Behind the Scenes–Act 4

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Welcome to “Behind the Scenes.”  Today, we have returned to visit with Richard, the creative voice behind the writing journey of Big Sky Buckeye. 

Welcome back Richard.  It is a pleasure visit with you again. 

You have mentioned previously that much of your previous teaching experience takes place in Montana.  It would be wonderful to hear more about your journey from those years.

With 40 years in the classroom, a total of 29 take place in Montana.  Here’s a narrative about the first of four stops under the Big Sky.

My teaching career starts in the southeastern corner of the Treasure State.  Nestled in the quiet hillsides and prairie, Plevna will be my home for three years (1978-1981). 

The community’s economic lifeline is tied to farming and ranching.  Founded in 1909, this small town in Fallon County provides a home for about 200 citizens, and it is situated about 80 miles from Miles City.  Bulgarian railroad workers on the Milwaukee Road line will name the town after one in their home country. 

Being one of the rookies on the staff, here are some interesting details from teaching in Plevna:

  • Teaching assignment covers high school business education classes as well as Civics for the seniors.
  • High school enrollment during my first year sits at 51. 
  • Amazingly, my accounting class overflows with 24 juniors and seniors.
  • The school’s mascot is the “Cougars.”

Despite its small size, Plevna is home to four churches:  Congregational, Baptist, Catholic, and Lutheran. 

In future posts, I will write more about my other Montana teaching stops.

We have appreciated spending time with Richard from Big Sky Buckeye.  Look for more “Behind the Scenes” in future postings.

Oswald Chambers Quote

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There is no escape when our Lord speaks.  He always comes with an arrestment of the understanding.

From Hebrews 4:12:  “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was a Scottish evangelist and Christian teacher.  Following his death from an illness while in Egypt during World War I, his wife took on the task of transcribing the detailed notes she had written from his lectures and sermons.  Gertrude Hobbs Chambers’ efforts resulted in the publication in 1924 of MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST.  I frequently read from this devotional, and it has greatly deepened my faith and understanding of God’s Word.

Nel Noddings Quotes

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The student is infinitely more important than the subject matter.

A sense of responsibility in teaching pushes us constantly to think about and promote the best interests of our students.

Nel Noddings (born 1929) is an American educator and philosopher.  Her teaching career includes 17 years as an elementary and high school teacher along with serving in administrative positions.  Before retiring in 1998, her career moved into teaching and administrative positions at Stanford, Columbia, and Colgate universities.

Cherished Friend (Haiku Series #157)

His Mission

Chosen by Jesus

Harvest love’s fruit from His vine—

Sharing with others

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His Teaching

Embrace God’s commands

Filled with Holy Spirit’s love—

Walking with Jesus

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His Example

Love one another

Watching out for each brother—

Christ’s chosen tenet

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With Us (Elfchen Series #45)



By Christ

Servants to all

Graced as faithful witnesses


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For God

Resting with quietness

Lord’s refuge and strength


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Holy uprightness

Stands blessed Father

Steadfast love and faithfulness


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Growing in God (Elfchen Series #44)

Faithful Tutor


And uprightness

Stands the Lord

Steadfast love and faithfulness


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Serving God


By Christ

Servants to all

Graced as loving witnesses


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Holy Fortress


For God

Resting with quietness

Lord’s refuge and strength


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Educator’s Prayer

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Lord, my God, hear this prayer

Bless the students in my care


Together, we’ll face each day

Overcoming times of gray


Bring patience to this classroom

Allow these young minds to bloom


Create a safe learning zone

God with us, never alone


There may be days not at school

Find ways to make learning cool


Cover colleagues with your love

Devotion, to be proud of


Send families gifts of grace

May we all stand and embrace


Loving each child in my care

Walk together in prayer

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It seems there are nearly infinite challenges to educating our youth (both in schools and universities).  My own daily prayers include significant time for teachers, students, and families during these challenging times.  I especially reach out to my former colleagues who are still teaching as well as two of my daughters who teach.  I may be retired from the classroom, but my heart still misses all whom I served and worked with.

Discovering Success

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This is a true story about one of my former students.  I was teaching at a high school in the Bitterroot Valley in western Montana.

A disgruntled John entered my classroom on the first day of school.  The senior was enrolled in an Accounting class with a room full of other seniors as well as a sprinkling of juniors.

As I was checking in later with each student, John bluntly told me, “I didn’t sign up for this class.”

I told John, “I am sorry to hear about this, but this class is a great one to take.  I am looking forward to having you as a student.”

John quickly replied back, “The counselor dumped me in here because I need the credit to graduate.”

John’s stubbornness left him with a poor attitude.  His first quarter grade was well below passing as he completed very little of the work.  He continued to balk as each new chapter showed up on the class syllabus.

I visited with John’s mother, and she was quite concerned.  She had her hands full with John’s noncompliant attitude as well.

An Accounting course works quite a bit like a math class.  As each week progresses, students continue to add more building blocks of skill and knowledge related to the previous chapter.  John was falling further and further behind.

During the second grading period, John began to show a tiny bit more interest in his performance.  After all, he needed to earn a passing grade by the end of the first semester in order to receive credit.

I was beginning to see John’s potential which had been buried under the “chip on his shoulder” about school in general.  Through it all, I could see that John was a sharp young man.  Therefore, we just needed to find more ways to unlock his potential.

As the semester ended, John squeaked by with a passing grade . . . just barely!

Quote from British writer, C. S. Lewis:  “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down the jungles, but to irrigate the deserts.”

I remained patient with John as the second semester began.  He seemed more eager to discover himself when he returned to school after Christmas break.  I continued to encourage him each day, and made an effort to touch base with him frequently.  As the next few weeks continued, we both began to build an improved relationship based upon trust and respect.

As the third grading period progressed, John began to see the light.  He was excited about class in ways I had never seen before.  There was a genuine enthusiasm in his work as well as his much improved attitude.  His failing marks were being replaced with A’s and B’s.

By the end of the third quarter, John was a solid “B” student in Accounting.  He pulled me aside and told me one day, “I am really enjoying your class.  In fact, I am thinking of taking business courses at college next year.”

He continued to excel and progress through the rest of the school year.  I visited with John’s mother before graduation, and she was very proud of her son’s progress.  He had matured beyond even her expectations.

In my short teaching career (I was in my fifth year), I had never witnessed such a turnaround as experienced by John.  It was amazing and very gratifying to see a student literally catch fire and take off.  At the end of the school year, John received my “Most Improved” award.  John encouraged me with his own discovery of success.

This story captures the essence of why I found countless rewards from teaching over my 40-year career.  I lost track of John long ago, but I feel assured his life turned out quite well.

marketing school business idea

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Monday Memories: Making a Difference

Every Monday, Big Sky Buckeye will edit and update a poem from December, 2018.  This “Monday Memory” carries a great deal of significance because it salutes the hardworking staff at Buckeye Middle School in Columbus, Ohio.  This was my final school assignment during the last nine years of a fulfilling teaching career.

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Anchoring the Southside on Parsons Avenue

Buckeye Middle School presents quite a view


Providing a safe, caring, and nurturing school

The dedicated staff is the definition of “cool”


Displaying patience despite the everyday grind

Everyone makes a big difference in all they find


Working as a team throughout the school year

They face many challenges with nothing to fear


Laboring patiently at their craft each and every day

All have chosen a worthy profession, they will say


Giving a great deal of themselves and even more

A humble and hardworking team has much in store


Saluting the Buckeye staff as heroes above the rest

Hats off to all of them for performing their very best!

Buckeye Middle School

Here is Buckeye Middle School!

Flying Trash Can


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Pete arrives at Aaron Burr High School eager to kick off his teaching career.  He is a first-year teacher who is feeling more than a tad edgy as he begins teaching high school students.

His preparedness from the university is masked by his nervousness and anxiety.  Sometimes, he feels more like when he was standing in the batter’s box as a 12-year old, and he struck out with the bases loaded to end the game in defeat!  He asks himself over and over again, “Will I really make it as a teacher?”

Why the community named its high school after Aaron Burr is a bit of a mystery.  Afterall, about the only milestone ever noted about him in history is that he prevailed in a duel with Alexander Hamilton many, many years ago.

Nonetheless, Pete sets up his classroom with both apprehension and enthusiasm as he spends two days preparing it for the first day of school, which is arriving soon.  His classroom is a computer lab where he will teach students in the applications of Microsoft Office in their personal and working lives (now that is mouthful of expectations).

He sometimes wonders why he could not have been the entrepreneur behind Microsoft’s enormous success instead of Bill Gates.  Pete remains a big dreamer who hopes one day to make it to the top!

He is unaware of the challenges that are secretly waiting for him, just as a snake waits to spring upon its prey.  Being a “rookie” teacher and a bit naïve, Pete is walking into a miserable swamp instead of an honored school.  Nearly all of the teaching staff is new to Aaron Burr.  As the opening bell awaits, they may remember the maiden and ill-fated voyage of the ocean liner Titanic.

The school district, in its infinite wisdom, has provided a half-day of training on how to be “successful teachers” during the soon-to-start school year.  In reality, this much-anticipated professional development session ends up being pretty much a total waste of time.  Pete remembers a few of his boring and totally inept professors from his university days.

Perhaps Pete and the staff would be better served to use “Welcome Back, Kotter” as an orientation for what is in store for all of them.  They could watch past episodes of this iconic television series.  Learning from the shenanigans and antics of Vinnie Barbarino, Arnold Horshack, and the rest of the Gabe Kotter’s dysfunctional classroom headaches, they would be better served than recalling educational psychology in an aging textbook from their college days.

Last year’s senior class graduated less than half of its students.  Therefore, the entire school has been placed on third-degree probation by the State Education Department.  A “perfect storm” sets up the school year to be an impending disaster for Pete and his very “green” and unproven colleagues.

The opening day of school arrives without much fanfare.  Pete feels both nervous and excited—dearly wanting to jumpstart his teaching career on a positive note.  Hmm, does anyone hear a bulldozer’s engine running behind the school (ready to begin demolishing the ancient building)?  Well, maybe not quite yet!

Aaron Burr’s student body is dominated by the sub-culture from the streets outside of the school building.  Sadly, the administration can do very little to control the unruly students or maintain any type of discipline.  Pete and the newly arrived staff do not see what’s coming their way—a film, with a disaster theme, would be a more appropriate setting!

Pete’s first-period class is filled with freshmen and sophomores, with a couple of juniors thrown in because they need another failing grade.  Pete assumes (without much forethought) that his beginning class will prepare the rest of his day for even more success.  Pete looks down and suddenly realizes that his socks do not match—one black and one blue.  He feels a bead of sweat forming around the collar of his shirt.  Perhaps he should loosen up the colorful tie that hangs (too tightly) around his neck.

Reggie is one the juniors, and Pete immediately realizes that this “man-child” will be a handful to cope with.  Reggie stands nearly as tall as Shaquille O’Neill with the maturity of a middle schooler.  He aspires to play in the NBA, but no scouts will ever find his talent (or lack of it) as his GPA is a lowly 0.2.  His only passing grade was during his freshman year in Physical Education. Somehow he squeezed by with a “D-” on his final exam.

Traci and Clyde are sitting next to each other, and school is definitely not on their minds.  Clyde falls asleep at his computer—it seems that he is not quite ready for his summer vacation to end.  His preferred field of study is researching the short story written by American author, Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle.

Traci pulls a bottle of fingernail polish out from her purse.  She decides that her nails need a touch-up.  Afterall, she wants to look her best on the first day of school.  Traci seems more interested in making a good impression with some of the boys in the classroom.

The rest of Pete’s class appears to be settling down, and most seem fairly well-prepared for their return to the boisterous halls of Aaron Burr.  Pete tries to be as calm as possible, but this first day in the trenches begins to cause him to sweat even more!

Ah!  Before one forgets, Pete’s classroom . . . aka the computer lab (prison to Reggie and many others) . . . doesn’t look like a traditional classroom.  The computer lab is part of an enormous, open classroom area with four large computer labs filling the space.  There are no windows, permanent walls, or classroom doors.

The school designers wanted to set up an office-like atmosphere so that students could better assimilate into the world of work.  One wonders how many of Aaron Burr’s finest and not so fine will actually make it in the real world, much less graduate on time.

Each of the four classrooms is separated by office-like partitions.  The walls, looking more temporary than permanent, rise about seven feet.  There is ample space between each wall and the ceiling.  Pete doesn’t appreciate the room layout much, but there is little that he can do about it.  He will have to make the best of it for now.

The school’s mascot is the Ravens.  For Pete’s sake, it is very unfortunate that this blackbird cannot serve as  a lookout for him.  His adventures have only just begun!

Pete again surveys the room, and he feels a bit more comfortable.  Clyde still seems to be enjoying a pre-winter nap.  Traci is applying another color of polish to her perfectly manicured nails, and she wants to be finished before lunch.  The rest of the class is working quietly—at least it seems—on an assignment.

The classroom is only half full on this inaugural day of school at Aaron Burr.  It seems that many students are still on summer vacation—probably until after Labor Day.

Hmm . . . where is Reggie?

Reggie, who is as nutty as a fruit cake has disappeared from Pete’s sight.  Pete checks out each corner of the half-empty room, but Reggie is nowhere to be seen.

Pete now begins to feel a band of cold sweat dripping down his back, but he truly has no idea what is in store for him.  Past memories take him back to the day that he was stuck in a gigantic snow drift while driving along an abandoned highway last winter.  As he was sweating it out under his heavy, winter parka, he figured that he would never be found.  Fortunately, a helpful truck driver (Pete’s guardian angel) came along and pulled his car back onto the road.

A few minutes pass.

Pete wishes that the clock would move more swiftly so that the bell will ring to end class.  He has a planning period next, and he is seriously thinking of going home.

This teaching stuff just doesn’t sit well with him.  He wonders for a minute or two why he ever changed his major from Accounting to Business Education.  Another of life’s decisions is about ready to provide Pete with another notable experience to write about in his already overflowing journal.

The clock is slowly approaching the time to wrap up the first class of his teaching career.  Pete begins thinking that perhaps the remainder of his day will turn out better.  He is feeling a bit more relaxed and confident.  Didn’t the Titanic’s captain feel confident as the huge iceberg loomed ahead?

The room grows unusually quiet.

Then . . . Suddenly!


A large, heavy, cast-iron trash can hurdles the wall and lands at Pete’s feet.  The airborne projectile narrowly misses Pete’s head by a couple of inches.  The flying trash can strikes terror in Pete’s inner soul, and he feels his heartbeat racing while a torrent of sweat runs free over his entire body.  He pivots around and suddenly realizes that this day really is not going to be an outstanding experience.

Pete, standing all alone in the middle of the room, is visibly shaken and greatly disturbed.  His face has turned a ghastly white color, and his blonde hair is all amiss.  He turns to face the class, and the students are all snickering.  Many are falling out of their seats and roaring with more and more laughter.  Even Clyde wakes up and joins in with the impromptu celebration.  Traci excitedly claps her hands and smudges her still-wet nail polish.

Twisting around, Pete runs quickly out of the room, down a vacant hallway, and out the front door of the school.

Reggie slyly creeps back around the wall to rejoin the class.  His thumbs-up gesture arouses even more of a deafening thunder of applause and shouts for his exploits.  Somehow, the epic sounds have not reached the central office . . . yet!

Clyde joins Reggie at the front of the room, and they both announce their marching orders for the rest of the day—“TAKE OVER THE SCHOOL!”

Without a teacher in the room, the unruly mob leaves the computer lab and launches into a riotous journey down the hallway into the rest of Aaron Burr’s no longer quiet hallways.  Another opening day has turned into a disaster of nearly Biblical proportions.  What happens next will be anyone’s guess; just be on the lookout for Reggie, the new kingpin of the school!

An hour later, the police arrive to take charge of the disorderly student body, which resembles an unruly and disorganized mob.  Meanwhile, the administration has been hiding in their offices, and the teaching staff finds refuge down in the school’s boiler room in the basement.

The bell rings to dismiss school for the day, but Pete is missing permanently.  Thoroughly shaken, he never returns to Aaron Burr.

As the curtain closes on Aaron Burr High School (this will be its final, unforgettable school year), the wrecking ball will finally arrive to turn the property into a parking lot and city park.  Many citizens around the community curiously wonder whatever happened to Pete, the novice teacher who dashed away.

Rumor has it that he is now the Principal at Alexander Hamilton High School in a distant city.  According to an inside source, all classrooms have permanent walls and include lightweight, plastic trash cans.