Pine Nuts: ‘Parent at Large’ |

Pine Nuts: ‘Parent at Large’

Before that lucky day when I discovered Mark Twain, I held a dozen various and sundry jobs from lifeguarding at Lake Tahoe to broadcasting radio in the Hawaiian Islands. But, by far, the toughest job I ever had was teaching school in Hong Kong — seventh grade.

This was an all-boys school, St. Joseph’s College, and boys in middle school are merely hormones with feet. They do have brains, but their brains are awash in testosterone, sloshing around like so much buttermilk in a jug.

Today, 2018, along with teaching the three R’s, seventh-grade teachers are asked to haul in the slack of building social and emotional skills oftentimes left unattended at home — no easy task.

Boys tend to be particularly hyperactive. Making a seventh-grade boy sit at a desk for 30 minutes can be cruel and unusual punishment. A jog around campus between subjects of study can do a world of good. Dance, martial arts, jumping jacks, these are force multipliers to learning.

Project Commotion, a gymnasium school in San Francisco, where our son, Mac, is happily employed, successfully mixes movement, sensory experience and play into the learning curve. In this super-active environment kids with special needs thrive, and in fostering healthy emotional and cognitive development, this nonprofit learning center is also thriving. Needless to say, we are proud of Mac and his colleagues at Project Commotion.

Teachers at every level are having to shoulder more responsibilities today than yesterday, including the purchase of basic classroom supplies. Teachers need a raise, teachers need praise, teachers need a tax break, and teachers deserve the title they have so rightly earned, “Parent at Large.”

Mark Twain told us, “Out of the public schools grows the greatness of a nation.” We might want to add a 21st century corollary,” … “or not.”

As an impressionist of Mark Twain, I get to visit various schools with enrichment programs, and between classes I like to commune with teachers in the Recovery Room, formerly known as the Faculty Room.

Oftentimes I hear stories that wrench the heart. Teachers arrive on the first day of school in possession of a natural human emotion called regard. They love their kids, and so they willingly put in extra hours and absorb extra expenses to develop and advance their Big-Gulp family.

In one short school year, a caring teacher can dramatically change a student’s self-image from, “I ain’ gon’ moun’ ta much,” to, “I can help make the world a better place.” God bless the teacher of today.

I close this ode to educators with a personal note of thanks to my seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Blumberger, who encouraged me to grow up a little when she stopped the class along our tour of the Oakland Museum of Modern Art, to point out, “Just because McAvoy does not appreciate this particular art form does not necessarily mean, ‘It stinks!’”

Thank you, Mrs. Blumberger — you’re my hero!

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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