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We Went to School Together: Classroom Teaching Experiences Part III
by Raymond G. Briscoe, Ph.D.
Jul 29, 2011 | 9649 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 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
Create the Situation You Need

I couldn’t use this approach in every class, because the word got around the school quickly. I could use it once or twice a year effectively. I used it when I was discussing court cases impacted by circumstantial evidence. I approached a student and told him I wanted to visit with him before he went home that night. “Tomorrow I want you to pick a fight with me. No hitting, no foul language, but challenge my authority and I am going to kick you out of class. I want you to leave without me having to physically throw you out, but be belligerent. After you have been out of the class for ten minutes walk back

in and sit down as though nothing happened. Understand?”

The next day the event was pulled off just as it was planned. When he left I continued the charade and acted angry. “Maybe we ought to talk about this,” I stated to the class. “What happened? Did I go too far?” It took the students aback and it required some thought on their parts to challenge a teacher’s behavior. The actor had sold the performance and the students divided over who was right and who was wrong.

When the actor walked back into the classroom the kids were shocked.

“Okay, you saw what happened. Does this mean if you see what happens at some event you know what happened? It fostered a great discussion on judgment and eye-witness accounts.

I also learned to pick out a kid who was already somewhat of a troublemaker. It was easier to sell under those circumstance. There were times it would get very emotional. There were occasions that when the relief came, some of the girls cried when the tension was over. I believe some of the tears came

from anger and some from relief.

Beautiful Rene

I laid down the law about kids missing school when they had an assignment or a test because they were sick. Rene was an excellent student and a very beautiful girl. She had an assignment to give an oral report to the class. She came to class and fulfilled the assignment. I was able to tell something was wrong and I questioned her, “When you found out I was ill, you told me, ‘It is okay to

stay home when you are really sick!’”

Being the lovely creature then as she still is, I asked Rene, “Did the boys hit on you a lot when you were a student?”

“No, not really,” then she paused and said, “I was walking across the parking lot after school and some boys offered me a ride home. I innocently accepted their offer, as the thought that something was wrong never entered my head. I got a very bad feeling before they left the parking lot and firmly said, “Stop the car, I’m getting out.’ I am glad they obliged me.

“I was also pleased that you came to my wedding reception a couple of years after graduation.”

Tom and Jeri

These two students were the core of the class. Tom’s dad worked at Hill Air Force Base as a technician of some sort. Tom was bright. Very bright! He could argue with the best. He was not in the middle of the social life of the school. He lived in a different part of town than the wealthy folks. My, he was fun to have in class. Jeri’s father was a stake president and had all the connections that leadership and social position could afford. She was every bit as bright and every

bit as capable of defending any point of view which she chose to have. The arguments could be predicted. She was always defending the

conservative point of view regardless of the topic. Tom was always taking the liberal side of any discussion. Try as I may I could not move either one to share a different scope to their thinking. And I tried! Finally I came up with a plan. I kept them both after class and unfolded the direction I was going to have them take. I do not remember the issue we

chose, but I made the assignment very clear. “Next Monday the class is yours. Tom you have to take the conservative point of view. Jeri your position will be to give the liberal arguments. Understand? Don’t forget, your grade for the term will depend on how well you do.”

The next week they both performed with amazing ability. You would not have believed the passion they put into the opposite position they ordinarily espoused. Jeri moved to the East and became the elected leader in an

unincorporated municipality and brought in a new hospital and other businesses. She now owns a major corporation with a few hundred employees. I understand that she tends to be liberal. Jeri added, “I learned to think critically in your class. It got so if I could not defend what I thought or believed, I had to question whether it was true. “You taught a lot about India and China when I was your student. I remembered Ghandi and his sexual sacrifice. I was thrilled with China and decided I was going to adopt a Chinese child. I ended up marrying a Japanese man and had my own oriental children.” I had a scholarship to University of California at Berkeley the summer before to study Far Eastern history and culture. I came back primed to teach about the Far East. “You opened up my world. I was so closed in in Bountiful and didn’t know it. I really did learn that there was another world out there. My father was a stake president and when I got in trouble in school, they would call my bishop instead of my father. The only world I knew of other than Bountiful were the State Street rowdies. (State Street was a long drag through Salt Lake City where teenagers spent the night driving and hoping to find fun - legal or not.) “Your reputation among many of the kids at school was you were that

crazy liberal guy. Some thought you were a Communist. “My senior year was a disappointment. I was being primed for the lead in the school musical. The preceding two years I was told I was better than the person who got the lead, but the other student got the role because she was a senior. Now I was the senior and the teacher who had prepared me for the role took a leave and went to college to get his Master’s Degree, so I did not get the part I had always wanted and had been prepared for. I still enjoyed debate and

had many opportunities to sing in other settings for the school.

“I really enjoyed Mr. Keddington. He would listen. I wanted to have high school swim competition and he let me organize a girl’s swim team. It took some doing then. I found out that no other school had a swim team for girls so the work was for naught.” I was unable to find Tom. The year after he graduated, he went to work carving products from wood and selling his creations to tourists who visited Wyoming. I was elated one day when he showed up at my door with an oxen yoke he had made. It hangs above my fireplace downstairs.

Reny and Research

“You told us we had to write a research paper using primary research. I had never heard the term primary research and had no idea which direction I needed to go. I asked you to give me a topic. You suggested racial prejudice in

Utah. I asked you how to go about it. You told me to sit down and make a list of 10 or twelve questions and interview about a dozen Black people. Then write down their answers. Our school had never had a Black person attend. The only Blacks I had ever encountered were a few who worked at the ZCMI department

store in Salt Lake City. “My father questioned it. He had many reasons why I shouldn’t tackle this subject. After our heightened discussion, it was decided that my father would go with me to do the interviews. He made the initial call to the NAACP looking

for names of Black people who would be willing to talk about their views of racial prejudice to a high school student who had never before seen a Black student. My Dad was a salesman and on the road nearly every night, but he found time to go with me. It was a subject he had probably thought about, but had never done

anything with it. “I remember feeling very close to my father during these interviews. We were discovering something together. We were discovering that people are just people – we are all the same. We have hopes, dreams, ambitions, misgivings....

“We interviewed a diverse group of people. There were two high school students. One was the only daughter of a doctor living on the East Bench of Salt

Lake City. The other went to West High and lived in a run-down part of the city.

There was a college student studying to be a lawyer, and there were blue collar

workers and laborers.

“Then there was the first Black family to live in Bountiful. The young couple with their very young children had bought a house in a middle income neighborhood much like the one where my family lived. They found it very

difficult to make friends. Only one family in their neighborhood had made any attempt to be friendly. I got the feeling they regretted their decision to move to Bountiful. “I was sad to think that the residents of Bountiful could not welcome this one family.

“The interview with the college student is still very memorable to me. I sensed he did not want us inside or maybe his mother didn’t want us talking to him. We met on his big front porch even though it was a bit chilly. He was a good student but realistic about his chances for success and the challenges of

practicing law in Utah as a Black. When I asked him about racial prejudice, his words were very strong and there was anger bubbling just below the surface. Prejudice was a new concept for me, and I was just discovering the impact it had on the lives of good, decent, hard-working people like this well-spoken man who was just a few years older than I. I thought I would like to date him and realized

that it could never happen in 1966.

“My father couldn’t help but get involved. He just had to get into the conversations. When we got to the doctor’s house, he left me alone and sat in the other room while I asked the questions. I think it was a turning point for my father. The man I was interviewing had far more education. The doctor’s wife did not have to work; she had the luxury of being a full-time mom for their only daughter. Both my father and mother worked full-time, and I really felt like I was lower-middle class interviewing members of the upper class.

“Their daughter was just a little younger than I. She seemed so lonely. Coming from a family with money, she didn’t have much in common with other Black girls and was not accepted by the white girls. I left this interview feeling envious of her beautiful home and lifestyle and enlightened about the burden it

caused her. “My father expressed respect for this educated man and his profession and his choice to live in Utah. I think this was the interview which got my father talking about belonging to a religion that excluded a race of people and admitting his doubts about that part of his religious beliefs. It also added a great deal about my own doubts about the Mormon Church.

“The only interview I went to by myself was with another high school girl. She was my age, a senior at West High. We met at her home after school. We actually had a lot in common. We were both self-conscious and insecure. Neither of us was involved in school activities. Our mothers worked outside the

home; we had several siblings; and we both had part-time jobs, a necessity in families like ours. “ I was looking at her family pictures. She saw me and said ‘Yes, one of her grandmothers was white.’ She went on to share that every Black family has a least one white ancestor, and every white family has at least one Black ancestor, whether they admit it or not. I didn’t want to believe her then, and I do want to believe her now. This interview was probably the hardest for me. I really felt a connection with this girl, and that connection made me feel very uncomfortable.

I felt I had stepped into a world that was totally new - a very confusing place to

be.” Her paper circled our school and was read aloud in several classes. Mr. Dan Jones asked her to read the paper herself in his class.

She finished her draft to me by writing, “I knew I had done something important for the times.” Indeed! She made an early impact on the lives of many.

Movie Maker

“The year I was in your class we had to do a project. I did one on drug abuse and filmed it in 16mm. I put some very provocative music with it. My Dad heard it and did not approve. I wouldn’t let my mother hear it at all. The music had lots of profanity.”

With the new technology, many of the students made movies on different subjects for their school reports. They were generally well done. It did limit some of the students, but those with bucks were able to have rather

technical and sophisticated projects.

“I read Cry the Beloved Country. I got the country wrong when I was reporting the book and you made me get it right. I loved the book and still own it and have read it more than once.” Darwin told me, “You had us do personal things together in class. You put us in a small circle and poured lotion on our hands. Of course the circle was composed of both boys and girls. We were supposed to massage each other’s hands. I connected with one girl and I was really smitten.”

I was teaching a unit on personal elationships and it was unbelievably successful. In my judgment it made the whole school more friendly and warm after I taught the information about knowing how to have a loving family.

“I moved during my junior year. I was a student at Viewmont High and they would not let me stay there to finish my schooling. I lived in the Bountiful High area and I had to attend the Bountiful school. It was very stressful for me.Some kids were spitting on a friend’s car and it made me angry. I got into a physical tussle with them. The fellow who owned the car was crying.”

“There was a boy in our class who was required by the administration to cut his hair shorter. It was very traumatic. Our whole class was shocked, but we could do nothing about it.”

He was a Native American and the length of his hair had religious significance to him. If that same thing happened in today’s school, the student would have had a law case that I believe he could easily win.

Teasing the Teacher

Larry was in both my AP History class and a member of my tennis team. We were on our way home from a tennis match and he had the radio playing a song that I thought was risque. The music was played in such a manner that the

words were not well definable. The word I thought the music was playing was beaver. The word was fever. Larry led me into the trap to see my reaction. Beaver is the slang word for women’s pubic hair. My team was having a blast over my concern for such music.

He was part of the class that attended the movie, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The kids and their teacher enjoyed the humor very much. He remembered the class developing many relationships. He said I was

the first teacher to be a friend. I would expect that he would remember that I lectured the class for nearly the entire hour with my pants unzipped. The poor girls were looking at the ceiling or the floor, and the boys were in seventh heaven. The way the classroom seats were arranged and my method of teaching had me

standing right in front of students. They were worried that something was going to appear that would make matters worse.

I learned that his father was not doing well physically and liked to play cards. I spent some time with him playing Gin Rummy.

An Opened Mind

David was more than bright. He had a winning personality; he was a math genius and a gifted athlete. “Your material was volatile. The theme I remembered most was issues about minorities, especially Blacks. You did a lot of work on social status in communities. I learned that people are judged often by status, such as their work, rather than by their character or the real contributions they make in society. You had lots of guest speakers come to class. We all had to do research papers. “When you played sports you gave it all the effort you could muster.

You played a fair game of basketball, but could beat us in tennis. You had several

of us over to your house where we played hearts a few times. “You taught us to break down walls. We didn’t even know our own

feelings. You taught about parenthood; you taught about kissing and affection. I

remember you teaching that lovers hugged differently than people who give social

hugs. I remember seeing Cindy across the room and how beautiful her face was. That observation and memory comes from the material you taught us in class. By the end of the year I had changed my focus on education.

“At the end of the year you asked us, ‘What happens now?’ Before, we had our lives planned for us; our decisions had been made for us. I think we were prepared for life.

David had a driven personality. He had played as a junior on a state championship basketball team. As a senior much of the school’s talent was gone, but he was not short on desire. We had a game on our rival’s home court across town. David was determined to win the game. I found out that he sought spiritual help and went without food (fasting) for that extra help. We lost the game, but he gave what I consider the greatest high school exhibition of any athlete I have ever witnessed. He personally scored seventeen points in six minutes at one point in the contest. His life was changed. He is involved in a business that is helpful to many people. I am convinced he does it because he feels what he is doing is helpful to the community and those associated with the business. He could have gone another direction and made a pile of money in his life. He had the brain power to do whatever he wished to do. He chose to help others!

Bashful Blaine

Blaine was one of the brightest and quietest person I ever taught. Whenever he was asked a question there was always a moment of thought. When he spoke his voice was always subdued. I had to listen carefully to hear his opinion. What came out was worth hearing. I often had to repeat it so the class could get his thinking. I knew his parents well. They were great people. His uncle had been a leader of education in both the state of Utah and in the United States.

He remembered, “You taught with a lot of animation. One day when fighting some battle in history you stood on your desk and had a waste basket on your head. I remember you being liberal in your judgments, and I enjoyed the class because you enjoyed it so much.”

He was not a social person by nature. “Because I was the school photographer, I attended a lot of events that I ordinarily would not attend. Mrs. Stapley (English teacher) told me if I did not take a date to a school dance, I would flunk English. I didn’t like it, but I did have one date to a dance in high school.”

Jill and Jane

The most noted characteristics of these two ladies were their brains. They had all the attributes any young girl would want, but oh my, they were bright. They were also free spirits. One became a college professor and the other a noted lawyer. This was the year I had rearranged the seating pattern of my

classroom. It was now two rows around the room shaped like a horseshoe. I had Jill and Jane right in the middle of the front row. Other students were engaged in the class, but they were the catalyst of nearly every discussion. Jill was more quiet than Jane, but always had her own firm opinions. Jane would argue over any point, including which way an ant might crawl. Jane reported to me during the interview that she was outspoken in my

class and felt free to challenge my ideas. She added, “It must have been a difficult

class for non-talkative students. It was an American History class and I remember you teaching us to do the Charleston. I believe that even the boys enjoyed learning the dance.

“We debated in class the possible defense of Matsu and Qumoy. (They were islands just off the coast of China proper, and the Nationalist and Communist Chinese were about to fight over control of that real estate.) You thought we should not fight over the islands, and my dad and I thought we should.

“I was an aggressive student and one day you stopped me after class and chastised me for cutting off other students. The next day when you tried to get a discussion going. Neither Jane nor I would participate. No matter how hard you tried, we would not talk. You finally got angry and kicked us both out of class.

We probably were the only kids you ever kicked out of class for not talking.”

Jill shared her opinion that the confrontation occurred because both of them were having their periods and did not feel like talking.

Jill also remembered many discussions about Black issues in the class. It was a major topic of the day across the United States as the Blacks were staging non-violent incidents to gain media attention so the press reports could help them to gain their natural rights. The college professor said, “Don’t get a big

head, but I thought you taught the course on a college graduate level.”

Be Proud of What You Have

Everyone should know that it is a difficult chore for girls to grow into womanhood. As their bodies change, many of the girls are not sure it is all happening just right. Many young ladies walk around the school with their

shoulders rolled forward and their heads drooped. I happened to have a classroom full of just those sorts of girls and I thought I should do something about it. I taught girls how to walk. It started by choosing an athletic boy and girl to demonstrate a difference with which they were not familiar. The boy had a broad set of shoulders and indeed was athletic. The girl had all the attributes of a lovely young lady. I had both of them face a wall and lean over until each of their heads touched the wall. This bent their bodies into right angles from the hips. I then had them step back about six inches and placed a heavy chair underneath each of them. With the top half of their body over the top of the chair, they had to lift the chair without putting their hands on the wall or moving their feet and then stand up straight. This had to be done using only back muscles. Most girls can pick the chair up; most boys cannot. The shoulder weight of the boy is added to the chair’s weight. He has to use his hip muscles to get the job done. The girls do not have that shoulder weight but they do have strong muscles in their hips. The girls got a real push for being able to do something physically that boys could not do.

I then went on to explain that when you say that boys are stronger, you have to ask how. I asked the boys in class, “How many of you have the muscles necessary to push a little baby out of your body?”

This set the atmosphere for a good discussion on what a man is and what a woman is. So often boys would sit in the halls next to girls gym just to watch the girls walk by. Many girls wouldn’t walk down that part of the hall. I didn’t blame them. In class I instructed them to lift their chin enough that they are not looking down, and to roll their shoulders back to their natural comfortable level. Be proud of what you have!

Kasi

She was a shy girl and very bright. Once gain, a beautiful girl with dark eyes and dark hair. She reported that she made every effort to be prepared every day. She did not want to be called on, but if she was she didn’t want to be embarrassed. She appreciated the seating arraignment with the two rows around

the classroom.

“I think that the energy and effort you put into your teaching made the difference. You taught with intensity, and the feeling that I remember most is that you seemed to really love history and care about the kids in class.

“You were always prepared and confident. You knew your stuff and conveyed a sense of fun and adventure. I remember you pacing, walking back and forth in front of the class. I think you wore a cowboy hat when you played western music for the class. You asked stimulating questions, engaged the students, and invited responses. I remember exciting debates and interesting ideas shared. I do not remember any discipline problems, or kids goofing off or talking, or doing other stuff in your class. You skillfully guided the discussions

and stayed on topic. I think the room arrangement in a double half circle was

conducive to discussion and inclusion. Even though I would prefer to sit in the back and just observe, I always felt included. You had high expectations. I seem to remember that the assignment was never just to read the material, but be prepared to discuss it in class. You taught using higher thinking skills: we had to analyze, compare, and explain.

“Your tests were usually essay. Your test questions required us to explore and to reason. The questions kept us thinking after the test was over.”

Kasi’s father died while she was in high school. She got her college degree and eventually became a teacher of teachers. She works in one of the school districts helping teachers who were failing to become successful.

“I enjoyed your remarks at the last class reunion. You were in true form when you said that President Bush would probably go down in history as one of the best or the worst of all presidents. Just as I was expecting you to tell us the answer, you said it would be up to us to decide. It is what I loved about your

class. You made us think. “Teachers have to focus on ‘How can we get this child to pass the test?’ Reducing last year’s growth and learning into a percentage point is reductionist education and misses the big picture. Politicians and their laws that try to embarrass, harass, threaten, and punish students, teachers, schools, and states

into producing kids who can pass tests as mandated, is part of the problem not the solution. It’s like passing a law that mandates all flowers bloom at the same

time in the same color and the same shape, and then calling the ones that don’t failures, and blame the gardeners, because it’s really their fault and doesn’t have anything to do with a really bad law. Everyone can’t be a rose.

“Why not an ECFS law? Every Child Finds Success. The big question is how can we help each child find success - be successful, express their true potential, contribute their inherent beauty and uniqueness to the world, and maximize innate wisdom? How can we create a fertile field in which children can

grow and blossom?”

Her Face Was My Barometer

“I loved your class. The subject matter was stimulating. You were always relating history to what was actually happening. One day you told me, ‘Your face is a barometer for my class. I can tell by the look on your face whether or not I have gone too far.’

“I was shocked a lot because I was very naive. You made comments to provoke thought. For me it generated introspection. You quoted Voltaire in class and I have never forgotten it, ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it.’

“I had some great teachers. Mr. Ford saved me. I had great grades, but was never cut out to understand math. Mr. Ford told me he would work with me every morning, and he did. I was able to pull a ‘B’ out of the class.”

Miss Barometer was a good student and a lovely lady. She had strong opinions and let me know how she felt about issues. She was cheerful and alive, the kind of student that makes a class a blast to teach. She did remember that there were students who thought I was a problem. One student told her, “Ray

Briscoe can’t be very active in the Church.”

I interviewed her in her home and she wanted me to be aware of a poster she had in her front room. She said it reminded her of me. “Agency is the right to obey or disobey law, not to alter the consequences.”

Late-Blooming Red-Neck

“I was a red-neck Democrat before I came into your classroom. My dad

was a union man and very conservative, and I came with his viewpoint. Your

class had lots of discussion, lots of back and forth statements; you asked tons of

questions, always asking questions. Yes, I heard from many people that you were

a Communist. You made me a liberal Democrat. My folks did not appreciate

what you taught about Blacks in American and the Vietnam War.

“While still in the twelfth grade I was out actively protesting the war. I took a year off from school to work on Senator McGovern’s campaign for the presidency. We got paid enough money to buy some food and stay in cheap hotels. I spent most of my time working for him in California.”

Red-Neck became a lawyer and remained active in the Democratic Party. He was also part of the intellectual brain trust that was able to get inside the school on weekends.

Hey Greek, What Do You Think?

“Every day was different in your class. It seemed that you taught with the flow. You jumped on your desk once to get our attention. You got mine! You had a talent for holding our attention. When we wrote papers we always

wanted to have a word count and you would not give us one. Your reply, ‘I just want to make sure you know what you’re writing about, that is all you have to do.’ You got into what was happening in the world today and helped us understand it by sharing the history of how we got where we were at the time.” Her ancestry had recently come from Greece. She had olive skin and penetrating eyes. She was a lovely young lady, and it was easy to use her as a

catalyst for discussion because she would express her opinion. Besides, she was not a member of the local dominate faith and it was good to get another point of view. I would say, “Hey Greek, what do you think?’ She grinned and usually had a quality suggestion for others to think about. During the interview I asked her if I had offended her by referring to her Greek heritage?

“No,” she offered, “It was obvious that I was different, and I think you helped take the edge off that difference, and it made me feel included.”

I wanted to know if religion had played a part in her life, being of a different faith than the majority of the students. Her answer was very direct. “My home life was really different. Mom and Dad divorced when I was

twelve years old. I tolerated my step-father and he tolerated me. My mother was very aware of religious issues for the minorities in the community and was effective in warding off possible pain. Missionaries did call to introduced their religious message. She politely shared that she had heard it before and was not interested. She also gave the missionaries a warning, ‘Leave my kids alone or I’ll choke you!’

“I dated Mormons. I had a boyfriend for a long time and he kept sharing with me that everything was okay. He got called on a mission and told me he would be different when he came back, but it would still be okay. His

mission rules allowed him to write only one letter a week so we drifted apart. My

closest girlfriend was a Mormon and it made no difference to us. “Yes, I heard you were a bad person and also a Communist.”

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