2012

Greed and murder,
Nations gone mad,
Oceans of ugly,
Mountains of sad

I try real hard
I make it my duty
To force my focus
On goodness and beauty

Threads of compassion,
Scraps of nice,
Slivers of contact
Must suffice

by Richard W. Bray

Overload

July 22, 2012

we’re all plugged in
we’re getting our reports
from everybody else
every minute of the day

perhaps we need
a little peace and quiet
before this deficit of solitude
fries all our circuits

by Richard W. Bray

Ballad of the Pitiable Politician

July 20, 2012

I love the working man
And I’d walk your picket line
But my wingtips give me bunions
And my sneakers need a shine
And it’s so darn hot
When I’m out in the sunny
You know I feel your pain
But I love that dirtymoney

Free trade ain’t so free
When we ship your job away
But those fat cats with their wallets
Will remember me someday
Disappearin’ factory jobs
Ain’t no kind of funny
You know I feel your pain
But I love that dirtymoney

All my favorite people
Are really corporations
Corporations don’t get sick
Or ask me for vacations
Politicians crave cash
Like a bear loves him some honey
You know I feel your pain
But I need that dirtymoney

by Richard W. Bray

It’s What You Do

July 14, 2012


It ain’t what you create
It’s what you do
That’s gonna be important
When you’re through

Who cares if you
Rewrote the record book
When you’re a liar and
A cretin and a crook?

So slap your name across
A thousand walls
But everything that’s built
Is gonna fall

It don’t mean much
Rising to the top
When your private life
Is one gigantic flop

A million statues
Won’t make you a god
When you’re feeding worms
Beneath the sod

It ain’t what you create
It’s what you do
That’s gonna be important
When you’re through

by Richard W. Bray

The Hemingway Defense

July 7, 2012

William Faulkner

According to William Faulkner, it is permissible for an artist to engage in all manner of malfeasance and loutish behavior because “An artist is a creature driven by demons.”

The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies. (h/t Ta-Nehisi Coates)

It is common for supermacho bibulous writers such as Faulkner, Kingsley Amis, Ernest Hemingway and Christopher Hitchens to confuse self-avoiding cowardice and self-destruction with courage and an erstwhile dedication to art. Amis, for example, wrote entire books celebrating the wonders of alcohol. Hitchens thought that crawling into a bottle every day was something to boast about and he was dismissive of people who lack the requisite foolishness to become nicotine addicts. In the sick, sad world of Christopher Hitchens, teetotaling joggers are the real losers.

Stephen King, a man who knows a thing or two about both writing and substance abuse, has a name for the hyper-masculine variety of denial celebrated by various dipsomaniacal American authors: The Hemingway Defense.

as a writer, I am a very sensitive fellow, but I am also a man, and real men don’t give into their sensitivities. Only SISSY-men do that. Therefore I drink. How else can I face the existential horror of it all and continue to work? Besides, come on, I can handle it. A real man always can.*

King explicitly rejects all such poppycock. He argues that “[t]he idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.”

Unlike writers such as Faulkner who lack the necessary self-awareness to confront their “demons,” when given the choice, Stephen King wisely selected his health and his family over the bottle. Thus he has no use in mythologizing the inebriated scribbler.

Substance abusing writers are just substance abusers—common garden-variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I’ve heard alcoholic snowplow drivers make the same claim, that they drink to still the demons.

Faulkner asserts that it is perfectly natural and wholly acceptable for a writer to be a scoundrel because a true artist “is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.”

Sadly, people who think like Faulkner have gotten existence precisely backwards. As King notes, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

William Faulkner notwithstanding, no art is essential to humanity, and no poem, not even one as lovely as “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” is worth the well-being of a single old lady. Humanity will grope along with or without any particular work of art, and Earth will continue to abide long after we’re gone no matter what we do. It is expressly because everything we do is ephemeral that the artist’s humanity is of far greater value than anything he could possibly create.

Perhaps it is a longing for a false sense of immortality that leads people to engage in such diseased thinking. But it’s important to remember that although Hamlet will continue to live on for as long as humanity is extant, William Shakespeare is just as dead as the fellow buried next to him. As Groucho Marx pithily noted: “What has posterity ever done for me.”

Only love conquers death.

*All Stephen King quotations are from his marvelous memoir On Writing

by Richard W. Bray

Hope Starved

July 4, 2012

How about when hope is starved
And dreams fade into dust?
How ’bout when your plans
Disintegrate with rust?
Dreams prepared and baked with love
Crumble to a crust
And hope is a mirage
With nothing left to trust

Who deserves to be the kid
Playing all alone?
Who deserves to hear her dad
Only on the phone?
Childhood deprivations
Don’t set like broken bones
Memories cut like razor blades
Even when you’re grown

Parents die in accidents
Puppies run away
Lovers get impatient
And set off on their way
Keepsakes and mementos
Tatter, crack, and fray
Everything you care about
Crumbles just like clay

by Richard W. Bray