Candy wisdom doesn't go far for teachers

Oct. 12, 2013 at 5:12 a.m.

Patrick Hubbell

Patrick Hubbell

A bolt of lightning struck everybody in the Capitol in Austin.

Upon regaining consciousness, lawmakers suddenly realized teachers are squandering way too much time testing students. A bill in the House to cut the number of tests required for graduation from 15 to five passed with all but two votes. The governor signed the bill after the commissioner of education read the bill for him. Rick Perry may be dumb as a stump, but he's smart enough to know when to hit the brake pedal before driving off a cliff.

I only wish a bill to limit teacher inservice and faculty meetings could be legislated. We begin the year after a 2-month slog of sleeping late then wake up to cheerleaders yelling inspirational thoughts. I feel like Winston Smith in 1984, unsure of who the true believers of Ingsoc are and which ones are going along to avoid detection by the Thought Police. There are always a few disgruntled souls who cheerfully share their innermost crabs without fear. They are usually the ones closest to retirement.

The administration sweetens the first full week of inservice with candy in little buckets. Even the federal food police know that candy is just empty calories - same as the candy they serve as wisdom. Candy wisdom such as: "Don't use a dictionary because they often use harder words to define a word."

When I heard an educational expert utter this, my mind flew back to a day in junior high when a young, petite, black English teacher wearing large spectacles with hair pulled back ruled the classroom. Mrs. Shakesnider meant business, and English was her business. None of that ghetto Ebonics baloney, either. Didn't understand a word? "If you don't know what it means, look it up in Big Red," she would say and hold a dictionary above her head.

Reflecting on my experience in Houston's public school system, it occurs to me that my greatest saviors were all black women who didn't tolerate any deviation from standard grammar. Mrs. Shakesnider was probably a beautiful woman, but we were too scared to think of her as anything other than a teacher who could turn you to stone with a glance. Mrs. Boyd was my English teacher twice during my time at Hartman Junior High. I never saw her in the hallway without a book tucked under her arm. Same with Mrs. Sheppard at Jones High School, who said her favorite author was William Shakespeare. Mrs. Sheppard went on to receive a community award for her dedication in the classroom. I only wish I had been there to personally bequeath the award to her.

At another workshop, I learned how to tie a balloon, roll a newspaper and fold a paper airplane with a partner using one hand. This particular exercise was supposed to help us learn about autonomy. Someone gushed how everyone was having fun. Well, it sure beats listening to a Texas Education Agency official excoriate us for not asking those high-order questions that are going to turn jaywalking students into rocket scientists. It seems to me that having a workshop on autonomy rather negates the point.

Public school teachers are fond of the phrase "dog and pony show" when teacher evaluations are concerned. When I witness this sarcasm of wisdom, I can't help thinking we're "doggier and ponier" than ever.

I'm sure English teachers would agree with Mark Twain, who famously remarked, "The trouble ain't that there is too many fools but that the lightning ain't distributed right."

Patrick Hubbell lives in Victoria and is a Spanish teacher in the Victoria school district.



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