Teaching is Hard Work

Teacher friends, this is for us!

Even before my career change (which now is so long ago I’m not sure I remember it!), I never subscribed to the oft-thought belief that teaching is easy. I never quite bought into that whole “you get the summer off” load of manure. But in my now 15-year teaching career, I have never stopped being blown away by how hard and how demanding this job is.

I think most good careers and occupations share this trait – you never are completely off the job. Your spare time is often filled with thoughts about work, things you wish you’d said, things you wish you had done or done differently. I know that was true when I was a lawyer and it is true of my wife, my daughter, and most others I know who take their work seriously. But as a teacher, not only are you plagued with those thoughts in your free time, but they sometimes occur during the school day: “I didn’t do this as well 1st period as I did 4th period; I’ve got to remember to fix this!” And then there’s the fact that we are dealing with kids and we live in constant fear that we aren’t doing enough, aren’t caring enough, aren’t loving them enough.

I have said many times that there were few times as a lawyer when I came home from work, even when the hours were long, and was so tired I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon or evening; it’s rare that I come home from school and can stay wake until dinner. I need a nap just to be able to get up and cook! My mentor teacher was fond of saying that if we (the teachers) were more tired than the students then we were doing something wrong. I never believed that = I view my room as a closed system, and if I’m not putting energy into the system, then the system grinds to a halt. Consequently, I put everything I have into that room, and by the end of the day I’m tired. Really really tired!

And so I thought this article, “The Hard Part” by Peter Greene, was spot on and worth reading. here are a couple of really good passages, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The hard part of teaching is coming to grips with this:

There is never enough.

There is never enough time. There are never enough resources. There is never enough you. . . .

Teaching is like painting a huge Victorian mansion. And you don’t actually have enough paint. And when you get to some sections of the house it turns out the wood is a little rotten or not ready for the paint. And about every hour some supervisor comes around and asks you to get down off the ladder and explain why you aren’t making faster progress. And some days the weather is terrible. So it takes all your art and skill and experience to do a job where the house still ends up looking good.

Where are school reformy folks in this metaphor? They’re the ones who show up and tell you that having a ladder is making you lazy, and you should work without. They’re the ones who take a cup of your paint every day to paint test strips on scrap wood, just to make sure the paint is okay (but now you have less of it). They’re the ones who show up after the work is done and tell passersby, “See that one good-looking part? That turned out good because the painters followed my instructions.” And they’re most especially the ones who turn up after the job is complete to say, “Hey, you missed a spot right there on that one board under the eaves.”

There may never be enough, but we can still do something!


How to Be a Christian and a Public School Teacher Simultaneously

The glib answer: very carefully!

We live in a politically correct world, more and more so every day. And it is my opinion that our current society/media is increasingly hostile to Christianity. My situation is one where there is some tolerance, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t constantly cautious and vigilant so as to not offend the PC powers-that-be – I’m too old to have to start a new career. So it is on my mind that overt manifestations of my religion are not a good idea these days. Sad, but that’s how I feel and that’s just how it is these days.

So I found this post by another blogger, Paige Givens, very enlightening and very well written. Honestly, she has put a lot more thought and deliberation into the question than I have – I tend to make it up as I go. But even though she is much more reasoned and thoughtful and that she teaches kindergarteners instead of my 11th and 12th graders, I think my approach has ended up very close to hers.

The answer – show Christ through your life.

Here’s how she put it:

So, to the Christian teacher in a public school, I am in no way telling you to break the law or hinder your job! But I am reminding you (and mostly myself! :)) that it’s okay for you to bring Jesus into your classroom. We may not be able to explicitly teach the Bible and prayer to our students, but we can live the Word. We can live the way Jesus calls us to live. That’s what He’s called us to do, after all! We are just seed-planters. He is the one who saves.

So how do we plant seeds? How do we live the Word when we can’t teach about the Word?

We love.

She’s got more to say and it’s worth reading here.

What’s the other takeaway from this? That’s the right answer about everything we do, everywhere, everyday. So three weeks from tomorrow I’ll meet about 120 kids that will be in my class for part or all of the year. I probably won’t directly talk about my beliefs or my Christianity with very many (if any) of them. But I sure hope they will know and be able to tell from my life and the way I act in front of them. Trust me, there aren’t many professions where you are as exposed as you are as a high school teacher. So I’m going to read this reminder from Paige Givens many times, pray for strength and guidance, and gear up for another year – it’s starting very soon!


Back in 2011, I was preparing to take a Fulbright trip to India where I would spend a month traveling, meeting, and learning. I wasn’t sure how best to keep in touch and to share with interested friends and family, and I decided to blog about the adventure. I got back from the trip and realized I had many more stories to tell and pictures and observations to share, and so I kept the blog up and running. Over time, I ran out of India stories and started to write about school, about current events, and about life as I saw it. I found out that I enjoyed the writing and that I was decent at it, and even though there weren’t many people reading it, it was a thrill to know somebody out there was reading what I wrote. I ended up writing over 1200 different posts, a few of them actually read by someone other than me!

Then, as it will, life got in the way. We were busy building a house, dealing with a first grandbaby, graduating our youngest from high school, helping our kids, and otherwise living life as full out as we could. Sometimes we won; sometimes life won; sometimes we wrestled to a draw. Bottom line, in May 2013 I wrote a post and haven’t written anything since then. I’ve written lots in my head. I’ve thought a lot about writing. I’ve had lots of ideas about things to write. I’ve wished I had written things down. But I didn’t.

So I’m about to try to reactivate my writing. Like so many things, life will get in the way unless you take charge of it. I’m going to try to reestablish a habit of writing. I’m not sure what direction to take this – I haven’t any significant events like a trip to India to be a focus. I have strong political and economic beliefs and opinions but I don’t want this to be a rant-filled space where arguments are engendered. I read a lot of interesting things everyday that are fun or otherwise worth sharing. I have a lot of peculiar and idiosyncratic observations on the weird world we live in. So I;m not really sure what’s going to come out of my fingers as I type. I only know I’m going to try to make it a habit to write regularly.

I’m not sure anybody still gets notices, so I’m going to put notices on Facebook (if I can figure out Facebook’s nuances these days.) Maybe I’ll actually start to use a Twitter account I’ve had and haven’t used for a while. Maybe I’ll just write for writing’s sake.

Anyway, rickysplace is back on the Web.

A Renter Again

When I graduated from law school, we moved right to Houston where we immediately closed on the purchase of our first house. Since June 1982 I have owned the house I’ve lived in.

Not tonight.

As some of you are aware, we’re building a house. We bought a lot last March, began the actual construction process in January, and are obsessed and consumed by the house building process. Someday, I’ve got as few thousand stories to tell about that!

We got our house spruced up, painted rooms, planted flowers, hid furniture in a storage building, moved Kerry’s office, listened to our realtor’s stager, and did everything we could think of to get the house ready to sell. Our realtor (the incredibly awesome Roslyn Gauntt) kept telling us it was a good sellers’ market and we’d have no trouble. Our builder (who is also a realtor) kept telling us the house would sell.

Around Spring Break we started to get nervous, thinking it was time to sell. But the weekend weather was rainy, or it was Easter, or something else, and Roslyn kept saying to wait.

Finally our listing agreement was signed and the listing hit the realtors’ computers about 6 am on a Saturday. We went out on some “new house” errands, and came home to find a couple looking at the house about 10:30 that morning. They seemed a little interested but they left after about 45 minutes. I ate lunch and then went out to mow the yard. About 1:30 Kerry told me a contract was on its way.

So at 2:30 we had an offer. And not just an offer, but a great offer. We had a few things we needed to change and we let them know that we couldn’t move until June when the new house would (we hope) be ready. They said okay, and if we would sign IMMEDIATELY they would pay even more! Hmm, let me think.

So in less than a day, we had a full-price offer accepted and the house was sold.

The usual stress over inspections turned out to be no problem. The great stress about appraisals turned out to be no problem. In short, absolutely nothing went wrong.

And so today we signed the deed and our house now belongs to another couple. They didn’t really laugh when we asked them how to contact them if the plumbing broke. After all, they are the landlords!

I can’t really claim to be homeless – I have a partially finished home I just can’t live in yet. But for the first time in over thirty years, I’m living in a rental. The circle of life, eh?


Thirty-four years ago this night I married the love of my life.

She was one of the most beautiful, most sought after girls at Rice. I asked her out the first time on January 20, 1977, the night of Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. For reasons we won’t go into, she wasn’t sure I would remember that we set a date.

For our first date, she was a couple of hours late. I waited with her roommate, she got back from an out-of-town basketball game and we had our date. Unbeknownst to me, she started contemplating marriage after that date. Like most men, I was clueless and had no idea what train had just run me down. We had our fits and starts, fights and fun.

On April 1, 1978, we officially became engaged. I still don’t think I realized what train had run me over. We still had our fits and starts, fights and fun.

On May 19, 1979, at South Main Baptist Church in Houston, before family and friends, I was barely able to say the words out loud, but I married my beautiful bride Kerry.

Four children, three cities, multiple jobs, and much living later, here we are. We still have our fits and starts, fights and fun.

Today we not only haven’t exchanged cards or gifts, we haven’t even bought cards for each other yet. We’ve been too busy, celebrating our wonderful son who is graduation from high school in two weeks. We went and checked our new house that better be ready for occupancy in four weeks. We played with our granddaughter. We worried about our son and her parents.

We got in the car after Senior night at church and Kerry said, “This may have been a harder day than our wedding day.” Maybe, maybe not.

All I know is I’m the luckiest most blessed man alive. I’d do it all again and wouldn’t change a thing (mostly).

I still am not sure what train ran me over.

But I’m sure glad it did!

With Pride

Our high school’s award winning marching band, of which I’ve written a few times, ends every rehearsal with a lustily shouted chant, most of which I’ve never been able to clearly understand, but the final part of which is the phrase “With Pride,” repeated three times (I think).

Today I am just filled to overflowing with pride.

It struck me, hard, while standing, singing, in church, next to one daughter, holding my granddaughter, and watching on stage as my youngest son, not an especially avid singer, was on stage with about 20 other high school seniors, leading singing on our church’s Senior Day. My granddaughter’s mother and her husband stood along the row along with my (gorgeous) wife of exactly 34 years. My only missing child was in Oklahoma, simply too tired from work to make the 3 hour drive to attend with us, although he made it very clear that he desperately wanted to be here with us.

At that moment my heart almost exploded with pride. In my children. In my grandchild. In my wife. In my life and what I’ve accomplished.

You see, in addition to my son, there were six more of my children on that stage. Some were my economics children, some were my precal children, some I’ve known for almost as long as my son has been alive. But they really are all my children in a way – at least it felt that way.

Then later, as we were out running errands, I got a call from my son in Oklahoma alerting us that tornadoes were in the area and were threatening my in-laws house. That he was paying attention and that he cared enough to text his grandparents and to let us know what was happening filled me with more pride. As the day went on more tornadoes formed, but not after directly threatening him and his apartment. In fact we believe the storm went right over him and the tornado dropped out of the clouds about a mile after it went over his apartment. I call that the power of prayer. But through both tornado scares I was on the phone with him, relaying information and helping him to deal with the fear that threatened him. After the storm passed, he sent me this message: ” It’s nice to know that even if we live hundreds of miles apart, you’re right by my side when I need it. Thanks and I love you.”

Then we had the Senior Night dinner at my church and I watched a few pictures of my fine young man’s life flash by on a screen during a slide show, and I thought about what an awesome young man he is. My daughters were there with Kerry and me, putting all else aside for an entire Sunday to honor their younger brother. That’s not easy or a small thing especially when there is a four-month old involved.

I really haven’t shed a lot of tears at my children’s graduations even though I normally cry at the drop of a hat. But today I cried often. But these aren’t the tears of sadness or loss, not tears bemoaning aging or the moving on and moving away of my children.

These were tears shed because I was simply overflowing with pride. Pride in every single member of my family. Pride in who they are and what they are. Pride that my wife built this family and life with me and that she finds me worthy of her, even when I don’t think I am.

I am just so very proud tonight. Who am I to be so blessed by my God?