Saturday, May 12, 2018

WHAT EVER HAPPENED...? What I Don't Miss about Teaching

          As you’ve read, I loved teaching! But, as in all professions, there are things you don’t like. My list isn’t long, but I do have some….

          I now have Sunday nights for whatever I want to do. It used to be that all I could do those evenings was write lesson plans for the upcoming week. Some teachers do that during their work hours, but I never found the time for that. So – I missed a lot of fun things to do on many Sunday nights. The only time during the school year that I got a break from that was when we had Monday off for a special holiday. Then, Monday rather than Sunday night was spent doing the lesson-plan ritual.

          Another thing that I don’t miss about teaching is the day after Halloween, though it is, coincidentally, my birthday, November 1st. I hated it because the kids were experiencing “sugar hangovers” from all the trick-or-treating the night before. They’d either be so what I called “hyper-diaper” they couldn’t concentrate, or they’d be so worn-out they couldn’t stay awake. It was usually not a fun day on which to celebrate my birthday nor to have my students learn much.

          A third thing I truly disliked was how computerized special education all became at the end of my career. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for special ed. students used to be uniquely personal. Then they became too cumbersome; with selecting data vs. just writing the information. They became like multiple-choice-test answers rather than expressive essays. I became terrible at computer skills. I even had an administrator, at my very last job, belittle me, regarding how I had filled out the IEP, in front of parents at a meeting about their child. 

Many people had to help me work on the computer at the end of my career. I found out later from one of my many doctors that computer skills would have been affected by my brain tumor. I have never bumped into this horrible administrator since my surgery, and she’s lucky for that, because I’m pretty sure I would not be able to control my tongue, as I am taught to do at church and other places. No one should ever say such rude things as that about you when there’s an audience –especially when we all were unaware of the brain tumor that was behind my mistakes….

[In contrast, two teachers helped me enormously back then, and I wanted to include them in my book. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember their names. Then, God helped me. I bumped into both of them within a week of each other in two separate restaurants. So – thank you, Nischa and Angela. You both took good care of me at the end of my career. You are excellent human beings. Thanks, also, to Kim, Eileen, Joe, Toni, Barbara, Pat, Janis, Sheryl, Karen, Nancy, Jill, Mike, and Lorraine, who also helped me a lot (I had to find an old directory to remember the names of some of the sweet colleagues who helped me at the very end of my career).]

Now, back to some things I don’t miss about teaching….
          When I began teaching, everyone had to stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. By the end of my teaching career, not only did they not have to recite the Pledge, they stood only if they chose to while it was being recited. I think this is a sad display of how things have gone downhill, as far as respect for our traditions and forefathers. By the end of my career, I was disappointed to have to remind my class over and over what the Pledge symbolized. To this day, I put my right hand over my heart as I say the Pledge.

         Nowadays, when someone sneezes, I can say, “God bless you” again. Once, when an administrator was visiting my classroom, a student sneezed and that’s what I said. I was told later on in the office that I could only say, “Bless you.”

          I also loved decorating a tree at Christmastime in my classrooms. When we were no longer allowed to call it a “Christmas tree” anymore, I left our artificial tree up all year long and each month decorated it to match that month’s theme (for example, with hearts in February or turkeys in November…).

Yet another thing I don’t miss about teaching is catching scabies. This happened twice (once when I was student-teaching and then my first year of teaching).
         Scabies are those little buggies underneath your skin. You have to wash lots and lots of clothes that they may have “jumped” to, besides slathering your skin with awful meds. This was totally gross and I’m grateful I never caught them after that.
        The family I caught scabies from was very poor. I vaguely remember the teacher I student-taught with bought them laundry detergent and the medicine for the brother and sister to use. The second time I had scabies, my doctors were pretty sure I didn’t catch them from students this time, but from clothes in my closet that the tiny buggers got into the year before but hadn’t been worn due to the change in seasons.
        Lucky for me, I never caught lice, though students in my class had lice practically every year that I taught. I know of teachers who did catch lice from their pupils, so I was saved the aggravation of that hairy mess!
        Another thing I really don’t miss about teaching is my trips to the ER because of something that took place with the children while I worked. I know I was bitten more than once, breaking the skin at least one time. I was punched in the nose in a pool and there was so much blood, the public pool had to be drained. And – I got “in the way” of a piñata stick and had a broken finger.

The students who bit me I’ve never seen as adults, but the “pool puncher” apologized to me when I ran into him unexpectedly once. He was an adult by then, explaining how afraid he was of the water when I tried to help him with a swimming lesson when he was a very young boy. I thought it was sweet of him to remember that many years later.

The accident from the piñata stick was also apologized for when I met up with this young man for dinner to talk about days gone by. He was so polite and friendly and we laughed (and even teared up a bit) at some of the stories that took place when he was in my class. He was another one of my favorites…. Here’s one story about him: on one of the Reading Days towards the end of my career, as I slipped my feet into my MM slippers, I discovered a large, sharp knife in one of them. Luckily, my foot wasn’t cut. We found out pretty quickly which student put it there, and why.

He was being teased by other students in our school because he was in a special ed. classroom. He brought the knife to school to threaten those other students at lunchtime. He hid it in my slipper under my rocking chair, not realizing that I would take off my shoes this particular day. Of course, I had to take him to the principal’s office. The police were called and he was taken to a local hospital’s psych. ward for evaluation. As soon as school was over that day, I immediately went to the hospital, showed my badge and ID for my job, and they let me in to visit him.

Because I was an adult woman, and he was a youth, I was not allowed to be left alone with him in his “room,” so someone who worked there found us a mat to sit on in the hallway, where he cried in my arms, telling me how sorry he was.

I just held him and kept telling him how much I loved him, no matter what mistakes he made. I had brought my favorite classroom book, Love You Forever (mentioned in the other chapter about teaching), and I read it to him as he cuddled in my arms with hospital staff scurrying by caring for other patients there.

After our visit time was over, I left and tried to drive home. At this time in my career, I lived in Dutchess County, NY, so it was a long drive home, over 30 miles, from where this took place in Ulster County. I guess my driving was erratic due to how hard I was crying. I was pulled over by a state trooper.

When I told him what had happened that day, he was very comforting and didn’t give me a ticket, and told me to be more careful (I guess I was speeding and swerving). As he assured me he would, he followed me for quite a while, which I really appreciated. I think he might have learned how much teachers can care for the welfare of their students by stopping me that day.

Since my brain surgery, I went to a wake for a family member of this student. When I knew him as a youngster, he was in a foster-care home. At this wake, I met his mother for the first time.

When he introduced us, he said, “Mom – this is the teacher I always talked about.”

She thanked me for the job I had done for him many years before. I left that funeral home feeling slightly better that, even though I can’t teach anymore, there are signs that I did well when I could.

Another dangerous thing that took place in several classrooms I taught in over the years was the “flying furniture” episodes. Chairs, desks, tables, and more were thrown by various students who became agitated with their work, our staff, and/or themselves. Luckily, I can’t remember any trips to the ER for these occasions, so I guess I dodged these airborne “gifts” well.

I also don’t miss that very-hurried lunch break. By the time you stood in line to get a school lunch, headed to the teachers’ room to gobble it down, headed to the restroom, if needed, and then back to class, there was always a rush! When I finished scarfing lunch down, I used the students’ playground time to write to parents about their child’s behavior and work completion that day. I did this for every child, every day. I began that practice when I started teaching at Ulster County BOCES because I was told the teachers there had daily communication with the parents.

Instead of writing in individual notebooks like some of the BOCES teachers did, I copied someone’s idea of a Daily Report sheet. It was the quickest way I could relay important information. It was also the way families could let me know what was up at home. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but I changed the layout of it a little bit. I have an example of this idea in one of my appendices.

I need to mention another thing I disliked about teaching. It was those stupid standardized testing days! Too many are a waste of valuable educational time!

Another thing I don’t miss about teaching is fire drills. Those bells and alarms that ring are so loud and frightening for us all IF we weren’t told ahead of time we’d be having a drill. Some of my students screamed and jumped up while others were able to calmly line up to exit the room and then leave our school.

Something I have to admit here, though, is that I caused at least three fire evacuations over the years due to my trying to do too many things at the same time. One time a fire I started came from our classroom’s cooking, but I can’t remember much more than that. The other two fires, I remember like they happened yesterday.

The first memorable fire was the smaller of the two I remember. We were popping popcorn in the microwave in the teachers’ room. We accidentally pushed too many minutes on the buttons, because a student ran away and we were focused on catching her. Before we knew it, there were sparks and LOTS and LOTS of smoke pouring out of the microwave. The alarm sounded, and the whole school had to go outside.

Nothing makes for other staff’s being annoyed with you more than disruption of their teaching to go stand in the cold until the fire department arrives. But, that’s what happened, so, of course, I got comments and looks from colleagues who were less than thrilled with that afternoon.

The next fire that my classroom had was due to my rushing and telling my staff to do something that in hindsight, was just plain stupid.

We were about to celebrate our monthly Book It! Program. I had gone to Pizza Hut (which is the company that developed this reading program) the night before and picked up all of the free pizzas that my students had earned from reading that month. I had worked out a deal with this restaurant, because usually the families were supposed to bring their child in for the meal, but since most of the families I worked with could not do that, I went instead. I did pay for pizzas for my staff and me to eat with our class so we could all enjoy this reading celebration together.

When it was time to take the pizzas out of our classroom fridge (a small fridge I still had from my days in college), I told my staff to put the pizzas into our classroom’s little oven, still in their boxes, because we were late for something and we had no time to empty all the personal pan pizza boxes. Well – we sure wasted lots of time with that decision of mine!

As I was at the front of the classroom teaching some math problem on the chalkboard, a student, J., from the back of the room, who could see the oven better than I could, shouted out, “Ms. Schliff!”

I told him to stop calling out. A few seconds later, he shouted out even louder, “Ms. Schliff!!” Again, I told him to get back to work on his math sheet.

Then, he screamed my name, and when I asked him to please be quiet, he yelled out, “Fine – I won’t tell you your classroom’s on fire!” At that, I ran to the back of the room and flames were shooting out of our little oven. I unplugged it, pulled the pizza box that was on fire and threw it into the sink and poured water on it.

The entire classroom was filled with smoke, and because this happened on a winter day, the whole school was sent to the gym after we got out safely, so the firemen could inspect the entire building. This ended up being a three-hour event that actually was mentioned when I was thrown a going-away party from Ulster County BOCES several years later.

After all of us were safely back in our classrooms, I was called to our office to speak on the phone to my boss, Mr. Howard Korn, who called me to make sure we were all okay. I said we were, but lots of staff in the building were pretty upset with me (for obvious reasons – cardboard in an oven!).

But – what ended up being a happy ending is that as the firemen were getting ready to leave our school’s premises, a house went on fire across the street. I was told the next day that the house was saved probably because the fire trucks were so close.

When I was roasted at that going-away party, someone gave me a fire extinguisher as a present. Very funny!

That’s it, my list of dislikes. Given that I taught for 25 years, this is a short list, because I can hardly remember much I disliked about this wonderful job.

For the coming year, I [Douglas Winslow Cooper] will be excerpting, weekly, material from this fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S.Ed.. She wrote it over a three-year period, with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, The excerpts are from the almost-final version. 

Her memoir is now available in paperback and ebook formats from and from its publisher, 



Janet Johnson Schliff was on WKNY  Radio 1490 at 9:10 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, Kingston, NY.

Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, at Barnes & Noble, 1177 Ulster Avenue, Kingston, NYI [DWC] attended, along with almost 40 other people. The talk was especially well received, with several questions at the end, as well.
Congratulations, Janet!

Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY, at 7 p.m. on March 6. 

She spoke at the Golden Notebook Bookstore in Woodstock, NY, at 2 p.m. on March 17. 

She spoke at the Morton Library in Rhinecliff, NY, at 6:30 p.m. on March 28. 

She spoke at RCAL in Kingston, NY, at 4 p.m. on April 3. I was able to attend. They gave her an impromptu book-launch party.

On 4/4/18 Janet spoke at the Parkinson's Support Group at the Starr Library at Rhinebeck at 2:30 p.m.

On 4/27/18 Janet spoke at the Stone Ridge Library at 5:30 p.m.

On 5/4/18 Janet spoke at the Hurley Library at 6 p.m.

On 5/9/18 Janet spoke at the Kingston Library at 6 p.m.

On 5/14/18 Janet spoke at the Staatsburg Library at 7 p.m.

On 5/31/18 Janet will be at the Clinton Community Library at 6:30 p.m.

On 6/9/18 Janet will be at the Tannersville Library at noon.

On 6/11/18 Janet will be at the Gardiner Library at 6 p.m.

On 6/20/18 Janet will be at the Marbletown Community Center at 6 p.m.

On 7/13/18 Janet will be at the Esopus Library at 7 p.m.

More signings will be coming up, and a fine feature about her by John DeSantos [845 LIFE] appeared in the Middletown Times Herald-Record on Monday, March 12, as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month. An article about her book was just published in the May 2018 Living Rhinebeck Magazine. She was recently interviewed by the Kingston Daily Freeman, and that interview should be published soon.

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