The past week of school brought back to mind the reasons I can’t wait to retire. On two days I spent what seemed to be an eternity in educational hell. By the time Friday arrived, I was exhausted. Guess what! At the center of both these terrible days were high school girls. Folks, I swear they are the meanest life form on this planet. This is Part I of a two-week piece. What I am relating is true. By the way, no names are involved because I don’t actually know any of these students.

The first episode occurred during an assembly. One of the school organizations arranged a faculty-student basketball game. For a couple of bucks students could watch a game and escape class. Most every student attended the event, and the stands were packed with our overflowing enrollment of 2000 kids.

I later regretted my decision of supervising the commons area instead of going into the gym and being a spectator. For some reason, maybe the result of being “old school” in my way of thinking, I believed that I could help the administration by standing guard and deflecting students as they attempted to sneak out of the gym.

At first, things ran smoothly, and I walked across the commons area and chatted with the cafeteria workers as they ate. Before long, however, a dribble of girls came through the doors and turned toward the restroom. The dribble soon became a flood as groups exited the gym. I stood up and used my “teacher voice” (that’s the one that sounds like the most hateful ogre on the planet) and instructed the females to return to the gym.

I need to explain something about teens and the restroom. Not that many young people have to use the facility ten minutes after a class or function begins. Our experiences as teachers have been that these adolescents want to enter the bathroom to do two things: smoke or use cell phones. The school policy also states that students should stay in class and only for emergencies be allowed to go to the bathroom. I guarantee all that probably 98% of these girls had no emergency. They simply wanted to leave a supervised area and to loiter in an unsupervised one.
One group of girls became quite hostile. They bowed their necks and tried to defy me, but even though I am old, I’m still pretty tough in some situations. One girl tried on three occasions to leave. During one attempt, I had to block her at the restroom entrance. The last time she came at me, she held out a cell phone and said, “My mom wants to talk to you!” I told her that 1) cell phones aren’t to be used at school, 2) I had nothing to say to her mother, and 3) she was to go back into the gym. I can’t repeat the names she called me or the profanities she spat at me during the heated conflict.

Another female came out and was as ill-tempered as the other girl. She informed that she wasn’t going to “piss her pants.” However, I told her to find a principal to escort her, and she disappeared back into the gym. Another girl indicated that she had a true emergency, and I asked her to get a principal to okay her visit. Apparently, the girl’s emergency wasn’t nearly as serious as she let on. In fact, her desperate situation was probably fictitious.
I walked to the boy’s restroom to stop the few males that were in need of a smoke break, and while I was there, the most insistent girl exited again, and when a female staff member told her to return to the gym, the child pushed the woman and went into the restroom.

By the time the basketball game ended, I was exhausted. I wasn’t in the mood to return to class. My blood pressure was high enough that I expected to suffer from a stroke at any moment. What made things worse was the fact that I had a half hour of bathroom duty to complete. I’d been cursed, abused, and chided by teenage girls who wanted their ways over what the school policy was. I wondered if the mouths from which they spewed such venomous things were the same ones with which they kissed their mothers. I sat there and stewed as one horrific day came to an end.

ROOM 110

The new construction at the high school where I teach is nearly completed. All that’s left is the flooring of the new commons area for the cafeteria, and then things can return to normal—almost. On the other end of the building, fourteen new classrooms have been added. Teachers moved into them during the beginning days of the second semester. Those new rooms turned out to be like an end of me, even though I moved into a flat top building two years ago.

I’ve taught at Karns High School for more than twenty years. The school is two miles from my house; that’s one reason I’ve stayed so long. I tend to find a place a roost: that’s the second reason. For most of my tenure at Karns, my home was Room 110. I moved in for the first time on November 5, 1985. Over the years, I taught thousands of kids. I remember many of them, and a few I’ve tried to forget. I’m equally sure that several of them have tried to put any memories of me out of their minds as well.

At any rate, Room 110 became my home for a long time. A student named Aaron cut into a wooden plague “Mr. Rector’s Neighborhood” during that first year. I hung it over the threshold of the door and also draped a pair of toddler tennis shoes and a toddler blue cardigan sweater that belonged to daughter Lacey across the edges of that plague. Occasionally, I would play the theme song from “Mr. Rogers” when new classes entered the room for the first day. Some thought it was humorous, but more thought the whole thing was wierd.

I performed many roles in Room 110. Sometimes, I would act the fool. That meant I dressed in strange garb during the week of homecoming. I’ve worn hillbilly clothing, hippie clothing, backward clothing, all in the name of school spirit. At times classes, usually senior ones, made me furious with their stunts or lack of effort. In those early years, I did things for effect, things that would wake up students and have them worry whether or not I was mentally unstable. I threw a piece of chalk against the back wall. Another time, I tipped over the metal podium so that it crashed to the floor and scared everyone. My greatest performance came when I rose from a coffin placed in front of the darkened room. I held a set of Macbeth test papers on which the class had performed miserably. The message was clear: get busy or the possibilities of your graduating are all but dead. The stunt proved effective. In fact, I met a woman in a store not long ago who recalled the stunt; her daughter was in that class.

Room 110 has been a place of comfort over the years. It was a familiar place to which I returned after neck and back surgery. It was a room where students could go when the life of one of their friends had been snuffed out from a tragic accident. That room is where Lacey and Dallas came at the end of each day when they were in elementary school. Room 110 welcomed me back after my mother and my older brother Dal died. Its familiarity helped me through those painful days.

In 2003 this room became my writing sanctuary. Before and after school, I spent plenty of time cranking out the first of hundreds of columns, stories, poems, etc. I sat down and wrote my first piece there; it was a column for the church newsletter about a retreat the congregation had taken to Crossville. Room 110 gave me my start in the writing business.

Things have changed in the building. The new rooms extended the hallway where my old classroom was located. The administration re-numbered them, and now Room 110 is Room 129. The custodian and I managed to save my name plate and the number plate from that room. I have them both at home. The room is now inhabited by another who is making his own history. I doubt that he’ll stay for twenty years. Regardless of the number on the door, to me that place will always be Room 110. They’ve erased the number, but no one can erase the memories that I made there.


The first day of the new semester of school brought excitement, more than I would like to have experienced. Students’ trying to find new classes in a building in which all the room numbers had been changed during the break kept things in a tizzy. Just when I thought that control had been restored, the heavens decided to renew the madness by bringing a min-blizzard. Suddenly, a class of thirty-four juniors in high school turned into first graders filled with something akin to pure glee.
I feel sorry for our kids in the area because they rarely experience snow. I figure that’s because we’ve managed to poison the planet enough to warm our temperatures and to end those days of blankets of white. Knoxville is more like Huntsville, Alabama, or Chattanooga now in the way that we receive so little snow. We who are older remember when at least one good snowfall each winter was a sure thing.
In the early 60’s, Knoxville experienced a six-inch snow in April. It was a beautiful site that lasted only a little while. We kids got outside as soon as possible to play in the snow before the sun and seasonal temperatures melted it.
I remember plenty of snows during my high school years. Several times, we were dismissed from school early, and we left in cars, on buses, or on foot. Parents weren’t lined up in front of the school to pick up children; we made our ways home by traditional methods. Teens were sure to go home, lest a swift tanning of the behind occur if they worried parents with their absences. In those times, snows seemed to hang around longer. A teenager can only take so much sledding, snowball fighting, and snowman building before he’s bored out of his mind. When cabin fever set in, we put on our shoes and struck out for a friend’s house, or if we were lucky, our path led to girlfriends’ front doors. No, their parents didn’t necessarily want boys hanging around their houses, but we did keep their daughters from driving them crazy with complaints.
I remember the first years of my teaching career. In the early 70’s I taught at Doyle High School. Knoxville was belted with several heavy snows during those years. In fact, we missed so many days that school days were lengthened, and we even put in some Saturdays to make up the time.
I was a young, flexible man then. Our house was a mile or so from the high school then, and several of my students lived in the same subdivision. They came calling one night, and we rode inner tubes down a steep and winding hill. On one occasion I made the ride. Unable to negotiate a maneuver, I wound up with half my body under a car parked next to the curb about two-thirds of the way down the course. Luckily, I didn’t kill myself or break any bones.
When my children were small, we got some good snows. I spent hours tugging on a handle as Lacey and Dallas sat in the metal scoop of an old coal shovel. I can still hear their giggles as I whipped them around the driveway and street. Sometimes the family hopped in the Pathfinder, and I locked the hubs into 4-wheel drive. The tire treads crunched the snow as we made our way to the grocery store for nothing in particular. We used the trip as an excuse to get away from the house for a bit.
Some snows weren’t so pleasant. One storm was accompanied with artic-like temperatures. Knoxville recorded minus 24 one day, and my car sat with the tires frozen to the driveway. I remember another snow the first year I taught at Karns High School. It caught everyone off guard, and I was stuck with a school filled with students until about 10:00 p.m. Still, another snowstorm turned into an ice storm and trapped me on UT’s campus until 3:00 p.m. the following day. The last “good” snow Knoxville in came with the blizzard in the early 1990’s. Things came to a standstill for several days.
These days, about all we get are snow flurries. The school years have some days built in for inclement weather, but in recent years, we’ve used more of them for rain than for snow. Who can blame the kids for their excitement when they see those white flakes being whipped around by gusts of winter wind?


Sitting in my office to write today, I suffer from another sinus infection that began during my trip to Cookeville over the weekend to spend New Year’s. I am just short of miserable, but my health is of little importance when it’s compared to the things that happened at the beginning of that holiday time.
Amy and I planned to leave Knoxville on Friday after she arrived home from work. We packed the car with our belongings and dog Snoop. I loaded my laptop into the car so that I could complete some writing, as well as some lesson plans and syllabi for the new semester’s classes. I also took a couple of books to read in case nothing entertaining was on television. Amy had purchased a gas grill to take to her mother’s new house. It didn’t have a gas tank, but I knew we could always get one later. I securely strapped the thing in with a set of bungee cords. Clothes, groceries, and other necessities loaded into a huge plastic container in the bed of the truck, we were ready for the one hundred mile journey.
Interstate 40 was busy, as we expected, but the traffic wasn’t heavy enough to cause me to maneuver constantly between lanes. Amy and I enjoyed the ride and conversation, and before I realized, we were nearly to Crab Orchard, one of the marking points I’ve used since my college days at Tennessee Tech in the 70’s. On a stretch of road between the Westel Road and Crab Orchard exit, I heard a commotion in the bed of the truck. I peered into to rearview mirror in time to witness the unmanned launching of our new grillear. It rattled for a couple of seconds, and then the bungee cords must have loosened. The grill scooted a short distance and then flew from the truck bed. A car behind us successfully swerved to miss this black missile.
As soon as I could, I pulled to the inside grass of the median. At the same time a semi-truck pulled to a stop on the outer shoulder of the road. I walked in the darkness along the inside lane of the interstate to see if I could remove what was left of the grill from the highway. Another truck sped down the road with sparks shooting from under its trailer; this driver evidently found another large piece of our newer cooker. I arrived at the launch site, but all I could see by the lights of streaking car lights were small strips of plastic and metal along the lanes. With a steady stream of vehicles passing, I realized that cleaning up the mess was impossible and turned to make my way back to the truck. Once safely in the cab, Amy and I said a prayer of thanks that the rocket shot from our vehicle injured that no one.
Shaken but undeterred, we continued on our trip. Upon arriving at the house, we noticed that two short, sharp beeps shot through the house approximately every ninety seconds. The new carbon monoxide alarm was at it again. I unloaded the car, and then dragged a stool to the unit. I saw a button that had two words: test and hush. I pushed this button, and as you might have guessed, I set off the alarm. It nearly deafened me, and poor Snoop took off running in search of a place to escape the painful noise. We finally stopped the alarm, but not quickly enough. The security company called, and although Amy assured them all was well, they were unable to prevent the fire department from coming. I was embarrassed for having caused the situation, so I hopped in the car and drove to a fast food restaurant to pick up our supper. However, the firemen were still at the house when I returned.
By the time they left, I was a nervous wreck. We ate our food, turned on the television for background noise as we read our books, and retired rather early that Friday evening. I awoke with my nasal passages and throat sore and my head congested. Over the next couple of days my ears stopped up as well. How could I complain? This temporary illness fit well with the rest of the events of a hellish weekend.
I am glad to be safe at home in my office. I don’t plan to travel to Cookeville for a while, at least not until I’m well. Most important, I won’t haul any more grills