Without disclosing how I voted, I find certain observations by the person who will hold the highest position in the world relatively overrated.  That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with some people, places and things he believes to be overrated or fake. I just think some of his true comments are funny.  So, let’s laugh for the next four years before I run for President…….of some undisclosed or, “fake” nation.


“Midwestern ice storms are overrated.”

“Christmas is way overrated.  Who is this Jesus guy?”

“Carrots are overrated.  They don’t improve your eyesight.  Just ask Bugs Bunny.”

“Chess is overrated.”

“Gandhi should have eaten more.”

“Cassius Clay was clearly overrated.”

“I’ve never heard of Babe Ruth, but I bet he was overrated.”

“Lou Gehrig was a phony. That disease is overrated.”

“Great White Sharks are overrated.  Jaws was fake. Just look at the footage.  It’s comical.”

“Rocky is real.”

“The Moon doesn’t exist ……respectfully, for those who thought they walked on it.”

“Hacking, unless properly utilized, is overrated.”

“Bigfoot does exist, just in case you were wondering.  I can’t prove it.  I can’t prove anything.”

” And lastly, and most critical, Cheetos are overrated.  The mascot is not Tony the Tiger.”

Only because he will destroy our country, or make it better, as an American voter, I will root for him, but I won’t kiss his lucky tower.

This puny world can exist without Barnum and Bailey’s elephants, but we can also exist without this clown.




Ice Breakers

For many teachers and students, last week was the first day of school.  As a former teacher, from my perspective, it was always the best day of school, therefore, I’m summoning great nostalgia.  Special tactics, or “ice breakers” are required each year on the first day to engage, confuse, or scare students, thus providing expectations for the following one hundred and seventy nine days of academic exploration.

Awkwardness is the only way to describe the first day of school for novice teachers and all students.  Neither, properly, know what the hell to do on this day.  So, sometimes, as a teacher, you simply improvise, risking the respect from others, and even your job.  I chose the first days to make it awkward for everyone just to break up the monotony of “What did you do over your summer break?”  It was an attempt to break up the ice and make them feel at ease……so to speak.

Each year, I disrupted my menu of classroom expectations either because I became bored, boring,  or an administrator reminded me about the meaning of the term “irreverence”. One, and only one year, I pretended on the first day of school to have a wooden arm.  It was astonishing how convincing I was.  With complete silence, entering the room, my left hand was clenched, precisely, with no movement, save for the help of my right arm assisting it. The room remained silent for an interesting ten or fifteen minutes.  My right arm was used for assisting my left arm to turn on or off lights, open and close blinders and even log on to my computer. These students seemed either collectively engaged, confused and some a little scared.  I figured if I could get the “highly gifted” students engaged, the  “middle of the the road” students confused, and a few punks a little scared, it would make teaching a little less complicated.

Entertaining myself by maintaining a serious face and a phony arm, while collecting attendance, I noticed the students weren’t listening to me, but rather, staring at my left  arm. I then realized it probably wasn’t so funny if one of their family members or friends had lost a limb in battle or for some other unfortunate reason, such as lighting a one thousand dollar firework off in their hand.  So, I quickly gathered my immature behavior and shook my left arm as though it had just been sleeping.  They all looked at me as if I was a little off, or even crazy.  Some laughed or gasped, but for the next one hundred and seventy nine days, I certainly had their attention.

Days later after performing my special tactics, my administer rolled her eyes, giving me a “Be careful, Ben”  warning. Weeks later, some of the parents attending the parent-teacher conference “laughingly” asked me to demonstrate my ability to have a disability.






Cleveland’s Costumes

With my back turned, listening from a distance (my kitchen) to the Republican National Convention, I was hearing a chant which caught my attention.  Turning from the shrimp filled saute pan, I swore I could distinctly hear, quite rhythmically, “Al-Co-Hol….Al-Co-Hol…Al-Co-Hol!”  After further analysis, they were instead chanting, “Build the Wall…Build the Wall….Build the Wall!”  Of course, my first assumption was a bit silly, or was it?

Soon after recognizing my error, I received a text message from my brother, Tom, commenting on the convention’s atmosphere.  (This is a direct quote from my brother….no plagiarism whatsoever……I didn’t write one word of this……nor did my speech writer.)

“These are grown up adults at these conventions, in costumes, waving signs that are horrendous.  Where is Mark Twain when we need him?”

Precisely.  Mark Twain would have eloquently crucified this gathering, whether he was a Trump supporter or not.  And, if I may add, he would not have been the least bit surprised if they were chanting “Al-Co-Hol!” because clearly, the vast majority had been imbibing prior to entering the arena.  Is there any other excuse for this behavior?  I guess I could think of one other excuse, and as an educated American, I will patronize an audience by providing a simple suggestion.  Make America smart again.


Costa Robbery

My wife’s current place of employment, Deet Bug Spray, is sending her to Costa Rica for research regarding the recent malaria outbreak. She’s worried about the journey because she only speaks fluent English, a dose of French, some Gaelic, but no Spanish.  As an educated man, I provided some pointers. (Other than two years of taking Spanish in high school where the only words I recall are “caca” and “punta”, I had to reach deeper into my pocket of trilingual specialties for her survival phrases.)

My favorite movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, provided more practical Spanish than two years of me ignoring my high school teacher.  “Manos Arriba.” Estu Es Un Robo.”  Translation: Put your hands in up!  This is a robbery.  I haven’t explained what the phrases properly mean to my wife, but I know when she enters a restaurant, she will either get free tacos or sent to jail.  Either way, it will be funny.





It’s that Time of Rear Again

“Uranus is a dark, scary, gaseous planet.” C.O. Hanson

Other than the “scary” adjective, those are the facts.

A good friend of mine just had their annual colonoscopy.  Another good friend of mine teaches middle school. Those are also facts.  Which is worse?  It’s debatable.  This is clearly a compare and contrast or chicken and egg situation.

My close friend teaching middle school Science has the unique opportunity to discuss our galaxy annually to a group of students who are more intrigued with Uranus than any other planet.  Many years ago, when I did my time, or penance, as a middle school teacher, a young man coined the phrase, “What happens in Uranus, stays in Uranus”.  Science teachers were introducing a unit requiring students to create travel brochures for planets, and this young man came up with the best planet catch phrase in the Milky Way.

After the student submitted his brochure to his Science teacher, the teacher immediately walked down the hallway, brochure in hand, to the English teaching wing of the school.  It was his first year at the school, and he was asking me, of all people, for my advice as to whether this was appropriate and what type of grade the student should receive.  I responded with laughter, and further believed the student should receive an A+ for creativity.

A few years back, I retired from teaching middle school, but my friend remains in this dark, scary, gaseous planet.  And, annually, he must properly describe the difference between “Your Anus” and “Uranus” before conducting his solar system unit.


Striking Out

Teachers are striking in Seattle, and because I was a public school teacher for fifteen years, I’ve been respectfully asked by family and friends how I feel about the situation.  Being a former teacher should provide some validation regarding my opinion.

It’s a tricky question for many, but not for me.   The simple answer is that I oppose the strike.  Although I maintain an enormous amount of respect for most teachers, I also feel their duty remains in the classroom with their students even if they believe in further compensation.  I use the term “further” because I know teachers’ salaries, and some of my best friends in the industry don’t complain.  I understand one of their complaints.  Class sizes are out of control in many school districts.  It can be the difference between being a babysitter and a teacher.  That was just one of the reasons I left the profession.  Sadly, I lost my passion for teaching.  That was the most logical reason for leaving.

Here are some of the perks of teaching:  Two and a half months off in the summer.  Every other holiday as well as the day before and after off.  The option to coach, and yes, work a little harder, while putting in some extra hours and being compensated for the additional time.  Those were the least important perks for me and many others entering this profession.  Making a positive difference in a student’s life was, without question, the largest benefit.

Coaching was an additional opportunity for us to create solid relationships, not only with students, but many times, their parents.  If a student didn’t finish a classroom assignment, we didn’t send them home before practice.  We allowed them a half hour in a sweaty wresting room, or rainy football field, to finish assignments before working out for the next hour and a half.  That was punishment enough, and it kept them out of the trouble away from school they could so easily find.  The parents thanked us for keeping them in check for those extra two hours.

At age twenty-three, sadly, I showed up for a paycheck, wondering what my next profession might be.   One month after turning twenty-three, I showed up every day because the students needed me.  It only took me a month to figure it out.  I never complained about a paycheck.  I also had to slap myself for forgetting why one chooses this profession.

I’ll make this clear.  I never considered myself to be a great teacher.  I will also confess there were days I showed up to school, and a smile and laughter was all I had to offer.  Those were the moments I didn’t earn a paycheck.   The students and their care for me in some dark times picked me up,  and that’s why I felt truly blessed for those fifteen years.

I never went on strike.  I just retired.   I will admit that after moving to a different school with a different demographic, those students broke me.   Some people would argue that was the easy way out.  It wasn’t. I miss the students, some of their parents, and the fellow teachers I had the pleasure to work with each day.

Hocus Jocus (Sayonara @#$%Kickers!)

Middle school students are a delight!  This bodes especially true in mid June…the last remaining days of school before summertime bliss.  Just as true, those little whipper snappers really know how to keep their teachers in line.  I know.  I was one of those teachers for close to fifteen years.  Now, I only live vicariously through my friends still living, breathing and teaching.

The last few days for the middle school community consist of two things: children and childrensitting.  Notice I don’t refer to the middle schoolers as babies, because although their behavior can be recognized as baby like on these days, their ages define them as children.  After taking a final exam one week before the school calendar moves them forward to high school status, a once promising, maturing adolescent digresses for the remaining days of middle school, leaving the parents chuckling at the teachers’ expense.  The students chuckle as well, knowing they have four aces in the hole, and will happily show them to you upon request.  Academically, they have checked out and the teachers smell it.  The teachers are now the ones in survival mode.  How do we keep them busy without anyone getting hurt?  That’s really the only thing a teacher thinks about on these days, other than the closest bar they will all convene seconds after the last school day ends.

Ideally, teachers would place all the students in a sound proof padded room with straight jackets, only armed with their loud mouths.  This way, other than peoples’ feelings, no one gets harmed.  Unfortunately, this is not an option.  Therefore, teachers put their paycheck to use by planning more and preparing more for V Days and P Days.  These are Vacation Days for students and their parents, and Penance Days for the teachers who receive the next two and a half months off.

You reserve these last days for indoor and outdoor activities requiring no brain stimulus whatsoever, only meaningless corralling by means of simple manipulation:  Bribery.  A wise teacher spends part of his or her paycheck buying a few sodas and candy bars, because a large percentage of the students will finish just about any task you provide to bask in chocolate or carbonated glory. Just because a student isn’t required to read, write, add or subtract, they still must remain busy in order to keep the teacher from taking an unpaid leave of absence so close to the very last bell.  Organize those books for a Mountain Dew.  Take down all those phony motivational posters I put up at the beginning of the year for a Snickers bar.  Place all these papers I didn’t grade in that paper shredder and keep your mouth shut for a Milky Way and a Pepsi.  Right there, you’ve wiped out about forty percent of your problems.

Knocking out another forty percent is basic locker clean out, an organized play day featuring softball, volleyball, mud wrestling and racketeering (played by future convicts who have stolen some of the sodas you purchased the night before).  You also have the “Lack of Talent Show” and finally, yearbook signing.  As a teacher, you try to stretch this crap as far as you can by doing a little as you can, yet it still leaves about twenty percent of the remaining students who don’t wish to participate in any of these events.  These are the “I’m bored” students.  They may be the worst kind of breed at this age.  So, as a teacher, you may have  to come up with something special to prevent each and every last school day lawsuit.  Hocus Jocus!

To this day, I’ve never met a person, young or old, tall or short, delightful or miserable, who won’t drop anything when they see the newspaper puzzle “Hocus Focus”.  This puzzle includes two pictures which look alike, yet ten differences are hidden between the two of them and you are challenged to find those differences.  If a person is getting mugged on a city street and the mugger and “muggee” look up and see a billboard displaying two of these pictures challenging them to find the differences, they both immediately stop struggling and won’t resume until they find them.  They may even help one another.  These puzzles are that intriguing.  It is, by far, the most entertaining portion of People magazine.  (When my wife and I travel, we always compete with each other trying to find the extra tooth in Tom Cruise’s electrifying smile.) Middle school students are no exception to this rule.  For some reason, if you place these on the overhead projector, or these days, a “Smart Board”, students’ mouths lock shut like pit bull on a pecan pie until they find each dissimilarity.  It’s magic for about five minutes.  So, once they celebrate finding all the differences, you place an additional one up to kill another five minutes.  Each five minutes of silence replaces that beer the teacher wishes to have in his or her hand as the clock keeps ticking.  After the the third hocus focus, the students will eventually lose focus, and one or two will eventually, and obnoxiously bellow, “These are too easy”.  Twenty minutes still remain before you can legally release the teenage hounds into a world in which you may never see them again unless it’s on the five o’clock news.   Solution?  Even easier.  Place two identical pictures in front of them and watch them silently struggle trying to find ten differences which do not exist.  It’s the most senseless time kill of all eternity, and for a middle school teacher, these twenty minutes of quiet amidst potential bedlam, it’s like a swedish massage…..whatever that is.  Only seconds before the final bell rings will one student stand up and say, “THIS IS BULL@#$%!  THESE PICTURES ARE THE EXACT SAME!”  With an enormous grin on my face, I would listen to the last bell, and say “Have a terrific summer! Sayonara @#$%kickers!”

Would You Like Fries With That? (Teaching the next generation of astronauts and fast food workers)

“Sorry we were late guys, Jimmy had a case of the trotts!”

I didn’t know trotts was a proper word until I looked it up on the Urban Dictionary.  However, it was probably the best opening line in a parent/teacher conference in the history of the uncivilized teaching world.

Tomorrow at the Thanksgiving dinner table, I will be asked, “What are you thankful for”?  My response?  “Never holding another teacher conference!”

In my previous life, I was a middle school teacher.  I taught drama, English (so to speak), geography, physical education, reading and ran our school’s daily news program. I wasn’t really good at any of them. With a great deal of help from other teachers, I managed to stay motivated right up until that last conference before our Thanksgiving Break.  In addition to teaching, we were forced to hold several long days of “student-led” parent/teacher conferences.  That’s where the future careers for our students were often revealed.  Would it be working for NASA?  The White House?!

Here are my top five parent teacher conference memories. (Note, these are all real events and quotes, though the names have been changed to protect the now 20-something students):

Memory #5

Teacher:  “Your son has seventeen missing assignments which is why he is failing this class.”

Parent:  “It’s ok.  He is going to make it in the NBA, so this school stuff doesn’t really matter.”

Where is the student now?   This 5’9” student was last seen working as a Walmart Greeter.  (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)

Memory #4

Teacher:  “Your son is struggling in my science class.”

Parent:  “That’s crazy!  He is going to be an astronaut.  I don’t understand.”

Where is the student now? Last seen working at Wendy’s.

Memory #3

(I must clarify this teacher wasn’t me, and I shutter to think that any adult would put a child in the position to have to answer this ridiculous question.)

Teacher:  “Who’s the Man? … Who’s the Man?” The student looked away in embarrassment as the teachers and his parents were witness to this socially awkward moment.  However, the teacher didn’t relent.

Teacher:  “Thomas, look at me.  Who IS the man?”

Shy Student:  (In a quiet voice and agonizing embarrassment) “ . . . . I’m the man?”

Give me a stinking break!  When I heard news of this, I wanted to show this teacher, after embarrassing his student, who the man was.  His Birkenstocks would have been floating in the Spokane River that day.

Memory #2

Teacher: “Your child struggles with grammar and punctuation.”

Parent: (chuckling) “That’s not really a big deal.  He will be on the cover of a Wheaties Box one day.”  (Eluding that the child will be a future Olympian.)

Where is the student now?  Whereabouts unknown.  Keep your eyes on Sochi, Russia in 2014.   (I heard he’s working a concession stand at the next winter Olympics.)

Memory #1

Marine parent: “Honor and Code.  That’s what I teach my son.”

Teacher:  “I understand, but can’t reading and writing fit in between those lessons?”

I’ll spare you the parent’s response, but I’ll summarize by saying, “He couldn’t handle the truth.”1

Happy Thanksgiving to all you teachers!  You’ve earned it.

Standardized State Festering

Ok, just raise your hands, everyone, when I ask you this question: Who doesn’t love standardized state tests?  Ok, everyone, put your hands down.  EVERYONE, PUT YOUR HANDS DOWN!  Let me tell all you mouth breathers in the audience, they can be fun……..for teachers.

Teachers get some days off.  Teachers get to act like they are grading papers during these hours of silence, when they are actually e-mailing their girlfriend in Seattle, or even a girlfriend working at the school.  This is a glorious time when teachers get to text, use I Phones, I Pads and Maxy Pads without any of the students being aware of anything.  It’s terrific because those students are completely oblivious as to what the teacher is doing.  They’re simply terrified because they actually believe this seventh or eighth grade test will determine their wealth and fame in life.  It’s a time when a student loses all hope and faith in themselves, our country and the Metric System.  (Are we still using that ridiculous system?)

Sadly, the fun has to end for some teachers on this day of reckoning.  Many students end the scheduled six hour test in five minutes.  This means two of two things.  After looking at the test, the students say to themselves, “F this noise”, or, ” I’m not even going to entertain the notion that I can pass this ridiculously biased test”, thus presenting a dilemma for the teacher, who after administering the test, must be burdened by the idea of keeping a student busy for the next silent five hours and fifty five minutes.  I developed a cure for the disease of boredom for twelve and thirteen year olds.  “Hocus Focus”.

A long time ago, in a land far to close, I was a full time employee and part time teacher at a very respected school district.  With some of my closest friends, we had to maintain our own sanity when witnessing students giving up on these tests before they even began.  I didn’t blame some of them.  I felt sorry for them.  Therefore, I broke out what I called “The Old Fashion”.  For some people, that means a doughnut.  For drunks, it’s a wake up drink, or “hair of the dog”.  For teachers, it was “Hocus Focus”.  These are two pictures you can provide on an overhead projector displaying similar scenes where you are forced to find the differences.  These students who finished the test in five minutes would work on these picture puzzles for another five minutes.  They would have to find ten differences in the pictures.  Examples:  bad hairline in one pic, full head of hair in the other, child in one yard giving the “I’m number one finger” and child in the other yard giving the “middle finger”,  a father barbecuing with a can of beer in one pic, and a father barbecuing with a bottle of vodka in the other.  These were great teaching tools.  Sadly, they hit so close to home plate for many of these students, I could not print enough of these pictures off because they were so good at finding the differences, and they loved it.  This is when a bad teacher becomes a clever teacher.  This is an ancient Irish secret: I printed off two identical pictures and told them they must find the ten differences.  They spent the next five hours and thirteen minutes working on that project.

I never gave them the answers, because there were none…..just like some of the questions on that dreadful test they were so subjectively forced to take.   I hope they get the important answers in life correct someday.

(This is written with much respect to all teachers, especially the ones I sort of worked with for fifteen years, and with no respect to the administration level and the people who didn’t have to be in those rooms for so many years…….)