I can never understand why a student doesn’t enjoy studying. I suppose the fault must lie with the student’s immaturity or the teacher’s boringness. I remember how much I dreaded waking every morning to milk the cows when I was young. The menial was meaningless to me then.

But what causes me to really scratch my head (or rub my baldness) is chemistry. Why don’t more students love it? Math students should love the orderliness of it. The cook and the cow milker use it every day. Isn’t it cool these days to eat more proteins and fewer carbohydrates? Why then the apathy?

So I lecture and I diagram and I digress in chemistry. I talk about our stomachs and the students wonder why you can’t drink hydrochloric acid if that is what is in your stomach anyway. We pass around the small vial of HCl and practice wafting instead of sniffing. This knowledge I pass down from Lester Showalter and my time in his ninth grade chemistry class. Some students sniff and get burnt.

Another student notices the small skull and crossbones on the label. He pulls out his pencil and adds, “if swallowed, buy a coffin.”

I hope they are enjoying it a little bit.

This past week we made hydrogen.

I stopped along the main street in town and entered a tiny auto parts store. “Acid pentru baterie?” They pointed me down the street to the next shop where I bought some diluted H2SO4 in a bottle labeled “electrolit.”

Zinc was more difficult to resource. Asphalt shingles do not exist in Romania, so zinc strips don’t either. I researched the metal roofing screws that I had left over from my house, and discovered they indeed were coated with zinc.

In an ideal demonstration my sulfuric acid would have been concentrated, and my zinc would have been in beautiful chunks. But we made do with what we had, and what we had made hydrogen.

No pictures of the effect a match had on this little balloon. But it did make a handy pop.

Johnny was a chemist. Johnny is no more. For what Johnny thought was H2O, was H2SO4!

Summer Break

Summer has come and with it this blog has fallen silent.

Not intentionally. But the rush of vacation has kept me from my computer. So now the house is hot, my blog is cold, and I’ve put me down in a coffee shop for some catch-up.

This post is about my summer work. My next several posts will tell of other activities a teacher could engage in to recreate.

A teacher joke sticks with me.

The teacher is asked to give three reasons for teaching. He replies, “June, July, and August.”

It’s true to many degrees. Could teachers hold up if they had to teach for twelve months? Could they afford it?

This summer is finding me pulling wires and digging holes and pouring concrete for an electric company. I’m grateful for the boosted income; it helps support my habit. And I’m grateful for the chance to get out and work in the dirt.img_8037IMG_8058


Because a teacher needs to keep his muscles in tune. He has desks to move, books to carry, and little boys to impress.

The last day of school I was wrapping up reports in the school office when a fourth and a fifth grader came by to give me cookies and a welcome diversion.

I can’t say how it happened, but they were soon asking about my muscle.

And eyes wide, they demanded to take a picture ;/

Pehaps they realized what a risk they had been running all year.

Being Green

Teaching in a small village means most of my students walk or bike to school.

No more big yellow busses.

From the American chatter I hear, AOC would be proud of us!

Wait! Is that a science book?

Hmm… Maybe not so much.

Slab wood piles

Teachers need recess too, and I’ve enjoyed many diversions in my days off.

I needed some plywood to use for forms for pouring the stem wall for our little house. So a friend picked some up for me one day while he was in town, and I in the classroom. I told him I needed 22 sheets of 18 mm. He came home with 18 pieces of 12 mm.

I was happy the bill was less.

I decided to get a load of slab wood to use to brace the wimpier plywood. I asked the mission boy if he thought it would work. “Well, most of it is pretty anemic, but you might find enough stronger sticks.”

My mind was thinking of my kindling pile this past winter and all the raw barked pieces. I was also thinking of a little house on a hill, and of how raw bark trim would look around the living room windows.

So I was happy again when I got a load of scraps dumped off at the end of my lane. I started thinking slab wood furniture.

A few days later it rained and a passing driver helped himself to some slabs to fill in a large mud puddle.

But my spirits were not dampened.

This morning I finished a coffee table. Except for the finishing.

I like how wood can be drilled and sanded; how it can be fasted and hammered. And I love how it doesn’t complain or balk or turn in messy papers.

Teach a Girl to Teach

An old Asian proverb hides right up the teacher’s sleeve.


Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you feed him for a lifetime.

That’s why today when a ninth-grader asked me a simple question from her homework, one that I knew was hidden in the lesson we completed two days ago, I grinned and said nothing.

“Why bark if you have a dog?” That’s how my mom said it. And I knew it would then be worthless to ask her to do something I could easily do myself.

A teacher is not an answer key. He is a question box. And while I will gladly do the work required for me to teach effectively, I will not do for my student what he or she was sent to school to do.

Students learn by digging; and by digging they learn to learn. This kind of learning will last a lifetime.

Sometimes it’s even one better to get them to teach.

After school on Fridays this winter, we’ve been having a kid’s club. Children from the village come to sing, have a Bible lesson, eat a snack, listen to a story, and go home again.

My students teach. And it’s been a delight for me to sit back and watch. The first evening I walked away and grinned from ear to ear all weekend. Give a girl a classroom, and she blossoms.

Give them a fish, and you feed them for today.

Teach them to teach, and they may be poor all their lives.

But they will be happy.

Small Things

Teachers cover for teachers. Husbands cover for wives. I could never do enough to repay my co teacher for also being my wife, but I do cover classes for her sometimes.

Like on Tuesday when the ladies from church were meeting to spend the day sewing. Claudia joined them for lunch; and since my girl students went along and left me with one boy only to teach, I stepped across the hall and taught Claudia’s littles.

She has one first grader and two second graders, all as sharp as can be. It was fun spending the day teaching about squirrels whose front teeth wiggle and bats who feed their babies milk.

Where have we lost the wonderment that lies in the simple things? Somewhere among the quarks and hemoglobins, I guess.

Spring is nearly sprung. Pick a wildflower; and instead of classifying it as a monocotyledon of dicotyledon, just smell it.

Humpty Dumpty

There are beautiful moments when the students rally around their teacher. I had one such moment last week. But for me personally, it was less than fun.

There is a fence around the soccer field at school. It is about eight feet high and five rams live on the other side of it.

Now when Claudia was young and her family played baseball in the yard behind her house, her dad made the rule that “over the fence is out”. He even wrote a poem about it.

We need the same rule in kickball. But I’ve always felt that it’s special to kick the ball far and high enough to send it over the fence. In fact the students seem to like it too, if they are on the team who sent it there. When a seventh grader sends the ball over the fence, the small ones on his team go running around the bases behind him: practicing home runs, I guess.

The opposing team likes it less.

Last week I was an outfielder when the ball sailed out and over the fence. I raced after it, grabbed the mesh wire and pulled myself to the top. I did not hesitate there, but prepared to land on my feet and scoop up the ball.

I could hear the cheers of the smaller ones taking off around the bases. I could hear the groan of a teammate, “It’s no fair! He just kicks it over the fence and gets a free home run.” I thought about my father-in-law’s rule. I thought about how that student needs to not be such a complainer.

I leapt. But the fence has wires about two inches long poking out the top of it. My shoe snagged and I slanted toward the sheep pasture. For a split second my shoe held before it slipped off my foot, but it was enough. My arms were not out to catch me, and I fell chest first on the packed earth.

It was not my life that flashed before my eyes. One moment, I was thinking of how to help a student overcome grumpiness. The next, I was eye level with small pieces of sheep excrement, and I was wondering at the shape of it, and surprised at the quantity, and afraid I may be rolling over piles of it.

I couldn’t breathe or talk. I could only roll back and forth like a windshield wiper.

The students came running and I sat up rocking and tried to tell them everything was okay. It’s tough to talk when you’ve recently rammed yourself down in a ram pen. “I’m..” I breathed, “I’m..” another breath, “..okay.”

“There, I can breathe again.”

I stood up as proof that all was well, and threw the ball back into the playground.

The students suggested calling the ambulance or taking me to the hospital to make sure I was all right. I shook my head and brushed off my pants.

Later, at lunch, I heard debates about who laughed and who didn’t when they saw me topple. I heard them discussing whether or not a fall like that could kill someone. Then they were telling me how glad they were I was okay. It felt good, and I felt cared for.

“You’d miss me if I died, wouldn’t you?” I asked.

A fourth grader pursed his lips and replied, “Well, Claudia would cry really much and it would be so sad.”

I shook my head and walked back to the office.

That night my dear wife soaked my pants in vinegar water to get the stains out and make all things good as new again.