Hester Prynne Becomes a Teacher

In truth, comrades, I have not written much. After the passing of my Grandmother in Switzerland, most of what I write pales in comparison. That piece was directly from the heart – the pained heart of a grandchild robbed from one last visit with his doting Oma – and that is a tough act to follow. Not that I am giving up on writing, for indeed, something has to keep me sane that isn’t nicotine or alcohol.

School started approximately six weeks ago. Tomorrow Today marks the beginning of the sixth week, a full two-thirds into this nine-week term. Difficult to believe, yet time has flown by at such a pace that I have had little recourse or time to catch my breath and pen anything worth publishing. Not that this, comrades, is worth publishing, but it certainly is something.

Now then; meat and potatoes, yes?

Continue reading “Hester Prynne Becomes a Teacher”

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Grössi

It was Swiss National Day. 1 August, when the original three cantons swore blood oaths against foreign aggression and the hated Hapsburgs. It was unlike any other Erste August they had celebrated before.

He sat across from her, a diminutive woman from centuries past, a veritable peasant milkmaid once upon a time who most certainly hurled boulders on the invading Austrians at Morgarten. She might have been a shade, her stature so small against the massive wooden chair she found herself seated upon. His grandmother – his father’s side – who was approaching her 85th birthday.

Grössi. Swiss shorthand for grandmother.

He looked upon her gnarled hands – worn well with ages of manual labor – and remembered the tenderness behind those curved fingers. How she would comfort his father when he was sick – a shot of grög to cure any illness (warm schnapps with water, lemon, and sugar to hide the bitterness) – how those very same hands once fended off a rabid fox using only a wooden pitchfork before his grandfather – Opa – shot it with a rudimentary (possibly flintlock) shotgun. The very same hands that knitted water-tight wicker baskets, carved planks from felled trees, sowed corn in the Alpine climate of Fribourg, cut beans, made salbe to cure wounds and prevent infections, swatted misbehaving children and grandchildren, and toasted fortune and misfortune alike with a hearty Sante and a fiery schnapps. Those very hands, rough as talons, that would pat his head and remind him – even well into adulthood – he was still just a little boy. Hepschabübe.

Apart from his full-blood Swiss cousin who was destined to inherit the family farm, he was the only grandchild who spoke enough of her odd dialect to engage in genuine conversation; the trouble with immigrant parents. He recalled the times she would badger him about his American girlfriends, when he would settle down and find himself a nice Swiss girl.

Üb’ die Berge, she would say, passing him chocolate and sweets, forcing him to sit in the shade and rest as she labored in the fields, refusing to accept his help. Over the mountain, indicating a potential Swiss bride was just over the next Berge for her wayward American grandson.

Nay, Grössi, i’ wie nicht, he would respond a thousandfold. No, Grandmother, I don’t know. His catch-all response for matters of the heart.

Schön, schön, she would sigh gayly, returning her attention to fields needing plowing and hay needing turning. Good, good. It was a waiting game for her – a means of conversation – and even though he dreaded explaining himself in a foreign tongue to this family relic, he found solace in their brief, practical conversations.

She was no taller than five feet, coming to his shoulder on a good day, but with a perpetual crick in her spine, as if the weight of the farm and family constantly caused her to tilt to and fro in either direction. Despite her size – this elderly ragamuffin – she was worth every ounce of her salt, easily outpacing him in plowing fields, harvesting hay, gathering roots, or chopping wood. She was a metronome, and he, in the prime of his Life, found himself wholly inadequate in her maternal, enduring presence. She was carved from the very stone of her mountainous homeland; part of him was certain she watched the granite blossom from nothingness.

He had visited the farm several years ago, intent on exploring Europe via foot and backpack. For a week, whilst his luggage languished in Germany – Düütschesland, she’d mutter – he helped about the place, trying to earn his keep, to show her that not all Americans were fat and lazy. Even though he awoke before dawn and helped milk cows before herding them to the hills, she was always there before him. It seemed Time was afraid of her and merely responded to her bidding. Geh’ du Lese’, Professor, she would say laughingly. Go back to reading. Farm work was no place for a boy outpaced by an octogenarian.

Once, many years ago, she asked about his American interests and what sort of music he enjoyed. Though he did take a particular liking to traditional Swiss polka and yodel, he confessed he admired Rammstein. She swore in rapid fire Swiss, crossing herself thrice – a good Catholic woman – before chastising him for his lack of taste and affinity for megabrutal music. Mein’ Gött. When they visited Rome together later that summer, she entered the Vatican on bended knee, crawling through St. Peter’s gate as a true Pilgrim. The heavens sang.

When his mother was stricken with breast cancer, the very same diminutive woman (who had only left Switzerland three times before) made an immediate pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for healing. His uncle, who ran the farm, protested at the loss of his most valuable hand for a near week: how would he get by? Soga’ Ketzer brauche’ Hilfe, the good Catholic would laugh. Even heretics need help, she said with love. His Protestant mother had been cancer-free for several years.

He thought of the old woman he and his missionary comrades had served in Santiago de Chile. Abuela, they had affectionately called her, a tiny woman who was easily 80 years old, yet cared for her American hijos and hijas as if they were her own babes. He saw his grandmother in this woman – the very same spark of Life and vitality no hardship could extinguish. She kissed the ground as they left for the last time, falling prostrate, rising for each child, kissing them on the cheek, and whispering Spanish prayers into their ears as they hugged goodbye. He wept that day, finding his Grössi in the slums of Chile.

His thoughts returned to 1 August, a day of celebration and fest. Here they were, assembled as a family: grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, the whole mess of them drunk on wine, schnapps, food, and family.

His father raised his wine glass and the table silenced themselves – the chatter and laughter coming to a hushed close. “I wish to make a toast,” he said in his heavily accented English, “to Grössi. And to Switzerland.”

The quiet table burst into raucous cheers of hear, hear’s and Sante’s as they clinked crystal wine glasses against one another, ensuring they made eye contact with every individual at the table (and never crossing arms; taboo and bad luck) before supping the fine French wine.

Amidst bread, blood, and drink, all was well.

He looked at his father, a proud, strong man who seized the American dream by the throat and throttled every meaningful promise into existence for his family. He held back tears – plain enough to see – as he smashed his glass again and again.

Für Grössi, Vater,” he said as their glasses met.

Grössi raised her own glass, her petite bird arm cradling the fine schlöcki as she toasted her fellow well-wishers.

Für dich,” he said as he met Grössi’s strong, patient eye. “Mein’ Grössi.”

“Mein’ Kinde’,” she replied warmly, the sound of cascading crystal reverberating throughout the room. My child.

She had passed away some 12 hours before, approximately 3,000 miles away, in the comfort of her bed.


My Grandmother in Switzerland passed away during the early hours of 1 August. I last saw her in 2014 when I started Camino Primaris, still the strong, implacable woman of my youth. Her image of strength, tenacity, and willpower will ne’er leave me.

Geh’ mit Gött, Grössi.

Go with God.

Broke Down With Nothing but a Pen and Paper

Consider the following to be fictionalized short stories based upon real-life interactions during the previous two weeks. Whilst on the road attending a couple of Advanced Placement seminars throughout New Mexico, the writing bug took hold – travel does that for me.

Enjoy these mad ramblings.

 

Continue reading “Broke Down With Nothing but a Pen and Paper”

1500 Words of Pompous Arrogance (And Teaching)

Smoke. How I love watching it curl into the night air. Gray against the blackness of the dim night. Stars peeking out from behind the somber clouds, their faint light further obscured by the emanating ember of my fingertips, by the plumes I exhale upon vodka-tainted breath.

Ah, if only the kids knew what I was really like outside the classroom.

Mostly accurate

It has been a spell, certainly, dear reader(s), and I can run through my numerous excuses as to why I haven’t put finger to keyboard in some time. Certainly, my personal journal is stained in all manner of mad scribbles (courtesy of a sexy, new fountain pen), but I find myself lacking – wanting – when it comes time to pen things for my poor, beleaguered blog.

Inspiration; when did she desert me?

Teaching, I suppose, has consumed my day-to-day Life, as I find myself in a constant battle to keep ahead of grading (like the Germans in world wars, I consistently lose) and I oft struggle to present new information in an interesting, and engaging, manner. Wearing a bathrobe to work helps, but woe to the new teacher forced into a dull curriculum that focuses on teaching-for-the-test and not on critical thinking.

To which I respond: fuck that.

Continue reading “1500 Words of Pompous Arrogance (And Teaching)”

On Influential Teachers and the Ever-Influential Richard Cory

Hey there folks,

My favorite teachers were those men and women who treated their students like humans. Not as little sponges ready to absorb information and be able to recite it at some future date, but those educators who put themselves on our level so that we might better be able to understand and perform to their exacting standards. Those teachers who worked us like dogs, but treated us as people. Those instructors who were so knowledgeable and passionate about the subject you couldn’t help but become infected by their enthusiasm. Those beacons of Hope in the endless sea that is public education; those foundations for achieving greatness; those brilliant souls who worked tirelessly, never complained, and pushed you ever onward on the path to self-enlightenment.

I attended New Mexico Military Institute for my high school years, skipping out on my hometown, not out of malice or for discipline reasons, but for a jumpstart to something different. Here, I thought, I can achieve greatness.

I certainly didn’t achieve greatness (though I did attain a certain level of infamy in the English department for my brazen shenanigans), but I was put on the straight and narrow by a number of my instructors.

Continue reading “On Influential Teachers and the Ever-Influential Richard Cory”

This is the Moment

Hey there folks,

Forgive the sparse updates; between being a full-time English teacher, my own graduate schooling, and the various shenanigans I found myself obligated to uphold, finding time to write for the blog becomes almost Sisyphean.

Yet around the D&D table – where wisdom is freely exchanged amidst peers – I was casually reminded of the importance of indulging one’s self here and there.

“If you enjoy it,” he quipped, “you’ll make the time for it.”

Ah, comrades, how true are those blessed words. Yes, I do enjoy writing for writing’s sake even if I’ll never afford food again. That is mighty fine for man cannot live on bread alone, right?

Oh my, how my hubris has taken a turn – quoting Jesus now am I? Showing off my grad school prowess? Someone rein me in, please.

Now then, on to the meat and potatoes of today’s mad ramble.

And for you Administrator types that are concerned I penned this during working hours, rest assured this was first composed the night of 10 September over a few PBRs, coffee, and cigarettes. Scheduling a post is pretty groovy.

But if you want to start including that Blessed Trinity during working hours, you’ve my support.

Continue reading “This is the Moment”

Ultreia

or,

Embracing Change for the better

As a new teacher, I promised myself I wouldn’t return to my classroom throughout the bulk of summer, only entering those magnificent halls once August rolled around. This promise was made to preserve what little sanity I have left, and, as any teacher will attest, it’s simply bad juju for the nerves to visit school during the off-season. Who the hell wants to work during vacation, right?

The Brunos celebrating Swiss National Day

August First being a holiday, and the second being designated Wine Recovery Day, it wasn’t until the third I finally ventured to those quiet grounds consecrated in the name of furthering erudition. I set about the laborious task of cleaning off the walls (to make room for future pupils’ artwork) and rifling through stacks of papers (who left those about?) to get the classroom back in working order. The likes of Marx, Plato, and Socrates watched in complete silence as I set about my task, never once complaining that my weird fascination with Finnish metal was maybe a bit too loud.

In the middle of my favorite part of a particular piece, the solemnity of my room was invaded by the likes of the head custodian, who proceeded to lecture me for transgressions months old. How was I supposed to know marking on the floor with semi-permanent marker was verboeten? Nobody tells me nu’fink, guv.

After her lovely list of DON’T’S and DEFINITELY DON’T’S, she left me to my 12 Labors. As I set about returning to my task, my principal entered with a sad smile: clearly someone had died.

Well, no, not really.

But she was visibly upset as she relayed the news: I had been transferred to the 10th grade and placed in charge of every. single. honors. class.

She had me sit as she explained the full scoop. No longer was I Mr. Bruelhart, Crusher of 9th Grade Dreams and Draconian Disciplinarian with a Penchant for Fun; no. Now I was Mr. Bruelhart, Upended First Year Teacher with 12 Days to Rewrite My Summer’s Work for a 10th Grade Audience.

The title is a bit long, I’ll admit, but orders are orders and the title stays.

I have oft joked that schooling is an awful lot like the military: your superiors are fighting to prevent being outflanked and outgunned by their superiors, boots on the ground catch all the flak, no one of any rank has any idea what is going on outside their immediate vicinity, departments don’t communicate with other departments, logistics is a nightmare, orders are consistently countermanded (at least thrice), and the uniform regulations are constantly changing because fuck you that’s why.

Oh, and the pay sucks.

Seriously? 14 years just to make $50,000?

In that moment as she relayed my transfer/promotion/maybe we can make him quit by playing musical teachers/reassignment, I was one part confused, one part upset, and one part elated.

Confused, because, hell, why me? I’ve only been doing this gig for a single semester. How can these people trust me to teach Honors English? For you out-of-state types, Honors is the Advanced Placement equivalent without all the fluff and nifty upper level guidelines. Thankfully I attended two Advanced Placement workshops this summer – time to put that book learnin’ to use!

Reading, and beer, makes you look cool.

Upset, because I found out about this rather significant plot development less than two weeks before school starts. Surely someone in the know could have contacted me about the transfer when orders came down from higher. And unlike a normal job, I cannot barter for more pay or privileges when a transfer is possible – not in the teacher world! Now I have to take all of my summer’s labors and tweak them for upper level, (theoretically) motivated kids who are far past the realms of Romeo and Juliet. Pain in the bottom, to be sure, but nothing that will kill me. The grinding of the teeth ended hours ago, I assure you.

Elated, because, Hell. Yeah. I get to teach Honors! And 10th grade! Imagine the look on those kids’ faces as they receive their schedules, thinking they are rid of me for good as I wallow in Freshman English, only to see ENGLISH II: BRUELHART. Ha! Fate, you magnificent bitch; this is comedic gold. What’s more, Honors is supposed to be a more strenuous and difficult classroom environment – no more telegraphing or pulling punches. These kids gon’ learn today. And Julius Caesar. I get to teach Julius Caesar! Strength and honor, comrades.

There are many times throughout our lives where we are presented with a vast change that dictates the ebb and flow of things to come. Going from 9th to 10th grade with only a semester’s experience isn’t exactly ideal, but it isn’t the worst thing to have suddenly arrived from out of the blue. On the contrary, this seems minor, all things considered. A change, most certainly, and one that shall be met head on with gusto.

That’s the least we can do, no? Rather than whimper as a beaten hound, or find a craven way out, we must keep moving forward. This isn’t the time for complaining; no, far from it. This is the time to seize the day and make something better through adversity.

Ultreia, then, is apt. We keep moving forward. 9th, 10th, whatever. This setback is going to be the catalyst of progress and change – and how I relish chaos.

Cheers. Thanks for reading.