How (not) to Stop a Fight

 

[At Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst, New York.]

The girl was maybe 4’10”— if that; slightly built, but she was a tigress. I think she was a sophomore. She had gotten the bigger girl down on her back and she was pounding away, punch, punch, punch.

I knew I had to stop the fight, so I did. In those days, the early 1970’s, I was in great shape, running 10-mile races, boxing, doing amazing numbers of calisthenics. Today, sadly, I am Jabba the Hutt. But then? I was close to a god.

I went behind the tigress and grabbed her, thereby squeezing her back against my chest. I lifted her easily off the bigger girl. I had a tight hold on the tigress.

But tigress was kicking like crazy, trying to break my hold but being small, her feet were where a man doesn’t want someone’s kicking feet to be.

She did a backward kick, a backward kick and then – two feet, one after another, landed on an area I had treasured since I first discovered it — my balls, or in polite terms, my balls!

I can’t let go of her I thought. My other thought was that I’d never have sex again thanks to this tiny monster. I just hoped my private parts didn’t fall to the floor.

I was gasping in agony when the assistant principal came over and took the tigress out of my arms. That’s the first time in my life I wanted a female out of my arms.

I leaned against a desk, breathing deeply, when a female teacher said, “You look so pale Scobe. Are you all right?”

“I’m great; I’m fine,” I falsettoed.

My balls did recover. I did end up being able to produce children. But I will never forget that little tigress. I hope she comes back as a man in the next life. So I can kick her you-know-where.

[Read Frank’s latest book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! Available on Amazon.com., Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Bad Teachers

 

***They lit his tie on fire as he napped in class; they threw his desk and bookshelves out the window. The students did things such as this for 30 years. This teacher had tenure. His very first year of teaching saw the kids throw his overcoat out the window; put glue on his desk drawers, and cause him befuddlement when they asked questions he couldn’t answer. He kept sending kids to the administrators. Nothing helped. He never got any better. He stunk on his first day of teaching before tenure and he stunk on his last day of teaching with tenure. He stunk every day in between.

***She would take attendance and as she called the kid’s name, the kid would say “present” or “yo” or “here” and then get up and leave the class. She never noticed that but when she looked up there might have been 10 kids remaining out of 30. She had tenure. She’d been teaching for 20 years.

***Everyday, he would cry when he came into the teacher’s room. He’d complain that the kids were torturing him. Indeed, they were. He’d been teaching for two years. He did not have tenure yet. He had graduated from Columbia’s school of education.

***She screamed and yelled at her students every day; every damn day. You could hear her on the second floor although she taught on the third floor. She’d been teaching five years. She had tenure. She yelled from the second day of her first year on the job and never stopped.

***She’d been at the job for 32 years. She only taught honors classes. She couldn’t teach non-academic classes because the kids ate her alive. She couldn’t teach academic classes because those kids ate her alive. So to save her sanity, she was only given honors classes. They ate her alive because many of these kids were disdainful of her intellect. But they ate her alive without throwing stuff at her or throwing stuff (or her) out the window. She won Teacher of Excellence in some New York State competition.

The above are just some examples of bad teachers. Without exception they all had tenure. That one exception – the crier – received tenure after his third year. My understanding is that he became a principal. He was on his way to the top! For all I know he could be a superintendent of schools now.

The unknowledgeable in educational matters, meaning non-teachers, would think that those “old” pros had merely lost the ability to teach or just got bored and allowed the kids to run rampant.

Not so.

Teachers who were bad before tenure were bad after tenure. So I ask you this? How the hell did these bad teachers get tenure? You had good teachers before tenure who became great teachers after tenure, yes, that is true, because they gradually learned the secrets of success – but they were good to start with. The bad stayed bad. No bad teacher in my wealth of experience ever became a good teacher.

There was only one exception to my tenure rule (Scobe’s rule: bad stays bad) and that was one teacher at my high school who was a brilliant man, loved by students, who went stock-raving mad after 25 years of teaching. The teaching didn’t drive him mad; his divorce from his wife did; it sent him over the edge. He started taking everything out on his students. His classes became rants. He was fired after he poured ketchup and mustard on a student’s head after the student said something he didn’t like in the cafeteria. The student got drenched then beat up the teacher. The student was not thrown out of school; in fact he was a hero to some students for pounding the living shit out of this poor guy. The teacher was a nerdy type; not much of a fighter. Still the teacher was fired.

A second tenured teacher halfway through his 37th year – he was still a good teacher now mind you – reached out and grabbed a girl’s breasts while teaching his lesson. “These are nice,” he said squeezing them. He disappeared 10 minutes later and was never seen again. But he left when he was still a good teacher – although obviously something snapped inside his head (whichever head you think that was).

I have no idea why teachers who didn’t have it, got it – tenure I mean. I just don’t really recall teachers going from good to bad after tenure. The great teachers – and I did know some great teachers at Lawrence High School – never just became “okay.” They were great before tenure and great after tenure.

I am not a cheerleader for public education but I can say tenure is necessary – otherwise I would never have had a teaching career. You see, when I was a new teacher I was fired from my first job. I didn’t even finish my second year after having (dare I say this) a somewhat physical altercation with my principal. He thought I was a good teacher but he couldn’t stand me because I was – and this is the truth – an arrogant bastard. I also taught stuff he didn’t think I should teach. Even when he told me not to teach it; I taught it. As I said, I was arrogant and, yes, I know this now – I was stupid.

On my second job at Lawrence High School, once again I alienated some administrators who had the ear of some Board of Education members. My science fiction club did a comic book “Lawrenceman” that teachers and kids liked but that the administration hated. I made everyone who joined my club a “president” (they had to pay for the position) so it would look good on their college transcripts. We didn’t hide this fact. I had giant signs all over the school telling students to join and become the president. In fact, some of the major colleges wrote me little notes telling me how much fun it was to see a teacher enjoying his career and to keep sending them my presidents. I even allowed teachers, custodians, and secretaries to become members but they could only pay to be vice-presidents.

I barely squeaked by to get tenure – and if I didn’t get tenure at Lawrence, I would never get another teaching job. I’d be blackballed.

You see, before I was hired at Lawrence I went on six interviews and as soon as I told the principal the fact that I had been fired – I never hid that – I didn’t get the job. At Lawrence, four people became my strong supporters after I taught a sample lesson: Greg Monahan, chairman; Edwin Krawitz, principal; Lenore Israel, great teacher; Gabe Uhlar, great teacher and also the kids of the class I taught. The school – and the students – took a chance on me, and thanks to them I actually had a career.

Still, I only got tenure by one vote. Over my career tenure protected me.

Tenure protected other controversial teachers too. We had teachers who were socialists; ultra-conservatives, libertarians, religious nut cases, but all damn good in a classroom. Our school thrived because of these people; it certainly didn’t thrive because of the bad teachers. These were great teachers – before and after tenure – but some of them were outspoken; they were fighters. Certainly, those bad teachers never had to worry about being fired; but the firebrands did. Tenure protected them. It protected me. And it gave students great teachers from which to learn.

Bottom line, I whole-heartedly believe in tenure but, come on, teachers have three years to show their stuff – their teaching stuff – and if they just don’t have it then they shouldn’t get tenure.

Tenure is great because it is a method of protecting those who should be protected; but it is a disgrace to give someone tenure who is not now and will never be a competent teacher.

[Read my new book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!]

Thirty-Three Years Before the Class

Teachers are going back to school now and on the Facebook pages so many of them are expressing great joy about going back and great joy about meeting their students. What is wrong with these people?

Now I taught for 33 years. Since I’ve started posting on Facebook, many of my former students have written or emailed me saying that I was a good teacher (actually “great” is the word many of them used but I am a humble man; kind of like Moses who was the “humblest man in the world” so I won’t brag).

One former student mentioned that I really never had discipline problems in my class.

Well, that is true and not true. In 33 years, I never had to send a kid to the Dean of Students; I never wrote a disciplinary referral on a kid; and I don’t think I ever yelled at a kid. Of course, I did have some kids that were not easy to handle; two of whom I must say honestly I despised; a Neanderthal beast of a girl and a jittery, demented, poisonous snake of a boy.

The monstrous brute of a girl always tried to take the class away from me.

If you think of your class as a string orchestra, then I was the lead string instrument. I wanted everyone to follow my rhythm. A disruptive student, your average, everyday shit head in other words, would try to take that rhythm from you. If such a ploppy did that, you would lose control of the class and, perhaps, have a battle on your hands all year. No teacher wants to battle students though many feel as if they are forced into such battles.

I always felt that my problem students were my problems and I never wanted any administrators to ever (ever, ever) be involved with me. For two reasons, if I couldn’t handle a student, how could someone who fled the classroom handle that student? I also felt it was a sign of defeat to allow a student to defeat me. Two simple reasons.

So this bulbous female barbarian would always make comments and try to take the classroom rhythm from me and bring it to her. Keep this in mind. I never worried about a kid who cracked a joke at my expense. If the joke were funny I laughed. If it weren’t funny I just rolled my eyes, looked at a few other kids in the class as if to say, “God is he an idiot!” (That, of course, connected me to those particular students; gave us a bond so to speak.)

She — S-H-E — was hard to contain. I didn’t crush her until February. That was a long, long time. I was teaching something or other and she just shouted out, “Scobe, you’re a dick!” I could feel the tension shoot through the students. Would this be the moment I sent a disciplinary referral for being so insulted by such a hellhound? Hell no. When she said, “Scobe, you’re a dick!” I just turned to her and said casually, “Use my first name, Big!” The class exploded in laughter and this beast was finished for the rest of the year. (These were seniors, not little kids.) She could find no one who wanted to listen to her after that slaughter.

You can read more about her in my book “The Virgin Kiss” as well as some other interesting (and insane) students I taught.

The boy was off the wall. The brute of a girl picked her shots to go after me, but this guy was wired at all times. Tall and skinny, eyes blazing, he had no control over himself. Luckily, his string instrument was broken so he could not even attempt to dominate the class. In addition, not only did I despise him but so did every student in the class. Usually students enjoy watching maniacs acting like maniacs but no one enjoyed this creep.

Finally one day just before the Christmas holiday one of the football players in my class – a big and I mean a really BIG kid – turned to slinky and said, “You open your fucking mouth again and I am going to rip your fucking heart out of your fucking chest.” He meant it too because this football player had a reputation for being violent. He and I got along great. And what happened to wired-up slinky? He started cutting and finally never showed his face. No loss.

I will say that I did like most of my students – and I taught around 6,000 of them. There were only a few I truly disliked. I never let them know it. But in the car on the way to school I would act out scenarios so I wouldn’t act them out in class. “Timmy, you are the stupidest fucking jerk I have ever seen. Is your mother an ape or something?”

Of course, I never said this to Timmy. I never “looked it” to Timmy. As far as Timmy was concerned, I liked him. Generally the Timmys liked me or, at least, they were neutral towards me.

I do not deny that I now feel I had a meaningful teaching career thanks to my former students who have written to me. I didn’t always feel that way. Often I thought, “What the hell am I doing here? I’m throwing sand into the wind. I’m supposed to be a famous writer; not some teacher slogging through a mundane career.” Well, that sand seems to have had an effect.

But let’s be serious. Only a teacher knows the truth of the following statement: Teaching is a bitch! It is really, really hard work. It is draining. You are on the line every minute of every class – every second of every class.

One of my teacher friends, the late Gene Brown (who died way too young) used to say, “We are selling a product they don’t want.” For most kids that would be true. The kids on their way to Harvard often think of their teachers as stepping stones to good grades. The kids on the way to the streets thought of their teachers as idiots suppressing the students’ enjoyment of causing chaos.

The others? Just wandering through their teenage years which can indeed be very tough years.

I saw many people come from other professions into teaching; from business, law, nursing, law enforcement and then get their asses kicked. Kids can be sharks. They smell blood and the teacher gets eaten. It was not unusual to see some teachers – and some of these new teachers were prized at their former jobs – come into the teachers’ lounge and cry. Don’t think just women; mind you, men too – often real man’s man types of men.

You had to be damned good at teaching just to be competent. So those teachers expressing rapture at the thought of going back to the classroom also know, “Christ it is going to be some haul.” The best of the best teachers think this. Those who get daily buffets know this in a really, really profound way. Why? Because they can be torn apart and have been torn apart. They can be crushed by students just as I had crushed that brute of a girl.

So I do salute the teachers who are going back to one of the toughest jobs imaginable. I also know that many people who have never taught in a public school think what teachers do is easy. Well, come on folks, step into the lions’ den and see how you do.

I’ve spoken before audiences of 1,500 people. No sweat. I’ve written 35 books. No sweat. I’ve been on television plenty of times. No sweat. But I have also sat up on Labor Day weekend, knowing that the next week I would face young men and women that I had to teach; that I had to control; that I had to try to make their high school experiences worth their while. In short, I had some of their life in my hands. You bet I sweated.

So I salute all our teachers’ courage and dedication.

[Read my book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!]