Let us continue with Part II of “Another Screwball Year in Another Run-of-the-Mill Public High School.” Be assured that I have no need to embellish.
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We have a junior who, by November, was failing most of his classes and becoming increasingly difficult to handle in the classroom due to his miserable disposition. He is borderline obese and extremely gay, hence the miserable disposition. However, he has a maturity beyond his years and comes to school dressed more professionally than most of the staff. He is quite articulate and, despite his shitty grades, rather intelligent.
This is where you expect me to describe how a caring, understanding (and probably gay) teacher took this troubled young man under his wing and turned him around. Well, almost. An elderly V.P., tired of dealing with this young man’s discipline issues, decided on a more novel approach. He took him out of most of his classes and let him serve as his quasi-assistant for most of the day. Before long, this young man was helping clear the halls. Then he began serving tardy and unexcused absence papers to students. He carried an administrative walkie-talkie. Eventually, when a teacher would page a V.P. for an in-class discipline problem, this student would show up at the door. One day he came to the room next to mine when the young teacher had called for a V.P. I heard this exchange:
Teacher: “So-and-so in the back row needs to leave my class immediately.”
Junior V.P.: “What did he do?”
Teacher: “He cussed me out when I repeatedly asked him to stop talking.”
Junior V.P. (to bad kid in back of class): “Okay, let’s go …”
Bad Kid in Back of Class: “Shut the hell up, Asswipe…you’re in my third period.”
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During an evening meet, a wrestler suffered an injury severe enough to require EMT treatment. The athletic director, a man in his mid-60’s who has been at the school for over forty years, stood near the injured wrestler while the coach called 911. Immediately after the call, the A.D. ran off to his office. The coach assumed he was going to begin whatever legal process ensues during in such situations. The usually rumpled A.D. returned three minutes later, now sporting a coat and tie and freshly combed hair. The coach gave him a puzzled look. The A.D. said, “Some of the EMT’s from that station are pretty hot, and I want to look good for ’em.” The wrestler ended up being okay. The coach resigned after the season. The A.D. is returning for year 43. He still keeps a tie and jacket in his office so he can look sharp for cute, young EMT’s. He’s still in his mid-60s.
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After the unexpected mid-year death of a math teacher, we were forced to hire a long-term sub who was all of 21 years old. He was friends with many of the kids, as he lived in a local neighborhood. They’d show up at his house to play video games and just hang out. They called him Mr. Steve, for they found him young and cool. One day a student walked by his classroom door and playfully punched his arm. The teacher playfully hit him back, only a little harder. The student hit back harder. The teacher hit back harder. Soon, they were wailing on each other’s arms. The student caught the teacher in the wrong place, hurting him, and Mr. Steve reacted by thumping the kid square in the chest with a hard right cross. The kid fell to the floor, unable to breathe, in the throes of a seizure. He spent the night in the hospital. It was cool, young Mr. Steve’s last day at our school. No one was too upset. After all, when he was in high school just a few years ago, he had failed the very math course he had been teaching at our school all year.
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One morning at the copy machines, another depressed, defeated teacher was staring at the bulletin board looking over next year’s schedule. Suddenly he brightened. He said, “Oh yes! Next year we start Christmas break on the 19th and don’t have to go back until January 5th! That’s a 16-day break!” Then he paused, cocked his head, did some considering, and said, kind of sadly, “Well, looks like I gotta stay in teaching at least one more year.”
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When our current principal came to our school, he did away with the daily morning sign-in sheet in the office. A true professional, he was under the hilariously misguided belief that his teachers also adhered to professional standards. After a few months, he noticed that many of the same bozos were arriving up to a half hour late. He had the techies install a computer sign-in system so that we could all sign in from our rooms instead making that oh-so-long trek to the office every morning. This worked for a month or so, but then people started ignoring this procedure. The principal mentioned at a staff meeting that he would begin monitoring the sign-in system and docking the habitually tardy teachers. However, he couldn’t follow through on this threat. Two days later, the sign-in system no longer worked. Someone had hacked it and rendered it useless. It was never fixed. Neither was the tardy problem.
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One of our V.P.’s is a hardass former wrestling coach. He does a fantastic job, but let’s just say he’s not too into his classroom observation duties. He’s the prototypical former coach, lewd, brusque, loud and intimidating. (He’s also a softie with a heart the size of Greenland, but that doesn’t belong in this anecdote.) He saw a group of us talking in the hall one afternoon. He came up and griped about how he had to do classroom observations on most of us. He hates doing observations. A second-year P.E. teacher, no doubt intimidated by a man who was recently inducted in the National Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame, said, “Just let me know when you’ll be in and I’ll have a lesson plan all written up for you.” How did our Mr. Testosterone handle this gesture of professional respect? He literally jacked the young teacher up against the wall and said, “If you waste one fucking minute writing up a P.E. lesson plan I will fucking waste you, do you understand?” When he observed one of my classes two weeks later, I handed him a written lesson plan just to piss him off. I found it in my mailbox later, crumpled into a ball with the word “ASSHOLE!” in red ink. I got a stellar observation report.
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I wrote one of our borderline illiterate seniors a letter of recommendation for his mandatory senior portfolio. I handed it to him during my lunch break just as another teacher was walking into my room. Just after the kid thanked me, the smartass teacher asked the kid, “Would you like me to read that for you?”
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A kid came to my room with a bag of candy tied up with colorful ribbon. I asked him where he got it. He said he won it in Health class. I asked him what he did to win it. He told me, “I got the highest score on the test about healthy eating habits.”
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During the first week of teacher activities, we were subjected to yet another session on how to vary our teaching techniques. We had to read a section of a book, then share what we just learned. (You know, lesson # 7 in the “Lazy Ways to Present Bullshit to Fellow Co-workers in Meetings that Absolutely No One Wants to Attend.”) But since the presenters were friends of mine, I figured I’d help them out and participate. When they took responses, I went first. I said that research has shown that kids respond more to intrinsic rewards (praise and such) than they do to tangible rewards (candy, prizes and such). One presenter, thrilled that someone volunteered to participate, said, “Well done!” She ran over to reward me for my participation. How did she reward me? With a very tangible mini Snickers bar.
Ned Bitters teaches high school and dreams of one day seeing one of his former students on stage at a strip club. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.