Friday, January 31, 2014

"I meant what said, and I said what I meant! An elephant is faithful, 100%"  Horton, the elephant


My senior homeroom teacher scared the living daylights out of me! There she stood on the first day of school, her long-sleeved black dress ending at her ankles where her huge black, "sensible" shoes began. An enormous crucifix hung from her neck, and the word was that she had been a nun. NO ONE talked. We all just stared at her... we'd heard about her class... She told us to stand up so we could introduce ourselves to her, one by one. We were to shake her hand and tell her our names. Luckily, she started on the other side of the class. I studied the whole operation and was wondering if I should throw in a curtsey for free...
"And who are you?"

"Terry Kingston..."

"Speak UP, girl!  WHO are YOU?"

"Terry Kingston." She'd get no curtsey from me!

"What is your WHOLE first name!"

"Terry is my whole first name..."

"THAT'S NO NAME! WHAT WERE YOUR PARENTS THINKING WHEN THEY NAMED YOU? IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERESA!!!" ...and she threw down my hand.  ...and on to the next poor schmoo she went.

Her first order of business was to teach us how to walk into her classroom. There was to be NO NOISE! "Do NOT, at any time, let your heels click on the floor!"

Just then a kid walked in with a message for Miss Billingsley from the office.  He had TAPS on both the heels and toes of his shoes! He thought he was cooool. She commanded him to walk back-and-forth on his TIP-TOES 25 times for that infraction!  ...and he DID!  We watched him do it! I was terrified of her.

But Bruce wasn't! Towards the middle of the year, he had the nerve to raise his hand in this "home"room class, and question something that she'd just said. Bruce was in ALL the honors classes, and, boy, was he smart... not as in "smart alec," just very smart.

Miss Billingsley told him to come out into the hall with her, and he did. Then she began to yell at him. Amazingly, we could hear Bruce defending himself, out loud, mind you! They must have walked down the hall and down the stairs, because the yelling got softer, and then there was none.

The creepy part was that no one ever saw Bruce again!

Now, New Jersey was just down the parkway and across the river from us somewhere, and, later I found out, according to TV, that Tony Soprano lived there, and the Mafia and all, and bad things happened and...  Well, you know... Where WAS Bruce? NAW! Miss Billingsley would have put TONY in slippers, if she'd ever met him, and she'd have taught him to walk properly, too!  

From Miss Billingsley's HOMEroom, I'd go to Miss Favroe's English class. Miss Favroe had a black dress, too, that stopped at her ankles, and the same sort of shoes. It was her eyes that I noticed most, though. They were very smart eyes, and kind. When we were sitting in her class, she towered over us. She was at least 6+ feet tall. But when the bell rang and we were dismissed, she only came to my shoulder! Funny how perceptions color everything.

For the first time in my student-life, I hated English class! It seemed that every night we had to memorize lists of words for some quiz or other the next morning. We memorized ALL the prepositions first. Then, later, every week it was some other lists of parts of speech. It cost me most of my study time every night, trying to pass those darn quizzes, because one of the things I cannot do is memorize. My mediocre grades in history classes proved that. Therefore, I hated history, too! It was a given.

It wasn't until my first art history class in college that I was taught history differently.  Those names I'd had to memorize were PEOPLE... REAL LIVE PEOPLE who had thoughts and feelings and desires just like I did! It was a REVELATION to me, and that changed me and my studies, and in a way, it opened up my life!

But, back to Miss Favroe...  One day when we walked into her class, there were these funny words on the board:       

            Buffalo Bill's
defunct
            who used to
            ride a water-smooth-silver
                                          stallion
and break onetwothreefourfivepigeonsjustlikethat
                                                                        Jesus
he was a handsome man
                            and what I want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

Well, she'd cracked up! That was all there was to it! We looked at each other, and then at the board, and then at her, and then we did it all over again.

When the bell rang to begin the class, she asked us to tell her what we thought of that "poem" on the board! She'd never asked any of us what we thought before! No one had. We were just students. Well, it was a "new day, a new dawn, a new me, and I was feeling gooood!"

As you probably already guessed, it was an e e cummings' poem. That day turned me around, and English became my most favorite class, ever in the world, except for art class.

We studied, we learned, and we grew as students because of that lady. And then it was time to take the S.A.T.'s. Those day-long tests would decide what colleges or universities would accept us. The compulsory multiple choice tests were in the morning, and the optional Writing Tests were to take the entire afternoon and on into the evening hours.

When the results came in, I saw Miss Favroe walking down the hallway, and she called me over and asked me to walk with her... ME! She said that my scores were so high that I would be accepted anywhere, even at her alma mater, Smith College!  She told me that she would write me a recommendation letter, and she thought I should apply there. ME! 

As we walked down the hall, I got up the nerve to tell her that if my scores were so good, it was all due to HER...  Every bloody one of those lists of words that we had to memorize were vital to getting correct answers on those multiple choice tests. The difficult, thoughtful choices of poetry we'd studied in class had been vital for the thinking that those the writing tests required. It was all HER! 

Miss Favroe was my model for teaching long after I left high school. I didn't go to Smith, although, I was accepted there, and at UCONN, too. You see, a girl I knew came running up to me that same day saying, "Terry, I got my black dress for college! Have YOU got yours yet? C'mon, tell me!"

BLACK DRESS?????  BLACK DRESS????? ME??????? A BLACK DRESS????? NEVER, NEVER, NEVER!

She said, "Well, what are you going to wear to all the university cocktail parties, then?"

????????????

That made my mind up!  It was no Eastern college for me! And NO BLACK DRESSES, EVER...  whether they went with black Army boots for teaching OR were slinky and meant for going to cocktail parties!"  NO BLACK DRESSES! 

The University of Nebraska had accepted me, and that's where I'd go... with football and ice cream and pennants and things like that.  YUP, it was UNL for me.  

When I got there, the week before classes started, I went through "Rush Week."  At all those sorority rush parties, I was the only one one who didn't have a "little black dress..." 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Drawing on my fine command of the language, I said nothing." ~ Robert Benchley


The hardest thing about studying art history AND Engish literature at the same time in college is buying all the textbooks required for each class each semester.  When you buy the required texts on each prof's list, you only seek out the USED textbooks because they are cheaper than new, you assume.  When the class is over, you "sell" them back to the univeristy bookstore for less than the paper they were printed on... and on and on and on...  

You take that meager thimble-full of money they gave you the last semester when you find the "used books" for the new semster.  You head to the register, and lo-and-behold, these "used' books ALWAYS cost more than last semester's "used" books!  You make a huge mistake if you even peek at the prices of the NEW, NEVER-BEEN-USED-BEFORE books, though.  I did it once, and I nearly had a heart-attack.  The brand-new texts were only slightly higher in price than the same texts that had been mutilated by hundreds of starving students before you. Nobody I knew had ever looked at the NEW texts because every one assumed that their price would be out-of-sight. I bet that those university book stores make more money than the richest drug dealers in town... I betcha... and bookstores are never, ever bothered by the police!

In order to buy those textbooks and all the art materials that I needed each semester: reams of exotic papers, wickedly expensive brushes, hundreds of tubes of paints, and a myriad of clay tools, I had to work every summer, as did nearly everyone I knew at school.

Summers in Stamford, Connecticut were hot, sometimes humid, and could even be stickey.  I think anything over 75 degrees is hot, I ought to mention.  That made my summer job at the local dry cleaners even more dicey. The owner didn't believe in air-conditioning his store.  I suppose he felt that if the presser-guy had to suffer, so should the counter-girl... that would be me!  There was no wall between the front counter and the huge machines that dry cleaned the clothes and pressed the clothes and swung the clothes in a huge circle around the entire shop.  

We had a kindly owner, though.  When I pointed out to him that the thermometer on the wall said that it was 116 degrees in the shop, and I was constantly having to run to the unisex bathroom to vomit, he ran right over to the drug store and bought me some "salt tablets."  That was so I didn't sweat on the freshly-pressed clothes that I handed over to the customers every day.  Lovely man...  

Actually, he was mostly the absent owner. He would drive over on Saturdays at closing time, open the old, old cash register drawer, shove all the money into his hip pocket, and then say, "Oh, yeah, you two!"  We'd each receive our pittance out of his wad.  Actually, I never knew what my pay was supposed to be. There was no "pay check." Every Friday it was a mystery what I would take home that week!

The upside of that job was sort of a "downer," but educational.  I'd walk the 14 blocks to work and back every day, and right next to the hardware store on the shady side of the street, there was an old, rumpled graveyard.  All the stones were cattywampus with green weeds creeping over every inch of that ground. When I finally got the courage to set foot in that place, I found that the gravestones were carved with dates from the late 1700's to the early 1800's!  It fascinated me to think that they had been there so long.

The presser guy who worked at the cleaners was the strongest man I'd ever seen.  He never talked to me except twice.  He'd just be there pressing in the morning when I'd get there, and leave as soon as the pressing was done. That's when the hissing of the machine would stop, and the temperature would go down to a balmy 103 degrees.

The first time he talked to me, he said that he was going to be using the phone a lot now, and I wasn't to tell anyone what he said on that phone, "YA HEAR ME?"  He was 6 feet 20 inches tall, and had narrow eyes, and I wanted to live, so I said, "OK."

After a full morning of clothes-pressing in his muscle-man tee shirt, he would come to the front, call somebody, and whisper things like, "Acqueduct, 5th, Dimpled Mary to win."  And "Hollywood Park, 7th, I Gotta Stop This across the board." He'd be reading these mysteries off of a piece of scrap paper that had writing on it every which way.  

When he'd finish, he'd look way, way down at me, and say, "Don't you say nothin' now."  I'd nod, and after about 4 weeks of that, he finally started to trust me.  Which was good, because of that darn fire! 

Our cleaners had a 4-foot wide alley between it and the building next-door to us, and there was a glass-less window on that side of our shop. It had bars criss-crossing it, but no glass. Neighbor kids would hide there to smoke or to tell nasty jokes or whatever 10- or 12-year-old boys do. They thought, as they sat there, that no one could hear what they were saying or see what they were doing. But lots of the time, I had nothing to do BUT listen to them.

This day, I imagine they decided to play with fire, because all at once we heard screaming from that window in little boy's voices, "FIRE!  FIRE!  FIRE!" Then I heard whispering, and then running feet. I looked, and, sure enough, there were flames licking the edges of that window, and then coming into the shop!

Rodney yelled, "TERRY! FIRE! HELP ME GET THE CLOTHES OUT OF HERE!  NOW!!!"  

I did!  I ran back there and ran out to the front sidewalk, right behind him.  He ran back into the building, rife with cleaning fluids and oily smells, and I did, too. We raced out again, and the third time, as I ran behind Rodney, he was carrying the massive cash register!  

On the sidewalk, Rodney turned on me and yelled, "YOU STAY HERE AND GUARD THE CASH REGISTER!"  

"NO, RODNEY! LET ME HELP YOU GET MORE OF THE CLOTHES OUT OF THE BUILDING!"

"TERRY!  YOU DUMMY! YOU HAVEN'T BROUGHT NO CLOTHES OUT YET!  YOU JUS' KEEP RUNNIN' BACK AND FORTH! NOW DO SOMETHIN'!  GUARD THE DAMN CASH REGISTER!"  So I did.

When the firemen came and restored semi-order, Rodney said, "YOU gunna call him!"

"Me? I can't call him and tell him that his store caught fire..."

"YOU GUNNA CALL HIM AND YOU GUNNA DO IT NOW!"

"OK... but I'm scared to tell him......  Do I have to.........?"

When our boss drove up to the shop, he screamed and yelled a litte bit, but I was just happy that Rodney and I hadn't been blown to smithereens.  Only 4 pieces of clothing burned. The rest were saved because of Rodney's quick-wittedness. The upshot was that the store would be closed for a while, and we weren't going to be paid for those days, either, naturally.

"Can I have my salt tablets, please?"

"No! Now go home! I don't have any insurance on this place! I'll call you when we get it running again."

So I did.  So did Rodney. The owner forgot to give us our week's pay as he dove into the cash register, and I was mad..  Neither Rodney or I had taken one dime out of that cash register that was sitting on the sidewalk!  Probably because we didn't have a clue what he owed us...  All I hoped was that Rodney's horses came in, and that he made some money on his illegal booky sideline. As for me... there'd better be a short list of textbooks I had to buy for my lit classes in the fall.  I would be taking advanced painting, and ooooh the cost of a tube of red oil paint.... Yikes!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"  ~ Ernest Hemingway

On the first day I became an "official high school teacher," I walked into MY new, never-before-occupied art room.  The school was 1-year old, and I was just an infant.  My room had every thing an art teacher could want... lots and lots of space, brand-new storage baskets enough for each of my students, acres of spotless bulletin boards to display my students' future masterpieces, two large stainless steel sinks set into an expansive wooden-topped work-station, and lots of large wooden tables that would seat 4 students apiece, lined with enough high wooden stools to hold 36 students.  Nirvana!

After the beginning-of-school meetings and preparations, the first day of actual school arrived.  At the end of that day, after seeing my 222 students, I went home and cried.  I was just 21 years old, and I was exhausted...  How could I do this?  Who did I think I was?  That was just the first day.............  There were about 183 more days to go... 

But I came back the next day... the rent for my 2-room furnished apartment was due that week, all $125. I HAD to stick it out! Panhandling was not an option! Day by day, though, it got better and better, and finally threre was a rhythm to it all.  Later I found that the more years I taught, the faster that soothing hum would start.  

Between classes teachers were required to stand outside of their classroom doors, checking each student's apparel as they walked by... Boys MUST have their shirts tucked into their slacks and MUST have a belt on.  NO jeans!  Girls' skirts must NOT be too short!  NO holding hands in the hallway!  Teachers must break that up immediately!  There seemed to a be law for teachers, too... no bathroom breaks until your conference period or during lunch, whichever came first...  HUH?

Conference period was interesting...  I remember one more than all the rest. Students were not supposed to pass notes in class.  They did, though, and had done since caveman times, I bet!  I thought that the ethical thing to do when you caught one was to throw them in the wastebasket...  Well, that became my policy after I read one of them... about ME!  Sheesh!

In the faculty lounge where we "conferenced," one of the teachers had intercepted a note floating around in her class, and it was a dilly!  I know because the teacher passed it around to all of us in the faculty room to read.  A sophmore girl had written to a friend about sex.  The note said for her friend not to worry...  "as long as you only do it for 15 minutes, you won't get pregnant."  (You're wondering how I could remember this exact quote, aren't you?  Are you KIDDING me?????  Who would forget that?)  We all laughed hysterically, but then I began to think hard.  If that girl believed that, then that must be something that other kids believed, and that meant that my job would be secure for the rest of my life, didn't it?  Whew! I mean, think of all the kids that were going to be born in the future!

But things, besides learning to draw, happened to some of my kids that year.  One girl wore a huge, dirty white sweater every single day to class.  She was shy and didn't talk much. Other kids came up to me complaining that they didn't want to sit by her because she smelled. One day she didn't come to my class. I was told by the nurse that during gym class the P.E. teachers had stripped her down to give her a bath in the girls' shower room. They found that she was at least 7 months pregnant.  Of course, today those teachers would be in prison.  But it was done with the blessing of the adminstration, and for the girl's sake, it might even have been the best thing.  The next day the truant officer went to her home, and there was no running water in the little shack where she lived.  There's more, but you'd probably rather not know the rest...

I wasn't teaching near the "Little House on the Prairie!"  It was a large city... the biggest in the state, and things happened.  And I was sooo young, and I hadn't seen that much of the "world," even though I'd been brought up in California and Connecticut and went regularly to NYC to go the museums and meet my Dad for lunch at "Danny's Hideaway" around the corner from his office.  Things happened...
and I cried nearly every single night I got home from school.  You see, I really didn't know that such bad things were happening to kids like Bob in that lovely city where I taught.    

Bob was an unhappy kid in my class, kind of defensive, quick to get angry.  But he seemed to like art.  He asked me if he could come see me after school one day, and I said, "Sure." Bob had a black eye and some red sploches on his face that morning when he came to class. But there were no "Child Protective Services" back then. There were no guidance counselors back then, either, that I can remember. School was for learning and that's all I knew.

He came in and told me that his father had beat him last night.  His eyes were so full of hurt and so sad, though, that I could barely look at him. I said some inane thing like, "Well, your Dad loves you, and he just wants what's best for you."  I'd heard that in a movie once, and it'd seemed to help the actress who was playing the part of a young high school student in that Hollywood drama.

"I HATE HIM!" Bob yelled.  "I HATE HIM! I HATE HIM! I HATE HIM!"  He began to kick my desk every time he yelled, and those dents stayed in my desk for the next 11 years of my career at that school. I didn't know what to do.  I didn't have the life experience to say anything that would help.  "If he hits me tonight, I'M GOING TO HIT HIM!  I AM!" and he ran out of the room.

He was back in class the next day, but refused to work on his project.  He just sat there, waiting for the bell to ring.

Time passed, and Bob was irritable and surly, and I didn't know what to do or who to see about it.  There wasn't anyone to help.  The Vice Principal in those days was there to punish kids.  He had a paddle to prove it.  Well, we ALL had paddles, and we were to use them... but that story is for another day...

Then he came into my room after school one day and said in a perectly flat voice, "I'm going to the state reformatory in a week.  It's about a hundred miles from here."

"Bob, what happened?"

"Me and my friend rolled a drunk."

"What does that mean?  Did you hurt him?"

"HA!  He was laying there, drunk, and we stole all his money.  We got caught, that's all."

"Oh, Bob!"

Then he left, and I didn't see him for 10 months.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

 That next year, my second year of teaching, I had at least some experience to lean on.  My classes were full, and I'd gotten to know the amazing art teacher in the next room who helped guide me through this maze called teaching.

Towards the end of 3rd quarter another student entered my chocked-full class. It was Bob.  But it wasn't Bob, at least it wasn't the Bob who had left my class the  year before.  It was his eyes... his dead, sneering eyes that I looked at.  It wasn't Bob, anymore.  He asked if he could see me after school, and I'd said, "Yes, of course!"  What had happened to him in "reform school?  This was NO Hollywood movie!  This was real!  He'd been my student, and I hadn't helped him a bit... no one had.

"They put me in solitary confinement on bread and water for six months!  SIX MONTHS!  They thought they could break me, but they couldn't!  THEY COULDN'T!"

That's all I can remember about Bob.  He never came back to see me ever again, and I just don't know what became of him.  I think I probably do know, though... and it isn't good.   
   
"Dare to be naive."  ~ Buckminster Fuller
Some of you are probably thinking…  Who is this Terry Waldron person who thinks she can just decide to write a blog… WITHOUT PICTURES, no less!!!  What background for teaching does she have, anyway??? Glad you asked…

When you’re in university studying to be a teacher, the time comes when you have to put it all on the line…  Yes, I’m talking STUDENT TEACHING! In those days at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln that meant teaching a class at the University Laboratory High School (I think that was the name, anyway). Most of the students there were the kids of the professors and assistant profs at the university. Is that really good experience for practicing to teach?  I don’t know.  It’s where I was assigned, though, and off I went.

There were 4 of us student-teachers of art that semester: two guys, me, and an old lady who we thought was definitely too old to become a new teacher. Good Lord! She was 35 years old! We all were given our assignments for which period we’d be teaching. There were four classes of art to teach in that school every day, there were four of us student-teachers, and there was one art room. Timing was of the essence. Each of us had to prepare the room for whatever medium we were using each day, teach the class, clean up the room, and get out in time for the next student-teacher to begin… or end, as it happened that year…

My class was great! All of those 19 sophomores had been eager to learn drawing, painting, and collage. Now they were building clay pots, my personal specialty during this, my senior year of university.They hand-coiled some beautiful pieces. I let their pots dry slowly for a few days, and then stacked the huge professional out-door wood-burning kiln with their work, and fired them. 

Three days later they were cooled enough to come out of the kiln, and I could hardly wait until my class came in. When they saw their pots, they were thrilled! Students were chattering and showing off their beautiful creations to each another, when one tall, lanky boy came up to me with huge grin on his face. “Miss Kingston!  My Mom always told me that I wouldn’t have a pot to piss in, but wait ‘til I show her this! Now I’ve got one! ” Hmmm… It was none of my business what that boy was going to use that pot for, anyway! The question in my mind was… Will I be FIRED for allowing a student to use that word in class???

One day the student-teaching professor called me into his office. He said that there was a big problem… I shrank down in my chair, trying to remember if I’d done anything untoward… He said, “Not with YOU!” It seemed that “the old lady” student-teacher had a class of juniors and seniors, and she just wasn’t “cutting the mustard,” as he put it.  (Mustard is my MOST favorite condiment, and I’d never liked that phrase…) “She quit! I want you to take over her class, Terry!”

“Me?  Really…?  Well, I guess so… yes, I can do that... I guess I can…”And I did, the very next day. That night, though, I kept thinking how could one teacher teach TWO completely different classes back-to-back like that…? (Silly child… Wait a few years and you’ll be teaching seven classes a day, EACH class a different subject… silly twit!)

Now, there’s a way to come into a class mid-term and take it over… but it takes years and years of teaching to perfect it. It’s called the “teacher look” in the profession. You stand at the front of the room full of noisy, unsettled students who don’t know you from Adam, plant your feet about as far apart as your shoulders are, cross your arms in front of you, narrow your eyes, stare straight at the noisiest student, and FREEZE! Works every time!  You don’t say a word, mind you… NOT A WORD! Don’t MOVE! Soon, a student here, a student there, will say, “HUSH UP!” to the class… You stay planted, staring. Others take up the shushing and always the class gets quiet…  Don’t MOVE, though… not yet… Wait until 30 consecutive seconds of perfect silence go by, and then, in a firm, but kindly voice, go right into your lesson. Oh, and you can move now… slowly, though, at first. Mustn’t re-ignite the sleeping tiger in the room.

Well, I didn’t know about the “teacher look,” and I wouldn’t perfect it for several years. I did what my Mom used to do… I yelled at ‘em! They were curious about who I was, and were checking me out to see exactly what tack they were going to take with me.

As it turned out, they grew to like me and even respect me somewhat. Best of all, they learned to make contour drawings, even blind contour drawings, and they were gooood!

It was getting late in the semester, and one of the senior boys in this class had found out that my first name was Terry, and he actually called me “Terry” one day! I told him that I was “Miss Kingston” to him, and he grinned. Every day he got a little chummier, and he called me “Terry!” That always got a rise out of me, and he’d grin.  

One day he stayed after class as I was hurriedly cleaning up the room before the next batch of kids came in. He said that he had a question to ask me.  I said, “What is it?”

“Would you be my date to the prom? It’s in three weeks. I don’t have a car, but we could go on my motorcycle. I’d really like you to come… will you?”

“Of course not!  I’m your teacher!  You can’t ask me something like that!” I walked out in a huff… mostly because I was shy, anyway, and I had no idea how to handle the situation. You can’t pull out the “teacher look” for something like that, after all, can you?

But I thought about it… Not about going with him to the prom… of course NOT! But you know, he was 18 years old, and I was only 20 years old. I’d started school at 4 ½, and I’d always been one of the youngest kids in each grade.  He was very good-looking, smart, and nice, and I was the TEACHER, so, of course, I couldn’t go… I couldn’t even think about it! However, that was the strangest situation I’d ever been in.

The next day in class he laughed it off, and I acted like it had never happened. But what I realized was that real-live teaching wasn’t as easy as it had been when I was nine years old in the backyard “playing” teacher with the kids in the neighborhood as my students… 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
When the semester was over, the professor called each of us in to his office, separately, to discuss our grade for student-teaching. I walked spritely into his office, sure of an “A” and even some praise for my teaching TWO classes for a whopping total of 42 students EVERY DAY! What a saint I was! What glowing words was he going to grace me with… Now, be modest, Terry, even though you know you were “born to the purple!”

“Hello, Miss Kingston,” he said. “Your grade for this semester’s student-teaching will be a “B.” Any questions?” And he stared at my facial pores, rife with black-heads.  “Hello…  hello…  Miss Kingston… Are you there?”

Oh, I was “there” all right!  I was THERE!  I WAS THEEEERRRRRRE!

“A BEEEEEEEE???????”

“Yes, Miss Kingston, a B.”

“WHY???  I taught my class, and I took over that other lady’s class!  The kids liked me and they learned a lot! I taught TWO WHOLE CLASSES!  A BEEEE?”

He looked at me and smiled…  “Finally, you’re fighting for something!” he said.

I didn’t have the faintest idea what he was talking about and I still don’t.  What did that have to do with my teaching? What was going on?  The world had made a complete revolution without me.

“What grade do you think you deserve, Miss Kingston?”

“I deserve an A!”

“Well, I’ m going to give you an A, Miss Kingston.”

GIVE me an A?  GIVE me an A!  I’d earned that grade… I DESERVED that grade…  That grade was MINE, I thought.

“Oh, and by the way, Miss Kingston, my wife has big pores like you do, but a person gets used to seeing them.  Don’t worry too much about them…” And he called in the next student-teacher.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


 “There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature.  A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.”  - Harry Crews, novelist and playwright 

He walked into my junior high class that first day, and all I could see was a keloid scar running from the top of one ear right across his whole head to the top of the other ear! 
I knew exactly what his scar was…  In kindergarten when I was running back to my Mom’s car, I’d tripped over the root of a tree and fallen in between the curb and the car.  When I got up, and my Mom saw my head appear at the car window, her only daughter had no nose, anymore… just a bloody split with half a nose laying on either side!  I’d cut it in two on a sharp piece of car metal. 

Mom raced me to the hospital, and the doctor-on-call happened to be a plastic surgeon, luckily for me.  Dr. Reed sewed me up with black thread, all 150 stitches-worth, and then told my Mom to have me back at the hospital in EXACTLY 12 hours so he could remove the first stitch!  Otherwise, he said, I would have a “keloid scar” for the rest of my life… a raised, disfiguring scar from the top of my nose to the bottom of my nostrils.  Mom drove me to the hospital every 12 hours from Culver City to Santa Monica and back until the doctor said it was OK to wait longer between visits.  When I was older, I’d always meant to find Dr. Reed and tell him “thank you” for his expertise… even though he’d refused to sew me up with the pink thread like I’d asked of him there at the hospital before he started his tailoring job…

This “keloid” boy also had lots of blonde hair that was waxed with gel and spiked all over his head.  The hair spikes were gunked together so that his keloid was the star of his head.  Why?  I dunno…

I liked him, but, then I liked all of “my kids.”  Towards the end of that school year, he came to me after school with his hair-spikes sticking up all around that massive scar tissue, and he looked worried. 

“Mrs. Waldron, I gotta leave school!”

“You have to leave?  Oh, darn!  Why?  Are you moving?

“Naw, the school found out that we don’t live in the right attendance area,” he said.  “I gotta go to the junior high near my house.  But, Mrs. Waldron…  I CAN’T go there!  These four guys that live there told me that if I ever came back to that school, they would beat the crap out of me!  I can’t go there…”

“Well, what‘s the problem you have with them?  Can’t you talk it out and settle it with them?” What I said I knew was ridiculous!  Our school was placed right in the midst of three gangs, and where he was going there was another one. 

He just looked at me, and there really was fear in his eyes.  We both knew I was an idiot!

Honesty is always best, but it is also, sometimes, not a bit of help. “I have no idea what to tell you…  I can’t think of anything that would help you out of this mess…” 

Now, I know about the separation of church and state, and the difference between public and parochial schools.  I know all that.  But this kid had a solid chance of ending up in the hospital, for sure!  And anyway, I only knew of one way to help, the way that I get help…

“I’d like to pray for you, because God is the only One Who can help you now…  What do you say?”

He said, “Yeah… anything!”

I told him that meant that he and I would have to go to the front office, and he’d sit in there with me, and I’d pray for him.

Why, you ask?  Because being in my room alone with him, praying, even though my door was wide open, could possibly cost me my job… maybe not, but I wouldn’t take the chance.  A teacher who I’d taught with had a teacher/husband who’d not only lost his job, but was handcuffed in their front yard by the police and taken to jail for being in a room with a female student who lied about him making advances!  It was in the paper for many months here.  The upshot was that the student admitted lying about the whole thing because she was angry about a bad report card grade he’d given her, and he was completely exonerated.  BUT, he never taught school again.  He’d won major awards for his teaching, but that broke him, his wife told me.  I believed her.  So I’d do my praying in the complete open, and suffer the consequences, whatever they might be.

Into the front office we went.  Four chairs for visitors stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows between the two entrance doors, and that’s where we sat down.  I bowed my head, and he bowed his shivering, scarred head, and I prayed out loud that the Lord would protect him at this new school.  I looked up, and the secretary smiled over at me. Afterwards, he got on his bike and I watched him ride away home.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He came back about a week later, riding his bike right to the open door of my classroom after school was over for the day.  He dropped the bike on the cement and ran in.  “Mrs. Waldron!  They didn’t beat me up!  They didn’t even hit me!  They were all there at the gate of the school when I got there, but they talked to me!  They didn’t hit me or nothing!”  (You can see right there what a great ENGLISH teacher I was.  I did resist the temptation to correct his grammar, though!)

“Really?  Gee, I’m so glad for you!”  And I WAS!  I’d been worrying every day that week, wondering what had happened.  Nice ending of the story, right…  NO, it’s NOT the end…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
He came back to see me in the middle of the next year.  He’d entered high school, and someone had talked him into taking a drama class.  Well, he LOVED it!  He had a small part in a play and was in the middle of rehearsals.  He was convinced he was going to become an actor someday!

So what does that have to do with your story, Terry…  What did he do ~ grow up to receive the Academy Award?????  Nope… at least not that I know of…  But his scar was gone!  That horrible, huge keloid was still there, but he had hair!  He’d grown out his beautiful naturally-blonde hair, and he’d combed it, and he’d weaned it away from hair-gel-and–spikes.  He was a happy kid with a goal worth working for.  And that scar had taken its rightful place…  way, way, away in the backseat of his life!

Monday, January 27, 2014

"You've got to go out on a limb, sometimes, because that's where the fruit is."  ~ Will Rogers


The lunch bell rang and I excused the class on the dot! I would always leave for a fast-food lunch during my 30-minute lunch break. That quiet time was always essential to me so I could refuel for my afternoon classes. But this day one of my senior girls came running back into the room before I could leave.

"Mrs. Waldron!  Mrs. Waldron! I gotta talk to you!" she quietly yelled. "Can I tell you something... and you won't tell anyone?"

"That depends on what you want to tell me..." I told her. "If it's illegal or something, I have to tell..."

"I found a sack filled with money! It was under the bushes right next to the door... C'mon... I'll show you where it was." So we ran out and I looked at a seculded empty space under the sickly bush right next to the back door of the building.

Back in my classroom, she told me that she had counted the money, and there was $600 in that wadded-up paper bag! 


"What should I do, Mrs. Waldron?  With that money I finally have enough to buy a used car! What should I do? There was nothing else in that bag... no name, no nothing... just that money!  No one saw me pick it up, either."

In my mind there were two choices. It's funny, but I didn't debate what I should say... there were only two choices, and I still believe that!


"I think it's probably drug money," I told her. "You found the money, and you can keep it, and no one will ever know. I won't tell anyone because it's your choice, not mine. OR, you can take it to the police department and turn it in. There's a slim possiblity that it might belong to someone... maybe some old lady carries her money that way... I don't know."

"Well, what will happen if I take it to the police?"

"The police will probably keep it for a set time and, if no one claims it, I think it's yours.  I THINK!   I don't know, though."

Well, she left, and I sat back down at my desk for the 15 minutes I had left of my food-free lunch break, wondering what she was going to do.

She came in the next day before school and told me that she had walked to the police station and given them the money after they thoroughly questioned her. They told her that she had to wait 3 months before she could claim it. I was soooo darn proud of that senior girl, because in my eyes she'd become a woman right then!

It was a loooong 3 months, though, with her visiting the police department once or twice every single week to see if someone had claimed it. I think that the worst day for her, though, was the day before the money could legally be hers. The day d r a g g e d for her, and, funnily enough, for me, too. She asked me to wait after school until she came back to see me, so I sat there, nervously grading essays, waiting for her...


Suddenly, there she was, walking into my classroom.  She announced, "It's mine now! The police guy said so! Mrs. Waldron, I'm going to go with my Dad tomorrow and get me that used car!"

And she did... and I'm still soooo proud of that young lady... Makes teaching into much more than the government folks and the newspapers will ever understand. We'd been reading an amazing book in class when she found that money-bag, all about making choices... doing the right thing, or doing the easy thing. We both learned that life is not a multiple-choice test. It's each of us being the authors of our own life-long, essay...


Sunday, January 26, 2014



"I am sailing into the wind and dark.  But I am doing my best to keep my boat steady and my sails full."   ~ Arthur Ashe  (tennis player and gentleman)


(OK... This one is NOT for the squemish... It's actually kind of disgusting, but, then, this is also a part of a teacher's life, too!)

My high school art class just before lunch had done brilliantly on their assignment, and we were finishing cleaning up the room before the lunch bell would ring. I was soooo happy!


Then I heard a sort of watery sound, and I glanced over at one of my biggest boys sitting in a short wooden art stool looking kind of sheepishly at me. I looked down, and there was pee streaming down the stool's legs and splashing onto the floor!


I ran over to him and whispered, "Don't move, and don"t worry! The bell's going to ring and we'll get this all fixed then. Just don't worry. It's OK.  Just stay there until everyone leaves the room."


My heart bled for this 16-year old kid. What could be more humiliating than peeing in a classroom chocked full of teenagers? Poor, poor kid... What sort of medical problem must he have? Thank God the nurse's office is just down the hall a few steps, I thought.


When the classroom emptied, I ran over to him, and said, "Go right to the nurse, and DON'T WORRY about this mess. I'll clean it up, and hardly anyone will ever know what happened. Just don't worry. It's going to be alright... really."


I got a whole roll of paper towels out and cleaned up every drop of the large, noxtious puddle on the floor. Then I used some sort of cleaning product to try and take the odor out of the room before lunch was over, and the next class would arrive. Needless to say... no lunch for this teacher that day

~~~~~~ TIME PASSED ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was a cold blustery day in January nearly a year later, and I was shopping at the local Piggely Wiggely grocery store in Omaha. I was a newly married lady, and grocery shopping for two was romantic! :}


Suddenly, I heard, "HEY, TEACHER! OVER HERE!"


That tall, gangly kid who peed in my art room was standing there by the frozen food in a pair of overalls with one strap flapping in the store's air-conditioning... NO shirt on him, and a pair of dirty sandals strapped to his dirty feet!


I walked over and said, "Hi! What are you.........."


"Hey Teacher! I MADE IT! I MADE IT!"


I could see that he was higher than a kite! Some of you may remember the late 60's/early 70's, right?


I was embarrassed, as several Piggely Wiggely customers looked at him and then looked me up and down... and frowned!


"What did you "make?"


"I'm in the Hell's Angels! I'm IN!"


"Is that a good thing?"


"Yeah! Yeah! Hey, remember when I peed in your class?" (No, I'd completely forgotten cleaning up YOUR urine so YOU wouldn't be embarrassed, and then worrying all night that you might have some dread disease!!!") "It was my initiation into Hell's Angels! I PASSED! I GOT IN! Hey, thanks, Teach!"


"Your initiation?????????????????????"


"Yeah! I had to keep my overalls on for a whole week without taking them off..."


If none of this makes sense to you....... join the club (NOT THAT ONE!!!). It didn't make any sense to me, either. Suffice it to say, I walked away very slowly, and my student seemed to be shocked that I didn't want to hear any more about this victory over his bodily functions...