Saturday, January 31, 2009


Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training soon, and not long after I’ll resume my habit of falling asleep with a baseball game, any game, on in the background. The cadence of the game sooths my very soul. It’s different now though. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed with sadness, and I was perplexed by that. And then I started thinking about the upcoming summer season. Sam will be home again at the end of May; it will be time to pack the lawn chairs and sun screen in the car. And I nearly cry when I think of that.

I love Reverchon Park-it’s my favorite ballpark- a place out of time, with its massive oaks and sycamores standing sentry duty against the modern world. Some of the most interesting, oddest, characters I’ve ever seen hang out in the picnic area adjacent to the field, the freeway is only a few hundred yards away, and Southwest Airlines jets fly over on a regular basis-but these do not intrude on the sense of being in a different time and place. The crack of a wooden bat, the slap of the ball in a mitt are the only sounds that matter.

I thought he was going to be around forever. Oh sure, I knew he pretty much lived on strong black coffee and cigarettes, but, still… He was just so darned alive. When he took you by the hand and those eyes crinkled in a smile, you had no doubt that you were fascinating to him. He was endlessly interested in people in general. He could tell you the life stories of the young people who worked the gate, kept the book, and announced the games. Of course, you never knew if the life stories were real, or if he invented them.

But as interested as he was in humanity in general, HB lived for the boys and for the game. His greatest pride was in the number of players he found college “homes” for-his last summer season he sent over 100 players off to college teams, including the twenty-four on his team. Including our youngest son. He was always interested and pleased to hear what the ball players went on and did after hanging up the cleats, but there was always just a tinge of regret in his voice over those who simply quit because the desired outcome didn’t arrive quickly or easily. His highest regard was reserved for those who gutted through the longest odds and refused to give up until all options were exhausted. The warriors. His greatest respect was granted to those who refused to give in or give up-at the plate, in the field or on the mound. His greatest contempt was reserved for those with no heart, those who folded under pressure, or those who were in the game for themselves alone. Ask him about a guy with loads of talent but no drive, and he didn’t say a word. He just squinted, frowned, and shook his head while tapping his chest. His signal for no heart. He loathed those with no heart.

My hero, a man who helped more boys on their personal journeys to manhood than anyone else I know, HB Kernodle ran the Reverchon Park baseball facility in Dallas for years, and headed DABA. He loved the game, and demanded that those who played under his guidance have the utmost respect for the game. His call of "All right gentlemen let's go, a little pride and dignity..." will ring in my ears always. He loved the warriors of the game, and he loved the players whose hearts outweighed all else. He despised those who saw the game as a means to an end, and he despised those who put their own interests above those of the team and the good of the game.

Baseball will miss him. Reverchon Park will miss him. And I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Friday Read Around

The first day of the new term some of the kids from the previous term stuck their heads in the door to let their friends know what a "cool" teacher I am. They were shocked by my snarl and bark as I sent them away. I guess they don't remember the first day back in the fall...

The new classes were perplexed as we worked from bell to bell on the first day. (Our principal makes sure we have textbooks available-I love him.) The tone has been set, and it's going to be a great spring!

Our first "Read Around" was Friday. Every student has to read aloud something (not an academic paper) he/she has written during the week. I do not assign topics, but we spend a great deal of time discussing ideas and making suggestions and lists. Friday's readings were the best first day papers I've had in the six years I've done this. Several made us laugh so hard our sides hurt, and one or two caused me to pass the box of tissues.

The power of peer reaction never ceases to amaze me. While the majority of the kids want to write their essays well, and they are concerned about grades, NOTHING motivates them as much as how their peers react to their Friday reading. I can't wait to see how much progress these classes make over the eighteen weeks we have together.

Monday, January 19, 2009

New Term

The new term begins tomorrow. I'll have all new students, and that is always nerve wracking. On the first day I always get the panicky feeling that I'll never learn all of their names, but I generally have the names and faces matched by day three.

I also worry that each student won't get the individual attention he/she needs. My eldest child was one of those who tended to blend into the woodwork, and I think that makes me especially aware of those kids.

When the kids come in tomorrow, the early arrivals will fill the back row, unless, of course, the word has spread. Once everyone is seated, I make the two back rows move to the front, and everyone else moves back a seat. I wind up with jocks/skaters/sleepers in front, and eager hand raisers in the back and middle. We'll work from there.

Some terms I never get the seating mix just right. That usually happens when there are not enough front row seats for all the "front row" kiddos. Those are the "blurters" (those who believe that every thought that comes into the mind must exit the mouth...), the "social butterflies" ("Just let me finish telling him/her this ONE thing. It's IMPORTANT!!"), and the "organizationally challenged" ("Oh, I know it's not in your backpack-but just take one more look. Humor me. Huh. There it is...").

Monday, January 5, 2009

First Day Back

  • The first day back at school after a long break is a whipping.
  • Getting the kids to refocus on Romeo and Juliet after 16 days off is a HUGE whipping. But, Tybalt and Mercutio died in sword fights, R&J had their wedding night, and Juliet's father yelled at her "Hang thee young baggage! Thou disobedient wretch!" That livens the discussions.
  • R&J meet on Sunday, marry on Monday, on Tuesday Juliet is told she will marry Paris, Wednesday she fakes her death, and, by early Thursday morning, R&J are both dead.
  • The Reduced Shakespeare Company has a dvd of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare-Abridged. The kids howl over the 15 minute Romeo and Juliet. It's an easy way to bring home to them that literate people find life to be a great deal more amusing than those who are not well read.
  • I've discovered that elementary schools no longer teach Roman numerals. I have to do a lesson in those before we read The Odyssey (Books I-XXIV), and Romeo and Juliet (Acts I-V). No wonder the children don't laugh at the Hercules cartoon when the little character runs from a fire yelling "Call IXII, call IXII".

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

Next term test:

Quotes, identify speaker and situation, discuss relevance of quote to various characters and the society as a whole. Use "Those who do not build must burn" and "That favorite subject, Myself." Pull another from Granger (maybe concerning the mirror factory) and one from Beatty.

Discuss Montag's symbolic baptism.

Friday, January 2, 2009

If I ever win the lottery...

...I will hire a graduate student to do my grading. Of course, I would have to buy a lottery ticket in order to win. And, if I had a graduate student do my grading, I would miss some of the blazing brilliance-like this:
"Odysseus could not look back when he threw Ino's immortal veil back into the ocean. He rejected Kalypso's offer of immortality, and looking back would indicate that he had a longing to hold on to immortality. A person cannot go forward while looking back, and Odysseus cannot continue his journey if he holds the desire for things he has left behind."

I love the children.

Edit: 24 essays to go. It's tempting to just sit down and blow right through them, but I have to be certain that I give the final paper the same care that I gave the first one.

It's not Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys...

If you haven't picked up a young adult book since the eighties, you might want to do some reading. There are some amazing books out there, but some of it does make me cringe. I never tell a student what he/she may or may not read (that's the job of a parent), but there are some books that I just will not put into the hands of a kid...

Here's a link to Teri Lesene's blog. She does incredible reviews of YA books (and picture books).


I hate that the new semester does not begin for two weeks after we return from break. It puts the kids at a huge disadvantage going into final exams.

I am looking forward to the new classes in a couple of weeks, but I will miss these kids. I do believe that, overall, they are the best group I have taught. Of course, I tend to say that about at least one class every term!

Grand and Humble

I finished this one a couple of days ago, and, I must confess, I did not see the twist coming. This is one the kids will want to read again to see if there are clues they missed.

While I was waiting in the counselors' suite before the Christmas break, I met a student I did not know, and we had a conversation about his dislike of reading. I took that as a personal challenge. I spent a couple of days thinking about it, and then took a couple of books to him that I thought he might enjoy. He promised to read one of them over the break, and I'm looking forward to hearing his reaction next week.