Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Another great day today. I feel better than I have in months. I haven't even had that overwhelming need for a nap when I get home that I have had since the beginning of school. I had just thought it was middle age running me over like a steamroller.
I talked over some changes in the multi-media class with Mr. Mitchell this afternoon and I am looking forward to implementing them during the second semester.
The students will all be writing daily blogs. It won't be total freedom for them, even though that would be nice. I will have their passwords in case anything needs to be edited to meet school standards. Plus, the students and their parents will have to sign a contract, agreeing to abide by the rules In addition to adding a writing component to that class, I also intend to add a reading component. The students will be required to read either two or three news stories per day, one of my choosing, the others of theirs, similar to the setup I had in the computer lab at Diamond Middle School for my reading skills class. Non-fiction reading is overlooked far too much by reading teachers. I also talked with Mr. Mitchell about ways we could eliminate the mechanical obstacles that have kept the South Middle School website from being operational. We did come up with some ideas. Hopefully, we can put them into action sometime near the beginning of the second semester.
I am also excited about teaching speech during the second semester. The best part about it is no textbooks. I will have to come up with my own material and I have always enjoyed doing that.
I have also been planning some changes for the communication arts classes. I plan to hit flea markets, used book shops, the internet, whatever it takes to get enough copies of "Portrait of Jennie" for my classes to read it for their novel. The book is short enough, yet it has that fantasy element that attracts young readers, plus I love it and there's a great movie to go with it (you know how much the kids love those black-and-white movies).
I also plan to work with the kids to try to get some of their writing published in some of the teen magazines and teen Internet sites.
Plus, I have been working on some methods of teaching grammar, sentence construction, etc., that won't bore the students stiff and will actually get them interested in those things. That may be one task I don't come close to pulling off, but I am looking forward to trying.
The assemblies will be coming fast and furious the remaining days this week at South. On Thursday, the choir will perform seventh hour, while on Friday, the Student Council will present toys to the Joplin Fire Department, which, in turn, will present them to needy children.
Tomorrow is the day of my checkup to see if there has been any slippage in my condition since my release from the hospital Saturday morning. I am scheduled to see Dr. Buchele at 10:45 a.m. I will be at South until about 10:20 or so, then I will return hopefully in about an hour and a half, in time for fifth hour. Other teachers are filling in for me during their free hours, which I greatly appreciate. Hopefully, I will be able to return the favor for them someday.
I received more good news over the weekend. Cait Purinton, who worked for me at The Carthage Press, right after she graduated from Lamar High School, became Mrs. Travis Day during a ceremony recently in Las Vegas. Cait was the youngest person to ever receive investigative reporting awards from the Kansas City Press Club and the Missouri Press Association while she worked at The Press. At the age of 18, she wrote a series of articles exposing wrongdoing at a Lamar nursing home. The series ended up in the closing of that nursing home, the criminal prosecution by the federal government of its owners, and changes in the the way the Missouri Division of Aging operates its inspections. I was so proud of Cait. After her graduation from the Kansas State University School of Journalism, she worked two years for The Kansas City Star, but the position she had there was one at one of their regional outposts and offered no benefits. She now works as a reporter for The Topeka Capitol-Journal, an excellent newspaper.

Monday, December 15, 2003

The near-death experience that caused me to miss my first day of work in 26 years

The streak is over.

After nearly 26 1/2 years of never missing a day of work, I took a sick day Friday. As it turns out, if I hadn't, my streak probably would not have lasted much longer any way...I would have been dead in a few more days.

It's a scary thing to be in a hospital room, hear a nurse answer her cell phone and tell the caller that someone else will have to take care of the problem. "This patient has priority."

As those of you read this blog (both of you, three of you?) are aware, I have been under the weather recently. Several weeks ago, I began having problems climbing the steps to my apartment. When I reached the top, I was totally out of breath. I had to nearly crawl to my bed and just lie down for 15 to 20 minutes until I had the strength to get back up again.

This didn't bode well for South Middle School, since I teach upstairs first and second hours, downstairs third and fourth hours, then upstairs again fifth and sixth hours. When school resumed after the holiday, I found myself having to stop every two or three steps to rest up before I could keep going. I also had other symptoms which I associated with the flu, even though I had taken my flu shot last month.

My principal, Ron Mitchell, told me a number of times I needed to call a doctor. At first, I foolishly resisted, but I called the St. John's Clinic and made an appointment two weeks ago. The soonest they could fit me in was 10 days later. Meanwhile, I continued to get worse.

Nevertheless I kept getting up every morning a little after 5, brushing my teeth, taking a shower and shaving, then lying back down for about 20 minutes because I was totally worn out from those innocuous activities. Then I would drive to school and somehow make it through the day.

As soon as I could when school was over, I would drive home and then crash until the next morning, then begin the cycle all over again.

Finally, last Wednesday night, I began to feel a little better. I felt almost normal Thursday. I left school early for my appointment. I arrived 20 minutes early, filled out the paperwork, then waited for more than an hour. Finally, I was called in.

It turned out the doctor I had made the appointment with was Dr. Dailey, the father of my former Diamond student, Bryce Dailey. The first thing he and the nurse did was to take blood, then I had to go through some other routine tests.

When my blood tests returned, Dr. Dailey said he had some bad news. I never would have guessed how bad that news was going to be.

A normal hemiglobin (red blood cell) count is 12. The test showed my count was 3. In other words, somehow I was walking around with 75 percent of my blood missing. (No wonder so many people kept telling me how pale I looked.)

Dr. Dailey said there could be no delay. I would have to be admitted to the hospital...and there was no way he was going to let me drive myself over there in my condition. So a few moments later, the doctor himself drove me to St. John's, where I was immediately admitted and given a room in the oncology unit.

Within a couple of hours, the blood transfusions began (thank God for all of those people who donate blood). By the time the transfusions were finished in the wee hours Saturday morning, I had received 10 units of fresh O negative blood.

Of course, replacing the blood was only part of the problem. The major concern was the cause of this massive loss of blood. On Friday, I underwent all kinds of tests. The one thing they all seemed to agree on, was that there was no way I should have been functioning, much less driving to Joplin and back and putting in a full day of teaching every day. There was some wonder that I was even still with the living (though apparently not by much).

After undergoing two probes Friday, the doctors did find a small polyp in my colon and another in the upper regions of my body, biopsied them, but did not seem to think that either of them posed a problem.

I did not have colon cancer, which they had feared (even though I do plan on keeping my fingers crossed about those polyps). I did not have any kind of silent ulcer.

The only source they could find for the bleeding...and Lord knows I absolutely hate to admit this...was hemorrhoids. So once I had all my new blood and was released from the hospital late Saturday morning, I picked up a number of prescriptions at the Wal-Mart Supercenter Pharmacy and I am planning to follow the doctors' instructions to the letter. I have a checkup set for 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Fortunately, my friends and family will never have to say, "He'd still be showing up for work every day, but those darned hemorrhoids put him in his grave."

Thanks also to everyone at South who wished me well and sent a nice balloon bouquet to my hospital room. Those people, especially Mr. Mitchell, probably saved my life by continuing to encourage me to call a doctor. And by the way, I feel great now, probably for the first time this semester.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Human frailties have gotten the best of me again this weekend. I had so many things I needed to do, starting with preparing my manuscript to go to a couple of publishers. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I have been in terrible physical condition for the past week or so and it doesn't appear to be getting any better.
I have spent the last two days in bed. When I stand up, I feel like my head is swimming, but I am just fine when I lay down, so naturally, I have been laying down quite a bit.
I was starting to feel a little more under the weather when I went to my parents' home in Newtonia in Thanksgiving, but I just acted like everything was fine. Since I am not particularly good in crowds, it wasn't a great experience, but it wasn't as bad as I had anticipated.
Of course, it could be psychosomatic. I occasionally exchange e-mails with the mother of one of my former Diamond students. She said I sounded depressed in my last e-mail and, who knows, maybe I did. I have a tendency to dwell on things and when you have had two jobs taken away from you that you loved in the space of four years...while everyone talks about how great you are at both of them...well, it does have a tendency to get to you. And now I am being told that the new journalism teacher at Diamond has made numerous comments about my shortcomings at journalism (I spent 22 years as a journalist, he has a master's degree in journalism and spent most of his adult life writing publicity releases for the Navy) I know I shouldn't take his comments seriously, but these are my former students who are listening to his criticisms. I doubt that they will be swayed by his comments, but it has to place a little bit of doubt in their minds, especially when the comments are made over and over and over. I suppose I should be flattered that the journalism teacher and the superintendent see me as being such a threat, but it all seems so childish.
I was told Monday or Tuesday, I don't remember which, that the block scheduling for communication arts is being dropped for next year and that I will be teaching writing and not reading. (That is, of course, if the school district doesn't have to cut jobs or something of that nature) I don't mind the change, but I really enjoyed the two-hour communication arts blocks. I have the opportunity to know my students better and I enjoyed getting reacquainted with good literature after spending the last several years reading almost nothing but non-fiction. (I suppose that just because I am only teaching writing doesn't mean that I can't continue reading.)
My old habits have resurfaced during the holiday break. I'm not reading any great works of fiction. I finished the biography of former Supreme Court Justice Byron White earlier today and now I am about 70 pages into David Halberstam's study of the military decisions made by former presidents Bush and Clinton during the 1990s. Military books have never been among my favorites, but I'll read almost anything written by Halberstam. I donated several of my Halberstam books to the Diamond school library. I would be surprised if any of them have been put on the shelves. I would love for students to be able to read "The Children," his book describing the Freedom Riders of the early 1960s and what happened to them in later years. It's long, but it is so engrossing that it seems like the pages just fly by. My guess is "The Children" is still in a cardboard box in the storage room at the middle school, along with the other approximately 500 books I donated last summer. About 500 of the books I donated earlier are on the shelves at the middle school library, but among the ones that didn't fit into the librarians' concept of what belongs in a school library were works by Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen, and John Steinbeck. I guess those writers are out of fashion.
I am hoping to get enough energy to drive into Joplin either later tonight or tomorrow, most likely tomorrow, and check to see whether Edna Buchanan's latest novel is out in paperback at Books-A-Million. For those of you who aren't familiar with her work, Ms. Buchanan has written a series of mystery novels about a Miami Herald investigative reporter named Britt Montero. I have read all of them except her latest "The Ice Maiden," which supposedly came out in paperback last week. Ms. Buchanan herself is an award-winning investigative reporter for The Miami Herald. If I still don't feel well enough to go tonight or tomorrow, I'll drop by after school on Monday. (And yes, barring a disaster, I will be at work on Monday. Since the day I took my first full-time job at The Newton County News in May 1977, I have never missed a day of work. There probably have been numerous times when I should have stayed at home, but I was always brought up that if you have a job, you show up ready to work every day. If you don't there are other people who would just love to have your job. I know my streak is going to end some day (and obviously, not being married and having kids has something to do with it since I guarantee you, I would stay at home with a sick kid), but I don't want to ever get in the habit of taking a day off just to recharge my batteries, especially as a schoolteacher. Think about it, our jobs probably do expose us to all kinds of psychological stress and teachers deserve every cent they receive (and more), but we do have at least 185 days each year when we are not teaching or attending in-service. We have time to recharge our batteries. My God, I must sound like someone from a bygone age.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The good news is...I have a cold. I have never described that as good news before, but I was beginning to get worried.
A little background: Last Monday, I was moving around the multi-media class, making sure my students were working and not surfing the net for things they are not supposed to be surfing the net for. Suddenly, I began to feel weak and I had to sit down. That didn't help much. I kept getting weaker and weaker. Fortunately, South's tech director, Mike Sapp, was in the room so I asked if he could take over for a few moments while I went to the nurse's office. I barely made it there. I went immediately to a cot and laid down for about five minutes. I still didn't feel great, but I went back to the classroom and I managed to get through the rest of the day.
The same thing happened earlier this year in the same classroom. I came down with a bad cold almost immediately and it took me about a week to get over it. This time, I had to wait and wait for the cold and I began fearing that I had some horrible undetected disease. Finally, Friday night as I was returning home from school, all of the symptoms began to hit. So I have my cold. I'm feeling worse, but I'm also feeling better if that makes any sense
Hopefully, the long-delayed South Middle School website will go on line this week. We are waiting for the computer that the news and sports material is on to get back from the shop. After that, we should be able to have the home page, top news page, sports page, a links page for student research, and a links page for teachers, with more on the way.
Because I was feeling so lousy Friday night, I did not get to be at Hastings for Bill Colby's discussion and book signing. Colby was the lawyer who fought all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court for Nancy Cruzan's right to die. I did buy his book, however, and I hope to read it over the Thanksgiving break.
Even though I teach at South, I can't seem to put the craziness of the Diamond R-4 School District behind me. I have spent about an hour a week keeping up my Wildcat Central website because it has always meant so much to the kids.
Now I find out that the continued existence of my site is bothering the person who is doing the new "official" Diamond R-4 website so much that he is threatening kids who provide information to me for the stories I put on the site. I find it particularly appalling that he is telling my former students that I am not much of a journalist, which he, of course, knows because he has a master's degree in journalism. Of course, he doesn't tell them that the only time he worked for newspapers when he was in college 30 years ago and worked part-time for The Joplin Globe. He has worked mostly in p.r. for the military since that time. He also did some radio journalism. I can't even imagine criticizing a teacher or a former teacher to students. For the record, students have not been providing information for the website. Most of it I get by rewriting information from The Neosho Daily, the Newton County News or The Joplin Globe.
Unfortunately, this man's tactics have really caused problems for my former students, who want to remain loyal to me, but also, quite understandably, do not want to get on this man's bad side. I plan to encourage them to make a break from me. They can't let this nonsense affect their school lives.
The same tactics have been used by a school administrator who has threatened people who have websites and provide links to Wildcat Central. He has threatened at least one teacher and one student who have non-school websites (though both provide some school information). Both sites no longer link to mine.
Of course, it does boost my ego that they see me as being such a threat, but there is really no way I can do them any damage.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Just when I thought we had the new South Middle School website on track, we have run into a minor obstacle. One of the students in my third hour multi-media class broke the laptop computer that was being used to build the news and sports pages during fourth hour. The computer will not shut now and it also has lost its shift key and shift lock key. Autumn Mauller was able to save the work and consolidate it fourth hour, which is a promising sign, but it may just set the debut of our best pages back a few days.
Interesting article in The Joplin Globe last week. The Webb City R-7 School Board has put a nepotism policy into place to prevent relatives of board members from being hired.
The article says "the board may not hire an applicant within the fourth degree of kinship of a board member unless the position was advertised, the superintendent writes a letter of recommendation for the applicant, and the names of other applicants are placed in a file."
I am sure that even if such a board policy were in effect in the Diamond R-4 School District (and it may be) that you would still have the same semi-incestuous situation. I count at least five board members who have relatives employed by the school district, including the board president, who has two or three. It is simply good policy for people not to hire their relatives. It gives the school district an amateur hour look. That is not to cast any aspersions on the abilities of the people who have been hired, but why would anyone want to be put in such a situation?
The argument has always been that it is all right because the board members do not vote on anything that directly affects their relatives, but that kind of thinking has two flaws:
1. Nearly everything the board members votes on affects their relatives in one way or another.
2. You are not going to get a board member to vote against the interests of another board member's family. That board member might turn around and vote against him and besides, they have to be on the board together until at least the next election and maybe longer than that.
It's bad business.
In Diamond, it was interesting that the two board members who were voted off last time both had family members working for the school district. Immediately after that, the wife of one of the defeated board members was let go from her position as an aide. Of course, the defeat was not an example of the voters sending a message to the board to get its act together. The two board members were replaced by two men whose wives were already employed by the school district.
After a four-month layoff, Natural Disaster made its triumphant comeback Saturday night, though I may be exaggerating just a bit.
After practicing Thursday and Friday nights at the home of our bass player Tim Brazelton in Neosho, we performed Saturday night at a benefit in Stark City for a woman who lost her house in a fire.
About 200 people were shoehorned into the Stark City Fire Department Building (which was probably a fire hazard). Of course, this was the new building for the fire department since the old one burned down.
Everything went pretty smoothly. I missed two or three cues, but we were able to sell them as opportunities for extended guitar solos.
I desecrated the memories of Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Terry Stafford, Wilbert Harrison,and Carl Perkins, by singing "Devil Woman," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Kansas City," "Suspicion," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Peggy Sue."
I also did "Memphis," and provided background vocals on the songs that Richard Taylor sang lead on.
I took a break during Richard's version of the old Merle Haggard song, "Kern River." My mom came over and said, "Jackie's here and she wants to talk to you."
That certainly brought back memories. I was Jackie Williams's first boyfriend and she was my first girlfriend, from the time we were six years old until we reached the ripe old age of eight.
After the concert, we talked for quite a while. She was visiting her mother. She and her husband live in Colorado. Of course, we agreed to keep in touch with each other and hopefully, we will. That was probably the first time we had talked to each other in nearly 30 years. She, unlike me, still has all of her hair.
Of course, I could say I have all mine, too. I just keep it in a box under the bed.
I was just reading Alicia Bradley's blog a while ago and I am feeling a little guilty.
Alicia, who is a ninth grader at Diamond High School, and Kasey Hockman, an eighth grader, took second place in the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland in June. Their presentation was a video on the turmoil in Selma, Alabama, in the 1960s as blacks fought for voting rights.
Alicia read that some of her competitors at the local level had videos that placed in a competition run by Missouri Southern State College. Alicia was never told about that competition.
I received a letter from the college several weeks ago and, for a brief time, I considered having the students in the multi-media classes put together entries. I decided against it because of the time factor and because I did not realize just how much technology I have access to.
The college sent to these letters to every school in Southwest Missouri, so I am sure that a letter was sent to Diamond. It never occurred to me that either it may be set aside or no one would have the interest to make sure that Alicia and Kasey's video was entered. The school officials certainly can't blame it on the budget since the college did not charge an entry fee for the videos.
Why it didn't occur to me to contact Alicia about the contest, I don't know, but I feel bad about it.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Natural Disaster is back. I was beginning to wonder if my days as a rock/country singer were over. Many people say they were over before they even started, but I refuse to have a negative attitude about music.
Richard Taylor, the group leader, left a message on my answering machine. I was finally able to get hold of him about an hour ago.
A benefit is being held Saturday night at the Stark City Firehouse (hey, we can't all play arenas) for Gertrude Brown, whose house burned recently, destroying all of her belongings and killing her pets. Since we no longer have our female singers, Natural Disaster is now a foursome with Richard playing lead guitar and singing, John Scott on drums, Tim Brazelton on bass and me singing and playing whatever weird little percussion instruments I can come up with. Richard is supposed to contact me tomorrow (Tuesday) to let me know if Tim will be able to do it. He is also hoping to get Mark McClintock, a wonderful guitarist from Neosho, to sit in with us. Mark has been with us at three of our earlier concerts.
I hope we are able to do this. I have missed Natural Disaster these past few months.
All in all, it has been a pretty good day. We are only a few days away from launching the South Middle School website. The Top News and Sports pages are ready. We are still working on teacher pages and the home page. We hope to add a homework hotline page later, as well as links pages similar to the ones I have at www.wildcatcentral.com and archives pages.
It won't go down as a battle for the ages or anything, but Turner's Turtles, my TA group, won the eighth grade Tug Of War battle this morning. This isn't always the best behaved bunch (to be charitable), but this group pulls together when there's any kind of competition going on.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

The countdown to the revamped South Middle School website is on. The multi-media classes ran into some problems transferring photos from iphotos on our laptops to the Claris Home Page webpages. Thanks to Mike Sapp, the tech director for South, we are now able to get going.
Chelsea Banfield has been working diligently on the teacher pages, combining photos she took of the teachers with information they filled out from forms I sent them two or three weeks ago.
Emily Evans is designing the home page, which most likely will feature a picture of the school, our mascot the Eagle, links to other pages and a few other items.
Autumn Mauller has already put together a fantastic sports page and early next week we will be putting together the news page. The advanced communication arts class has already been working on writing stories for the news and sports pages under the guidance of student editors Autumn, Rachel Ryan, Sarah McDonough, and Lindsey Hamm. It has been an exciting project and will be one which we will continue to work on through the remainder of the school year.
Another exciting project has been the extra credit work being done by the communication arts classes. I wondered if they would care much for a project that is going to require them to work until they leave here in May 2004. Apparently, they are, though I'm not going to get overconfident about it.
All students have to do an extra-credit project, but they have a number of choice they can make as to what the project will be. Some of them have started writing novels. Others are working on books of short stories, two or three-act plays, books of poetry, or tripling their Accelerated Reader points. I have had several students stop by and show me their work and I have been impressed (though not surprised) by their industrious attitudes and by the quality of their writing. I have always believed that if you have high expectations, the students will come through for you (and for themselves). They have not been given a set number of pages they have to write. All they have to do is show each Friday that they have made progress during the week. Some will never finish what they writing, but some of them will, and hopefully, all of them will learn something by doing this.
I received another batch of e-mail today from my former students at Diamond and a few of them have signed the guestbook on Wildcat Central. I am really surprised, and very touched, that I am still hearing from so many of them. After I left The Carthage Press, it was very rare that I heard from anybody and I worked there for almost 10 years. I suppose I have been one of those rare teachers who receives an opportunity to know how students really think about him. The kids were always great to me, but they have been particularly wonderful since all of the mess started last summer.
I have a hard time understanding why The Joplin Globe can't play it straight where education news is involved. Today's page one featured an article about whether teachers are "highly qualified" under federal guidelines. One parent was quoted in the article saying, "Any good teacher would feel that their continued learning would be beneficial to anyone they teach." It's not a bad quote, but it really has no connection with the rest of the story and the woman who was quoted was the only parent quoted in the entire story. The message the Globe seems to be pushing is that the Joplin R-8 School District does not have qualified teachers. The box by the story indicates that 97.6 percent of the teachers in the school distrfict meet U. S. Department of Education guidelines. The article did not really come to grips with a "qualified teacher" is. (Not surprising since there is a wide range of opinions on that subject.)
The Globe's choice of headlines is also taken directly from the tabloid mode. "How qualified are teachers?" The headline leaves the distinct impression that the teachers around here must be people who would be better off begging on Main than being in front of a classroom full of children.
A better headline (and more accurate one, by far) would have stressed that all school districts in the Joplin metropolitan area have qualified teacher rates of 97.6 percent or above, nearly three percentage points above the state average.
My former publisher at The Carthage Press, Jim Farley, believed that a strong weekly newspaper, focusing on school and sports news, would flourish in Joplin. He was right then and it would still work now. People are looking for some kind of alternative, not one that won't print bad news, but one that believes that the thousands of good things that happen in the R-8 School District every day are also worth publicizing.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A sad note, a pathetic one actually.
I was checking out the Diamond, Missouri website on the Wildcat Central links page and I discovered its link to Wildcat Central had been removed, undoubtedly at the request of the superintendent. I don't blame the teacher who is running the site for dropping the link. She has her job to think of, but it is amazing how petty the administration has become. Her website is not a school website. Neither is the one Alicia Bradley puts out on the high school band, but the band instructor had Alicia remove the link to Wildcat Central because Wildcat Central is a negative, non-school site.
Fortunately, there is a replacement for Wildcat Central that has been put on the Diamond, Missouri page, the brand spanking-new official Diamond R-4 website, www.diamondwildcats.org You can feel free to make your own comparisons. I'll let Wildcat Central speak for itself.
An item I forgot to mention yesterday. I went over my evaluation with Mr. Mitchell and it worked out just fine. I won't plan on getting the old resume out.
Monday afternoon, as I was passing by the choir teacher, Mrs. Yonkers's room after school, I was reminded about the negative effect a teacher can have on a student's life. No, it had nothing to do with Mrs. Yonkers, but everything to do with music.
When I was a sophomore at East Newton High School, I tried out for the all school musical, "Anything Goes," at the request of the drama teacher Mrs. Matthews. She selected the actors and I was cast in the number one comedy sidekick role of Moonface Martin, Public Enemy Number 13, which I was eternally grateful for since he had the best lines.
But it was a musical, so it involved singing. The music teacher at East Newton in those days was Mrs. Florine Best. I don't know if she is still alive today, but even then she had a cadaverous look that reminded me of the late actress Bette Davis. In fact, she even resembled Bette Davis, though I am not sure if it was the living Bette Davis or the post-mortem version whom she looked like.
When the singing tryouts were held, I was allowed to sing one line of one song. All I remember about the actual singing was that it was in the wrong key for me.
When I finished singing that one line, Mrs. Best said, "That young man will NOT sing in this play," drawing out the word "not" for maximum effect.
I had never been convinced that I was a great singer anyway, but that just shattered my rather fragile self-esteem. Nonetheless, I did the role, did the Rex Harrison bit (speaking the lines of my songs) and both the play and I received good reviews.
From that point on, however, I knew I was a bad singer. That was the kind of effect one sentence from a teacher can have on an impressionable young student.
I still haven't totally recovered from that comment, but I made it part of the way back. A group from the East Newton Class of 1974 meets a few days after Christmas each year. Some of them are musically inclined. My friend, Richard Taylor, played backup to singers in Branson for a while, while Bill Lemaster sings gospel music, and Kathy Friend does traditional music, including playing the dulcimer. At those gatherings, the music would begin shortly after the meal ended. I was popular because I have a nearly encylopedic memory for songs from the 1950s and 1960s (a talent which is worth almost nothing) and I was the only one who knew all the words. Two years ago, Kathy asked Richard and me if we would perform with her at the String Fling at Crowder College. I wasn't sure about it, but it seemed like it might be fun, so I agreed. Kathy, her younger sister, Kristi Berner, their friend, Tammy Yost, Richard and I began rehearsing for the performance doing songs from the 1950s and 1960s. I was surprised when I was tabbed to do lead vocals on about half of the songs. At first, I figured it was because I was the only one who didn't play a musical instrument (and that may have been the reason), but they kept telling me how well I was singing the songs. And I did love those old songs, the Marty Robbins song, "Devil Woman," Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man," Elvis and Carl Perkins's classic, "Blue Suede Shoes," Terry Stafford's "Suspicion," Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and others.
We were a hit at the String Fling, calling ourselves "Natural Disaster." (I still thought that name best described my singing voice.) We didn't perform together again for a few months, but Richard and I joined with two other guys to do some rock numbers at the Newtonia Fall Festival. The original group began performing again at the 2003 String Fling and we ended up performing several places, at benefits, music shows, and even on the Cerebral Palsy Telethon on Channel 12. The best moment for me came after our performance at a music festival in Carthage in June. The organizer of the festival came up to me and handed me an envelope containing $150. I was in shock. I never even realized we were actually going to get paid. Of course, after it was split six ways, it only amounted to $25, but I didn't care. (Especially since I had just received a letter a few days before from the Diamond R-4 School District telling me I was being put on an unpaid leave of absence. I needed every dollar I could get.
I don't know when or if Natural Disaster will ever perform again. I hope so. I had a lot of fun doing it and I love those songs. I still don't have a high regard for my singing ability, but the singing, as much as I enjoyed it, was not the most important thing.
Because of that one sentence from the late Florine Best (and if she's still alive, I don't know how you would tell the difference), I learned a valuable lesson that I hope I carry with me for the remainder of my teaching career...Never tear down a young person's self-esteem or crush his or her dreams.
Happy 17th birthday to my former student, Samantha Young, now a junior at College Heights Christian High School. Samantha is probably one of the four or five most talented writers I have ever worked with, and that's saying a lot since that list includes a former reporter for The Kansas City Star and the current journalism teacher at Lamar High School. Samantha's papers were always well thought out and provocative. Hopefully, she will have a wonderful day.
The 54th day of school is about ready to begin. It appears to be an ordinary day, but you never know. The Communication Arts classes will write opinion papers over Dr. Thomas Sowell's column lambasting public schoolteachers. Unfortunately, in our discussion yesterday on the topic, the eighth graders lambasted public schoolteachers. I suppose that was to be expected.
During the second half of the block, we will continue reading, then discuss, the Ray Bradbury short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains."
I am also going to have the address the minor cheating scandal on the Accelerated Reader tests. Two of my students. whose names will remain unmentioned for obvious reasons, were taking tests for other students. Though both are good students, they are not the people whom I would want taking AR tests for me. On the other hand, when I was a freshman at East Newton High School, I copied off a sophomore girl in algebra, figuring that she knew her stuff because she had taken the same class the year before. That did not turn out to be one of my smarter decisions.
All kinds of dramatic changes have been proposed for the AR tests after the cheating was discovered. I believe keeping a better eye on those two when they return from in-school suspension would probably be the best plan, rather than changing passwords for every student enrolled in AR (in other words, every student in my reading classes).
The multi-media classes will begin a scavenger hunt today, attempting to find the answers to 100 questions on various topics by the end of the week. The members of the winning team in each class will receive $2.50 apiece. Hopefully, this will serve as an educational distraction while a few of the students in each class are able to continue the business of getting the South Middle School website ready for a successful relaunch.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

The big day came and went and nothing in particular happened. Mind you, I am not complaining. That was exactly the result I had in mind. Mr. Mitchell, my principal, observed the first hour of my first and second hour Communication Arts block. The kids were on task, the lessons went as I planned and all students were on their best behavior. Even the brief discussion and the students working on past and present tenses at the chalkboard went as planned.
I haven't had my post-evaluation meeting with Mr. Mitchell, but I feel good about the class.
The evaluation was probably something that shouldn't have worried me as much as it did, but when you consider the things that have happened to me in the past four-and-a-half years, you can understand my anxiety.
During that time, I had two jobs that I loved taken away from me and at no time did anyone ever suggest that it either the quality of my work or my attitude were problems, even after I lost the jobs. In fact, during the time period from 1991 to 1999, I received more national, state, and regional awards than any other reporter in Missouri. I routinely put in 16-hour days and worked myself into poor health. For that, I was fired, ended up spending nearly my entire savings, and having no idea where my next paycheck was coming from.
In August 1999, I had a choice of two jobs, the managing editor position at The Miami News-Record, which would have paid me $30,000 annually plus bonuses, and a position as writing instructor at Diamond Middle School. I opted for the latter, even though it paid only a little over $21,000. I had always loved teaching and this was my opportunity to open the door to the profession.
I wouldn't trade my four years in the Diamond R-4 School District for anything. Hopefully, I fully justified the faith Dr. Smith and Mr. Mitchell showed when they hired me. These were two people whom I respected and enjoyed working for. As I later found out, not all administrators are cut from the same cloth.
In May, I signed a contract for a fifth year at Diamond. In June, I discovered that the superintendent and the board of education...the people who allegedly are setting the high moral standards that every school district stands for...have no qualms whatsoever about breaking their word, whether it be a signed written contract, such as I had, or a verbal contract, such as I had with Dr. Smith to create Wildcat Central, the school website.
I was told (by letter) that I was being put on an unpaid leave of absence. I had a hearing, for which I had to wait three weeks, but the result had already been decided. The hearing was a cloak for a superintendent and board which had no intention of actually listening to what I had to say. And even worse, they trampled on the hopes and ideals of the students who came to support me.
The board members were semi-respectable during the open session, though Dr. Webb interrupted me as I was beginning, then brushed off the students by rudely saying, "Are you satisfied?"
I am just happy the students did not have to see what these alleged role models did during the closed session. During that session:
-1. I was told (even though I had not asked) that I would not be paid a cent for three years of work on Wildcat Central because no one could find any document signed by Dr. Smith, saying that he ever intended to pay me. Of course, there are other people around who are aware of the verbal contract, but they weren't going to go out of their way to help me out.
-2. I was told that I set a bad example for the students by reading my letter criticizing Mr. Mayo's (the Diamond superintendent) double dealings during the open session. That shouldn't have been done without an adult explaining it to these seventh through 12th graders, the board members said, because they were too young to understand what I was saying. (In other words, they heard the truth unfettered from me and didn't have Mayo or one of the board members to interpret it in a way favorable to them.
-3. I was criticized by three board members because they were getting complaints from their children about letting me go. I was the one losing a job I loved, but they were upset because they weren't able to justify my dismissal to their children.
-4. I was accused of manipulating the media on my behalf by my donation of 500 books to the Middle School Library, increasing the total I donated to the library to more than 1,000 books. I plead guilty to that one. I knew I would get favorable publicity, but that was the only way I had even a minor chance of being back in a Diamond classroom in August. It failed, of course, and no one has ever thanked me for donating the books. I wonder if any of them are even on the shelves.
-5. When I pointed out that I could make more money for the school district through my website than it would save by eliminating my salary, Dr. Webb said, "If you can make that much money, why do you need the teaching job?"
-6. I was also accused of making things difficult for Mr. Burnett, the new speech and drama teacher by pointing out that he made $38,000 a year, despite having only two years of teaching experience. I am definitely not the only one who has been mentioning that fact. When Larry Augustine was only making about $30,000 after giving more than two decades of service to this school and Burnett is brought in at $38,000, you know that anything Mayo and the board say about education being a top priority has to be taken with a grain of salt. I had to point out to them, that I was trying to hold on to a job for which I made $24,500 a year (the lowest salary in the middle school), while Burnett, with whatever minor inconvenience the knowledge of his salary has caused, was guaranteed a job for $38,000 for the 2003-2004 school year.
6. When I offered to provide the board with copies of the allegations I had made against Mr. Mayo, nearly all of which have proven to be true, not one board member was interested. They had no interest in knowing the truth.
7. When I pointed out that Wildcat Central and the articles I had written for the newspapers over my four years at Diamond, had helped provide positive publicity at a time when the school was receiving much negative publicity from The Joplin Globe, Dr. Webb said that was no big deal, there would always be negative publicity about the school district. (I have to give him credit. He was right about that.)
8. Dr. Webb and the other board members indicated that Wildcat Central, the articles I had written for area newspapers, and the books that I donated to the Middle School Library were just "frills".
9. Mr. Mayo and the board members indicated that I was being let go because my dismissal would affect the fewest number of kids.
10. After the final decision was made, Mayo called me into his office (the first time he even had the decency to talk with me about my dismissal) told me what the board decided and told me that I would not be rehired at Diamond, because he did not want any social studies teachers who didn't coach.
So you can understand that, even though none of this caught me offguard, it still had a devastating effect on my self confidence. What I have learned in the past four-and-a-half years is that hard work, excelling at what you do, and becoming involved, the things that all of the so-called experts say will lead to success, have only led to the unemployment line for me.
So hopefully, getting back to my original topic, I will receive a positive evaluation from Mr. Mitchell. However, I am not really sure what that means me. I never had anything but positive evaluations at Diamond and I never had anything but positive evaluations at The Carthage Press.
I wish I knew how long it's going to take me to get back my self-confidence. I sure miss it.

Friday, October 31, 2003

The big day is here. In less than six and a half hours, I will undergo my first formal evaluation as a teacher at South Middle School.
I asked for Mr. Mitchell, the principal, to observe my first hour class for two reasons. One, by doing it first thing in the morning I won't have it hanging over my head all day. Two, this is my regular communication arts block. I have the advanced class during fifth and sixth hours. I want to be observed working with a regular class. On the pre-observation worksheet, I asked that Mr. Mitchell observe my classroom management techniques. I was sorely tempted to take the easy way out on my lesson plan and go with my strong point, discussion, but evaluations should be learning experiences and I'm not going to learn anything by sticking with something that I already am totally comfortable doing.
As usual, the class is scheduled to begin with a writing prompt. Today, the students will write a half-page detailing what they plan to do for their extra-credit project. After that, we will review for our test over Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart." Then we will take the test. It's a simple lesson plan, but it's a plan that will enable Mr. Mitchell to observe me doing things he has not seen me doing before during my evaluations at Diamond (where he was my principal for the first two years I was there). In the past, I invariably planned a discussion for my formal evaluations.
I always made sure to have him observe a class I had been having a few problems with so I could get some tips on how to deal with that class. This year, I don't have that option. I really do not have any classes that have been problems. Hopefully, I will still be saying that after the evaluation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

It was research day for students in my two Communication Arts classes. The first and second hour block spent first hour and half of second researching vouchers in the MAC Lab. The fifth and sixth hour block spent all of fifth hour in the MAC Lab.
The argument for vouchers is a seductive one. Why shouldn't parents be allowed to use tax money to find better schools for their children rather than be forced to attend failing public schools?
Why should students be condemned to spin their wheels in substandard schools when vouchers would give them an opportunity to succeed in life?
If it were that simple, it would be hard to argue with vouchers. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
The American concept of universal public schooling indicates that this country believes that an educated citizenry is necessary for the United States to survive. This concept is not limited to the sons and daughters of the wealthy. Everyone is entitled to a free public education. It is not limited to those who have high IQs. Education is required for those with serious mental handicaps. This experiment has helped America become the number one country in the world. We educate people who other countries shove into back rooms. We not only educate them, but we make them into contributing members of society.
How many private schools are going to be able to fulfill that need? Very few, if any. And if taxpayer money is diverted to the private schools, how many public schools are going to be able to fulfill that need?
It is easy to extoll the virtues of private schools when those schools are able to cherrypick their students. Take Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School as an example. That school has no interest in vouchers and for good reason. It is able to attract the children of doctors, lawyers, and businessmen who are looking to put their children in the most exclusive schools. Of course, those kinds of parents, parents who challenge their children to reach their full potential, are also going to be providing them with help at home. They probably work with their children on their homework or are able to hire tutors for them. They have subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and have bookcases jammed full of reading material. They provide a positive example for their children that a proper education pays off.
Those children are going to succeed in any school in which you place them. Yes, Thomas Jefferson does an excellent job with educating the children of the rich and the children of people who are willing to go into debt to ensure that their children can do better than they did.
But could Thomas Jefferson succeed using the same teaching methods and techniques with children randomly drawn from the poorer schools in this area. Could the excellent teachers in that institution of learning deal with children who felt the back of their parents' hands the night before. Could they deal with children from broken homes and ones who don't have a day go by in which they do not see some sort of illegal drug-related activity taking place in their homes...usually by their parents.
Could Thomas Jefferson methods work with students who have no positive role models at home, who have never been taught proper respect for adults and who have no reason to believe that their lives will be any better than the lives led by their parents?
There is a place for private and parochial schools in this country. Parents should have access to them, but in order for the children of this country to have unfettered access to a free education, tax money must not be diverted from the public schools.
The public schools have flaws. That is undeniable. Many of the worst and most inexperienced teachers are placed in schools in poorer neighborhoods. These are the students who could most benefit from the sure hand of a successful veteran teacher. Instead, they get the dregs, the dreamers, and the drones.
And the teaching shortage is increased because of this insanity of throwing young teachers, with no previous experience, into the jungles of inner-city classrooms, instead of letting them grow slowly into solid teachers. These teachers are the ones who see their idealism being slowly crushed and take a detour into the private sector.
The overemphasis on standardized tests is also causing many excellent schools to be described as failing. A school can have 80 percent of its students make top grades on math on a standardized test and still fail if its scores were in the upper 80s or lower 90s during the past few years.
Schools also can fail if one small segment of the student body does not make the grade. Many Missouri schools failed because the students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches did not do well on the MAP tests. We should not be expecting failure among this group, but these are the ones who are not being provided with any support from home.
And in Missouri, we are not even determining how much improvement students make from year to year. We judge this year's eighth graders against next year's eighth graders. This is the same kind of logic as having a basketball team with a seven-foot center, two 6-10 forwards, a deadeye shooting guard and an excellent point guard win the state championship, lose all of those players to graduation, then compare the next team, which has a 6-3 center and four other players with little or no experience. What exactly are we learning about our schools from the MAP tests? They do not provide a framework, they do not provide valuable assistance on what we need to be teaching our children, and they do not provide a reliable method of determining the quality of teaching or enabling parents to make comparisons with the education offered at other schools.
Vouchers are a lazy way of fixing the education problems in the United States. On the other hand, pouring endless amounts of money into the public education system is also a lazy way of doing it. Accountability is critical if education is going to improve in the United States. Public school officials cannot foolishly fritter away money, emphasize non-educational goals, and expect people to keep passing bond issues and tax levy increases.
Unfortunately, that has been happening in many area school districts. When people vote down bond issues, they are considered anti-education. Many of those people are not against spending money for the schools, even those people who no longer have children in school, they simply want some common sense used in the way their tax dollars are being spent.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Today was the first day of a busy week at South Middle School. After an assembly during TA, my communcation arts block classes watched a CNN video from 2000 about the issue of vouchers. The first and second hour block discussed the video during second hour. It was library day for fifth and sixth hour block so the discussion will be held in there tomorrow.
The plan is to have both blocks go into the MAC Lab tomorrow for at least one hour and research vouchers in preparation for a debate later in the week (probably on Thursday for first/second hour and Friday for fifth/sixth hour).
During the first part of my planning period (seventh hour), I drove to the Administration Building on 15th Street and picked up four digital cameras from the technology director. Beginning tomorrow, my third and fourth hour multi-media classes will take photos to go on the soon-to-be revamped South website.
My four-woman editorial board, Autumn Mauller, Lindsay Hamm, Sarah McDonough, and Rachel Ryan, handed out news and sports writing assignments to the fifth and sixth hour CA block, which will write articles for the website.
Since it is Halloween week, both CA blocks will read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" later this week. I'm still debating over whether to show a video along with it.
The assembly was rather interesting. After complaining for the past two years about two Diamond assemblies, one of which featured a ballerina who didn't dance, and the other which involved getting students to sell cookie dough, I find out today that they sell cookie dough at Joplin, too. The proceeds will go to resurface the back lot and to put in tennis courts.
Today is the birthday of a friend of mine, Nicole Lehman, who is one of the players on the SMSU Lady Bears' basketball team. I'll have to send her an e-mail in a little bit. I can remember writing stories about Nicole when she was playing junior high basketball at Lamar. I miss the writing and interaction with people from my journalism days sometimes, but never the hours, and never the non-journalism people who held the purse strings at the newspapers.
The Accelerated Reader program takes the joy out of reading. I heard that a number of times during parent-teacher conferences last Thursday and Friday. Though I see some value in the program, I still have a tendency to agree.
The students with the higher reading levels are required to read more books, which they, of course, consider to be unfair. They are also limited in the type of books they read. Many books are not AR books, including books by such authors as Stephen King. I don't want someone to be discouraged from reading just because their books don't happen to be AR, so I am working out a system to combine AR and non-AR reading. It will be a little extra work, but hopefully, the result will be worth it.
I still remember those Wednesday summer mornings when I was growing up. Once a month, Billy Johnson would drive the bookmobile from the Neosho Public Library and park it in front of Ted Arnall's barber shop. The bookmobile was always scheduled to be in Newtonia at 11 a.m., but Billy and his wife, LeeAnn, would always finish early at the stop before Newtonia and I would sit on the concrete steps in front of Gum's Store at 10:30 a.m. Usually, I only had to wait a few minutes for the bookmobile to arrive.
It was always like finding lost treasurer. I remember checking out mysteries and sports fiction books and biographies of people like Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Jensen, and Bob Gibson. I started going to the Bookmobile when I was four years old. Every month I checked out 10 books. I usually had them read by the end of the second or third day, leaving me the rest of the month without anything to read. Fortunately, when I reached my teen years, I discovered used book shops.
The Bookmobile interested a lot of young people in reading and encouraged many of them to visit the public library. Of course, those were the days before cable television, the Internet, and all of the distractions that face young people these days. Something had to be done to try to bring them back to the printed word, no matter how outdated some people seem to think it is. I'm just not sure if Accelerated Reader is the answer. If you force someone to do something, you may improve their reading skills, but you take the risk of having them never develop the kind of love for reading that has helped our civilization to prosper.
I sure miss the bookmobile.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

The national news story about the battle over whether a Florida woman should have her feeding tubes removed and be allowed to die reminded me one of the stories that meant the most to me during my career in journalism.
It was in October 1990 and I was only a few months into my job at The Carthage Press. Because city/courthouse reporter Pat Halvorsen had the day off, Managing Editor Neil Campbell assigned me to cover the hearing on whether Nancy Cruzan should have her feeding tube removed. It was a story that meant a lot to me since I had known Nancy when we were both teenagers. It was several years later that she was involved in the car accident that put her into what doctors called a "persistent vegetative state." Her parents, Joe and Joyce Cruzan, had to go to court to try have their daughter's feeding tube removed. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where it became the first right-to-die case ever decided by our nation's highest court. In a 5-4 ruling, the justices said there was a right to die. Unfortunately for Nancy's family, they still had to prove that their daughter would not want to have heroic measures taken to keep her alive.
The upstairs courtroom was packed at the Jasper County Courthouse that Thursday morning. I felt like one of the big shots sitting in the jury box with reporters from The New York Times, the Kansas City Star, Associated Press, two network sketch artists, and my favorite...the good looking female reporter from Channel 3 in Springfield. I sat in that jury box, and as I later told my classes, I saw exactly the same things the other reporters were seeing in exactly the same way. Fortunately, I was saved by lunch.
When I returned from lunch, even though there were still 20 minutes before testimony was scheduled to resume, the jury box was already filled, including the seat by that cute reporter from Channel 3.
So I sat behind the Cruzan family and their lawyer, William Colby.
I noticed that one of Nancy's nieces, high school freshman Miranda Yocum, was drawing on a sketchpad with just as much skill as the highly paid professionals in the jury box. I began to concentrate on her. I ended up writing both a generic story on the courtroom testimony and a feature on the little sketch artist. The feature won several major state and national awards and taught me a valuable lesson about following the pack, one I hope I will never forget.
Three years ago, on the 10th anniversary of Nancy's Dec. 26, 1990, death, 417 magazine in Springfield commissioned me to write a story about the effect Nancy had on our society. I sent the editors the story on time, sent several follow-up messages, but never received any money and the article was never published.
This is the article I wrote for 417:


By Randy Turner

“Thank you.”
The words are simple ones, but to those who followed the ordeal the Cruzan family went through after a 1983 automobile accident left Nancy in a persistent vegetative state, those two words have a significant meaning.
The words are etched in her tombstone in a cemetery just outside of Carterville. They can be interpreted in more than one way. It could be a thank you to the U. S. Supreme Court, which made it possible for Judge Charles Teel to render the Dec. 12, 1990, decision that ended what remained of Nancy’s life. It could be a thank you for all the people who fought to make those decisions possible…people like Nancy’s parents, Joe and Joyce Cruzan and her sister, Chris White, the nieces she loved, Angie and Miranda Yocum, or the attorney, Bill Colby of Kansas City, who fought all the way to Washington, D. C. and back for Nancy’s right to die.
Tuesday, Dec. 26, will mark the 10-year anniversary of the end of a saga that began on a county road just outside of Carthage and ended up gripping the nation.
Nancy Cruzan made the most of the quarter of a century that she “lived.” She was vivacious, outgoing, looking forward to every day. My encounters with her were brief and both came when we were teenagers. When my baseball team played in Carterville, one of the highlights was the Cruzan sisters, whose laughter and joy of life came across to everyone they met. I only met her a couple of times, but she made enough of an impression that I, like the others who knew her, was shocked when she was robbed of her life at such an early age.
On Jan. 11, 1983, Nancy had worked the late shift at Schreiber’s Cheese Plant in Carthage. She was driving east on Elm Road and was only one mile from her home when the accident occurred. There were no weather conditions that would have explained why she lost control of her car. It ran off the left side of the road, hit some trees and a mailbox, then swerved back across the road and went off the right side, going through a fence, overturning several times and coming to rest on its top. She may have fallen asleep, authorities speculated.
By the time CPR was administered to her, her brain had already been deprived of oxygen for about 14 minutes. About six minutes is all it takes to cause permanent brain damage. She was left in what doctors called a “persistent vegetative state.” The cerebral hemisphere of her brain, which controlled her thinking and her emotions no longer functioned. All she had left were physical reflexes.
Nearly five years into that existence between life and death, Joe and Joyce Cruzan asked Judge Teel if they could remove the feeding tube that was attached to their daughter…the only thing that was keeping Nancy alive. Teel warned that someone could bring legal charges against them unless they petitioned to have it done legally. The Cruzans filed the motion in Jasper County Circuit Court and that began the long legal battle. Testimony at the circuit court level was provided by people who said that Nancy had indicated she would never want to be kept alive by artificial means. She had worked for a time as the Stapleton Center in Joplin caring for a retarded three-year-old boy who had to be forcefed. During a conversation with other workers at the center, Nancy indicated if she were in that situation, she would want to have the plug pulled.
Teel granted permission to have the feeding tubes removed, but the decision was appealed by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, which had taken an interest in the case, and it was sent to the Missouri Supreme Court, which overturned Teel’s ruling. The Cruzans and their attorney, Colby, took the case to the United States Supreme Court. It was the first time the Supreme Court had ever considered a right-to-die case.
The Court ruled that a person does have the right to die, but also indicated state courts should hear the evidence and determine if Nancy really had indicated what she would want to happen.
That brought the case full circle and the eyes of the nation were on Carthage, Mo., that day in October 1990. The courthouse square was filled with vans from all the Joplin and Springfield stations, plus stations as far away as Kansas City and St. Louis.
Since the case was going to be heard by Judge Teel once more and not by a jury, reporters filled the jury box so they could get a little closer to the judge, the attorneys and the witnesses. The national media was present, including representatives of The New York Times, The Associated Press and other metropolitan newspapers.
Three more witnesses were presented who testified that Nancy had indicated to them she would never want to be kept alive through artificial means if she were left incapacitated in an accident. One of the witnesses was a man for whom she had worked when she lived in Oklahoma City.
The Cruzan family listened attentively as the man began his testimony, clearly answering the questions that were posed to him by Colby and by Carthage attorney Thad McCanse, who had been appointed by the court to represent “Nancy’s interests.”
Joe and Joyce Cruzan were seated with Colby. In the row behind them was Nancy’s older sister, Christy White, and Christy’s two young daughters, Angie and Miranda Yocum, who at the time were students at Webb City High School. Nancy had loved those two girls more than she loved anyone else in her life.
Miranda, a ninth grader and a budding artist, had brought along a sketchpad and was drawing a courtroom scene that matched the efforts being put forth by the two professionals who were seated in the jury box. Her eye for detail was evident as she sketched Colby perfectly, right down to his suspenders and caught all other aspects of the courtroom.
As the testimony continued, Nancy’s former boss recollected the conversation he had with her, recalling that she had said she wouldn’t want to live as a vegetable because “vegetables can’t hug their nieces.”
After hearing that, Angie, the older niece, began to cry. Miranda’s face was also reddening as she put her arm around her sister’s shoulder and began patting her on the back. When the testimony ended and the hearing concluded, Miranda took her sketch to William Colby and presented it to him. Maybe the first time during the case, the attorney was able to smile. “That’s really good,” he said. “That’s really good.”
Judge Teel took the testimony under consideration and on Dec. 12, 1990, he ordered the feeding tubes to be removed. In a written statement, Joe Cruzan said, “I suspect hundreds of thousands of people can rest free, knowing that when death beckons they can meet it face to face with dignity, free from the fear of unwanted and useless medical treatment.” Twelve days later, Nancy Cruzan, whose life ended on that county road nearly eight years earlier, died.
The end did not come peacefully for the Cruzan family as protesters gathered around the Southwest Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon where Nancy had been a patient for several years. Even though many of the protesters were calling him a murderer, Joe Cruzan still had sympathy for them. He knew they believed in what they were doing, just as he did. On one particularly cold night, he took them hot coffee because, as he said, “No one should have to be cold.”
Nancy Cruzan died 10 years ago, but her influence is still being felt.
For a time, her sister, Christy, ran the Nancy Cruzan Foundation, helping people who faced similar situations. “I think we’ve come a long way,” she told the Associated Press in 1996. “There are a lot of caring medical professionals ready to listen to what patients want. I truly believe…because of Nan’s case…there are a lot of families that won’t have to go to court now.”
Missouri went from being behind other states in providing patients the right to control their own destinies to establishing a living will law that makes sure that what the patient wants is taken into consideration. The public awareness created by the Nancy Cruzan case made it easier for people to put into writing what they would want to have done for them medically if they should ever be incapacitated.
Missouri also now has a durable power-of-attorney law, put into effect shortly after Nancy’s death, that allows a person to name another person who will make the life-and-death decision if it needs to be made. The Cruzan case also made a difference on the federal level. The Federal Patient Self-Determination Act, primarily sponsored by former U. S. Senator John Danforth of Missouri, requires hospital officials to tell patients about their right to determine in advance what should be done and then requires the hospitals to honor those wishes.
Joe Cruzan committed suicide in 1995. His life had never been the same since Nancy’s accident. An intensely private person, he suddenly against his will became a celebrity with many sworn enemies who felt he had no right to make a life-and-death decision for his daughter.
Joyce Cruzan died in 1998. The Christmas holidays will always bring bittersweet memories for the remaining members of the family. But they do know that their sister’s life…and her death… made a difference.
Their attorney, Bill Colby, was also greatly affected by the case. He took a leave of absence from his law firm to write a book on the Cruzan case. Earlier, on the fifth anniversary of Nancy’s death, he wrote an op-ed article for The Kansas City Star, in which he said what he hoped would be the lasting impact of Nancy Cruzan and the court battle that earned her the right to die.
“The more information we provide while healthy, the more each of us communicates with our loved ones, the greater the chance that we will empower those loved ones to ask the right questions and make the decisions we would choose at the end of life.”
In that article, Colby described the call he received from Joe Cruzan the night that Nancy died. “When Joe saw that Nancy was no longer breathing, he reached up and gently closed her eyelids. As we wound up (our) conversation early that morning, I asked Joe, ‘What are you going to do now?’ He replied, ‘Well, I guess we are going to go home.’ “
(Note: Bill Colby is scheduled to be at Hastings in Joplin 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, where he will talk about Nancy Cruzan, read from his book, and will most likely talk about the Florida case, which has once again turned the focus on Nancy Cruzan.)

Friday, October 24, 2003

Good things happening at South Middle School

Today is Parent-Teacher Conference Day at Joplin South Middle School. The conferences began last night after school. I met with six parents. As usual, it's the parents of the students who are making A's and B's who were the ones who showed up to talk about their children, with one exception.

It's not as if there is not a concerted effort to get in touch with the parents of students who are failing or who are near-failing. At South, teachers are required to call the parents of students who are failing or who are making D's. Plus, an automated dialing system is used to contact all parents with phones.
I haven't seen many parents this morning, but that has given me the opportunity to catch up on work. I've caught up on grading papers, typed and printed the extra-credit plan for my communication arts classes, and for the last several minutes I have been looking into ways in which I can use blogs with my two eighth grade multi-media classes.

Blogs seem to have taken off at my former school, but I haven't run into anyone at South who has one. Hopefully, that can be changed, as long as it can be done in a constructive, educational fashion.

The CA students who have really taken to the extra credit plan for the second quarter. Stealing a page from Mrs. Renee Jones, the language arts teacher at Diamond Middle School, where I worked until this year, I am offering the writing of a novel as one way in which students can receive extra credit points.

I don't expect students to write a 400-page epic, but if they are able to show steady progress throughout the quarter, and maybe throughout the second semester, as well, then they will receive the extra credit. And, who knows, there may be one or two who make it all the way.

The students do not have to write a novel as their extra credit project. They have the option of writing a two or three-act play, writing a book of poetry, tripling the number of Accelerated Reader points they earn for reading books, then taking and passing tests on them, or a combination of reading AR books and non-AR books (which I must approve).

I give the CA students writing prompts at the beginning of the hour nearly every day. Yesterday's prompt was "What are you planning to do over the three-day weekend?" Two of my students indicating they planned to get started on writing their novels. That's the kind of response that makes a teacher feel good.

I'm already in the process of reading a novella by Kristin Carter, one of the top students in my first/second hour CA block. She has written a book featuring further adventures of characters from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. She knows what makes the characters tick, and she has gone to the trouble of even putting photos from the movies into her book. Kristin is a transfer from Raytown, a suburb of Kansas City, and is already very active in both academic and athletic pursuits here.

Planning is also continuing on the revamping of the South Middle School website. The third and fourth-hour multi-media classes are designing the webpages. During the first quarter, they designed their own webpages which, within a few days, will be available for viewing at the South website.
The advanced CA class (fifth/sixth hour block) will do the news writing and sports writing for the website. Lindsay Hamm, Autumn Mauller, Sarah McDonough, and Rachel Ryan have been named to the editorial board and spent most of sixth hour yesterday making assignments.

We are hoping to have news on the South website by a week from Monday or Tuesday.

The multi-media classes will also be taking digital photos for the site. During the past week, the classes, one of which has 24 students, and the other 30, have been sharing one digital camera. It has been a little awkward. I will pick up four more cameras from the district administration office Monday, then we will probably drive everyone crazy with our photography.

Forms have been e-mailed to the faculty and staff for our Meet the Faculty page. We have already had about a dozen returned.

Our first priorities will be constructing the home page, news page, sports page, faculty page, and links pages for students and teachers. After that, we hope to have a homework hotline page ready by second semester to help students who were absent, parents who want to see what their children are supposed to be doing and students who simply forget what their assignments are.

I didn't get to see it last night, but I understand that South was featured prominently on Channel 12's news report. Mr. Ron Mitchell, our principal, came up with an idea for a Wall of Fame, which will feature photos and short biographies of people who attended South Middle School, then went on to become successful.

The Wall is not limited to people who are doctors, lawyers, astronauts, or professional athletes, but people who have gone on to be successful in their communities from all walks of life. Channel 12 reporter Kent Faddis interviewed several students yesterday afternoon. I hope some of them were featured in the report.