There’s this other teacher who the kids are always talking about being a great teacher and I’m like, “What’s so great about her?” And Blake said, “Mrs. M actually teaches you stuff.” And I said, “Hmm. You mean she stands up in front of the class and lectures all period?” And he said, “Sometimes, but she’s actually interesting. Usually we have discussions about the book.” I said, “Does she do magic tricks or use technology or have karaoke fridays?”
“No. She’s a serious teacher. None of this BS.”
And that was the first detention I’d ever given in the history of my teaching career.
Blake protested: “BS is not a bad word,” he said.
“I know. I’m giving you detention for being mean.”
“Mean? To whom? To you?”
I changed into my robot voice: “I am not affected by your words. I have no feelings. I am a robot.”
“Your request does not compute. Sit down in your seat. I will dispense learning into your brain. Take this pill…It is full of knowledge.”
I placed a Tootsie Roll in his hand, but he dropped it on the floor and walked out. I found later that he went to his counselor and switched back into Mrs. M’s class.
So all is right in the world…I guess.
I got a call from a parent who was unhappy about something I said in class. Sometimes kids will take your words out of context or twist them up to make you look like a creep or a monster. This parent thought I had told her son that he should commit suicide because nobody would ever love his ugly face. Which is NOT at all what I said. In fact I told J. that he was bright and sensitive and a good listener who sometimes didn’t hear things the way they were really meant, and that, besides, there is a lid for every pot and that eventually some day he would find the right person. J’s mom insisted that the whole class heard me say it and that she has seen a video recording taken by another student, but I explained that I might have muttered a sarcastic joke, but that nobody listening could think I was sincere: “I make fun of everybody,” I said, “Including myself. I’ve told myself to kill myself many times, but I knew I was kidding so of course I didn’t do it!…Most days I just muddle through…” I guess I was crying a bit, and she hung up on me.
On Friday all of my third period Freshmen students dressed up as their favorite hero–from history, movies, books, sports–whomever they admired–and then we challenged each other to fights to see who was the greatest hero. So I was Odysseus and also the referee and I would make sure that the battles were realistic and that everyone stayed true to character. For example, when Albert Einstein fought Kobe Bryant I would tell Kobe that he could dunk on Albert Einstein or perhaps rape him, but that Einstein could actually nuke Kobe Bryant’s family. Then they would mime the battle in super slow motion (while my computer played the battle track from A New Hope) to give it that epic feeling. The kids loved it! And of course they learned that sometimes being a great scientist is cooler than being a superstar athlete–not a message they hear often in our culture.
Some battles were made in heaven. Todd S. came as his own great-grandfather who had survived Aushwitz and the death march, while Connor (who is a bit autistic and never participates in anything) slicked back his hair, glued on a mustache and came as his favorite military hero, Adolf Hitler. I allowed Hitler to beat, shoot and gas Mr. S while Mr. S could only writhe in pain and, with his last breaths, thumb his nose at Hitler, who would grow more and more frustrated. Finally, he shot himself in the head and Connor took a full minute to die, which was super funny. And of course the lesson here was that Courage always trumps Evil!
Many heroes challenged me, The Man Who is Never at a Loss, the Great Odysseus, and each time I smote them with my sword or battle ax. My favorite moment was decapitating Peyton Manning after he hurled (imaginary) footballs at my head. But then things got dicey when Hana, dressed as the Muslim prophet Muhammad, issued a fatwa on me and my descendants. Of course I easily took her out with an arrow between the eyes, but then the entire class–acting as her followers–captured me, cut my throat and paraded my corpse around the room. After that things got a little out of control and a full scale slow motion riot broke out. Fortunately the bell rang a few minutes later.
Pleased to Meet You
T challenged me to Trivia Crack, which is an Internet game that you play on your phone. I am not a trivia wizard because I find trivia trivial and prefer to read deep and challenging texts that feed my soul. Trivia is for people who know a lot in their head, but not in their heart. If you are good at trivia you probably have autism or at least are on the spectrum, as they say. Anyway, this particular child was in need of a boost of self-confidence after I had ripped her essay to pieces (literally, I ripped her essay to pieces as a joke in front of the whole class because I thought she had another copy and I was feeling dramatic: “This is HORRIBLE!” I yelled and ripped it into thin strips)…Anyway, the next day she challenged me to a Trivia Crack duel in front of the class and I reluctantly accepted. Mistake. T is an encyclopedia of useless information. I, on the other hand, have purged dates and names of things from mind in order to make room for wisdom. She trounced me three times in a row–the class enjoyed this–until I pretended that my phone went dead. I gave her a polite golf clap and gentle smirk, wishing her good luck in finding a career that values memorizing random facts.
I have a student teacher this semester. She is very beautiful, which tends to distract the kids, specifically the freshman boys. I spoke to her yesterday and warned her that she needed to present herself as the teacher-adult and that this might mean making herself less attractive or even a little dumpy. English teacher women are supposed to be a little dumpy, a little crazy, a little married to their jobs and I told her that she doesn’t want to give the impression that she has a life outside of teaching. I recommended that she gain a little weight, get a moo-moo or house dress and trade out her contacts for wire-rimmed glasses.
Bimberly (not her real name) wasn’t that happy with me and she didn’t want to take my advice. She said she wanted to look professional and that she felt it was completely unnecessary to dump herself down. I said that “professional” means “appropriate” and you can’t be hot AND appropriate in a high school setting. The exception would be men who are not expected to mother the kids. Men can look good and still appear professional. Look at me, I said. I stay fit, get monthly manicures, wear collared shirts–though I always button that top button!
She did not seem convinced. Or happy about hearing the truth. Bimberly, I can tell, is going to have to learn things the hard way. But that’s okay because school is for learning. She can do it the easy way or she can do it the hard way. The choice is hers.
Got into an argument with my Principal about the value of poetry. I told him that Life is Poetry and that therefore we cannot live without poetry in our lives. Mr. Grunk said that he had always hated poetry when he was in high school and that kids don’t need to learn to read it. He said that “Poetry is not a twenty-first century skill, that kids need “facts about their world” and not “navel-gazing flights of fancy.” I told him in no uncertain terms that I respectfully disagreed. Kids should be gazing at their navels instead of their computer screens. Kids should develop imagination and compassion and respect for language in its most condensed form. They need to know about rhythm and assonance and onomatopoeia and metaphor because that is what literate people talk about. He said in so many words that I was full of poo-poo, which I did not respond to because I like my job and sometimes you have to “step away and work another day”–that’s a rhyme…and an aphorism. See. Poetry saves lives.
Hard-working teachers need access to their classrooms and all of the resources that we use to create 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Sometimes inspiration for a lesson will strike at 3am and I will leap out of bed, drive to school and rearrange my desk configuration or spritz clean my whiteboard or even run the copy machine. This access is vitally important because teaching is vitally important and teachers don’t stop collecting and creating just because they are on vacation or asleep. Now this morning I was awoken by an email from a colleague who did not have access to the copy-room because she had not been granted access. Of course I immediately drove to school and let her into the building so that she could work during the holiday on her classroom. Then I went to the corner locksmith and duplicated my key and gave her one. She was very grateful, though she acted concerned that I had no authority to remake the key or distribute them. After all, she argued, she was just a twenty-three year-old student teacher with no credential and had not even been hired or vetted by the district. But I told her that her desire to come to work on the Friday after Christmas was qualification enough. I tapped her shoulder and dubbed her a “real teacher” and then bestowed her very own copyroom key. Praise youth!
Today is Christmas! And Happy New Years! Something…something…something brings something cheer! Oh happy Christmas….I always forget the words to that song because we are not allowed to talk about Christmas at school. Why? Because Christmas is religion and religion is God and in the school there is no God. God is not allowed in school because God is anti education. God does not want you to learn things, especially scientific things but really anything other than his wish for you to praise him constantly, which is wrong. So sorry, God, but I’m going to have to send you home so that our children can learn!
Personally, I think God should be allowed to come to school because then He or She–we have to be careful today that we don’t assume that we live under the dominion of a male God…He could be a She or an It or a combination of the three…a Sheit…
But if God, whomever Sheit is, was allowed to come to school and learn about his creation, about Evolution and Chemistry and Math and, of course, poetry–where incidentally he would learn just how angry people are at him–he might improve himself.
Now some of you might be saying: How could God improve himself? He is a perfect being. He already know everything there is to know about Geography and Biology, and He or She can do an infinite number of pullups in PE. All true. But I for one would like to talk to God about some of the inconsistencies in his writing—some of the places where he says one thing and then a few pages later–says the complete opposite thing. Do the animals come to Noah two by two or seven by seven, for example? Frankly I find the whole seven story far-fetched, but that is exactly the kind of thing that we sort out in the rough draft.
School is not just for humans. God or Gods can make life better for humans and for themselves by updating their understanding of the world. That is why I strongly advocate for the presence of God in school.