Some people think of genius ideas and then forget them. When I have a genius idea I instantly make it happen. For example, yesterday I thought: “Wouldn’t it be great if your personal theme song played every time you walked into a room so that your life was like a movie starring you, directed by you, written by you?” Most people would think “great idea” and then go to lunch or take a nap, but I made it happen. I put my personal theme song–Eye of The Tiger by Survivor (of course!)–on infinite loop and then strung a bluetooth speaker on a cord around my neck. So now my presence is announced by Survivor! Sometimes I’ll even enter a room in slow motion for maximum impressiveness, though lately everywhere I go the rooms are weirdly empty.
Playlist of the Week
Sometimes you see a student struggling and you dedicate your entire life to helping him or her. Vlad P never said a word in my class or completed any work. I demanded a series of expensive psychological tests from the district as I suspected that he might be a candidate for the short bus, as we like to say. But alas the wheels of righteousness turn slowly in Education and Vlad lingered in my class for three months before he got his FMRI at the University hospital. Turns out he wasn’t retarded at all, but had immigrated from the Ukraine and didn’t understand English. The Psyche team joked that they’d like to scan MY brain, but I told them that I was 100% American!
Every teacher knows that one of the best classroom games is trash-bin basketball where you toss a wadded up piece of notebook paper into the trash bin by the door. It is incredibly fun and I could play this game all day for the rest of my life. I wanted Brady S. to play because he never does anything, but every time I pitched him the paper “ball” he wouldn’t raise his hands and the thing would bounce off his face. I said, “Brady, you’ve got to catch it and then throw it!” And I kept whipping it harder and harder at him to teach him to protect himself–I just wanted him to raise his hands!— but he never moved and the ball kept hitting him in the face. Then we had the fire alarm (see separate story) and I ran to the football field. The VP noticed that Brady was missing so I walked back for him. He was sitting in his seat holding all of the paper-balls in his arms. He carried them around all day. After school I checked his file and sure enough Brady has a traumatic brain injury that messes with his gross motor skills. So once again a classroom game helped me discover something new about a student!
Today I burned my popcorn in the microwave and set off another fire alarm. When we got back Security had thrown my popcorn away so I was hungry all day! But I am a life-learner. Next time I burn something in the microwave I’ll take it with me to the lineup on the football field.
Did you ever the pull the fire-alarm at school to get out of a test or create a distraction so that you could commit some dastardly deed? Everyone has. Today was my turn. I had seven parents show up unannounced during my third period. The principal had given them permission to observe my class for some reason and neglected to warn me. Well, this was a bad day because my lesson plan for that period was “Free Time”. Kids today are over-scheduled and I wanted to take a nap in my back office. When the parents showed up I panicked, ran through the back door, slinked along the side of the courtyard to avoid the reach of the video camera on the roof and hid in the staff bathroom. After the tardy bell rang and the halls were clear I found a broom in the janitor’s closet, inched to a corner and used the broom handle to reach around and lift the red handle. Another video camera is trained directly on the alarm, but the guard watching the monitor would only see a broom handle entering the frame and punching the alarm. The next moment the school was “on fire” and I was free to saunter back to class and march the kids to the football field for a wasted period. Crisis averted!
Burning Down the House
I invented a word today: “Plearning”. Plearning is learning while we play and have fun. Plearning is the way children learn. Four year-olds don’t study vocab lists, write essays or take multiple choice exams. No. Four year-olds learn by playing around with their tongues, experimenting with language. They learn about the human body by playing doctor. They learn about world history by playing war, and they learn about the textures and intricacies of various cuisines by playing with their food. Four year-olds are master plearners. So when and why did we all stop playing and start “working hard” and “trying our best?” Answer: school. School replaced learning through play with learning through torture. And that is why children don’t learn in school. As a teacher I want my students to be playing all the time–plearning all the time. I don’t give “homework”. I give playtime. For example, last week we plearned The Odyssey. I made Terrence S. Odysseus and it was the job of the rest of the class (The Suitors) to prevent Odysseus from reaching his home before midnight. A few girls kidnapped him after school and he disappeared. Unfortunately, I forgot to notify Terrence’s family and they kind of freaked out. The police found him around 2am passed out in Liam’s Uncle’s jacuzzi. I tried to explain to Terrence’s mother that we don’t learn about drinking too much alcohol from reading it in a book, but the next day she transferred him to a private Catholic school anyway. We all plearned from that one.
I don’t like birds. They flaunt their freedom at the children. “Look! I can fly away!” they seem to be telling them. And the students, stuck at their desks, peering over their pencils, snarl with jealousy and hatred. I also feel jealous because I cannot fly and the birds remind me of that fact. I watch through my open door as they strut across the courtyard with their chests out like little administrators. Sometimes I throw them chocolate or chunks of salt because I hate them and, I believe, removing the distraction of birds would raise our test scores. Yesterday one of the birds I had poisoned hopped into our classroom and could not find its way out. Of course all the girls wanted to save it and many of the boys wanted to smash it with the broom. They chased the bird around the classroom for twenty-five minutes. Owen, who plays baseball for Junior Varsity and brings his bat to class, shattered my front window with one bad swing. I thought the bird would fly out then, but Coby trapped it inside a trash bin, which he turned upside down on the floor. We all listened to the bird thump against the sides for a while. Then I noticed the kids looking at me and I thought that maybe they saw themselves inside the bin, metaphorically speaking: trapped souls inside an unfeeling bureaucratic system. And I had the power to release them!…metaphorically. So I dragged the bin outside and ripped it away with a flourish. “Fly, little bird, Fly!” I yelled. But the lip of the bin had caught a wing and the bird went tumbling across the pavement and never moved again. So we had killed our distraction, I thought. But wrong. Everybody just stood around and stared at the dead bird. Finally Emily and Josh scooped it up with a magazine and buried it in the garden.
Embrace the Ick
Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who wanted to divorce her prince for financial reasons. She said, “You are married to your job, which makes us little money and causes us to live a sad and miserable life in a tiny apartment with no hope”. The prince who loved his princess and his family more than life itself said: “Teaching public school is not a job–it is a calling–and I need you to understand that I am living my dream!” The princess replied that we all have dreams and that sometimes when two dreams collide one of them breaks. The prince thought the princess looked enticing in that moment and suggested that they have sex against the end-table as a way of fusing their hearts and dreams, but the princess snorted, jumped into her car and drove to her mothers. Then, after kicking over the end-table, the prince sat on the couch, ate ice-cream and watched infomercials until he fell asleep.
Once Upon a Time
Home is where I have sex with my wife.
Soil is where dirty things live. Don’t eat anything that you find on the soil.
Rain is what farmers like, but nobody else likes it that much.
My home is my classroom.
My soil–the soft, fertile brains of students.
Rain is the sound of my voice watering their brains.
This poem is not about a secret fantasy of having sex with my wife in my classroom,
or how I visualize spraying dirty student brains with the purifying sound of my voice:
Poetry is where I have sex with my wife.
Poetry is where my dirty things live.
Poetry is what teachers like, but nobody else likes it that much.
Give up. That’s what I tell my classes every year. Just give up, give in and die. You are not going anywhere. You will not live the life your parents lived. Global warming will crush you. Terrorists will kill you. There are too many people and you are a cancer on the world. Then I wait for them to object, to discover meaning in their lives. Sometimes a child will say, “I live for God.” and I laugh openly. Another child will say, “Are you telling us to kill ourselves?” And I say, “Not right away. This is an exercise in finding solutions.” And they say, “But we don’t know anything about these problems and we don’t care.” And I say, “And THAT is why your lives are meaningless! Now go find your true purpose and change the world!” Then they get quiet and stare at each other. Usually, someone will say, “Why don’t you kill yourself, Mr. Newhart?”
“Because I’ve found my purpose,” I tell them. “Inspiring children!”
Enough Is Enough