Teaching Outside the Lines

Somewhere along the way, I realized I taught kids, not curriculum, which means I’d be a square-peg in today’s Common Core round-hole.

The kids I taught were fondly known as Retreads, from having failed and retaken so many classes. I loved their energy and insights.  Most other English teachers were happy they didn’t have my classes, administrators were happy because they didn’t have to persuade said teachers to teach said classes, and I was happy because I was pretty much left alone.  

However, one afternoon as I was prepping for the following day, I got a call from the Vice Principal of Attendance and Discipline. She was on a first name basis with most of my students.

Glad I caught you.  Do you have a minute?  she inquired.


Are you taking attendance in your Mass Media classes?

Of course I’m taking roll.

Mass Media was a favorite class, designed specifically for the Retreads.  I had taken one look at the curriculum, which was little more than Shut Up ‘n Color pablum, tossed it in the curricular file and asked the kids what they needed to learn.  They were 18 years old, hanging on to school by a thread and many already had their own personal Probation Officer. The kids knew full well what they needed in order to survive.

The class put together a list of life topics, which made it easy to develop an appropriate curriculum utilizing basic psychology and sociology as the doors through which the kids could improve their reading, writing, speaking and critical thinking skills.

That said, they wouldn’t have recognized a gerund, intransitive verb or denouement if one jumped up and bit them on the nose, much less known how any of them function in grammar or literature. These kids would not have done well with Common Core standards.

We opened with Relationships, not that I have even a marginal expertise in the subject (see Dating Category). The kids first read the original Cinderella, courtesy of the Brothers Grimm, in which each of the stepsisters cut off her toes and heel in order to squeeze her bloody, mutilated foot into the glass slipper.  I would not recommend that anyone read this particular version to princess-enthralled little girls.

The kids then compared and contrasted the Grimm version with the sanitized Disney Cinderella, and ended with watching the R-rated Pretty Woman.  I could have been fired for showing the movie, even though it seems pretty tame by today’s standards. Then again, I could have been fired more than once, so in the grand scope of things, it probably wasn’t that big of a deal.

The girls quickly figured out and shared what modern-day Cinderellas give up/cut off of themselves in order to catch their Prince Charmings while the boys were equally vocal in sharing what happens when they fall into the Princely trap of assuming responsibly for keeping his Princess happily ensconced on her pedestal.  It was an eye opener for both genders. One young woman sought help and got out of an abusive relationship after the unit was completed.

In another unit, the students researched gangs like the Mafia and KKK.  These kids were incredibly perceptive: leaders got power; followers got to contribute and have their contribution valued.  They observed that dynamic is also a definition of family, which every one of us needs regardless of how we define our family members. The kids concluded a person couldn’t successfully leave one family without first finding a replacement family. Sociologists would have been hard pressed to be as succinct and on point as these students.

The discussion grew into a lively, loud debate around local gangs, whether it was better to stay or leave, because anyone leaving would be killed.  They knew this for a fact; many had been born into multi-generational gangs. Two young men later returned to say goodbye to me. Each shared that he wanted a new life so had enlisted in the military, his new family, knowing there would be no return to the old family or old life.

But, back to attendance and the Vice Principal.  The morning after our phone chat, the kids were in small groups, discussing, debating and involved in the assignment at hand when one of the kids nudged me and nodded towards the door.

Ms. C. is here.

I turned to see the vice principal standing in the open doorway, just watching, so I walked over to greet her while the class continued their discussions.

Hi! Can I help you?  I asked.

They’re all here.  It was a statement and I didn’t know quite what to do with it.

Well, yes.  They’re supposed to be here.

No. She looked puzzled. They’re all here and they’re all working.

ah, yes. It’s class. What else would you expect?

She just looked at me.

No, you don’t understand. This is the only class they attend.

Beginners Golf

I had a friend. She IMG_2453was a golfer. She is a golfer. It is her life.

We were retiring at the same time.  Her plan was to play golf for the next 100 or so years and, as far as I know, she’s kept to her plan.

At the time, just before retirement, she was fairly certain that if our friendship was going to continue in any meaningful manner, I needed to play golf.

I was game to learn even though I had never held a golf club in my life.  Actually, that’s not true.  I did take golf in high school and the coach told me to pick up the ball and throw it; it’d go farther. Those words no doubt colored any thought of my ever taking up the sport.

I did need a hobby …. or at least, I thought I did as I also knew nothing at all about retirement.  As it turns out, I am far busier in retirement than I ever was when I was working.  I’m not quite sure how I had so much free time when I had a full time job.

One spring afternoon, my friend and I met at the local golf course, where she introduced me to her pro, a very nice woman who was very encouraging and helpful, especially in signing me up for a whole bunch of lessons.  I showed up for each and every lesson and soon realized that this whole golf hobby was far beyond what I had originally bargained for.

The thing about golf is that you need clubs — a whole lot of clubs, as it turns out, most of which I have no idea when to use.  The clubs also need a bag in which to reside.  Actually, the clubs need two bags, a small one to walk a couple of very special clubs to the green — that’s where the ball eventually finds the hole — and a large bag to carry all of them along the rest of course.

There are also balls, tees, a cloth to keep everything clean, place markers, a divot tool, gloves, caddy, a visor and a whole assortment of colorful thingamajigs that go inside the pockets of the large golf bag and then promptly get lost somewhere at the bottom. But, because they’re critical to the game, you need to keep replacing them.

It’s rather like kids’ socks and the washers that eat them.  You have no idea where they go, just that you have to keep replacing the socks or, in golf’s case, the thingamajigs, in order to keep everything balanced and in its proper order.

Once properly outfitted, the bag is far too heavy to carry, especially with all those missing items at the bottom, so that means investing in a push cart for short courses and a golf cart for longer ones.

In order to actually get onto the course, you need both the proper clothes and shoes, neither of which can be used for anything other than golf and are season specific.  Women’s clothes and shoes, while a tad pricey, are very cute to wear and are easy to color-coordinate with the bag, clubs, balls, markers, tees and shoes.  My personal color preference is deep purple which goes with my silvery-white hair but unfortunately clashes with the light green golf bag that was purchased when I was a blondy-auburn.

I think golf is actually about as expensive and time intensive as owning a horse which is another activity that drains the bank account.

After taking the lessons, practicing at the range, buying the irons, woods, balls, tees and thingamajigs, I went out to lunch with my former friend.

When are we going to play?

It’ll be a while. I’m moving to La Quinta.  Maybe when you visit…

For a brief moment, I thought about wrapping my driver around her neck, except it was in the bag on the push cart in the garage and, besides, I wasn’t exactly sure which club it was.

Regardless, I was pretty sure the club was too darn expensive to even consider bending it. 

Profiles in Code

I was considering writing a book on Internet Dating Codes except it’s already been done numerous times without a lot of success. Most of us realize that the online profile narratives are written in Code and, like most things in life, men and women use very different Codes. Therein lies a great deal of the challenge of internet dating.

Online profile writing coaches — yes, there is such a job and, yes, there are many such services — tell women to keep it light.  Delete the White Picket Fences and Happily Ever Afters and use words like fun, laughter, outdoors and adventure.

Fair enough.

Then I stumbled upon a website that interprets women’s profile Codes for men.

According to that website, if a woman writes that she likes to have fun, she really wants to have sex.

If a woman writes that she enjoys laughter, she really wants to have sex.

And, if a woman writes that she likes the outdoors and adventure, she wants to hike and set up camp in the back country where she really wants to have sex.


Numerous websites note that women have their unique set of Codes:

If a woman writes that she wants to start with a friendship and see where it goes, she really wants a long term committed relationship complete with the Happily Ever After and optional White Picket Fence.

If a woman writes that you must love animals, she probably has a minimum of ten cats that will be included in the long term committed relationship.

And, if a woman writes that you must love family, she probably has her kids, grandkids and/or parents living with her and will be included in the long term relationship.  Men don’t need a Code Translator to know exactly what that means in terms of a sex life.

Other websites list the Codes used by men:

If a man writes that he is very spiritual, he is probably without a job or retirement income and is looking for room, board and a warm bed in which to have sex.

If a man writes that he is laid back, he is probably a couch potato and his only exercise is getting up for another beer or having sex.

And, if a man writes that he is seeking a woman with a specific hair and/or eye color, he is really shopping for a car.

I once got an email from a man on an internet dating site who had written in his profile that he had a lot of interests, including Sports that began with the letter S.  I thought about that and concluded that he might have meant soccer, shuffleboard, swimming, scuba diving, sailing, snorkeling, skiing, squash, surfing, skateboarding…

ok, I’m not that naive. We were both in our mid-sixties, so he probably did not mean skateboarding.

I also figured that he enjoyed sex and was being a bit creative in stating it. 

After a number of emails back and forth, we met for the obligatory coffee. 

He was a very nice, retired professional man and, in short order, disclosed his favorite S sport.

There is evidently one additional sport that begins with the letter S: Swinging.  Not Swing as in dance.  Swing as in Swingers.

Who knew?  It had simply never crossed my mind. S is for Swinging.

Holy Mackerel.

And, if you are even thinking for a split second of asking me anything, the answer was no.


My Daughter’s Cat

I inherited my daughtIMG_2441er’s cat. 

I like dogs.  We’ve always had dogs and they were always German Shepherds.  The dogs instinctively knew their role: to serve and protect. And they did it quite well without ever complaining.

Then there was Misha, a small, dainty bundle of tangled black, white and grey fur that always needed grooming.  She established her role rather quickly: she was the center of the universe.

I’m not quite sure how I ended up with her — at the time, I thought I was just cat-sitting for a weekend.

Misha and I had met once before, right after my daughter, a student at UCB, and her boyfriend/now husband adopted her from the local animal shelter.  Misha was cute enough, but she was a cat.  My daughter had always wanted a cat;  I’m not sure why, because as an adult, she and her husband have adopted very large dogs that keep up quite well with my two very active grandsons.

However back in her college days, my daughter had Misha.  And, being a cat and somewhat curious, Misha got out of the Berkeley house and was hit by a car.

I got the call at school during lunch.

Mom…daughter was crying.  Sob, sob, sob. 

Misha got hit by a car. Sob, sob, sob.

I thought that was the end of cat’s nine lives from my daughter’s sobbing. I was wrong.

Mom, she needs surgery.


Honey, there comes a point you have to let Misha go onto kitty heaven. 

I tried to be gentle, but good grief, the soon-to-be ex and I were underwriting two kids in college, a bi-coastal marriage with two households, and this was a very young kitten of questionable lineage.

You’d never make that decision about your dogs.  My daughter quickly grew very indignant. 

Actually we had, but the kids didn’t know it and this didn’t seem like the best time to rewrite history or argue the point.

Besides, Misha had already had the surgery.

Can you put money in my bank account?  Please…

Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching.

We ended the conversation and I headed back to my classroom, where the phone was again soon ringing.

The teacher next door walked in, mid-conversation, and, having kids and animals of his own, quickly pieced together what was happening.

He stood at the door and kept mouthing, It’s a cat. Are you crazy? as I listened to my daughter give the Misha Medical Update.

Did you know they have kitty respirators? 

Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching.

So, by all standards, Misha should have lived the rest of her remaining seven or eight lives with my daughter, who obviously had the cat’s best interests at heart.

But, no, Misha ended up with me.

We had a love-ignore relationship.  I tried to love her; she pretty much ignored me.  Maybe not totally ignored me, because I fed her and tried to groom her. But it was definitely in the toleration range.

Misha wanted to be left alone until she didn’t, and she wanted to be petted or groomed until she didn’t, at which time she’d hiss and bite or claw.  Unfortunately, I never saw the hiss, bite or claw coming so she usually got me.  Then, she would walked away, twitching her very elegant tail and feeling very pleased with herself while I nursed my bleeding wounds.

If I didn’t give Her Highness the attention she demanded, Misha would walk out in front of my our her home, sit on the lawn at the edge of the sidewalk and patiently wait for a neighbor to walk by.  Then, the cat would throw herself on her back in front of anyone who strolled by, purr loudly, and wait for a tummy rub.

Everyone in the neighborhood thought Misha was the most perfect, most polite, most beautiful cat they had ever met. 

Evidently, I was the only one who knew the truth.

Metaphor Wars

Beyond having creative, innovative and somewhat endearing English teachers, our department was unique in that we were also very close friends. We loved the art of teaching and most of our students; we also loved to have fun both in and out of the classroom.

We taught Metaphors, a comparison between two non-alike things without using like or as (that’s a simile for those searching the deep dark recesses of your minds trying to find something that you learned in school and has absolutely no application to anything you’ve ever done in life unless, of course, you’re an English teacher or writer). 

The world is your oyster.

He drowned in a sea of grief.

It all started innocently enough in the English Office when we were helping one of the new teachers come up with unique examples of metaphors.  Someone offered the example of Ted and Jane being the black and white keys on the piano…different genders and ethnicities, but closely aligned in their lesson plans. 

It was probably the finest example, because, as it was Friday after a long week, the discussion quickly disintegrated into a one-up-man-ship of examples that could never in a thousand years be used in a classroom.

And thus began the rather infamous, if short lived, Metaphor Wars…

Monday, Suzanna tacked up a poster of a gas-masked soldier walking away from a building with toxic orange smoke billowing from it with the penned metaphor, the teacher who has bathroom duty this week

I should note Suzanna was well known for her ability to blush a deep red at any suggestive innuendo.  It was so bad that she kept a small paper fan on her desk because our office thrived on innuendos of all kinds.

brainTuesday, our colleague from the science department brought in his This is Your Brain poster. We all applauded his grasp of the metaphor.

Wednesday was a short column from the local paper… for every woman who doesn’t want to have sex with her husband because of a headache, there are two or more women with aspirin in their purses, and pictures of confident, sexy women with prominent purses.

Pictures and posters of metaphors began filling every possible space in the office. Who knew metaphors could be so much fun?

Thursday, Peggy walked into Suzanna’s room during a silent reading period, when everyone in the school was supposed to be reading.  She carried a small silver tray bearing a torn page from a magazine of an advertisement showcasing a man’s suited torso, a scantily dressed woman draped over his shoulder with one arm and very suggestively caressing his tie with her free hand. Next to the picture were two aspirin. Dianne followed, handing Suzanna her paper fan.

Every time Suzanna attempted to re-focus on her reading, she’d start laughing again, turn beet red and frantically fan herself. It was quite a sight to behold according to her students who had no idea what was going on except that it seemed to be far more entertaining than anything they were reading. 

Friday was as quiet as a Friday could be, other a rather large collection of men’s ties suddenly decorating the office.

The following Monday, there was a staff meeting after school and an unexpected guest presenter.  He was dressed in the typical professional attire, with the exception of a very large, very wide, extraordinarily ugly, bright green tie.  

The English Department, sitting together in the back of the room, immediately dissolved into a puddle of giggles before the poor man ever opened his mouth. We all looked at the floor, bit our lips and tried to suppress our laughter as tears streamed down our faces. It didn’t work. One of us would start giggling and the others couldn’t help but join in.

We couldn’t look up, we couldn’t look each other, we couldn’t look at the speaker, no doubt a very nice man who was speaking on a topic that none of us can remember.

But we all remember his tie.

A Man and his Dog

I don’t pretend to know how or why it happens, but dogs (the four legged variety) want to be with me, especially the large working dogs. They love me. They look at me with adoring eyes. They follow me anywhere. I used to think that if I could attract men like I can attract dogs…but that is another story for another day.

I had a date with a man who had a Rottweiler that he was trying to train as a guard dog.  That was scary.  He had been the volunteer “bad guy” in the training of German Shepherds for a local police department, which meant he knew about as much as I did about K9s.

Maybe I knew a bit more.

When our two older German Shepherds went on to their just rewards in doggie heaven, I decided we were way past the puppy stage of life and called a friend who was a police chief.

How can I get a retired K9?

Call Randy. 

So I did, and Fero, a retired K9, came into our lives.  He was a Schutzhund III (the masters level of training: obedience, tracking, protection) German Shepherd from Germany.  He also had a teddy bear and a K9 Vocabulary List in German and English.

Date was impressed with my background, having had both a retired K9 and the Vocabulary List, and wanted me to meet his Dog, although he warned me that Rotts can be quite strong, dangerous and males are one-man animals. Date evidently missed the part of the training about K9s needing to also be family dogs.

Date warned Keep your distance and do not approach Dog. I didn’t have to as Dog had already bounded across the room, body wagging tail and looking at me with adoring eyes and a silly smile.

The three of us sat down, with me in the middle.

Date warned, Be careful; he’s a guard dog. Dog tried to sit on my lap before finally settling on leaning into me and begging for attention.

Date warned, Dog could turn on you at any moment. Dog started groaning, drooling and wiggling his entire body in ecstasy from the back and shoulder massage I was giving him.

Date wondered, Have I lost control of my dog? Dog promptly flopped down, rolled over on his back and began whining for a tummy rub.

Date advised, Be careful, he could bite your face and right on cue, Dog jumped up, turned, put his huge front paws on my lap, leaned his enormous head into mine, licked my face and looked at me with a big goofy grin.

At which point, I could see Date, not Dog, was in distress and growing more agitated, so I got up to leave.

I could hear Dog crying and howling as I left. Date, not so much, but then again, Dog and I had a much stronger connection.