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  • Writer's picturejstanion1890

Forty years ago

When I first started teaching, I was certain I'd found the best job imaginable. Share what you know. How can you go wrong? Your students can't leave. I'll come back to that later.

I was teaching science.....middle school science. Basically, I wanted my students to understand and appreciate the natural world around them. Once we got past cells and DNA, I thought I had it made.

We started with plants. We went outside...feet firmly planted on the soil (dirt), arms stretched to infinity (palms up) and face to the sun. It didn't take those kids long to figure out they couldn't make their own food. Not that we stayed that way for long.......middle schoolers can't be humiliated in public imitating trees and giggling at how silly they might look to passing vehicles. It gave them all a new appreciation for the lunch room ladies. And the truck driver who arrived appropriately early each morning to deliver fresh milk.

We moved on to animals. Yes, we reached the unanimous agreement that each of them was, in fact, an animal.......multi-cellular, can't manufacture their own food, must be an animal. We read all the classics - Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and The Sea Around US, Dayton O Hyde's Don Coyote and Fukuoka's The One Straw Revolution since many of my students came from a farming background.

I was ecstatic when our district added sex education to my teaching load (I say with a touch of sarcasm). Easy peasy......sorry, I can't answer that question in sex ed class. Yes, I know I have the teacher's manual, but they can fire me if I say the wrong thing in here. Ask me tomorrow when we're in science class. That's what my degree is in.

Which gets us to the reading class the district added to my load. Reading? Sure, I'd done plenty of it in college. Even took a "Teaching Reading in Content Areas" course thanks to my dad. But, really? I had to teach my middle schoolers how to read? Maybe that would explain why we struggled so with mitosis! Back to the classics. Jack London's The Call of The Wild would be perfect for middle schoolers, right? Yep, so perfect they'd already read it in Language Arts. Each had done a poster in living color about their favorite chapter and shared it with their class. Oh well, I'd just ordered 31 paperback copies of The Call of the Wild.

No worries. The book included a complementary copy of Mr. London's other well known story, "White Fang". These were kids whose families butchered hogs at Christmas. Most of the boys in my classes hunted...and some of the girls! Some even shot a year's worth of venison off their front porches! It was a very rural community.

It was my first run-in with parents. Certainly not my last. There was a group standing on the porch of the science building the next morning when I arrived. They had not gone by the office to check in. Looking back, I'm glad they weren't armed. They were in a dither. How dare I make their children read a story where the dog dies? It didn't matter that we were discussing predator/prey relationships, survival of the fittest or natural feelings humans can have for animals. Once someone in the main office realized all my students were lined up on the ramp outside the building after the tardy bell had rung, the ladies in the office sent the principal in short order to defend my classic reading choice.

Oops. Nope. Like I said, the parents were in a dither. Fired up. On a roll. There was no way their children were reading anything about a dog dying. Did I mention White Fang is about 300 pages? As it turned out, a couple of the boys didn't want to read a book that long. It interfered with basketball practice. Would they have been happy with Clifford, The Big Red Dog ? I 'll never know. I was drowning in special requests the parents had. It was the first time I saw the parents' willingness to subvert my lessons in order not to have to listen to their children's complaints at home. It was the first time I saw that a small group could lower the expectations for everyone in my classroom. The first time for both. But not the last time.

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