The Hand Full of Salt
By John Simeone
“As you know I hate kids, but this doesn’t do any good because they keep following me around anyway.”
I stepped out of the testing area convinced I had failed the state teacher’s examination, remembering I hadn’t cracked a book in twenty years. The score said 480 so I asked how I did. The shocked instructor said you almost maxed it, who are you anyway? “Just an old soldier who needs a job,” and headed for the high school with my new certificate. Careful what you wish for. After a couple of months a principle asked me, how I would compare teaching to other jobs I’ve had….my answer was easy. “War.”
Since I was 20 years old I have been a Karate instructor, and add 20 years in the Army doing a lot of instructing from everything from digging a latrine to advanced criminal investigation, somewhere along the line you might learn how to explain things and get the point across. I had some good teachers as well; Lou Ellison, a Cherokee medicine man and Dr. Eduard Simpson-Kallas at the time Professor of Psychology at Stanford both were like family. Then there were all the martial art masters I studied with, along with an array of other egg heads that I learned from but didn’t want to be like.
So with my new found job as a teacher of highly undisciplined children of all ages at several of our local idiot factories, I figured it was time to conduct an experiment in higher education. I entered one class room, packed to the rafters with 7th and 8th graders who were filibustering for the exalted position of anti-christ. Evidently they thought they could get over on me, when one of the students recognized me. Whispers shot across the room, and there came an abrupt silence.
I heard with my Spider senses, “Don’t mess with him he’s a Karate master.” “Oh yea, think fast,” as a stick of Wrigley’s Double mint gum came hurtling through the air, as I wrote an introduction on the board. I saw it was not a blade so I caught it and continued writing on the black board. One little girl said she saw Chuck Norris do that very same move in a movie where he was a school teacher. “Yes, but I’m faster, and better looking,” and continues to write. When finished it read, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Of course they had all heard that one before and committed themselves to another boring English class.
“Of course that is quite wrong you know,” fishing for comments, and knowing they would all disagree. That is the basic teacher cop out. This is my teaching rule number one, just for myself. Any teacher that goes by this shouldn’t be here. “So what is the answer?” I left them in suspense for a moment as they engaged their brains and then I told them. You merely give the horse a handful of salt, it will make him thirsty and he will in fact take a drink, just like you just did. In other words the teacher has to make it interesting.
You see Karate teachers have secrets, and so do English teachers, but the English teachers have lost the realization that they have something you want, but are afraid to admit it. Karate is fun and interesting and you have the fringe benefits of being able to beat up your friends and neighbors at you leisure should you take the notion. Same goes for the English master, the next time you apply for a job, write a letter or stand before a group of skeptics such as yourselves.
Therefore I know something you can’t do, and neither could I at first, but I practiced and did it in a week’s time. Question marks where now visible over there heads as they began to think out loud. Anyone want to read out loud this short poem? The girls then began to compete as this was their thing. Better yet, is there a boy in here that can out read a girl. One hand came up so I let him try. He blew the poem away, very good. That was the easy one, now for the good one. It was Brent Spiner’s “Ode to Spot” from Star Trek. It takes a Shakespearian actor to do it right, or one determined Arkansas hillbilly. Who won the poetry contest, I did. Not one could get past the first sentence, but it made them so frustrated that the guy with the slow funny Southern accent could out read the class was more than they could take, they practiced it for a week till they got it right. Many wrote their own poems after that and few even tried outdoor articles.
They needed someone to sit in on the 5th and 6th grade music class and being I was the only male teacher in the school I was it. I arrived early and found mostly percussion instruments and a few kazoos. I had the option of playing tapes, if I was not musically inclined. I thought these little turkeys are going to drive me nuts banging on drums all day. Turkeys, that’s it, necessity is the mother of invention! I went to my truck and got all the turkey calls.
Do you children know about the wild turkey? I asked. Today we will study the way wild turkeys make music. Suddenly it seemed, I had a room full of little turkey hunters to my surprise. It seemed quite a few had actually been turkey hunting and others couldn’t wait to try. This was Annacoco Louisiana one of the best turkey spots anywhere, they even came in the school yard. I had a collection of box and friction calls so I laid them out and began my lecture and demonstration. Then I told of the Cherokee and how they did it without the calling devise and demonstrated the human voice call. They said if you needed a call you weren’t a very good Indian. Not bad if I do say so.
Of course they all had to try and each and every one was able to make a good hen yelp. The last was the kid with Down’s syndrome, and he too did very well as the other kids looked on with amazement, as if that was the only special thing they had ever seen him do. Well we practiced real hard on the human voice calls as youngsters seem to be the best at this type of call and they can take it with them (to the other classes I thought as my plan to get even with the ladies came to full blossom). It was better than I thought as 30 little 11 years old went to different rooms throughout the school. I meandered over to the teachers lounge for a cup of coffee and heard to my evil mirth, little hen clucks and fly down from the tree cackles coming from every room that I passed.
Of course I thought I was dead meat when the principle found me and asked if I was “Uncle John.” “Er, well yes, you see the kids have trouble with my last name trying to say Mr. Simeone, and many already knew me as Uncle John in the outdoor magazines and news papers.” On the way down the hall she told me to bring my Instruments. She explained that the children absolutely loved the class and told the others. In self defense I had to teach 300 more of them for the rest of the day in the gym and it turned out to be a full NWTF calling seminar. That was the first time I ever had to sign autographs. I suppose the handful of salt can come in many forms, a poem and musical instrument, a karate move or even a turkey call, but when you do get their attention all you have to do is…Pass it on.