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We Went to School Together: Classroom Teaching Experiences Part II
by Raymond G. Briscoe, Ph.D.
Jun 17, 2011 | 3188 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RAY BRISCOE’S new book tells of Bountiful High School’s early years.
RAY BRISCOE’S new book tells of Bountiful High School’s early years.
slideshow
Circumspect Beverly

Beverly did not have much to say during the interview. She asked if she could write her experience rather than discuss it. I was interviewing her in the home of her parents.

She remembered a game I played called Univac vs. Clods. I had always failed at finding a way to get kids to review what they had learned. Students simply do not want to take the time to go over stuff which had already been taught. Univac was a major computer firm in Salt Lake City so I named the game

after them.

The rules required someone to ask a question that was legitimate, but that no one could answer. You only got credit if your question could not be answered. This put more emphasis on thinking rather than remembering. It was

also stipulated that it had to be a question from the subject matter of the course

or from the text book.

I asked a question and any student could respond if the answer was known. Any student could ask me a question and if I did not know the answer they got a point. The one with the most points at the end of the review was

Univac, and the opposition were the Clods or the Clod, if I was the loser. It usually was a close contest.

She reported that I got angry in class several times. It was good, in her opinion, as it led her to think that matters that were important should be taken seriously. She came to my home to tell the rest of the story.

Beverly was a bright young lady. She struggled with her membership in the Church. She did not enjoy attending services and did not enjoy seminary. Of course her goodly parents believed that if she had not been in my history class she would not have felt about their church the way she did.

As we discussed this sensitive issue she said she began to have her doubts in grade school. “How could there be only one true church?” It is a theme that is important to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She married another student of mine who had similar opinions. The marriage did not last. I asked Beverly, “Why was that so, it seems that you were suited to each other?”

It was a simple answer. “He wanted children and I did not want to have any.”

Berta the Pinko

Berta was an attractive female specimen. I include her in this list of student interviews because she also chose to study Yugoslavia a year later than another student who had had an encounter with the FBI. The first relationship a student of mine had with the FBI was in 1957. It happened again to Berta.

This was the year that Castro declared himself a Communist, and the following year was the Bay of Pigs affair which was a failed attempt to invade Cuba. The world in the early 60's was frightening. President Kennedy had met

with Khrushchev and came home concerned enough to prepare the nation for conflict. The government sent information telling citizens how to build their

own bomb shelter.

To have two students in their early teens in conservative Bountiful, Utah, being checked-up on by the federal government denotes how concerned our nation was with a possible nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.

Micki the Leg Painter

“I liked the setting of your room. Your desks were arranged in an oval so everyone had a seat where they could see other faces. The class was taught as an open forum. That was how I learned that my opinion was important. You gave our statement credibility, and we were treated like real people.

“I knew you were a Mormon, but I never saw evidence of it in the class.

“It was an election year and you required every student to choose a candidate or a party and give a number of hours of service. I was handing out literature from door to door and someone asked me why I was supporting this

candidate? I didn’t know! I quickly learned that politics is more than just accomplishing a task for someone. I learned to take an interest in politics and became an avid reader of the newspaper.

“You brought many speakers to the classroom, but I do not remember a Black person the year I was a senior. I never saw a person who was Black until I attended Utah State University the next year.

“Yes, I heard from others that you were a Communist, but it did not bother me.

“You had a great sense of humor. We were going to have a test the next day and we started arguing for an open-book test. We were not winning, but we persisted. You finally said, ‘You can bring all the notes you can write on your body.’ The next day was a game day and I had on my Pep Club uniform. The Pep Club girls came to class with notes written all over our arms and legs. For

one test we did pretty good.

“You had us do a term paper. I did mine on apartheid, and when I started I didn’t even know what it was. I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning and knocked out a good paper on the old manual typewriter. My friend copied hers out of an encyclopedia and we both got ‘A’s. I was very angry.”

I soon learned to let students bring notes to take tests. I allowed a three-by-five card for each student. I then made it one-half of a three-by-five card. Students were innovative to the core. Those who knew photography used a number of lenses which allowed them to read different writing which had been written over the original script so they could have a lot more available information. The bottom line: The students learned that by preparing for a test with a few notes helped their memory considerably. One day I pulled the plug and told them they could not use the notes they brought. It made them angry, but I insisted. I went back to notes with promises later on, but they learned from that experience that once they took the time to write down a good set of notes, their minds retained most of the information. When well-prepared you do not have to rely on notes. Students need to be taught how to take notes. I spent three-fourths of one whole year not giving any classroom tests. All students were required to keep a notebook. I picked the notebooks up on Friday and read and graded them over the weekend. One Monday they received their notes back for the next week. They had learned to take notes. I returned to classroom tests so the students could prepare for what a college test was like. Letting the students bring prepared notes to class for tests was one of the best things I ever did as a teacher. Once I got them involved in making a good set of notes for a coming exam, the quality of the classroom learning went up. They had more confidence in coming prepared for a test. I never let this practice go once I started. I even used it in college teaching. Suzie and the Social Faux Pas Suzie was without doubt the brightest soul in the class. She was also

among the most demanding students I ever taught. If she wanted to know something she wanted to know it right now. She had strong opinions and simple answers never satisfied her. Patience was not her strong suit. I was helping Hannibal move his troops from North Africa over the Alps to invade Rome. In the middle of the campaign Suzie interrupted to ask whether Hannibal’s elephants were from India or Africa.

“I don’t know,” I answered, “Probably from Africa.”

That was not enough. She needed to know the home of the elephants. She wanted to know right now. I pulled down some maps and showed the distance from India and from Africa and again suggested they were probably from

Africa. Carthage, Hannibal’s base, was in northern Africa and he most likely got his elephants from the same continent. I simply did not know and frankly did not care where the elephants were from. We spent wasted minutes talking about elephants instead of getting Rome invaded. Such are the hazards of war. On the day of the “faux pas” she had demanded an answer to a question which was not on the topic of the class discussion. I tried to get her to wait and she would not. I had had enough!

“Okay Suzie,” I sharply stated with an added cold hard stare, “When I finish you have to get up and put your argument on the blackboard. Is that understood!?”

“Of course,” she stated matter-of-factly, assured that it would not be a difficult task.

I spent ten minutes demonstrating that her point of view had little validity and made her job as difficult as I could. When I finished I walked to her desk holding the chalk in front of me and demanded she get up. I have been told in jest to “sit down or I’ll knock you down,” but it never occurred to me that the opposite word could have such meaning.

I was one angry Jose! I walked over to the desk and shoved the piece of chalk into her face. “Get up!” I demanded.

She cowed lower into her desk. “Get up,” I insisted as a second ultimatum in a raised voice. She dropped her eyes and slid farther down in her desk, with no verbal reaction.

“You promised to give your point of view if I answered the question you demanded I take time to answer. Now get up,” I charged with an exasperated tone.

I pressed the chalk stick forward and vociferously spit out the words slowly, “You - get - up, - or I’ll - knock - you - up!”

The class exploded! It was as if all three Marx Brothers had slipped on banana peelings at the same time. I turned and walked away fearing I had lost my job. A few students had fallen out of their desk chairs and were laying on the floor in uproarious laughter. I looked down at one young guy and he was holding both of his sides and fighting for breath. There was no sound coming out of his

mouth as the tears rolled down both sides of his face. It seemed to last for five minutes with pandemonium still in the classroom.

I finally walked out of the classroom and shut the door as the raucous laughter permeated me as I slouched down the hall.

Spider Man

“Your class always consisted of asking questions. As soon as there was an answer you would always follow with another question. One time I raised my hand to answer a question and you came over and took hold of my hand. (He had very long fingers.) ‘Good heavens Ted, was your father a spider?’

“I never enjoyed history. I thought it was boring, but in your class it came alive. Your class has influenced the way I think and the way I teach. (He is a Dean at a major university.) One time I gave an answer from some John Birch material I had read. You commented, ‘It is strange that most people are liberal when they are young and conservative when they are old. You’re starting out very

young to be a conservative.’ I read lots of books in your class that you recommended. Much of what you gave us to read was related to real issues of the time. When we studied the Constitution, you had articles related to things which were happening at the time. The movies you showed in class were always

pertinent. I still remember the Hungarian Revolution on film and the people who were physically beaten.

“I enjoyed the United Nations Club you started. There were over a hundred members. I was the first president of that organization at our school. I remember you taking us to talk with a druggist who was very anti-UN. You wanted us to hear all points of view.

“I was with Mr. McDaniels (chemistry teacher) when we blew up some chemicals. (Ted was his lab assistant.) We got notice that some of the chemicals which were sent to us were dangerous. It was suggested we go outside and dig a hole and burn them. We followed directions, but when he struck the match,

there was an explosion. I walked him over to the hospital (about a block away). The chemical was hydrogen peroxide. Mr. Keddington had me teach his class for

a week until Mr. McDaniels was able to come back.”

Character vs. Brains

I had a class of very bright kids, but one was academically superb. He was one of the brightest kids I ever had. Not only was he bright, he believed he was bright and made an effort to use it to his advantage. He had dark black hair; his grandfather had been a real leader in the community for several years and was very wealthy.

His grandfather wanted to build some business on his property and the city would not re-zone the land so he could do what he wanted to do. The city won the battle and Rich brought his arguments to class. Rich had the same disposition as his grandfather. Life was for you and what you could get out of it.

He was a good kid, but at the same time, just on the edge of being non-manageable.

One day in class Rich got most of his fellow students to conspire to get me to admit to saying something I had never said. Inasmuch as I allowed kids to express themselves freely in class the discussion, they became rather animated.

It was getting on my nerves and I was heating up. “You said we did not have to take the test.”

“I did not say that; it isn’t even close to what I said!” The argument went on for five or six minutes and I was close to spouting off in anger. When ten or twelve people all agree on something they said you said, it can’t help but to cause doubt.

As things got closer to the boiling point, Doug said, “No, he didn’t.”

The class fell silent. Not a sound entered the room. It was more difficult for Doug to break the conspiracy because his father was the assistant principal and not very popular with the kids.

I don’t know if the battling kids gave Doug a problem out of class, but I surely reached one conclusion: I prefer character over brains any day!

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