Monday, September 19, 2011

Law School #2

Vaughan v Menlove
Court of Common Pleas, 1837

"[Defendant built a hay rick near the boundary of his land not far from the plaintiff's cottages.  It was alleged that the rick was likely to ignite, thereby endangering the plaintiff's cottages, of which the defendant had notice; that the defendant was negligent in maintaining the rick in this dangerous condition and that the rick did ignite and the fire spread to plaintiff's land, burning his cottages.  Defendant denied that he was negligent.]"

I wonder: who is liable for the spontaneous combustion of a drummer who perhaps happens to cause damage to the venue or audience during a concert?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Law School #1

Three or four weeks ago (I've lost track) I intended to write here weekly about the goings on, personal experiences, and thoughts surrounding my entrance and immersion into law school at Ohio Northern University.  Well, clearly, that hasn't happened.  I could get into all the various whys and wherefores, but I can't imagine anyone would really care to read that.  So the shortest of it: it boils down to the fact that I really just don't need the blog right now.  That, and I'm so totally fried once and if I actually do have time to write something for myself that I can't manage it.  Yesterday, however, there was quite a convergence of my past and present interests in three little moments: two while sitting in Property, one preparing for Torts.

We were discussing the right we have as property owners to exclude others from our stuff--land, things, home, whatever.  We went further--to the "outer reaches" of the privilege--to talk briefly and hypothetically about the supposed, and in fact very limited, right to destroy our property.  Interesting to note, and I think I'm grateful for it (though this is a fairly complicated mix-up of thoughts, opinions, and emotions, really), that a court will not generally back our actions if we gratuitously destroy, say, our house, at least not if we don't replace it with an improvement, for example.  It reminded me of some things I learned about Italian real estate (back when I subscribed to Architectural Digest), that even to make minor adjustments (and I'm talking about even just getting new windows or locks installed) to a home or piece of property over a certain age or in a certain location requires full authorization from the government, in the interest of preserving cultural interest in architectural heritage.  Further, courts will rarely support you in the destruction of artistic or literary works, even if they're yours and were never even published.  For example, Franz Kafka (if I'm remembering this correctly) requested that his many incomplete works be destroyed in the event of his death.  Aren't we all glad (well, okay, I'm glad!) the court did not enforce that request!

In torts Torts today, we will be discussing a case regarding an event that occurred in good ol' Saginaw, Michigan, outside a now-defunct department store called Arlan's (suspicion of shoplifting with pursuant accusations of slander and wrongful arrest).  I couldn't remember the name of the department store that is now the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy, so I did a little digging.  I'm sure most of you will be little surprised to learn that I found a number of cases built upon events that happened to have occurred outside one Montgomery Ward not far from Arlan's.

So long for now.  I suppose I will write again eventually, if not soon.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Griping Substitute

My job has been extraordinarily monotonous lately, thus the lack of regular posts.  Things have been so slow in fact--and this is amazing considering how ridiculous middle school students are--that I haven't had a funny anecdotes to tell in, gosh, months.

Instead, I'm going to complain.  You don't have to read this.  This is for me.  Catharsis.

The last week of school is pointless.  Disagree?  Tell me about it!  Who in the United States does not have close personal experience with the futility of the last week of school.  I could get into the academic and State Department of Education implications here, but that's not my gripe right now.  I always figured we could at least fool the students and parents into good attendance, support, and performance this last week by lying.  Put the last day of the school on the calendar a week later than it really is, and then tell kids the last day of school, "Oh, by the way, school's over!  Have a good summer."  Think of the problems this would solve!

As a teacher I hated the last week of school because academically it's worthless.  As a result of that worthlessness, it's pretty much impossible to maintain any kind of discipline because you've got nothing to hang over the kids' heads.  The skillful teacher can work around this, and as long as the school or district don't require final grades before the last day of school, then you might yet have a little leverage.  More than that, if you have a good relationship with your students, though, you can manage some fun activities, enjoy or movie, or go outside and play games.  As a sub, it's a different matter entirely.  Already largely without power, things are immensely more difficult this last week than any other.  My head is just about ready to blow up.

I hate the last week of school for a compounded reason: since the teachers have given up--either burned out or just done with curricula--they are unable to pass along any leverage to the subs covering for them and said subs therefore do nothing but deal with insolent, bored, hormonal teens for an hour and a half at a time, particularly as we're not allowed--well, at this school, I'm not allowed--to do anything otherwise to distract them, like take them outside to play games.  They don't know me and won't do what I ask--and why should they? --because they don't necessarily like me, they don't know me (and there are some exceptions, but not enough to dominate the rest of the unruly eighth grade population), and don't even trust me enough to start in on a game or something.  And right now, chowing down on a cold hamburger with naught but mustard, mayo, and cheese (the cafeteria ran out of ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles during first lunch), I wonder if what I thought earlier today is true.  Do I dread the end of school because I'll have to find temp work in some factory or something in the next few day to carry on for the next four weeks?  Maybe not.

Teachers who don't adequately provide for their subs should be--

I was going to say "shot," but maybe that's a little harsh.  Maybe reprimanded.  Sheesh, I'm too nice.  No.  Teachers who don't adequately provide for their subs should be made to be a sub for a week for a teacher just like them.  Just like principals should be forced to work a semester in a classroom.  Just like students should be made to do custodial work.  Just like parents should sit in the classroom with their crappy kids....  

Okay, I'll stop.

Gripe completed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Decade's Enough

Yesterday I taught ... er, "taught" ... a day's worth of middle school drama classes.  Despite the fact that I've had virtually nothing to do with drama, save playing in pit orchestras, since high school, the classes went surprisingly well, and I couldn't help thinking--and posting on FB later--how I think I could actually make a pretty adequate drama teacher and really enjoy it.  However--and this by way of a combination of, 1, accolades for teaching I've received, 2, pressure to improve and improve, and, 3, my own uncertainty regarding my actual (not perceived) teaching abilities--maybe it's best that I'm done with the classroom.  Not to compare myself to the superstars (they're just the most readily available and recognized examples, though I'm sure I know a deaf dinosaur of a science teacher who would similarly qualify), but consider Michael Jordan and/or, oh, I don't know ... Paul McCartney.  Okay, maybe they're not the best examples; though the attempted returns after "retirement" or the general demise of their groups--in other words, though they didn't exactly "go out on top"--they're still better remembered for the remarkable--astounding--achievements from the height of their careers.  I don't think I ever taught like Jordan played ball or like McCartney wrote music.  Yeah, I'm a good teacher.  Yeah, I'm good with kids.  Yeah, I love my subject.  And, yeah, I think I've done some good stuff.  If I leave now, am I leaving at the "top of my career"?  Were I to stick around, would I get all beleaguered in the bureaucratic demands of the profession and crack?  While pushing for my own ideals and maturing past the recklessness that marked (more on that in a minute) really quite a lot of whatever was called "good" or "great" about my teaching and education achievements, would I lose that spark/fire and just become some zealot slave driver, beating down the kids claiming from atop my beat-up soapbox that THIS STUFF IS IMPORTANT AND WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU KIDS THAT YOU WON'T DO IT!?  I've felt vestiges of that....

More than halfway through my first year teaching in Saginaw, Michigan, a student returned to class with reportable news he'd overheard while awaiting a sit-down with the counselor.  "Mr. Center," he said, "They're calling you a lose cannon in the office."  Though inclined to take offense--and truly my hackles went right up--I was eventually, actually, pretty okay with it.  Not that the office might not be satisfied with my methods (to which they were referring), but that the results thereof were enough to garner the attention that recognized I was doing stuff differently.  I could justify everything I did against the state and district curricular requirements.  Kids were enjoying classes.  Kids were performing well--significantly better, in fact--on tests and, my personal favorite, were winning more creative writing competitions than ever their grade levels had (and many accolades to my brilliant successor, who has improved still upon those marks!).

I've always been guilty of flying by the seat of my pants--of "faking it 'til I make it" --and I'm coming to realize (because that's EXACTLY what I did yesterday with the drama classes and, again, they went really well) that the desperation and enthusiasm and my own personal excitement at the discoveries thereof....  But you can't do that forever.  Eventually, the "lose cannon" thing becomes routine which becomes easy from which eschews nothing surprising or exciting or terrifying which results in boredom which leads to everything that's bad about teaching, not least of which is an over-structured/under-creative environment certainly for students but, more importantly (yes, really), for the teachers.  I've said it before: any significant success I've had as a teacher was not because I'm an expert "teacher," but because I'm flipping crazy-excited about my subject, really know my subject, happen to be good with kids, and share everything I discover with them.

No way would I be able to do that forever.  Right?  And doesn't the death of a teacher who remains, zombie-like, in the classroom do more damage than good?  Sheesh -- maybe it's good they don't pay teachers well enough.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cart-Pushing, Farming, and Lawyering

I am not second-guessing my decision to pursue a law degree.

On my way to work this morning, I came out of a local grocery store and overheard a few lines of  conversation between two employees.  The weight of their dialog wasn't carried in their words, but by their tone.  Both employees were men, older-not-old, the first particularly happy--you know, that certain brand of big-happy that comes with wide smiles, grandiloquent gesticulation, and hearty ribbing--the second quieter but similarly smiling.  The second had apparently been gone a week or so from work and hadn't communicated with his friend who thought maybe he'd left or disappeared or, I'm guessing now, worse.  I got the impression--maybe faulty, but I don't think so--that these two men truly enjoyed their jobs, and all the more so for each other's company, at the grocery store.  They weren't owners or management; rather they both wore the neon orange vests with reflective stripping of the cart pushers and garbage attendants.

My dad, a veterinarian, once told me that he believed the men and women who lay traffic cones and barrels along construction sites on the freeway have a great job.  Later he told me how he'd enjoy being a farmer.  He's confessed multiple times how he dislikes--or is sick of, really--being a veterinarian.  He's still a vet, but he also has, finally, to a degree--and to just the degree he seems to have always wanted--his farm: a hundred acres of Ohio countryside to mow and tend and plant and do whatever-the-heck he wants with and when he wants to do it.

My first year teaching (and I believe I've mentioned this before), I asked my students to raise their hands if they planned to attend college.  I was appalled--even angered--by how many students did not raise their hands.  I was teaching seventh grade, "mainstream" English.  Surely these kids must have known by seventh grade--and none had handicaps that would otherwise remove them from the possibility--that they would attend college, that, so I foolishly believed, there was no other option.  I talked about future money and possibilities, financial stress, ladders, job satisfaction, and all the other crap an immature teacher would foist on his unwitting and quite innocent students.

What all of this comes to is an examination of what exactly I want and, perhaps, why I want it.  (I've been tinkering with an essay for weeks about the nature of human desire--not that kind of desire--and where our desires stem from and why according to most philosophers, if not all, we are not actually in control of our desires and therefore, ultimately, our choices.)  Why do I want to be a lawyer?  Easy.  So many people have asked the question that I've got an answer ready and waiting: I want to be a lawyer because I want to be able to better take care of my family and yet do a job at which I have potential to not only perform well but to also enjoy.  But why do I really want what I want?  Well, I guess it's the money.  I want my family to be comfortable.  I want my family have ... stuff.  I confess: I want a nice car a nice home and nice clothes.  I want to buy books.  I want to travel.  I want to buy new drums.  I want to be the one who offers help, not the one who requires it.

Selfish?  Greedy?  Indulgent?


It would be a lot easier if I were satisfied and happy with something much simpler but (and if you don't agree, you're stupid), no less important.

And I'm leaving it at that for now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Corny Reminiscence and Cornier Fondness

Yesterday my wife and I received a wedding invitation in the mail.  I recognized the family name on the return address, but didn't make the connection (it was the parents' name with the surname, after all, and I know relatively few grownups) until we opened it and saw the photograph.  A former student of mine is getting married next week.  Big deal, right?  I mean aside from the whole fact that weddings are wonderful and happy--among the happiest--things, why would I be at all surprised?  I've had thousands of students, and odds are a few of them will get married once in while; why should I be particularly surprised or elated?  I'm not a young teacher anymore (remember: it's not the years, but the mileage), and, just like me, my past kids--as with everyone else in world, mortal or immortal--are getting older.  This particular young lady was a seventh grader when I taught her in one of my first classes down in little Payson, Utah.  I remember her clearly: a bright and vivacious young lady, sociable and eager.  She worked hard, did relatively well, and said goodbye at the end of the year with a sigh of mild regret, but marked enthusiasm for the coming summer and the subsequent advancement to eighth grade and the junior high school up the street.  In other words, she, just like almost everyone else in her class, would surely forget me and move on.  No big deal.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that this young lady is the daughter of one of my wife's cousins, whom my wife happened to see at a family reunion a couple weeks ago.  And of course I have to keep this in consideration (seeing someone at a family reunion can build up certain levels of internal, familial guilt for lack of communication over the years or whatever else) and not be too flattered that she maybe fondly thought of me after nine or ten years.  When Angie returned from the reunion, which I was unable to attend for a conflict of schedule, she had lots of items to report, indeed among them her seeing this former student of mine, who, apparently, was quite upset that I hadn't shown up.  After all, she was engaged and really wanted me to meet him.

In Mormon culture--at least Utah-Mormon culture--you invite friends and extended family (depending on the volume of the extended family of course, which, as you might guess, can get quite sizable) to the reception.  Immediate family and a very few of the best friends, get invited to the temple ceremony, where the actual marriage, or sealing, takes place, "For Time and All Eternity" --a truly amazing, reverent, awing, and sacred ceremony, at which there is terribly limited physical space for onlookers.  This young lady, whom I haven't seen in nine or ten years, and whom my wife just spotted at a family reunion, has invited the two of us to her temple sealing.

Now I don't think it's any great mystery that (1) I love being a teacher.  Also, (2) I happen to love--again, no great mystery--my subject, English (in lieu of my own classroom, I'm currently dedicating two blogs to it, after all).  Finally (3), I love kids and am a fair natural at getting along with them, relating to them, "getting" them, and so on.  If I've experienced any success (which I measure objectively and qualitatively by the making-a-difference marker) as a teacher, I think it's for these three traits, and not for any particular skill of instructional strategy or classroom management or any of the other things that otherwise qualify teachers, of which I know many, as good or great.  Along these lines, I also work hard at my job.  I want to do it well, and everyone likes to hear that their efforts are appreciated.  Lately--scattered throughout this past school year--I've received several messages from former students thanking me for having been their teacher, which messages flatter and humble me, and often bring a tear or two or a flood to my eyes.  Combine this with the fact that I really feel--deeply and to the corny little core of my heart--that my students are my kids.  Now imagine what this wedding invite did to me!

(If you are a former student of mine, please do not take this as a subversive message meant to incite guilt for failure to invite me to your wedding.  Really.  I probably won't be able to make it anyway; travel's expensive, after all, and I'm only a frickin' teacher for crying out loud!)

More than anything else, this whole thing reminds me of how important people and relationships and kindness and hard work are and all the other crap that goes with them.  I've been reminded similarly of how important my former teachers were and are to me.  I've even followed the example of some of these former students and written to a few of my old teachers (thank Goodness for Facebook, right?).

And now, well, this message is clearly petering out, losing its momentum (if it ever had any), and I've got no great or elegant/-oquent conclusion.  I just feel good, which is a good thing to feel, especially as this is my last year teaching.


Friday, March 18, 2011


It's probably some special little law of thermodynamics or something that events happen or items appear in groups--pairs at least--like cataracts of traffic on an otherwise empty highway.  Yesterday, there was such mash-up. My son had had a rough day.  He's still in recovery mode after a nasty spat of colds at home (I'm still trying to get over mine), and more simply, earlier he'd woken up on that proverbial, and despicable, wrong side of the bed.  We all know what that's like.  And who could blame him when he objected to going to school, where, as if in confirmation of his dread, he got hurt and came home later that afternoon with a band-aid on his arm?  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take Jacob to his karate class right after he gets off the bus.  Generally, he really enjoys it, but yesterday, just after getting dressed, while pushing shut the folding doors of his closet, he got his finger pinched between the panels and cut himself again--a nasty little slice, this time on his finger.  More, he's just recently graduated--been promoted--into the Juniors Class (up from Little Ninjas, where he was, by far, the  top dog), in which he competes with kids 6-12 years old.  He's tall for six, but he is still just six!  Most of the class is a lot bigger.  The curriculum is a lot harder.  Some of the kids are really good.  Really good.  Jacob is naturally competitive.  (Well, mostly he just really likes to win and hates to lose.  I guess this and "competitive" are not exactly the same thing.)

Anyway, he and another recent Little Ninja grad teamed up for some sparring.  Together they won five bucks-a-piece "karate kash" for performing best in the class.  Great, right?  Usually when Jacob wins even just a buck he comes running over to me (hastily bowing "respectively" at the edge of the mat) and proudly waves the bill in my face. I then get to use it as a bookmark until we get back home where I put it with the rest of his small cache in the kitchen cabinet.  Well, yesterday, he didn't bring me the kash.  And it makes sense, other kids don't go running around in this class, dashing over to mommy or daddy for this, that, or whatever; the discipline for the juniors is several notches up from LN, and you gotta be tough.  As nails.

Soon after the successful sparring, which, as I said, he didn't personally celebrate, was a game of "Sensei Says."  This is the second time Jacob's played the game with his new class.  The first time, he went out in the first round, and he was fine with it.  He was still a little awed and intimidated.  Yesterday, still essentially brand new and totally green, he beat out more than half the kids in the class, lasting several dozen commands (no mean feat), and when he got out he sat, slowly, almost delicately, and for about thirty seconds was strong.  Then he broke.  The day had been too much (and I didn't even know about all of it yet!), and right there, in the middle of super cool karate class for big kids, Jacob started, silently but quakingly, to sob.  I stood anxiously, and one of the assistant teachers brought him to me.  (The teachers are truly wonderful in this school.)

It took about ten minutes for him to calm down.  I held him on my lap and tried to talk to him, but he wasn't in the mood.  Of course, this was a classic, great "father" moment.  I couldn't "let" him not go back out on the floor to finish class.  I had to teach him that, you know, when you fall you've got to get back up!  Well, wonderfully, with prodding from me and another fantastic teacher, he did, and I was really proud.

In the car on the ride home he was very quiet.  I asked him what was bothering him.  I thought I knew what it was, but I wanted him to talk it out.  I don't want him to be like his old man who buries everything where it--whatever "it" is--can fester and rot and try, tempt, and even destroy my emotional immune system.  But he remained quiet.  I was torn, of course.  I wanted to respect his privacy, too, but, again, he's only six!  I want too to know what's really going on in there, at least just to make sure that something, well, bad isn't going on.  Finally, just before pulling into our driveway, he said, and with heat, "Some kids at school made fun of my picture today!"  Jacob, and rightfully so, prides himself on his ability to draw superheroes.  Today was Spiderman, but apparently these kids thought his drawing looked stupid because the oval of the hero's head was sideways, instead of "up-side up," the way it should be and the way Jacob meant to do it, but didn't.  He hadn't said anything about this when he came home from school--just the cut on his arm.  I watched him in the rear view mirror and could see again the sobs working his larynx and into his shoulders.  Amazingly, once home and inside, cookie in hand and "Clifford" on the tube, he on the love seat, his sister on the couch, he was as happy as could be, and the rest of the evening was peaceful.

For him.

I'd just gotten my rejection letter from BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School, my first and most-hoped for.  Most, if not all, of you know this, of course.  And it's kind of a big deal!  We'd really like to stay in Utah, rather than uproot this little family for the sixth time in three years.  Of course, The University of Utah is still undecided about me, and, really, whatever happens will happen.  But that rejection....  It smarts, and not just because now I'm not going to BYU.  I've been accepted to other schools, after all--good schools (not as good, but you know...) --I've gotten my five bucks karate kash, but Jacob's right.  Sometimes it's really hard to go back out on the mats and finish class.

He did it.  Maybe I just need a cookie and my favorite TV show.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SEX SELLS ... er ... I mean CELLS

I'm currently grading the booklets and extra credit from the 7th Grade Science, Genetics unit (about three weeks late, but there you go).  I just finished scoring a young lady's booklet who made an innocent, I'm sure, spelling mistake, which mistakes are certainly not uncommon for 7th graders.  When I taught English, years ago, it was surprisingly common to see the word "graj," meant to indicate "garage."  The mistake I found today, however, has a bit more resonance.  On a page of class work focusing on the topic of meiosis, this young lady mistakenly spelled the male sex cell not "sperm," but "spurn."  Freudians, unite!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Good Kids

Writers and directors who put together movies in which the handicapped kid is mocked by the popular kids, or by any kids, or even just ignored are either stupid or ignorant.  Yes, kids get teased and cruelly, but they are never--and let me make this clear: NEVER--the kids with "legitimate" and visible special needs.  The 7th and 8th graders I work with now, as well as all the other high schoolers and middle schoolers I've worked with over the last decade, are silent heroes, helping, guiding, encouraging and all without even being asked.  Of course, this doesn't spare geeks and the preternaturally awkward, but that's not my point (and, yeah, if we split hairs, we all have special needs).  Certainly we're not entirely innocent, and such helping hands don't absolve humanity from other atrocities, but seeing such service warms my heart.

On an entirely different note, I have a student whose first name is "Amisi," pronounced (seriously) "ah-MEE-zee."  I can hardly believe the kids don't giggle every time I take roll; maybe I'm still just too accustomed to high school.