Teenagers In Real Life (irl) – A Very Short Story

This actually happened:

Two seniors walked into the school courtyard yesterday. They were both holding their phones out in front of them.

Senior 1 said, “Who’s your best friend?”

Senior 2 said, “I’m not sure. Lemme check…” Then he looked at his phone. “Oh, it’s you!”

“Wait, what?” Senior 1 tilted his head his head to the side. “That’s not right.”

“No, it is. Look, you’re my best friend. It says so right here.” He tilted his phone’s screen so his friend could see it.

“Nope,” Senior 1 said. “See this?” Now he held his phone up to his friend’s face. “You’re not my best friend. It says so right here.”

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7 Reasons Not To Teach High School

After receiving a particularly fear-mongering “Safe Schools” e-newsletter this morning…

And after thinking about how difficult it is to be me…

What a rough life I have…

How much of a victim I am…

And how few things are just handed to me…

I decided to post this very serious essay:

7 Reasons Not To Teach High School

By Peter Brown Hoffmeister

 

I didn’t particularly love high school. No one does, of course, except for that one really annoying popular rich kid who, when speaking at graduation, spews some garbage about the best four years of his life or how prom night changed his life forever.

But for the rest of us, for the normal people, the real people of the world, high school is something we suffer through so we can get on with our lives. On to better years, college years in which we choose what we want to study. Then come careers that we’re passionate about. Family life. Traveling. Maybe a few amazing outdoor adventures.

Most of us don’t choose to repeat high school. But for some reason, a few masochists decide to return to high school, not as students, but as teachers. None of us know why we do this. It’s probably some combination of the following equation:

 

Zero Talent + Social Activism + A College Degree In Absolutely Anything =

MAYBE I SHOULD BE A TEACHER!

 

I had all of the elements of this equation, and after thirteen years as a teacher (less than halfway to a 30-year pension), I’ve realized that teaching high school is actually sentencing myself to an eternity of high school. Other people graduate in 4 years, but I’ve been in high school for 17.

There are countless reasons I shouldn’t have been a teacher, but here are 7 reasons why no one should ever teach high school.

 

  1. School Shooters

High schools are dangerous. You don’t believe me? Watch a little Fox News. According to the diligent and honest reporters at that network, schools are shot up all the time. Going into a U.S. high school is like being a Jew in Syria, like challenging a warlord to a machete fight in Central Africa, or picking an armload of poppies in a field in Afghanistan.

Since Sandy Hook, something like 57,997 schools have been shot up in the United States.

Students bring weapons to school all the time, hide pistols and AR-15s in their lockers. Axes and knives and 9 millimeters and semi-automatic .22 long rifles.

Most boys in trench coats are hiding Mossberg shotguns underneath those coats.

And the average high school boy will kill a teacher given the right combination of autism and access to firearms. That’s a fact.

 

  1. No One Respects a Teacher

Be honest. Does any kid say, “I want to be a teacher when I grow up.” No. That’s stupid.

Kids want to be doctors or firemen or astronauts or soldiers. They want to be heroes, not jokes. Does any kid dream of standing in front of a bored class of 35 people so he can assign some homework? Is that an exciting future to aspire to?

And – be honest now – do you have a single teacher that’s cool enough to start a pop band or be the star of a reality television series on the Discovery Channel?

Clearly not. And speaking of TV, are teachers ever asked to be on the Today Show? Are their highlights ever shown on ESPN? Does the Discovery Channel have a show called Teachers Digging for Educational Gold?

Parents only email teachers to complain. Administrators hold meetings to assign more work for teachers. And students never say, “I really wish I could hang out with my teacher this weekend.”

Respect isn’t something granted to teachers. Respect isn’t something that’s going to happen if you choose this line of work.

 

  1. Teachers Work Too Much

It’s so hard to be middle class in America. And middle class means working.

Including grading papers and prep work, the average teacher works 50 to 60 hours a week during the school year. And it is a fact that teaching is the only profession that requires more than 40 hours of work during a workweek. Every other worker in the United States gets to the 40-hour limit on a Friday and just goes home. But not teachers.

Proponents of teaching might argue that teachers have 10 weeks off in the summer, or that they also have spring break and winter break as well. But that argument minimizes the stress of impending teaching. Most teachers spend their entire summers thinking and worrying about the next school year. Even in a hammock in July, a teacher never forgets the horrors of working with high school students. A teacher might be sipping a minty drink on a beach somewhere, but she’s spending every single second thinking about the next lecture she has to deliver.

 

  1. High School Kids Cuss Too Much

A recent study by Harvard University or somewhere else (I’m not really sure where I got this) proved that 100% of cuss-words are spoken by the 13-19 year-old demographic, and high school students are in the very middle of that age-group. As an adult, and having been around other adults, I can honestly say that adults don’t ever use swear words. So, clearly, swear words must only exist as linguistic vehicles for the physically immature.

Although I’ve heard many people argue that high school students can be articulate and witty and engaging and funny, I’ve seen quite a few teen movies (which are probably more accurate). Therefore, a teen is most likely to say something like this: “Fuck yeah. That’s, like, fuckin’ total shit. Just because he’s a douche-bag doesn’t mean I have to do whatever the fuck he wants. Ya know?”

My ears are sometimes literally bleeding when I get home from work.

 

  1. High School Kids Are Addicted To Technology

According to some great source, 96.7% of cell phone use is by high school students. Teens text and scroll and update and “like” all day long. They’re on Twitter and Facebook. Instagram and SnapChat. They don’t put their phones down. They can’t put their phones down.

According to another great source from the internet, most adults don’t even have phones, and only 1.4% of the adult population uses a phone on a daily basis. All Sprint and AT&T ads are geared toward teenagers, and it is scientifically proven that hell on earth is a line at a Verizon store. But where do we find teenagers waiting for new iphones?

Exactly.

 

  1. High School Kids Are Out Of Control

High school kids are physically incapable of listening. Okay, maybe not physically incapable, but they won’t listen. Trust me. They’re too busy drinking and using drugs, fornicating in the hallways and stairwells, planning the next rager at the quarterback’s house.

Some people believe that public displays of affection were developed by the Italians after World War I, but PDA was, in fact, first implemented by U.S. high school sophomores in New York City, and spread school-wide and nation-wide soon after.

Other signs that high school students are out of control:

They wear hip-hoppity shorts and listen to rap bands.

They speak in an ever-changing slew of slang.

They touch each other even if they’re not even dating.

And they won’t give you enough physical space. Ever.

 

  1. High School Students Are Too Demanding

My final point is this. If you teach high school, your students will want you to teach them something EVERY DAY.

They will want to learn something in your class.

High school students won’t just sit there and enjoy being bored.

They won’t take notes with smiles on their faces.

They won’t listen the entire time that you lecture for 70 minutes straight.

And after they’re out sick, they’ll ask you if they can make up quizzes and homework as if it is your job to educate them even though they are the ones who contracted viruses and missed school days.

A 4th Of July Rant: Is Patriotism Dead?

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This past week, the United States’ World Cup soccer team played Germany in the final round-robin group-play match for each team. It was an important game, with an opportunity for both teams to advance to the World Cup’s final 16.

Before the game, my wife went to the grocery store and bought mini American flags. My daughters got out the face-painting kit and we decked ourselves out in red, white, and blue, head to toe. Then we drove across town to watch the game, and as we drove, all windows on our car rolled down, we sang and waved the flags, chanting “USA, USA, USA,” to everyone we passed on the street.

From an outsider’s perspective, we were waving the Stars and Stripes so fervently that we could’ve passed as Floridians at an NRA convention.

But this is not Florida. I do not live in Alabama or Tennessee or Georgia or Arkansas. My medium-sized town in Oregon is a liberal college town. Elderly men sport ponytails here. Vinyasa Yoga and organic grocers are the norm. Thousands of cars still carry anti-Bush/Cheney bumper stickers as if the past six years have erased none of the citizens’ bitter memories.

So as my family waved its American flags and chanted “USA,” most people we passed either glared at us or looked confused. I thought that was funny – considering the implications of the coming World Cup game AND the fact that the 4th of July was just around the corner – but people here are interested in neither the World Cup nor the 4th of July.

Five quick facts about me so you don’t get the wrong idea:

  1. I wouldn’t generally consider myself a patriotic person.
  2. The 4th of July is probably my least favorite holiday.
  3. My house is not littered with guns.
  4. I teach my daughters that “The Tea Party” refers to a historical event in Boston not a current political party.
  5. I didn’t vote for Obama the first time around because I voted for Hillary Clinton, and I think it’s ridiculous that in 2014, in the great country of THE United States Of America, we have never had a female president.

All of those statements are true for me, yet still, here I was chanting “USA” and pumping the flag at everyone we passed.

The way I see it, patriotism is complicated. While I realize that our country is flawed, and I do know about our atrocities in El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan, I’m still proud to be an American. There are 212 nations on this planet, and every country is evil in some way. But every country is also good.

So while I recognize that the United States has conducted quite a few shady foreign deals, I also know how much good this country does. The United States contributes more in International Aid each year than any other nation on earth, and its total giving is more than twice what the second-best country commits. Or, for a specific example, I know that our government and US citizens stepped up to rebuild Haiti even though there were zero political points to be gained in that situation. Haiti had nothing to offer the United States, no oil, no minerals, no cushy vacation spots, yet the United States committed to post-earthquake relief like no other country on earth was willing to do. So while the US government makes calculated international chess moves, some of which are questionable at best and despicable at worst, this is also the country that performs incredible acts of altruistic philanthropy. We feed the hungry in Africa, we make attempts at peace-keeping in war-torn nations, we support the U.N.

So we must take the good with the bad. And the good in this country is incredible. Take a minute and consider our freedoms. Imagine what might happen if a common citizen of Iran went online and criticized that country’s government. Imagine what might happen if some blogger in North Korea burned a national flag in front of a government building. What would happen to those citizens of those nations?

Consider the freedom of speech in the Untied States and what that includes.

Consider the right to keep and bear arms.

Consider how anyone in the United States can, at any time, drive state to state, all across this country, move anywhere he or she wants, start a business, practice a religion, espouse a variety of political opinions, change his or her mind, blog about the president, come out of the closet, or tweet to promote communism, socialism, or imperialism.

Sometimes liberals forget our freedoms, and I’m saying this as a liberal. I’m a public school teacher, a social justice advocate, and I don’t believe in censorship. I’ve never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, and I write for VICE Magazine. So I’m not a conservative in any way.

But sometimes I get fed up and have to act like a regular ol’ redneck hick. One of my friends told me that she was rooting for Germany in that World Cup soccer match “because,” she said, “you know, I’m just so embarrassed to be an American.”

And that’s when the patriot came out in me. I said, “Okay, you can root for Germany in that match if you also admit that you love Hitler, Auschwitz, European colonialism, and pulling for the overwhelming favorite in all sporting events.”

My friend said, “But doesn’t it make you a little sick to your stomach to chant USA? Do you know how many foreign assassinations we’ve engineered?”

“Yes,” I said, “and foreign assassinations are wrong. But is genocide better? Are you saying that killing a few enemy combatants to gain foreign oil rights is worse than murdering 33 million Jews? Is that what you’re saying?”

Like I said, I get fed-up sometimes. Then I become an absolute jerk.

My wife, who is a better person than me, pointed out that German soccer players are probably pretty sick of Hitler comments. Maybe so. But I wouldn’t know since I rarely play soccer for the German national team.

I just get so tired of people saying they might leave this country. A young person in dreadlocks said to me on the street, “You know, man, if we bomb one more village in the Middle East, I’m fuckin’ leaving this country for good, you know? I’m going to Thailand, bro. It’s so sick there.”

That’s annoying, and that kid doesn’t even know what he’s talking about, but the worst is celebrities who threaten ex-patriotism, the very celebrities who’ve made millions of dollars via the freedoms that this country affords.

During the reign of the Bush administration, Alec Baldwin kept promising to become an expatriate if certain things happened in this country. He listed what those certain things were, and all of his fears and prognostications came to fruition. Yet still, Baldwin never left the good ole U.S. of A. Thankfully for him, freedom of speech covers hollow threats of disloyalty or…could we call it instead “middle-aged-multi-millionaire-loudmouth angst”?

I can say from experience that it is terribly, terribly difficult to be middle class. It is also terribly, terribly difficult to live in this country where I have to pay minimal taxes and only get to do whatever the hell I want.

A Writer Needs A Mother

I’ve often thought that writing is like the paper route I worked for three years as a kid. If you want to write, get up early every day, in all weather, no matter how little sleep you got the night before – whether you partied until 2:17 AM or tucked yourself in quietly with a book at 8:35 PM. Go to work. Write. Stay in your seat. Work for an hour or two, then move on to the rest of your day. This has worked for thousands of writers before you and it will work for you as well.

In interviews and essays I’ve talked about work ethic. Writing is not about talent but daily practice – Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird ideas – that writers need to write every day, to accept the fact that our first drafts will be terrible, that we must revise and edit repeatedly until we have created something of true artistic value. Writing is not complicated. It’s about personal integrity and commitment, daily meditation, meeting personal goals and standards.

All of that is true. Sort of. But a writer needs influences. A writer needs that person around him who values writing, who encourages writing, who makes a young writer into a better writer by challenging him to push further, to never settle, to do one more round of revisions.

A writer needs a mother. Not a literal mother – it could be a teacher, another writer, an inspiring friend, a fellow artist, an uncle, an aunt, or a father – but a writer needs a mother of some sort. So this essay is about a mother. In this case, my real mother.

 

A Writer Needs Someone Who Reads Books Aloud:

My mother read the Bible aloud to us. She read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Where The Red Fern Grows, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle In Time, Agatha Christie mysteries, and The Child’s History of the World.

She read aloud to us while she drove 80 miles per hour on road trips across the Southwest. She read in a different voice for each character. She read with one hand on the book, three fingers on the steering wheel, and a Pepsi pinched between her index finger and thumb.

Because she couldn’t put books down, because I saw her sneaking away to finish her latest Dorothy Sayers novel, because she wouldn’t go swimming until she’d finished a chapter, I always wanted her to read to me. When she read, I was enraptured. I didn’t talk. I stifled any coughs. I told other people to be quiet. To be read to by my mother was to enter a European cathedral and stare up at the improbable miracles of stone and stained glass.

A writer must hear the written word. There should be a recognition of sound as the words go down on the paper. Fingers should elicit syllables. But this is only possible if someone has read to the writer, if the voices of the spoken word are in the writer’s head. And it’s not too late. If no one ever read to you when you were young, or if no one reads to you now, go to readings at local bookstores. Listen to poets at the library. Listen to MFA students who need audiences for their thesis projects. Ask your husband or friend or colleague to read a passage to you.

If you’re hard up for a reader, watch the movie “A River Runs Through It.” In that movie, Robert Redford commits to passages from the original text by Norman Maclean, and the writing is beautiful.

 

A Writer Needs Someone Who Values Creation:

I grew up in an artist’s home. My mother drew with charcoal, pencils, and pastels. She painted with acrylics and oil. Experimented with mixed media. Sculpted with clay, chickenwire, and papier-mache. My brothers and sisters and I collected animal skeletons from the desert around our home in Tucson for my mother’s bone mobiles. If an animal we brought home was too fresh, my mother would boil the carcass in bleach, making the smell of warm bleach a smell I still associate – thirty years later – with bones and bright copper wire.

Living out in the desert, my mother home-schooled us, and we studied art history, literary history, and myths. She had all of us choose a favorite artist, get to know that artist’s work, and begin to create art ourselves. We drew and painted. We sculpted. We made collages.

Although I’ve heard some people argue that writing is not really art, that it is part science, part business, or part theatrics, I disagree with that core argument. Writing fiction, poetry, short narratives, or memoir takes incredible imagination. Writing is, at its core, art. Works cannot be repeated, and that dynamic requirement demands creativity. Imagism and evocation are products of the creative mind, so valuing creation of new and engaging mediums is paramount to any writer.

If you didn’t have a big creative influence when you were young, surround yourself with creative people now. But the key is to be around creative people who actually practice art, who produce, who struggle and fail and succeed with real works of art. Find those people and learn from each other, or at least commiserate.

 

A Writer Needs Someone To Say, “Go Write”:

I dropped out of college after my sophomore year to write. I’d taken two creative writing classes and I wanted to simplify my life and focus on writing. I had a part-time job as a supervisor at a drug store, and that job generated enough income to cover rent, utilities, and food bills. So I thought I’d write and work, nothing else. But I quickly got into the habit of working and adventuring, rock climbing and hiking and mountain biking when I wasn’t at the drugstore. I wrote very little. Then not at all. Months went by without me writing a single story.

My mother called me out. We were at a Christmas party and she came up to me and reminded me why I’d dropped out of school. She said, “You said that you were going to write every day.”

“Right,” I said, “Oh yeah.”

She smiled and looked me directly in the eyes. “You said you were going to be a writer.”

“Right,” I said. “I should do that.”

She pointed out my lack of focus, how I had failed to stick to the plan I’d laid out, and I’m grateful for her doing that. I never forgot that moment.

This is an important truth:

A writer isn’t someone who talks about writing or plans to do a writing project. A writer isn’t someone who wears tweeds and a scarf, someone who thinks about lyrical poetry while smoking long-leaf Tobacco from an antique pipe. A writer is someone who writes every day. That’s what a writer is. Published or not.

 

A Writer Needs Someone Who Teaches About Words:

Home-schooled for seven years at the school my mother called Hoffmeister Country Day School, or HCD for short, we studied the Calvert Day School’s traditional curriculum that we ordered by mail from Baltimore, Maryland. Calvert was founded in 1897 by a Harvard scholar who intended to teach the classics. My mother chose Calvert because of its focus on language, on reading and writing. We read, spelled, wrote, and studied words every day. We learned Latin and French, studied vocabulary, roots, prefixes and suffixes. We poured over our dictionaries, noting Greek word origins and highlighting etymologies.

I wasn’t the most serious student in my family (my older sisters studied and learned far more than me), but my background with words still helps me to this day. I have linguistic aptitude because of that word work. I am capable of using a thesaurus without being intimidated, and I feel intimate with my dictionary who I’ve named Big Honey.

A writer must love words, study words, think about sounds and meanings, care about origins and connotations. If that wasn’t part of your educational background, it’s never too late. Get an unabridged dictionary and go to work. Memorize definitions. Highlight roots. Learn synonyms and antonyms. If you get to know two new words each week (everything about those words), that’s more than 100 words per year. Over ten years, that’s more than 1000.

 

A Writer Needs Someone Who Values Individuality:

My mother let me sleep outside, swim in the river by myself, wear a beret for all of fourth grade, make up my own language, sleep on my floor in my clothes like a Spartan, and catch poisonous spider to keep in jars in my room. Maybe my mother wasn’t being wise or discerning, or maybe she understood that I needed to be my own person. No one else in my family was like me, but my mother didn’t try to make each of us like the other. She championed differences between individuals.

In the publishing world, a writer who is like every other current bestseller is not a great writer. If it’s difficult to tell the difference between two thriller writers, they’re not going to be read in 50 years. If you want to write something of permanent value (not that most of us have yet, but we hope to), then you have to be an individual. Think about science history, and consider Galileo in particular. There were thousands of scientists who didn’t believe in Galileo’s theories, and what were those guys’ names? Who were the accepted great scientists of his day? If “The Earth Is The Center Of The Universe” guys were writing right now, they’d be writing the new vampire book or The More Hungry Games. But we have to leave cheap imitation to boy bands and NFL touchdown celebrations.

Write something new. Write from you.

 

Could You Be The Mother For Someone Else?

Finally, if you value great writing, you might want to consider a harsh possibility: Maybe you aren’t an incredible writer. Maybe you don’t have it in you. Maybe you’ve put in the work, every day for ten years, and none of your books are going to be the next great American novel. Maybe draft ten is similar to draft two, at least in terms of excellence. I’m not saying to give up, but consider the possibility of influence. What if your passion for writing could be passed on to someone else? What if all of your knowledge and experience is meant to help someone else become great? Think of all the wonderful writers whom you admire. They were all influenced by others, raised by mothers (real or metaphorical) who valued the written word, who encouraged them to produce great art.

Maybe you are someone else’s mother. Maybe you can teach and encourage. Maybe you can help that younger writer to get her first poem published, or place an essay in a magazine. Or maybe you can teach process, structure, or narrative arc. Maybe you understand character development even if your own fictional characters aren’t that original.

I teach a high school creative writing class each year, and I require my young writers to submit two pieces of writing to literary journals. When a few are accepted each year, it’s a wonderful moment. It feels like a victory for the entire class. And who knows? Maybe that first publication is the start of something great. Maybe one of my students will far outshine my literary star (or, more accurately, my literary barrel of burning crude oil). My passion for writing and understanding of craft might not be important for me. Maybe I’m meant to help someone else. And maybe you are too.

Visiting The Seven Hills School

I’m visiting The Seven Hills School in Walnut Creek, California this week, speaking on outdoor education, media alternatives, children and nature, and recovery as part of “The Parent Lecture Series” on Thursday night.

On Friday morning, I get to meet with all of the grade school children, hoping to inspire wonder and curiosity as part of the Let Them Be Eaten By Bears Mission.

 

Interview With Northern Spirit Radio

Because of the publicity campaigns for Let Them Be Eaten By Bears and Graphic the Valley, I was fortunate enough to do forty or so radio interviews this summer with local, regional, and national radio shows. So I talked to a lot of hosts, some of whom had read the books and liked the writing or the message, and were willing to promote outdoor education or literary writing in general.

In many of these conversations, I realized how positive radio hosts are, how supportive they are of the arts, how much a lot of them love books and storytelling. As a group, radio hosts are good people doing a job they seem to love. So it was a fun summer for me.

Every once in a while, a radio interview feels like a conversation with a friend, like a long involved talk about life and what’s important to both people. My interview on Wisconsin’s syndicated Northern Spirit Radio was like that. We talked about Graphic the Valley, and the host, Mark Judkins Helpsmeet, was a thoughtful and involved reader. He engaged with the novel in a way an author can only hope for. He considered the extended metaphors and had insights I hadn’t considered.

Plus, Helpsmeet recently made wild-rice and acorn burgers at his rural home in Wisconsin. And if that isn’t something that Tenaya’s parents would do, I don’t know what is. Helpsmeet has a perspective on the novel that most readers don’t ( he had a wandering cougar down by his canoe a while back), and that’s just one of the reasons that this interview was one of my favorites.

The Let Them Be Eaten By Bears Mission – Fall Camping Tips On ABC’s Northwest Television Affiliates

The AM Northwest television producers asked me to share “Fall Camping Tips” and a good “sleep warm” trick (click here for video), getting involved in the mission of Let Them Be Eaten By Bears – A Fearless Guide To Taking Our Kids Into The Great Outdoors:

– Encourage kids to go outside all four seasons of the year (Establish a “No Child Left Inside” act – Richard Louv)

– Balance outdoor time with indoor time (bike, hike, swim, fish, explore, climb, scramble, camp, catch bugs, smell flowers, hold snakes, stare at clouds, etc.)

– Nature as a an antidote for technology addiction

– Outdoor movement to combat childhood obesity and rising ADD numbers

– Don’t be afraid to get dirty (dirt on the skin makes us happy on a chemical level)

– Play like children (because children are children)

– And for adults: It’s okay to play like children

– And the big goal: All school districts in the United States include outdoor education in their established curriculum