Friday, August 28, 2009

That's why they call it school

MARK’S ARTICLE – August 28, 2009
“Back to school!”

It’s the start of another school year. Don’t know if you realized that. You couldn’t have stopped it with a brickbat, either. A hurricane might’ve slowed it, but nothing could stop it. That’s why they call it “school.”

This time of year used to send me into a deep funk. I never in my life experienced an “Oh, boy, school!” feeling. Some people do. Mostly girls.

Since the start of August I’ve been taking a poll. I’ve asked every kid who would make eye contact with me what he or she thinks of the start of school. Thus far every girl is happy. I’ve yet to find a boy who’s pleased with the concept.

I know you can come up with many theories for that. Girls are smarter. Girls are more accepting of challenges. Girls like to learn. That’s all a bunch of hoohaw. The only sound reason I can come up with is that girls are nuts. Just plain nuts.

And, I knew that even before Glenda beat me up in the fifth grade. She’s flirting with me all during the day, then after school she beat the daylights out of me. And, I didn’t do anything! Didn’t even put up much of a fight. That’s ‘cause I knew why she did it. She was a girl. Ergo, she was nuts.

Obviously, I quizzed no teenagers about the start of school. I could never make eye contact. I’m absolutely invisible to teenagers. Haven’t always been. There was a time when I was even respected by some of them. Hey, I’m not joking. That was back when I was a teacher. Now, I’m a retired teacher. That means I can smile when I see a school bus go by.

Like I said, I was always depressed about the start of school. It meant I had to look forward to the class preparations. The grading of papers. The documentation. Near the end (my end of teaching) there was a big push to document stuff. If you didn’t document it, it never happened. I liked it better when teaching was more of what you did and less of what you wrote.

Yes, I dreaded all the work. I’d come home, eat supper while watching the news, and then head for the study to get ready for the next day. I had to do that to stay ahead of the kids. I had some dandies.

When I was a student, it was socially unacceptable to be seen talking with teachers, unless they were yelling at you. Any non-disciplinary discussion was seen as fraternizing.

The stigma attached to consorting with the enemy must have skipped a generation, because when I became a teacher some of my most enjoyable moments were when I stood in the hall before and after class talking about stuff with the kids. I got to know ‘em so much better. I think some of my old teachers might’ve helped me more, maybe even liked me more had I stopped to talk. But, then I would’ve ceased being a chick magnet. Uh, that was a joke.

One of my best in-hall talkers was a kid whose funeral I attended last week. I know this sounds like a major mood change, but it’s not. I cannot think of this kid without smiling.

Josh Tierney had just a super sense of humor. And, he was undoubtedly one of the brightest kids I ever had. And, like I say, a talker. A most persuasive talker. At the funeral service, I told one of my ex-students that Josh could talk a toaster into thinking it was a can opener. Gifted he was.

Definitely one of those students who made you a better teacher. In preparing a lesson, I’d usually make sure that whatever I was going to say would hold up under Josh’s scrutiny. In truth, I had to do that with a bunch of my students. But, Josh would generally take deeper reasoning. He never came across as rude or haughty. Just, well… persistent.

Teachers will tell you about the kids that they hated to see coming. I’ve had some (a very few) whose absence would make me do the dance of joy. But, class was less fun… less of a learning experience on the few days Josh wasn’t there. If his parents had decided to home-school him, a bunch of classmates and teachers would’ve been the less for it.

At the funeral service, as Kay and I waited in the long line to pay respect to the family, I was recounting a bunch of my teaching experiences with a teacher friend in line behind us. Heath Manuel is now a principal! Can you believe that? The second wackiest teacher I ever knew, and now they’ve made him the Assoc. Principal at the Oak Ridge Ninth Grade Campus! And, I hear he’s doing a good job! Sheeesh!

So, I’m talking to Heath and we’re carrying on about old times. I’m remembering “The Day,” while he’s still living “The Day.” So many great kids, super times, tough times, hard work… Then when I got to the Tierney family to pay my respect, I looked at the casket and just started to sink.

I was supposed to be offering my condolences to his parents, Steve and Debbie, and to his absolutely precious sister, Hannah, yet, I had no words. His mom ended up holding me and letting me know that everything was going to be all right. I’m glad Josh didn’t see me acting like that. He’d make a big joke about ol’ Mr. Hayter being at a loss for words.

And, if he saw this article, he’d get after me out for the “girls are nuts” remark. He would’ve agreed with me 100 percent, but he would’ve argued the girls’ side. I don’t care where you stood on an issue Josh was going to take the other side.

So, no, I don’t miss all the work and long hours that were involved in being a teacher. But, I’ll always miss the rest of it. I was blessed to teach some exceptional kids. And, a few of them, like Josh, left this life much too soon. I seldom write about them because… well, it’s not an easy write.

I didn’t mention it, but Josh was going to start work on his Ph.D. in Education this September. He would’ve been a teacher of teachers. As it was, he ended up doing a super job helping this teacher. And, likely, most others he had.

Before I leave you, let me say that I’m sure Josh’s parents would be honored if any cared to make a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation in their son’s name. Josh Tierney. He was a treasure. Hey, they all are.

Mark can be reached at



  1. The mere thought of school makes me shiver, but the tribute to Josh is touching. It's shocking how many young people leave this earth too soon.

  2. Beautiful article, Moke. You're right Ms A, it was a touching tribute.
    I could have never been a teacher, Moke, I'm not as giving as you, nor as patient. It takes dedication and heart, and that's what you have... and the same for all teachers.

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