worst moments in teaching

Sometimes I think about what I say.  Most of the time I don’t.  Below are several of my favorite terrible moments as an educator.  Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and not-so-innocent).

1.  BET.  I am thankful to have the most curious students in the world.  While on the subject of Federal Regulatory Agencies (everyone’s favorite topic), one student raised his hand and asked, “Why is there a lot of stuff that you can’t say on ‘regular’ television, but you hear all kinds of words on BET?”  I was so pleased that he made this connection that I didn’t even think before I responded.  “Because it’s BET”, I heard myself say.  First the room grew quiet.  Then the riot broke out.  When I finally calmed them down, I explained that I did not mean to imply that BET is the only network that uses vulgar language.  I was merely trying to explain the intricacies of cable network television.

2.  McDonalds.  I get some pretty rough students in my classes.  My first year, I taught a class that I thought could only exist in “Imaginationland”.  One student in this class, “Kendra”, showed up to class high every single day.  I began to wonder why she bothered coming at all.  When she wasn’t high, she had quite the temper.  One day, we got into it in the middle of class.  She began yelling about what a waste of time it was for her to be here, etc., etc.  On her way out the door, I was so frustrated that I yelled, “Have fun working at McDonald’s for the rest of your life!”  I later told the rest of the class that my comment was not meant to be demeaning to those who put in hard work at McDonalds.  Several weeks later I ran into Kendra in the hallway.  She told me that she was transferring to a GED program and that she wanted her son to be proud of her.  To this day, I have not seen Kendra working at McDonalds.

3.  The Powder.  This is not what you think.  There are so many reasons why I chose to teach high school rather than elementary or middle.  One big reason is the likelihood that a student will throw up while under my watch.  After three years in secondary education with no upchuck incidents, all of my fears came to life one day.  I was having the best exam review when all of the sudden one of my male students threw up.  He just threw up on the floor.  And the strange part was that no one seemed to notice.  I calmly said, “That’s ok, it’ll be ok”, to which he responded by throwing up again.  This time people noticed.  So I walked over to the phone, dialed the main office, and explained what happened.  The secretary had clearly done this many times before, because she quickly and calmly said, “I’ll send someone with the powder.”  (I would later learn that this was magic, vomit-sucking powder).  In the meantime, I escorted the class outside, everyone except the invalid.  I suddenly realized that I had no clue where he was or what he was doing.  Fortunately a female student with stronger maternal instincts than mine had helped him into the bathroom, where he was “finishing up”.


Sometimes the best part of my job is hearing the things that come out of my students mouths.  Without any introduction or context, here are some of my favorite student quotes from the past 4 years:

“Excise tax…when you exercise you get gas.”

“When I go visit my baby’s daddy in prison, I have to sign in as his sister because he’s 20 and I’m only 15.”

Me: Why are you wearing two different shoes?

Student: I lost one when I was running from the cops this weekend.

“Breaking and Entering is a misdemeanor, right?”

“If I was a teacher I would slap these kids.  Most of the time you can keep your job if you apologize.”

“Why do they keep calling me African-American?  I have never been to Africa.”

“When I was in middle school, I played with a Ouija board.  Ever since then I’ve had bad luck and been written-up a lot.”

“If the Louisiana Separate Car Act was about trains, why wasn’t it called the ‘Train Act’?”

“Mrs. Russ, were Greek men’s penises really as small as they are on all those sculptures?”

“Obama is president of the world…like Africa too, right?”

“Mrs. Russ, I got in!”

“Thanks Mrs. Russ.”

paper war

It doesn’t take much to make a teacher happy.  I received a free reusable bag from C-SPAN once and showed it off for months.  Each semester, the school provides every teacher with one box (10 reams) of copy paper.  If you need more (and you always need more), you’re on your own.  When the second semester begins, you get a second box of paper.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the faculty workroom and discovered a gift from our principal – one free pack of paper for each teacher.  That’s 500 sheets of copy paper that can be used to educate our students and change lives forever, especially when you utilize the “print 2 sheets on one page” function.

I skipped to my mailbox, anxious to hold the unopened ream of copy paper in my hand and smell it.  Unfortunately, there was no paper to be found in my box.  Every other box around mine had paper.  I asked the lead secretary why I did not receive my paper.  She replied, “Oh.  Two other teachers had the same problem.  I put some in your box, but it looks like someone stole it.”

Someone. Stole. My. Paper.  Not just “someone”…one of my “colleagues”.  A colleague who received the same gift I did, a free pack of paper, took it upon themselves to steal my paper.

This means war.  Produce that, Tina Fey.

dear tina

This is day one of my letter-writing campaign to Tina Fey.  I’m hoping that she will accept my challenge to transform my life and career (or any teacher’s, for that matter), into the next great dramedy.  Today provided some classic material.

After missing four days of school last week due to snow and ice (remember, this is North Carolina), we were informed this morning that we would be on a 2-hour delay because of ice on secondary roads.  I always think it’s humorous that the phone recording pronounces the word “inclement” as “inCLIment”.

On a 2-hour delay schedule, we get 28 minutes in each class, or an hour in block classes.  Just enough time to get them in their seats, take role, stop whatever fight is brewing, and dismiss them to their next class.

Somehow, our students always find a way to fit the most drama into the smallest amount of time.  For example, seven of my freshmen were involved in a texting scandal that spilled into the lunchroom.  One girl called two others “hos”, and four other students just had to take sides.  It resulted in them spending the next hour and a half in the principal’s office.

I was then informed by another teacher that female students have begun placing their feminine products on the floor behind the toilet, instead of in the trash can.  She is mounting a signage campaign.

Sandwiched in between this excitement, I announced to my 9th grade Seminar students that part of their midterm would be an oral assessment.  Two guesses as to which word tickled them the most.

Other notable events:  a former student of mine made another teacher cry by pretending she was pregnant, I investigated a student who has not been seen in 29 school days (but who is still required by the state to take the final exam), and a roach was found crawling up my wall.

best idea ever

After watching the Golden Globes last night, I have come to the conclusion that the world is ready for me to unleash my ideas in the form of a dramedy.  I cannot do this alone, though.  I have hatched a most brilliant plan that will change the lives of many forever.

Step 1:  Record the details of my career on a daily basis.  There is nothing more dramatic or more hilarious than teaching high school.

Step 2: Begin a letter-writing campaign to Tina Fey.  She is the only one I trust to take charge of turning my life and profession into a weekly television show.

Step 3: Invite Tina Fey to visit my classroom for at least one school day, to observe the characters in their natural habitat.  Lots of good material here.

Step 4: Accept Tina Fey’s offer to fly me to New York, purchase the rights to my idea and story for an undisclosed amount of money, and hire me as a production consultant.

Stay tuned…

the chinese mother

I came across this post, a review of Amy Chua’s new book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”  In general, she sums up what it takes to be a successful Chinese parent.  Why would you want to model yourself after a Chinese parent?  Chua’s two daughters might provide some inspiration – one performed at Carnegie Hall at the age of 14, the other is a successful violinist.

When I read some of the tenants of Chua’s parenting style, I was slightly offended.  Not only did she demand perfection of her daughters, but she denied them the ability to take part in the “normal” activities of adolescence – slumber parties, school plays, etc.  Then I wondered, “what would my students be like if they switched parents for a month, a week, or even a few days?”

The problem in education cannot be attributed to one factor.  But if the “parenting factor” could be addressed, even in such a revolutionary, “Chinese” way, what would the impact be?

Amy Chua’s book can be purchased here.

does your school need a fresh start?

One summer I had a job as a nanny with a wonderful woman who taught me a lot about a lot.  Her son was two at the time, and going through quite the tantrum phase.  Early in my time with her, he started pitching a fit about not getting what he wanted.  He began screaming so loudly that I started to move towards him.  His mom stopped me though, and over his screaming she said, “No.  If you give him what he wants, he’ll never learn to change his behavior.”

If you’re as interested as I am in the role the Federal government has been playing in public education lately, then you’ll find this release fascinating.  You can open it as a word or pdf document, in Spanish or English.  Go ahead, take a few minutes to read through the publication being distributed to parents across the country.

“Low performing schools.”  Let that sink in.  What’s the subject of that sentence?  That’s right, “schools”.  Schools are the ones doing the “low performing.”  Not the students.  Not the community.  Not the parents.  Just the schools, and the teachers who represent them.

Thank goodness Arne Duncan and the Department of Education are here to throw $6 million at the lowest performing schools in America. And it’s all outlined in this wonderful pamphlet entitled “Does Your School Need a Fresh Start”?  At first, I felt as if I were about to watch a 30-minute infomercial detailing the latest car care system.  It is a good publication though – short, concise, easy to read.  It almost had me agreeing with everything in it.  Until I realized what it was proposing.

What does it take to turn a school around?  “Stronger school leaders”, better “professional learning culture”, “more learning time”, and more “student supports”.  Only once did it mention parental engagement.

How will this turnaround take place?  In a very organized fashion.  There are four options – one involves getting rid of the principal, one entails cleaning house altogether, and the other two involve closing the school completely.

It left me to wonder – if we just give the parents what they want, who is going to teach them to change their behavior?