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Mari's Musings: A series of stories and commentaries; keep scrolling down!

Updated on February 15, 2010

The Tale of the Twisted Zygote

Which is a story of what once happened at "HighSchoolZero" as told by Old Mrs B...

            As you all know, HighSchoolZero was once a strange and mysterious place, with nooks and crannies where almost any sort of student could hide and do bizarre things.

            Well, all those long days ago, there studied--or at least attended--at HighSchoolZero a very strange breed of pupil.

            First of all, these pupils did not say "Yes, Teacher" and "No, Teacher" and "Anything you say, Teacher" as all good pupils do today.  Instead, they said things like, "Yo, Man, why do I have to do that?  I'm not doin' that, Man.  You can't make me do that, Man."

            Of course, the teachers were not happy with these pupils.  But they did not know what to make of their strange behavior.

            Today we do know some of what was happening in those dark days of yore, and it surely was not pleasant!

            It seems these strange pupils were under the influence of a very powerful mage.  This mage had disguised himself as a simple HighSchoolZero student.  He insinuated himself into a group of pupils who were not very happy with themselves and their lives, and who were therefore vulnerable to the mage's power.

            First, he convinced them that they should dress in a distinctive style.  They all began to let their hair grow very long.  They did not wash it very often, either.  The girls began to wear white lipstick and black eyeliner applied very heavily.  The boys neglected to shave and developed wispy little beards.  But this change in appearance was only the beginning.

            Next, the mage, whose name was Gherkin, or perhaps Rutabaga, found a secretive hiding place where they all could gather.  It was a space between the garbage dumpster and the side wall of a little stairway in the courtyard area.

            At first, the pupils met there during lunches.  In those days, HighSchoolZero had four--yes, FOUR--lunch waves, which overlapped, so most of the pupils could see each other.  But that wasn't enough for Gherkin (or was it Broccoli?).

            Next thing you know, he had all those pupils meeting there instead of going to their classes and learning about important things like Mesopotamian literature and differential calculus.  Of course, whatever decent grades the pupils had earned now disappeared along with their good attendance.

            Once the captive pupils began to fail courses, their self-esteem dropped even lower.  Now they were ripe for the evil mage's final, diabolical plan.  Gherkin (or was it Cauliflower?) showed them some funny-looking cigarettes.  Now, the pupils had been smoking tobacco cigarettes (Yes, Renfrew, pupils did do such foolish things in those days; they were not so sensible as young people today.) for some time, both in and out of school.  But these cigarettes were different.  They were hand-rolled, and they smelled different.  Best--or worst--of all, once the pupils inhaled the smoke, they started having the oddest sensations.  Their heads felt seven feet above their necks, and they started nodding out.

            "Geez, this stuff is great!" they told the mage.  "We love it!  What else can you share with us?"

            Now Gherkin (Brussels Sprout?) pulled out a magical-looking metal container.  It had peculiar symbols all over it.  Slowly, he lifted the lid.  Brilliant reds and golds glinted within.  Finally, with the lid gone, the pupils could see the contents: capsules of glistening gelatin.

            "What's that, oh Mighty One?" asked the smallest of the pupils.

            "Magic power, my little one," answered the mage.  "With these potent pastelles you will fly right out of your bodies and have truly psychedelic experiences!"

            "Oh, give them to us!  Give them to us!" cried the pupils.

            And of course he did.

            And that's how one group of HighSchoolZero students became drug users.  Oh, you ask another question, Renfrew?  You want to know why the story has the title "The Tale of the Twisted Zygote"?  Well, I shall explain.

            It seems that in those days at HighSchoolZero there was a famous and brilliant biology teacher named The Karoll.  The Karoll was full of knowledge and experience in the realms of physiology, biochemistry, and especially anatomy and genetics.  His students learned much esoteric lore.  He would excite their interest by yelling out fascinating terms for biological phenomena.

            Now, at the very time that Gherkin (I think now perhaps it was Arugula.) was enticing the pupils with his evil substances, The Karoll was teaching about genetics.  "Heterozygote," he yelled to his students.  "Heterozygote!" laughed another student walking past the door.  "What a bizarre term!" And he walked down the stairs and into the courtyard.

            At that exact moment, the pupils of the mage had ingested the capsules and were giggling and cooing and in general acting strangely.  The laughing student looked at them and said loudly, "Boy, what a bunch what was that weird word?  Oh, yeah.  What a bunch of Zygotes!"

            And somehow the term Zygote became the term for the entranced pupils.  And somehow, as names will, the term became shortened to Zyge.  And of course, the most twisted Zyge of all was the evil mage Gherkin.

            And so ends the Tale of the Twisted Zygote.

Chalk Talk: This I Believe

I’ve been a teacher of one sort or another for over 40 years, if you count student teaching.

Well, longer than that if you include childhood role-play where I was either a teacher or the neighborhood librarian.

In all that time, I’ve been inspired by an idea that was voiced most eloquently by Christa McAuliffe, the first Teacher in Space, who said “I touch the future; I teach.”

Of all professions, teaching is the one that most directly shapes the world that is to come.  How we educate today’s children determines the medicine, technology, music, art, drama, exploration, politics, hope—and the terror, exploitation, destruction and despair the next generation will create and experience.

That is literally an awesome responsibility.

Sure, I’ve been president of the local teachers’ association three different times; I’ve been PTSA Teacher of the Year for my building; I’ve negotiated contracts, served on committees, graded papers, done monitorial duties in cafeteria and hallway, put up and taken down bulletin boards, been a drama club director, advised the school newspaper, and taken on all the other assorted chores, tasks, obligations, and services to the profession and my colleagues that are part of teaching.

But what made going into the building and the classroom worthwhile every day, what kept me awake every night the last week of August each year, and what I miss most from my career is the interaction with the students, those kids in my classrooms.

Each one of them is a gem, sparkling in some way.  For every diamond, flashy and bright, there’s an indigo pearl, whose beauty is hidden until the light hits it just so.  Being a teacher is having a chance to shine the light on those pearls, letting the world, and the kids themselves, see how lovely and special they are.

Being a teacher is more than being an “instructor” or a purveyor of information.  It’s being a role model: what I do says far more than any words that come out of my mouth.  It’s being an open ear, taking in, listening, and then prompting gently so that the student can work his or her own way to how to deal with a problem.  It’s being *there* for the kids, not just when they need help with an assignment, but when they need help with life.

And being a teacher is being, as Joe Renzulli called it, “the guide on the side” and not “the sage on the stage.”  Being a teacher is helping kids learn more and be able to do more than they knew and could do before they walked into your room.  It’s asking the right questions, so that the kids find the best answers.  It’s knowing that there is more than one “right” answer, but it’s helping kids see that there are some “wrong” answers to problems in books, and to problems in life.

Teaching is unique in a number of ways.  To begin with, of all occupations it has the most nearly-simultaneous one-on-one transactions.  That means that more than just about any other job, teachers are involved in person to person exchanges of information and emotional content at a high frequency and for an extended period of time.  Doctors and lawyers and people in retailing of all sorts work with individuals or small groups most of the time; engineers, people in construction and trades and crafts, scientists, technicians tend to work with things more than with people, especially people in groups who need individual attention.

Teaching also, more than most professions, is both an art and a craft.  Teachers need to be both talented and skilled: they need to develop their natural gifts, and they need to learn and develop skills and techniques.  There is a decent knowledge base of what works; there is also something indefinable about a good teacher that is simply there… not something that can be taught or learned, even though we can all observe it.

Finally, teaching is to me, more than any other profession, the greatest combination of personal reward and significant contribution to society.  When I get a note from a graduating student that says “Being in your class has given me so much insight into who I am and what I would like to do with my life” I know that I chose the right profession and that I shall never stop being, in some form or another, a Teacher.


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