The poor old Duluth Reader is having trouble keeping its online version up with its paper version so I can no longer guarantee a link to my columns online. So, I will start putting them here in Lincoln Democrat. This is this week’s column:
Tell us three things about yourself, two true and one false.
This was the icebreaker put to a table of teachers at the beginning of my last year teaching. It was part of helping us become better teachers and I told my compatriots two hard to believe truths and one of them was harder to believe than my lie. I don’t remember what my lie was. I suspect I told them that I’d shaken hands with disgraced Vice President Agnew. That was true. It was also true that a junior high school kid had thrown all six-foot-two of me over his shoulder. That was the truth that everyone at my table was sure was the lie. I’m pretty sure that our principal, the fellow who would tell me I wasn’t being rehired at the end of the year, was sitting at the table. If he blanched to hear such a truth I didn’t notice. Perhaps my anecdote stuck with him until Spring when he informed me that my probationary third year would be my last year teaching. I told my principal he’d made a tough decision that some principals have no choice but to make. I’ve never held it against him.
I did not prove to the the natural teacher that several of my friends assured me I would be. But, as my 19 campaigns for public office demonstrate I am a stubborn man. Six years earlier I refused to accept my ineptitude when I’d failed a two-year probation as a teacher in Proctor. After three useful years selling very little life insurance I wanted a second chance. For the next four years I was a substitute teacher in almost every public secondary school within fifty miles of Duluth. I was tentative at first which is a dangerous thing for any substitute to be. In one of my first classes I had the simple job of running an episode of “Roots” through a movie projector. When a mouthy kid said something rude almost under his breath I said nothing. He did it again and louder. Hindsight taught me I should have have acted immediately but that is not what I did. Instead, I firmly resolved to talk with him at the end of class. My resolve was tested when he ignored my request to stop at the end of class and tried to barge past me. I held him against his wishes and that’s when he let fly. Let me fly. I was thirty then and I spun around mid-air, landed on my feet, and put him in a headlock. I held on until another teacher came into my classroom. Someone who knew who the hell the kid was need to report him.
With that unforced error out of the way I went on to a short career as a stellar substitute in command of every class. On the first day of class one year at Superior High I greeted students in an advanced history class. Nothing had been planned so I extemporaneously told them a story about my Ethiopian exchange student who only wanted to get a college education but who, upon returning home, couldn’t pass the university examination. His government sent him to prison never to be seen again. My message on that first day of class was that the education that they might take for granted was precious and that they should make it count. To my astonishment the class gave me a vigorous round of applause.
Despite that heady experience I went on to lose two more teaching jobs. Three strikes in all. But stubbornness won out and after four runs for the School Board I got myself elected. From the moment I joined the Board I had visions of returning to teaching. In the 1990’s my colleagues found that idea preposterous and vetoed letting me substitute.
After I was “retired” in 2017 I got my short call substitute teaching licence. I didn’t make use of it. I kept myself too busy making pilgrimages to France, China and Israel and harassing a Congressman whose nose is too deep into disaster for America’s good. Then Covid struck.
All our schools, even those who have avoided the worst of Covid by following Dr. Fauci’s advice, are spreading the epidemic to the unvaccinated causing hospital ICU’s to overflow. Politicians are playing politics with masks and teachers are taking early retirement. Even thrice vaccinated substitutes are looking at the disordered state of schools and rethinking their profession. In the meantime, shell shocked students have taken up the self defeating Tik Tok phenomenon of dismantling their school bathrooms. So, I renewed my license. My first job is next week (this week as you read this).
I have two adolescent grandsons whose lives are drifting outside of their grandfather’s orbit. I’ll sub in their schools. Neither of them have Red Plan classes with forty kids which would test my mettle. But I’m a few weeks shy of 71. That’s forty years older than when I was last sent hurtling through the air. Just because I’m stubborn doesn’t mean I have to be foolhardy.
Up next week. The year I tried to organize a union.
Everything that Harry writes that is not about the imminent destruction of Earth as we knew it is superfluous. But, he does prattle on at: www.lincolndemocrat.com