Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Failing at Failure...Teachers Say the Darndest Things

I am sitting here, retired, put out pasteur, and thinking what a general failure my life has been.  Lest you think that I am in some sort of retired, old age, depressed funk, actually I am quite amused with my failure.  While I wouldn't necessarily declare my life a grand success, I ain't rich, powerful, well known or particularly influential, I don't think I did all that bad.  I have managed to pay Federal income taxes every year of my life since turning 18, so by some measure touted about in last year's presidential campaign I am doing OK.  True, I do not have enough resources to worry about burying it in tax havens in the Cayman Islands, in fact I really don't have the resources to vacation in the Cayman Islands but none the less I am doing OK.  I am happy, got a modest roof my head, and a damned good woman at my side.  But alas I am a failure.

Under the category of Teachers Say The Darndest Things, I had more than one teacher tell me that I would be a failure in life.

After successfully completing first grade and even having a crush on my teacher, I sort of bombed second grade.  Frankly the teacher scared the shit of me.  I just didn't seem to click with her class.  One of her grand educational goals was jurisprudence.  She assigned the smartest kid in the class to be the chief justice of the supreme court of second grade.  This kid was smart and always good.  So he held a permanent position as judge.  A rotating position was the prosecuting DA in which she (as god of the class) both directed and assisted.   Three members of the class were a jury, (she couldn't use 12 because that would have cut into her pool of defendants).  There were no defense attorneys.  So this court would go into session and the teacher, like some Nazi SS goon, would ask the class for specific accusations against class members.  Trial would then be held for each accusation.  While she had these so called officers of the court on hand, she actually ran the whole show her self, only seeking agreement from the judge, DA, and jury.  Verdicts were issued and sentencing was done all rather expediently.  Fortunately the sentencing usually was just being yelled at and humiliated in front of the class.  I don't remember of anyone getting paddled or sent to the principals office.  We learned in second grade that it was good to be a tattle tale.  Anyhow these trials and just about everything else she did scared the hell out of me, and I spend most of second grade crying.  My academic performance was bad, but not failing.  She told my mother that even though I did not fail second grade, because of my lack of emotional maturity that I would most likely fail future grades and that I would never be a good student.  Third grade, I had a wonderful teacher and never cried once.  I failed to fail any future grades.

My sixth grade teacher told my parents that I was destined for blue collar work...end of conversation.  She was right!  This same teacher told my mother and father in law that my brother in law was not college material that they should plan on him being in a blue collar trade.  She had a thing for blue collars.  My brother in law got a bachelors and masters degree in education and completed 40 years as an elementary teacher winning many awards along the way.  Hey, even some of the best odds makers call the wrong horse.  But she right about me.  I was blue collar, even after I got into engineering, I was still blue collar.  As they said out on the floor, you take the mill hunk out of the mill, but you can't take the mill out of the mill hunk.

I had a seventh grade science teacher drag me and another kid out into the hall from study hall.  He asked us, "Hows comes youse guys is always wizen off?"  Which we were.  He then launched into a grim future based on our poor behavior in study hall delivered in language such as the above.  Yins was one of his favorite words.  I don't remember one thing this guy taught me about science.  But English grammar?  Priceless.

The gutter or prison? 

A music teacher looked into her crystal ball over my inability to properly identify a G clef in 7th grade.  That resulted in a 5 minute lecture to the class that started with "Now here is a young man that..." The lecture went from a failure identify a G clef to a failure to take good music seriously which of course would lead to a general failure in life. She fully expected that I would spend my life either in the gutter or prison.  I did fail to appreciate music until I took music appreciation in college six years later because it was a cake course.  

A math teacher (retired navy captain) in college told me that I was not cut out to be a college student, my presence in this college was denying a more qualified student a seat and was lowering the standards and academic performance of the college.  He recommended that I immediately quit college and join the navy.  I failed his class but had straight As in the rest of my classes.  I repeated the class with another teacher, and yes I was no math wizard but I did miss a B by only a few points on the final.

While I was in the Air Force, I took some classes at a local community college near the base I was assigned in California.   I had a speed reading teacher tell me that people like me were going to be the down fall of western civilization.  Wow!  All from people like me.  In his defense he was blind with fury when he made this prediction.   The problem?  I had been in this guy's class for a month.  My other classes were early in the morning and this class was at one o'clock in the afternoon.  I had spent a month listening to how colonels from the base had benefitted from his speed reading course, how various professors at this school improved their speed and comprehension of reading...on and on... corporate CEOs, clergy, doctors, and lawyers.  This class was miraculous, I could expect to see my income improve, and the future would be bright, just by learning to speed read.   One month into the class and we had not done a damn thing about speed reading.  It was something more of a speed reading appreciation class rather than a speed reading class.  It reminded me a lot of the University of Phoenix commercials that we see on TV.  A lot of promises being bandied about.

Sextant, you pusillanimous pussyfooter,
nattering nabob of negativism!
So I wanted to drop the class and needed him to sign the drop form.  He was put out.  He couldn't understand why I would want to drop this opportunity to eventually become the Secretary of the Air Force, if not Secretary of Defense.  With my haircut it was obvious that I was from the base and for the 43 bazzionth time he told me that "colonels and master sergeants had sent him letters of appreciation in how speed reading had helped them in their military careers."  I said I didn't give a shit about colonels and master sergeants, I wanted to improve my reading not hear about colonels and master sergeants.  Yeah, OK, I was a bit snarky.  He blew up, disrespect for authority was why we were losing in Vietnam and that my attitude would result in the domino effect with the eventual communist take over of the US of A.  This guy was screaming at me, and I started screaming back.  It was really getting ugly.  Finally I said either sign the drop form or I will take this up with the college administration.  He signed the form and stormed off.  The predicted communist take over of the western world did not occur, but I was probably in some way instrumental for the fall of the Nixon Administration. Think of the damage that a pissed off staff sergeant with no speed reading skills could do to the administration's reputation. Oh I am giving my self far too much credit, I was just one of Spiro Agnew's "pusillanimous pussyfooters," "nattering nabobs of negativism"  and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history." Fortunately I did not possess the intellectual horsepower to make it into the "effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."  In any event I apologize to the nation, had I simply remained in that speed reading class, our fortunes in Vietnam would have been reversed.  Ho Chi Minh City would now be Nixonville.

I had a dean at the University of Pittsburgh tell me that he was not in favor of allowing part time students in the College of Arts and Sciences but the university forced his hand.  "There is a synergy of the educational experience, living in the dorm, participating in college social life, taking full academic credit loads under which the full time student thrives and is denied to the part time student."  I explained that I was 32 years old, married,  mortgaged, working a full time union job but stuck on second shift which meant that I had to attend day classes and I was majoring in computer science to improve my lot in life.  He replied back that the College of Arts and Sciences was not for vocational training.  (To which I thought, then why the f--- is computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences?)  Staring off at some point 15 degrees off the horizon he told me that the mission of the College of Arts and Sciences was not "income potential" but rather to "broaden the student's horizons" and provide society with a "generation of thinking good citizens through a liberal arts education."  And here I thought I was being a good citizen by having spent 4 years in the Air Force.  Silly me.   Exasperated, I asked him would you have me divorce my wife, quit my job, sell my house, move into the dorm, and mix and mingle by taking  co-eds 12 years my junior to the spring fling?   He advised that I had missed my opportunity in life (alas going off into the wild blue yonder was not all that it was cracked up to be) and if I couldn't attend classes at the school of General Studies (night classes at Pitt--which I gathered he considered a waste of university resources) then I should consider attending a community college.  I didn't bother telling him that I already had two associate degrees.  The dispute?  My advisor insisted I take two classes.  I only wanted to take one.  Two is the requirement.  So I spend 20 minutes talking to this pusillanimous pussyfooter of a dean, listening to all this high falutin' bullshit, and then he finally says I am sorry but we will not waive the 12 credit a year requirement for part time students.  So after 20 minutes of undiluted liberal arts theoretical horseshit we finally get to the fricking requirement.  You have to take 12 credits a year.  Not two courses a semester but 12 credits a year.  Thank you your majesty.  I enrolled one class.  My stab at computer science was derailed not by failing to attend the spring fling, but rather by the propensity of the university to hire foreign teachers who could not speak adequate English.  I did not have a clue of what the teacher was saying.  After acing three classes toward my major (including calculus--which was sheer luck) I was forced to drop a class because at the first test I had nothing written in my note book and the teacher told us that she did not use the text.  Do not buy it. It was the only thing she said that I understood.  How do you study for a test with no notes or a text book?  I went up to the computer science department and the register read like the office directory of the United Nations.  My wife was pregnant, and I just came to the conclusion that maybe computer science is not for me.  In retrospect, the babbling teacher did me a huge favor.  I doubt that I would have made a big splash in the world of computer science, rather than inventing some language or money making app, I imagine that I would have found employment at our IT department.  Going around installing the latest version of Windows on everyone's PC didn't strike me as fascinating work.  Hard to know that when I was enthralled with a Commodore Pet.

So here I sit on the threshold of old age.  I have failed.  I failed to fail classes, failed to stay 100% blue collar although remaining so in spirit, failed at becoming a professional wizen off, failed at getting into the gutter or prison, failed the United States of America by not becoming a speed reader like so many colonels and master sergeants (Amazon is really pissed...if I could speed read I could spend more money on Kindle books), and failed to become a computer scientist despite the best efforts of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  So I think I will take my ne'er-do-well old ass, sit in a chair, fire up the Kindle, and read a couple of paragraphs at an abysmal rate and drift off in a nap with 7 year old  chief justices,  G-clefs, broadened horizons, and 20 year old co-eds spring flinging in my head.

Image credits:  Wikipedia


  1. If you are a failure then I can only hope to be half as big a failure as you.

    You are one of the most intelligent men I have ever known! Not that I know you personally as we've never met in "real life", but when you write I feel like you're sitting right here in front of me.

    The most important sentence in your whole post came early on "I am happy, got a modest roof my head, and a damned good woman at my side." How many of us can say we are happy?

    Although I do think you should still take a speed reading course, if only to increase Amazons wealth through your Kindle purchases!

    You have an amazing memory!

    1. Alicia,

      Thank you for the kind comment. I do think you tend to overate my abilities.

      I know some woman that dumped a miserable abusive S.O.B. of a husband, was a single mom of two children, worked full time while she went to school and got her bachelors degree and improved her lot in life. From as near as i can tell she is the defacto head of her extended family and has the biggest set of cojones in Kern County. I think she is very damned smart and very successful. Failure half or otherwise is not an attribute that I would think applicable for this woman. I hope she is happy, because she certainly deserves to be happy.

      For memory, yeah its pretty good for things that happened decades ago. Last week? It really sucks.

      Alicia, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. I apparently missed the class in teacher school where we we told to dash all dreams. That is terrible. From what I have observed over the years, being content is worth far more than fame and fortune.

    1. Olga, I can only theorize about fame and fortune--I have no practical experience. But judging from the hogwash that emanates from the boob tube every evening, fame? I absolutely agree. Anonymity is priceless. Fortune? Money will buy you everything except happiness and anonymity. I have both, as such I think myself rich beyond compare.

      Good to see you about...thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Sextant, maybe because we are in the same age demographic, your posts almost always hit home. I, too, was made to feel like a loser by a teacher. She was the music teacher at my elementary school, and was evidently very put out that, in her professional opinion, I simply could not carry a tune. (Which was probably true, but beside the point). As our 7th grade graduation approached, and we prepared to bid farewell to elementary school, she formed a 7th grade choir which was tasked with providing entertainment for parents, guests and other attendees at the end-of-year ceremony. Since I would ruin the whole thing, I was excluded. Which would not have been so bad if I hadn't been the ONLY 7th grader not singing my heart out on stage. I would have gladly just moved my lips, if given the chance. But, no. I can still feel the pain and humiliation of having to sit with the sixth graders during the performance.
    In any case, I've gotten over it (pretty much, anyway). And have gone on, like you, to live a satisfying (if musically-deficient) life. Let's just hope that times have changed, and teachers are now required to have some semblance of empathy.

    1. Donna,

      I think you hit the nail right on the head when you said demographic. I think there was three things at work for we baby boomers. 1) There was so many of us. 2) We were the vanguard of the post World War II reinvention of childhood and adolescence. 3) We were being taught by a generation who had suffered the deprivations of the depression and WWII.

      I think our education was a bit industrially orientated because our parents had certainly created an assembly line like environment in creating us (and we thought we invented sex! Ha! ). Remember lunch time, it was like feedlot. The other factor that goes into that was that we were just kids. We were not these genetic and socially designed bundles of perfection with play dates, lessons for everything under the sun, and time for any endeavor but childhood. I think we were damned lucky to grow up when we did without so much damned adult interference. The teachers may have been Philistines, but what the hell, we didn't have parents constantly planning our every move.

      We were probably considered a bit spoiled by our teachers who may have been perfectly willing to spoil their own children as was the way in the 50s but maybe not so understanding of their students.

      That was terrible to block you from singing in a graduation ceremony. But that was the kind of crap that went on back then. As you say, I hope it is better now.

      When you feel a little down at your rejection, do like I do. Imagine your music teacher in broiling in hell listening to Schoenberg's 12 tone music played on a state of the art music system.

      Donna, always a pleasure, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  4. You had some teachers say and do some awful things! I especially abhor that trial crap that happened in the 2nd grade! Thinly masked child abuse, I call it! Yeecchh. You were smart enough and strong enough to know your own mind and to survive, and you ended up with a happy life. And you love books. You are a SUCCESS in my eyes!

    1. Carol

      Yes, the second grade trial thing was the worst of the lot. Indeed I love books, but thanks to my speed reading course in college I am still in the starlings reading group in second grade. Not up to blue birds or meadow larks yet. But I do have an appreciation for speed reading.

      Thanks for the kind compliment and for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Only Ms. Wotring at Morgantown Junnior High, that's in WV felt compelled to gaze into the crystal ball to pronounce me "going nowhere." She got it right-I just ended up a teacher like she was- but that wasn't a very hard one to figure out, poor, fairly abused, hopelessly destined to serve the world, and standing up to her for her denying me the right to do my book report on Archy and Mehitabel-a book she labelled "immature."
    I traveled to nowhere but still think, as I told her, that her job wasn't in fortune telling-neither were your teacher's.

    Your second grade teacher was a winner. Boy, I had one I didn't like either but all I recall was we called her "the pink pig." And I hope we had a good reason.
    I have this thing I do in teaching, I like doing it, I simply predict positive futures.And that I could never guess or imagine where life will take them.
    When I can know I'm usually shocked by what they "become." I'd think lawyer-they'd be photographer. I'd see a doctor, they'd become a priest. It's interesting but I never know.
    And you should keep that in mind.
    Because teachers are blind to the future -and it sounds like many of yours blind in the present.

    1. Sarah,

      Ms. Wotring would fit right in to my collection. My post is unfair in that I didn't mention any of the good teachers I had and most of them were good. I can't say that any spoiled me with lavish praise but I was one of the kind of in the middle such I didn't deserve lavish praise. But indeed most of the teachers I had were dedicated to their jobs and the kids and did an excellent job.

      That does have to be one of the rewards and perhaps at times disappointment of your profession...what they become.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  6. It's amazing how many of us secretly feel like failures. My father constantly announced that he was, so maybe it's an infectious thing. One school report I had said i was 'borderline' university (based on one of those tests). I was shattered and ashamed. Anyway, I did get there and got a scholarship after my first degree to do my M.Ed. I've still never felt 'successful' as far as career goes. It was much more important to me to find a soul mate and I devoted all my energies in my twenties to that. Thank God I was ultimately successful. I relate so much to this post of yours.

    1. Fiftyodd

      There is worldly success and there is Soul success...I think you said it all when you said you found your Soul mate!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  7. I made it to graduate school before anyone told me I was not cut out for my chosen profession. Maybe not, but I kept on and I think I was a darn good teacher in the end. Actually, I am quite certain that the particular professor was not cut out for his profession as he did not last very long at the University.