Friday, March 30, 2012

You Can Buy A Watch At The Dollar Store!

Yahoo! ran a story today about prom dresses getting out of hand, with administrators bringing rulers to the dance to measure hem lines (BTW- if your prom date looks like any of the ladies in these photos, my compliments).  Another great example of instructional leadership from administration...

The article recalls a tale from several years back.

The high school in our district had instructed students that the doors to the actual dance would be closed, with no exceptions, at 7:30.  In past years, there had been some problems with students showing up after drinking and the thought was that by requiring students to be inside the dance by the early start time they would head off such behavior.

Due to some construction surrounding the hotel where the dance was being held, the time was actually extended by 15 minutes to allow all the limousines to filter in.  Sometime after 8:00, a limo of students pulls up late and are told they are not going to be allowed entrence to the dance & subsequently asked to leave.  They refuse.  The acting administrator called the superintendent to ask how she would like them proceed.

"Call the police."

The police sent about 15 squads to handle about a dozen unruly teenagers.  The students were African-American which now immediately moved the issue from being one of tardiness to one of race.

The next school board meeting was met with massive attendance, and picketing outside complete with placards and rhyming chants.  Parents approaching the microphone during open session called for the immediate resignation of the school board president, the superintendent, and the high school principal as well as financial reimbursement for the prom ticket, limousine, tuxedos, and dinner!  

I'll give a ton of credit to the board president (an African-American man) who calmly held his ground on how the incident was handled and the original justification for the rule.  If I recall correctly, the school refunded the students the cost of the prom tickets but never came close to even considering the other 'demands.'

The whole thing is sad reflection on how insane prom has become.  Measuring tape? Police?  Picketing? WTF?  Schools and administrators have an obligation to maintain a standard of acceptability.  Students have an obligation as teenagers to try and find a way around those standards!  This doesn't make them criminals!  However, when the parents turn the school dance into a political war, or when administrators go looking for conflicts nothing good comes of it.

It's also worth referencing the beginning of Rafe Esquith's wonderful book- Lighting Their Fires.  The first part of his book focuses on teaching children the value of being on time.  Punctuality is on life support in this country.  Tardiness isn't fashionable, an uncontrollable personality quirk, or a cultural allowance.  Countless candidates have blown job opportunities over the years in my schools for showing up late without even offering an explanation.  Children who are taught (or shown by example) that it's okay to be late are being set up for failure.  No one likes to be the first one at the party, but in formal settings time does matter.  Those that acknowledge and respect this are in a position of advantage.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Trick For Reaching Hard To Find Parents

I'd like to share a trick a colleague used that I thought was pretty damn clever, and incredibly easy.

I've worked in a number of school districts where reaching parents was a challenge.  They switch phones without telling the school (sometimes intentionally...).  Their phone got disconnected.  They see it's the school calling and don't pick up.  Their mailbox is full and you can't leave a message.  They've moved.  They've gone to jail for 30 days and left their children with a neighbor.  I'm sure many of you could add to list.  Hell, you could probably create a separate blog on this topic alone!

I tend to empathize with many of the concerns & complaints educators have about their students.  That ends when it comes to reaching parents.  It's obviously critical they are involved in their child's learning, and I've never met a parent I couldn't reach if I just put in a little extra effort (ok, jail is tough to penetrate...).

Still most of us, myself included, enjoy having a working phone number.  Not long after registration in many urban areas, the numbers originally provided are no longer any good.  So what to do?

If you can get mom's new number off the student that's great, but they typically won't give it you, and often times they aren't lying when they tell you they don't know it.  Further, you're putting the kid in a difficult spot if the parent specifically told them NOT to give you the number.    

Jerry was a second year teacher when he came to our school.  Throughout the year, whenever the topic of reaching parents came up, Jerry never seemed to have a problem.  In fact, Jerry seemed to always easily be able to reach most of the parents that other staff members could never get on the horn.  One day I pulled him aside and asked him what his secret was.

During Open House a month or so into the year (and again later in the year), Jerry had come into possession of a 20 pound chocolate bar.  He set up a little table in his classroom where as a thank you for coming to Open House, he was going to raffle off this enormous candy bar.  Winner need not be present.  All he needed was a phone number to reach them at.  Like lambs to the slaughter house.  Jerry basically tricked his student's parents into updating their contact numbers.

This would be easy enough for any teacher to do, and it doesn't cost much money.  It could also be done school wide with a slightly more glamorous prize.   I think the small expense is worth it if it helps communicate with students parents. Like teaching, there is no one trick that works for everyone and all situations.  Raffling off candy bars (or anything else) won't totally solve parent-phone challenges.  It is however hopefully another strategy for the bag of tricks we are always looking to grow.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Punishment By Rewards?

I've been fortunate in my life and my career to to have learned from so many wonderful & talented people.  For educational purposes, I've worked with and under several administrators who showed confidence and belief in my abilities, and support for my goals.  They imparted great advice towards me and just being around them on a day-to-day basis was perhaps the greatest learning opportunity of them all.

I've also been fortunate (in hind sight...) to spend time with around some of the wrong people.  Daily expose to these individuals was equally educational.  No person fits this second category like Mrs. Lopez.  She was a Grade A dumb ass.

Mrs. Lopez was hired as principal the same time I was hired as assistant principal, but we had never met prior to the start of the school year.  She spoke Spanish and the school had a large Hispanic population.  Beside that though, I have no idea what her other qualifications were.  She had worked in attendance at a huge district but had no building level administrative experience, no people skills, and absolutely no charisma.  

She quickly isolated a pretty talented staff by limiting them to one ream of paper a month.  This was not done as a cost savings measure, rather so teachers wouldn't apparently do so many worksheets.  Even if this was done with creative intentions it quickly backfired when staff evidenced that they could not run off the requited curriculum with the allotment provided.  She didn't budge and teachers wound up having to pay out of pocket to get their copies made elsewhere.

My favorite tale though involved a troubled first grader named Matthew.  

Matthew was the worst kind of behavior problem.  He'd flat refuse to listen at unpredictable moments and couple it with running around the room or, just leaving the room altogether.  In house punishments don't work with these kinds of kids because they refuse to serve the consequence and suspension only rewards them.  Even calling mom wasn't much of a threat since she rarely answered.  Why would she want to deal with him?  Right?

One day Matthew got to lunch and was informed that his lunch account had no money in it (but hey, as long as mom had mediocre scotch in her belly and a Marlboro in her lips who needs food right?).  The district gave students three exceptions in such instances but after that they received a cheese sandwich and a milk until they could add money to their account.      

Well, Matthew did not want a cheese sandwich.  I gathered this by inferring from the non-verbal clues he provided, most notably, tossing the sandwich across the cafeteria and giving the lunch lady the finger.  Hey, there are fat people in Wisconsin who would kill for that cheese sandwich (sorry, couldn't resist)!

One of the teachers who worked in the lunchroom calmly approached Matthew and told him he needed to go and pick the sandwich up.  He of course refused.  The teacher pressed a little more, and explained that if he didn't go pick that sandwich up, he wouldn't be going out to recess.

Matthew bolted.  He ran out a set of exit doors and tore off down the street.  I took off after him.  As I was sprinting down a city street in the hot sun while wearing a full suit I remember thinking, "I don't recall this sort of thing in my college textbooks or on Welcome Back Kotter."

Matthew noticed I was following (I'm sure hoping I was) and began cutting through yards.  I pulled my walkie-talkie off my hip and radioed Mrs. Lopez asking what she wanted me to do.

"He left the campus by his own choice.  Let him go."

That's a real life directive from a tax payer supported administrator.  Let an irrational six year old run off on his own.  Let him run down busy streets on an iffy neighborhood where he could be hit by a car, mugged, bit by an animal, etc.  Despite this being a directive, it was one I could not follow.  I chased on, sweating, and hoping that I wouldn't be fired because my Saturn wasn't paid off yet.

Eventually someone dragged his older brother who was a 5th grader in the building outside and he helped up reign his brother in.  Mrs. Lopez eventually reached mom who was going to come in.  While we waited, Matthew still need to eat.  So what did our building leader do?  She ordered him a hamburger and fries from a local restaurant! Hell- I should have thrown my lunch across the cafeteria!  Perhaps the next time my wife tells me we're going to her parents house for her mother's meatloaf if I tear off down the street on foot when I come back she'll have ordered a pizza?!  Anyone else have luck upgrading their meal in this manner?  Please share!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chew On This One A While

I returned a couple days ago from a long meeting with upper administration.  Among topics that consumed solid blocks of time over the roughly six hour meeting: should teachers get pizza or hot dogs for Teacher Appreciation week, should the chorus concert be on one or two nights, and do bilingual teachers need to actually know how to speak Spanish.  Oh, and course, I can't forget (sadly) blaming teachers for all the problems the Masters of the Universe can't figure out.  Please don't try to do administrative work without advanced schooling and state certification.  It's complicated stuff.  But I digress.

When returning to school from any lengthy period away, there are always headaches waiting.  The other day it was a call from Mrs. Quills, a parent of a first grader.  I didn't really know her very well.  They were new to the school this year, and she wasn't an active parent.

My secretary explained that Mrs. Quills requested to come in and eat with her son in the lunchroom.  This is not something we typically allow parents to do.  If a parent wants to eat with their kid, we allow them to do it in a conference room.  We've found this cuts down on parents bringing in Happy Meals for their kids while their classmates gnaw on Roast Beef Bubbly.

My secretary explained that we didn't typically allow this, and offered her option B.  Mrs. Quills was insistent.  When pressed for a underlying concern about the lunchroom, she revealed her son could not eat if other children were talking & chewing at the same time, playing in their food, and 'being gross.'  She was outraged that table manners didn't make it into the Common Core Standards and then apparently babbled on about Montessori Schools she knew of.

Now, you literally would have better luck teaching 1st graders that the outer most fork is for salad then you would trying to get them to not talk & chew at the same time.  I called Mrs. Q back and she repeated through cigarette drags (and thick phlegmy coughs) the whole tale.  Before I'd even got a chance to respond, she launched into how little I cared about kids apparently.

Mom then went into how she can't send him with a lunch because the jelly turns brown by lunch time and kids laugh (Can anyone tell me what jelly turns brown?).  This too apparently results in a hunger strike from her son. Mrs. Quills, outraged that I would not change district curriculum to include table manners, demanded that she be allowed to come to school and teach the other first graders how to chew.  No amount of explaining that fighting the talking/eating thing with six year olds was a bad battle to fight would back her off

I couldn't actually decide which would be worse:  Mrs. Quills calling the Superintendent given that she's obviously insane (hey, I gotta mortgage payment too folks!) or actually allowing her around other children.  I kept waiting for Ashton Kutcher to run in and tell me I was being "punk'd."  He didn't.

We actually observed her son that day since we hadn't noticed a problem and his teacher said he never complained of hunger.  He ate his entire lunch without prompting.

I have an upcoming meeting scheduled with the mom where I'll probably get her to relax (there is some craft to administration...).... otherwise, look for a Part II to this tale...... This issue has taken several hours of my time and isn't resolved yet.... instructional leader my ass....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

10 Tips For Interviewing

FORWARD- While I certainly hope to entertain and lighten up the industry we work in, I also want to help.  Many perspective teachers ask me advice about job interviewing.  Please read the true interviewing tale below for a few tips on how to succeed in the interviewing process.  

I was interviewing teaching candidates with eight other administrators.  One of the candidates showed up about 15 minutes late because she couldn't find her car keys and the next one was about 10 minutes late because she went to the wrong district building.  Since I know that there are some pre-service teachers that read this blog- let me start with a little tip- BE ON TIME!  I consider tardiness to an interview to be an almost unrecoverable sin.  I don't care if your dog puked on the floor as you were leaving, that you caught a train, and/or that MapQuest gave you bad directions.  All of those things are legitimate things that happen and the possibility of their occurrence should be accounted for.  Tip #2- I would leave considerably early for a job interview and sit in the school parking lot and listen to the radio if you don't run into traffic.  Tip #3- if you do sit in the car and listen to music, the students inside the car should not be able to hear your subwoofer.

The second candidate who showed up late was a 'no' before her ass hit the seat.  Her English was poor, she was cross-eyed, and she had her socks pulled up to her knees either having just come from the over 65 dinner at Denny's or an adult soccer game.  We asked the first question and were then interpreted by the blast of bad calypso music.  Tip #4, turn your fucking cell off.  Tip #5, if you have to have a ring tone, don't make it calypso music, everyone hates that and thinks your a super douche bag.

The interview pressed on.  The fourth time her cell phone went off in the short interview the principal sitting next to me started kicking my foot under the table.  The principal on my other side was tallying the number of times the phone had gone off.  I'm usually a pretty straight faced guy, but I was starting to lose it. Several other principals were starting to water from the eyes.

I actually thought she was going to turn the phone off after it went off that fourth time, but I then realized she was reading a text message!   This is a good time to offer a couple more interviewing tips.  Tips # 6,7,&8- don't allow your phone to go off a second, third, or fourth time while in a job interview (hint- these tips work in fields other than the educational world).  Tip #9, don't read (or respond, Tip #10) to text messages while in a job interview.  You might be thinking, "what if it's my mom wanting to know if I'll be home for supper?"  While that's important, I'd still advise against responding during the actual interview.

As tempting as this candidate might have been, none of the principals requested a call back with her.  I begged my one buddy to interview her again just to see if she'd do the cell phone routine again, but he declined.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Got It By A Nose

I worked for a principal (Marie) who fought all sorts of battles many of us wish we could but ultimately realize are not worth our time.  This consumed hours of time and she rarely left the office, but I suppose she viewed it as her duty in her role.  One such instance arose when one of our 8th graders arrived at school on Monday with a nose ring which was a violation of the dress code policy.

In my experience, kids who get nose, tongue, eye brows, etc. pierced, they become almost hysterical at the notion of having to remove them as the piercing process is expensive and the hole would close immediately.  This case was no different.  "My mom MADE me get my nose pierced."  The girl refused, even when faced with possible suspension, to remove the nose ring.  So Marie got the mom to come in.

I think we all hold out hope for some logic when the adults are brought into the picture, but it's the same sort of hope reserved for playing lotto- you really want to win, but know almost entirely that you won't.

The mom came in and explained that in her families culture that a nose ring was a sign of becoming a woman.  At this point, I can tell you that I would be done with this conversation.  I battle over a tiny nose ring isn't a good use of my time and a parent calling the superintendent and accusing me of being culturally insensitive certainly wasn't on my to-do list.  But Marie pressed on.  "Well, what culture is that exactly?"  The mom said they were Native American.  "Why don't you have a nose ring?" Mom couldn't really answer this one. "Well what about this weekend marked her becoming a woman?"  The parent couldn't answer that one either.  She babbled something about 'just knowing' when the time is right.

The mom and daughter eventually left, but Marie wasn't done.  She pulled the kid's file and saw they had marked Caucasian on her enrollment.  Marie immediately called the parent back and informed her that before she could allow her back in the school she would need to come back in and change ALL paperwork from Caucasian to Native American.

The parent balked a little at this claiming to be both Native American and Caucasian, but Marie explained that for her to allow her daughter into the school in violation of the handbook approved by the Board Of Education her paper work would need to reflect this cultural allowance.

Begrudgingly, the parent returned the next day.  Marie had dug up every form she could find to make this parent fill out.  Everything, including forms that didn't even address ethnicity, had to be filled out again Marie explained.  The parent spent about half the day filling this crap out, but eventually completed it all and the girl was allowed to keep the nose ring.  While I didn't in any way believe the parents version, I will share that I am aware of no distractions or disruptions that occurred by allowing the student to keep the nose ring in.

Marie did shit like that all the time.  She made doing the wrong thing hard for people even if caused her extra work, stress, and conflict.  Her reputation for taking on little things likely prevented it's share of problems.  It's not really my style to pursue such trivial issues, but it was certainly entertaining to watch...

Friday, March 16, 2012

License To Sell Hot Dogs

Annually I go around at the beginning of each school year to talk to each classroom.  The administrative team fondly refers to this talk as the 'dumb shit' talk.  Basically: Don't bring something to school that is going to screw up your life like a knife, a pellet gun, fireworks, or worse.  While I have their attention I use the time to hit on other topics like cell phones, iPods, dress expectations, and answer questions.

"If it's Halloween can I bring a toy gun?" - No.

"If I'm doing a project on the Civil War can I bring a bayonet to school?"- No

"Can I draw pictures of people killing each other if I'm on the bus?"- No

"I have a shirt with a lion roaring on it.  Can I wear that?"- Yes that's fine.

"I saw a show with lions once."- Yes, that would be interesting.

"What happens if someone brings a knife but no one ever knows it's here?"- Uh, I guess nothing.

"My grandma lives in Florida, and I saw a turtle their once when we went to visit."- Thank you.

'Ooo! Ooo!..... I forgot."

During these talks I bring the hard ass routine about the rules of the school, and quote all sorts of extreme possible outcomes (aka- empty threats for the most part) if they don't follow the rules.  "You won't be at this school long if you do__________."  I've basically turned into Dick Vernon, the principal from The Breakfast Club.

Following one such speech to our 6th graders who have been around long enough to know it's half routine, the teaching assistant follows me out of the room as I leave.  "Um, Sir- your fly is down."  Hard ass indeed.

Every time students have started giggling for seemingly no reason in my entire career, I've checked my fly.  These kids sat and never made a peep, likely wondering why a grown man is wearing Spider Man boxer shorts (because they're awesome of course).  To my defense, the zipper wasn't down- it had broke.  It might be time to start declining a few of those birthday cupcakes...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Character Building

I think every staff has some like Elva.  Elva is a teaching assistant at my building who I believe could die at any given second, but probably will wind up living forever.  To my knowledge, all of her internal organs have been removed.  She hasn't rolled a sick day to the next year ever.  Something is always wrong.  She needs knee surgery (I'm fairly certain she has a doctors note that says she can't stand or sit during the day).  Her mom died.  Her son died.  She's got a cough.  She got divorced.  She got re-married and her step son stole her dead mom's jewelry.  The odd, and yet somewhat awesome thing about Elva is that everyone laughs at her regularly occurring calamities because it's always her who is having them.  Her woes are good building climate!   If she were in the teacher's lounge explaining that her dog had to be put to sleep because he had cancer, you'd find four people just outside the door, beat red in the face, with tears running down their face.  There's only so much sympathy that a given person can milk out of a staff before they stop paying attention.

A few years back I brought in several large bags of apples and a couple jars of peanut butter (jars never feels right when describing peanut butter containers to me... but I digress).  Elva, of course, nearly cut her finger off with the apple slicer tool.  She spent several hour (not working...) in the nurses office bleeding before finally leaving to go get a stitch.  That was the last time I brought in apples.

Twice she's nearly choked to death (nearly...) on a red/white peppermints.  There is always lots of frightened hacking that occurs before she projects the candy across the hall in front of disgusted students (and staff).  It is a safe bet that if the temperature is over 80 degrees outside and she is asked to do anything outside she'll wind up in the nurses office with a cold wash clothes on her.  Most of all, she's ALWAYS sick.  Every day she actually makes it to work (three minutes late daily) she acts as if she's Rocky heading out for the 15th round with Drago.  Her face is filled with pain and anguish, she limps, and she stinks like a fine mixture of Dollar Store perfume and Marlboro Lights.

Elva isn't very good at her job, but she's kind of like the Richard character on Lost- she's been around basically forever without aging.  No one even knows who the hell hired her.  But Elva is really good at one thing- cleaning the lounge.  She, without asking, cleans the lounge for the entire school... on the mornings there is food in there after the teachers begin their day.  Elva can be seen wiping tables down while inhaling coffee cake and jamming chocolate covered anythings into her pockets.  You're probably imaging an obese woman but the cigarettes and shame must be helping keep the pounds off.

I'm being a little sarcastic, and certainly a touch cruel, but it doesn't play out that way at school.  Like everyone else on staff, we support Elva- perhaps just with a little grin or eye roll whenever she comes in looking for aspirin or out of breath because she overhead a student say 'damn.'  I love having her at my school.  I don't love that she's not great at her job, but I love that she's a character.  The great characters around a building are one of the best things about sharing a work space with a large number of people.

I would love to hear about some other school's unique treasures...  :)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner?

I used to coach boys basketball and was also dating the cheerleading coach.  This was convenient as we would often go out to dinner after games or practices concluded.  There was a place not far from the school that the best chicken wings I'd ever had, and on Tuesdays they included them on their 'all you can eat' buffet.  I became a little single tracked in my life as I pretty much just thought about Tuesday nights and all you can eat chicken.

After a road game one particular Tuesday night, I was all set to take the little lady out for the $6.95 buffet ("baby, you can have whatever you want up there") but we obviously couldn't leave till all the kids got picked up by their parents.  My boys were all gone, but we were still stuck with one cheerleader.  She didn't know where her mom was.  We called every number we had.  No luck.  I felt badly for this girl, but frankly I was feeling worse for myself as I was pretty sure the buffet ended at 9:00 and time was starting to become a factor.

After well over an hour of sitting around waiting and repeatedly re-dialing the same phone numbers we somehow reached mom.  She was at a bowling alley the next state over.  She explained that it was league night and she wasn't coming.  I don't know if this mom won her bowling match, but I do know she did not win "Mother Of The Year."

A guidance counselor stopped back by the building by freak coincidence and elected to drive the student home.  My gal pal and I raced to the restaurant but this story, unfortunately, does not have a happy ending.  The buffet was closed.  We went somewhere else, but regular food didn't taste good anymore.  I wanted to fall to my knees and curse the sky while lightning flashed like in the movies, but I had dress pants on.

There are lessons learned in everything though.  For all my remaining years of coaching, after the team was picked, I started each year with the players and their parents and I told them the story of the chicken buffet dinner that wasn't.  I calmly explained that if I ever missed my chicken wing dinner (or any other dinner for that matter) because the player was not picked up punctually that they would not play in games.  People pay attention when their children's court time is in question.  I never had a parent more than 10 minutes late for the rest of my coaching days.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Perfect Strike!

I'll admit upfront I am not a huge field trip guy.  Done correctly, there is definite value, but too often these just represent mini vacations from the classroom with some real reach employed to justify educational value.

The worst I ever experienced was as a first year teacher at a junior high some genius decided we should take our students to an indoor pool to promote "team building."  My mind swirled with what could wrong.  Teenagers changing in bathing suits.  Hands below the water line.  Drowning.  Of course with in 5 minutes of the kids hitting the water one kids slipped and hit her head on the deck and the life guard had to go in to make a save on another kid.

My favorite tale though was also while I was a teaching junior high.  The school took most of the kids to a professional baseball game.  I believe this was a reward for not getting suspended (or something to that effect).  Again taking hundreds of kids into the city in an unstructured environment where alcohol, cigarettes, profanity and strangers were abundant simply didn't seem like a good calculated risk.  Of course we didn't have problems with any of those things (other than me not being able to get a beer at the game...).  That's not to say the say the day went smoothly for everyone.  This particular ball park, like most, has rafters that cover portions of the seats.  Birds can often be found flying overhead and landing in these rafters.  As we were finding our seats, one of these birds took a huge shit right on one of the students.  I didn't see the bird but I can only assume that it was about the size of a Terradactyl and fresh from large meal at Applebee's because this poor kids was cover like no victim of bird aim I'd ever seen (a perfect bulls-eye too of course).  The boy's hair was cakes and it was running down his shoulders and coats.  It was disgusting.

The student reacted the same way I would have.  He sat down right where he was on the steps of the stadium and cried.  Every return trip I've ever made to that park, I wind up looking up more than at the field.  I'm sure I'll be writing soon about how I caught a foul ball in the neck...

Would love to hear some more misadventures in field trips!

Monday, March 12, 2012

March Madness

Back when I was teaching junior high social studies I had a student named Robert Racer.  Robert was a straight A student, and in fact, I'm not sure he ever missed a single problem.  Robert was socially awkward.  He washed his hands after every class.  He didn't talk to girls (and wasn't much better with boys).  He didn't come to school functions, and if he wasn't doing school work he was reading.

I think most teachers have or have had a student like Robert.  So you can imagine my shock when Robert approached my desk and asked if he could organize an NCAA pool with other students.  I was almost too stunned to answer.  "Just a couple a bucks a person." he said awkwardly.

This kid had never talked during class and now he was asking me to permit gambling at school?!  I explained to him why that wasn't happening, he listened, seemed to accept my answer and went back to his seat.  I couldn't believe it!  I wasn't even sure Robert Racer knew the difference between a basketball and a coconut, and he certainly had to know that gambling wasn't permitted.  I ran to tell the other teachers on my team about Robert's proposition.

I started to get a little suspicious when some of the more popular girls in the school start approaching me begging me to allow Robert to have his pool.  These girls didn't know anything more about college basketball than Robert, and certainly didn't talk with him.  I was being set up for something.

I had recently accepted a promotion and was uniquely leaving my teaching position midyear.  I had been at this school for a while and am quite the jokester.  There were more than a handful of people who might like one last swipe at me.

As it turns out, several teachers put Robert up to asking me about the pool, knowing what my reaction would be.  To Robert's credit, he sold it perfectly.  The plan was going to be later in the day to have the school office arrest me for running a gambling ring and escort me out of the building in cuffs.  Because Robert's classmates oversold the bit, I was able to blow their gag.

Unfortunately for them, I still had a couple days left at the school.  I arrived around 4:30 am the next day and went to the classrooms of the two teachers who put Robert up the pool thing.  I meticulously removed everything hanging in their room (walk into any classroom in your building and check out how much crap is on a classroom wall) and rehung it upside down.  Student work, number lines, motivational posters, family photos... you name, I flipped it.  This is a great little harmless gag to play on your teaching buddies as it costs nothing, and generally can't be fixed before the students arrive.  Don't mess with the bull young man....

Friday, March 9, 2012

Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind

A few years back a first grade student asked if he could speak to me while I was in his class during a walk through.  With first graders you have to be careful with this sort of thing because you might wind up having to talk to every kid in the class. The boy, Alex, looked serious enough so the two of us went out in the hall and chatted for a minute.

When we'd finished our conversation I brought him back into the class and ushered him to his seat.  His teacher approached me and  said, "That's really good that he told you that."

"What exactly is it that you think Alex just asked me?" I inquired to his teacher.

The teacher replied, "That earlier today he said he was going to kill Daisy, her mother, and their new baby."

"Alex told me that Jimmy has a toy car in his pocket."  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Simply Resistible

When I was a first year teacher I worked with at a school whose librarian was somewhat of an odd bird.  I think it's possible that Shelly suffered from a little loneliness due to the amount of time she spent alone in the library.  She was one of these people where if you got locked into a conversation with her, you weren't going anywhere for a while, which of course made people further avoid her.

About midway through the year she came to my door while I was teaching and asked if she could talk to me in the hallway.  This had never happened so I figured this was likely something fairly important.

"I just I'd let you know that Robert Palmer died."

I paused and cycled my mind for a second while Shelly stood there staring at me.  "Do you mean Robert Plant Shelly? The guy from Led Zeppelin?"

"No.  Robert Palmer." She repeated.

"The Addicted To Love guy?" She nodded.  "Shelly, why the hell would I possibly care about that?  I'm teaching here!"  I'd never had one conversation with this woman about Robert Palmer, music, or anything else of the sort.  With no disrespect to Mr. Palmer's legacy, I hardly felt his passing after a decade of general irrelevance was interruption worthy (hell, Robert Plant dying could wait till a passing period...).  That marked the last classroom visit I received from the librarian.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Several years back I worked with a woman who was a little overweight, but had a wonderful sense of humor on the issue (and all other things).  She would tell all the children that she was a princess which I always assumed was at least a little tongue-in-cheek due to her weight.  She would wear a little tiara in the classroom, and regularly remind the children she was a princess.  The kids all loved the bit.

One day a little kindergartner approached her and asked, "Miss Cousins, why do you call yourself a princess?"

"Because I'm the most beautiful teacher in the school." said Miss Cousins confidently.

The little one paused with amazement.  "Wooow! And you have two chins!"

They say the darndest things.  :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Free Speech For The Dumb & Dangerous

A few years ago the skies turned black, the winds changed, and Miles Christian enrolled at my school.  Every school gets one of these kind of kids every couple years, but Miles was truly an all time great.  By coincidence, he wound up with one my best teachers in the 5th grade and she asked me come observe him after about two days.  "I think he may be psychotic."

There were lots of adventures with Miles that I'll probably share over time, but we'll start with one of his all time greats.  Miles was a very bright boy and perhaps more than most kids his age, he seemed totally desperate for attention from his peers. 

During an American History lesson, the teacher explained to the classroom that there had been several plans to assassinate President Lincoln prior to John Wilkes Booth's successful effort in 1865.  Some time after learning this, Miles (who is Caucasian) calmly announced to the class, "I wish one of those attempts would have been successful because then all of you (signaling the many African-American students in the classroom), would still be slaves."

You can imagine how this went over. The teacher obviously tried to talk to Miles about this, but he wanted no part of it.  "That's just how I feel" he shared and then pointed out the frequently misunderstood student belief about 'free speech.'  Recess was in about 10 minutes and the teacher came running to get me, worried that if he made it outside, he might not make it back inside (Miles was maybe 40 lbs. if you dunked him in water and put ankle weights on him...).

I tried talking to the kid, but got no further.  Being in the Principal's Office rattles most elementary kids, but Miles was as relaxed as could be.  I wasn't entirely certain what I wanted to do here.  We barely knew this kid.  I don't really like suspending students to begin with, and in this instance I couldn't totally be sure of his mental capacity when making a comment like that.  So I decided to appeal to the home.

Mom, who I later learned was both bi-polar and a raging alcoholic (No child left behind...), introduced some new profanity into my vernacular as she ripped me a new one, and accused me of allowing all sorts of privileges to African-American students that I was apparently denying her son.  She added after nearly an hour on the phone, that in addition to Miles having justification for his comment, and the school not challenging him enough, that they were also decedents of Robert E. Lee.  Well why didn't you say so!

At some point, Mom literally dropped the phone and ran off screaming after I told her she could stop with the inequality route because it was unequivocally false.   The receiver was picked up by Mom's boyfriend- Ed.  Ed picked up the phone and very calmly said, "Hello, this is Ed.  I was in Iraq and I've been blown up 5 times.  How can I help you?"

Ed talked & acted like the "Crazy" Joe Davola character in Seinfeld.  He explained that Miles had no racist feelings (there were unconfirmed rumors that swastikas were hung in the house... no child left behind), and at least agreed the comment was regrettable.  Shortly there after we ended the call.  You can imagine my excitement when my secretary let me know ten minutes later that Ed was back on the line asking for me.

"I just want you to know that over Spring Break, Miles will be writing a 25 page paper on Martin Luther King Jr. and will be reading the entire thing in front of his classmates when he returns!" This was so not what I wanted, and on so many levels.  How about talking to him about the appropriateness of his comment?  With what little energy I had left I tried to talk Ed out of this, but he was determined. 

Miles never wrote the paper (or at least never brought it in), but that would not be the last, or biggest adventure we had with him and his parental units...

I hit myself in the head with my phone receiver.  Alot.

Monday, March 5, 2012

My Best Frank Drebin Impersonation

During state standardized testing a couple years back I was working with a group of special education students  in 6th grade who had accommodations including extra time to complete the exam.  One of the girls, Kelly, had a 504 plan for high anxiety, but was also hearing impaired.  On this particular day of testing, the math portion of the exam was being given and students were allowed to have the test read aloud to them.  Due to Kelly's hearing need, I had to wear an FM system (basically a small microphone) so Kelly could hear what I was saying.  The classroom teacher working with Kelly always had the mic on so we were all used to this.

The testing went fine, but I'll confess to being a massive coffee drinker and was about to make a puddle on the floor.  As casually as I could when the last student finished, I dashed across the hall to the teacher's bathroom and began fumbling with my belt & zipper as my eyes started to gently water.

Finally, I got everything aimed where it need to be and sweet relief was mine at last.  My urine was hitting the toilet water like Niagara Falls and I probably classed up the moment a little further with a few soft moans of joy  that normal people reserve for the bedroom.  About half through emptying out roughly 12 cups of black coffee, I realized I still had the FM system on.  I had to pinch off my stream so I could free up my hand to turn off the damn mic.  I then finished my business in general horror.  I quickly washed my hands and opened the door.  There was Kelly, hand out stretched for her wireless system (probably more embarrassed than I was).

Luckily Kelly was an awesome girl who used to kid that she'd be writing a book about at the things she heard teachers say while forgetting to turn the mic off out in the hall.  I guess it's good it wasn't a number 2....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Workin' For A Living

I graduated from college with my teaching degree in December, meaning a school year was already in progress and I would have to wait for the year to end to pursue a full time teaching position.  This meant... subbing.

My parents were highly motivated for me to begin joining the rest of the paid working world and ordered me to go down to the county office and register as a substitute teacher.  The county had a list of every school and I simply checked which one's I was interested in subbing at.  My best friend was already employed at a large high school with two campuses.  One of the campuses was in a pretty hairy area, but my friend's school was fine and he'd already introduced me to some of his co-workers so I liked the idea of knowing a few faces somewhere.  However, the county form only allowed you to check the high school- not particular campuses.

The lady from the county office told me it usually took a couple weeks before you were fully into the system and I shouldn't expect any calls before then.  So I did what any college aged kid with no money and no job would do- I went over to my buddy Frank's house, got ripped drunk, and passed out on his couch.

The phone rang the next morning entirely too early.  Frank was clearly a little pissed as he handed me the cordless phone to let me know my mother was on the line. "They called you to sub! They need you to call them back ASAP!"  So much for two weeks off.

I called the number my mom gave me.  The sub job was at my pal's aforementioned high school... the other campus (years later I can honestly attest that there was nothing wrong with the school or neighborhood but at this time in my life, perception was relevant).  The sub caller had two different options for me: P.E. or Special Education.  My student teaching experience had given me zero exposure to either of these areas and I was frankly terrified of either option.  My parents would have murdered me if I turned down the opportunity to earn $80.00 pre-tax dollars after paying for my college.  In the end, special education couldn't be as awful as the smell of a high school locker room could it?

I arrived at school still a little cloudy from the drinking the night before and hopeful I would be showing a movie that day so I could read the sports section and drink coffee.  After arriving and being led through a metal detector in the presence of a uniformed officer (also not part of my student teaching experience...), I was given a map of the school with directions to the classroom I would be covering.  I had to ask for orientation directions several times before finding the staircase that would be lead me to the basement (why does this huge high school have classes in the basement?).  When I reached the classroom I finally figured out that I was subbing for the behavior disorder classroom.  I'd been duped. I should have taken PE. Dammit.

Somewhere within the first ten paid minutes of my career, a student jumped up and yelled to one of his classmates, "Dude, I'm gonna fucking kill you in the parking lot after school."  It was going to be a great day.

While teaching ED/BD students is perhaps not my calling, I survived the day, and several more in that same school.  No one died in the parking lot to my knowledge, and my classroom management bag of tricks expanded enormously.  I do not particularly believe that substitute teaching provides a ton of valuable teaching experience, but it does offer free trials into different schools, and it is fantastic practice for classroom management as the students are often at their very worst for a sub.  However, it should be noted that substitute teaching is NOT a recommended cure for a stiff hangover...