The Teachers’ Lounge – Memorable moments 08, Pt. III

Ned Bitters

And now for the final installment of “What do you mean when you say you laugh every day at your job?” Every one of these episodes took place in my classroom this year. I’m sure that when the No Child Left Behind state test results arrive this August, some of my lovelies will indeed be left behind, but ain’t a one of them can say they didn’t get their money’s worth in the laughs department.

* * *

The kids were working on some bullshit busywork in my last period class. I didn’t care about the quality of their work. I wasn’t even going to grade it. I just wanted some quiet so that I could catch up on some email. For once, they were working quietly. (You remember last period of the day in high school, right? It was the let’s-fuck-around period. Still is.) Then Demona, in a mock attempt to give semi-retarded C.J. a heart attack, yelled out, “Mr. Bitters, C.J. is cheating off of me!” Before I had time to pretend that I cared or, more likely, to tease him even further, C.J. defended himself by declaring, “Nuh uh … I was cheating off of Melodee!” He was not trying to be funny.

* * *

I have been at this job for 21 years, so I can handle the most flagrant acts of disrespect in a calm, decisive manner. Usually. One day a girl came to class from lunch still eating a blue slushie. I don’t care if they eat in class as long as they pay attention. I wanted them to read along as I went over some directions. This girl, who I’d indulged all year because her mother died over the summer, was giving this slushie more attention than Ted Kennedy’s tumor got from his brain surgeon. I nicely asked her to stop and pay attention.

She said with great irritation, “I’m listenin’!”

This pissed me off, but I remained nice and said, “But I really need you to read along with us.” She said she would. We resumed reading. I looked over and saw that she was still worrying about that goddamn slushie. I marched over to her desk and tried to take it. She snatched it toward her. How did the always-in-control, 21-year veteran handle this act of disobedience? I yanked it out of her hand and yelled, “Give me that fucking thing!” She stormed out in tears, cursing me thirteen different ways. But I had that slushie, and we continued with the directions. After five minutes of laughter, that is.

* * *

Despite the previous item, I know I can still relate to students despite my middle age. The day I get fearful respect and hear no sarcasm from students is the day I’ll stab myself in the neck with a red grading pen. But sophomore Justin confirmed for me that my jugular is safe for now. One day I found Justin’s big bulky sports bag under my desk after my planning period. He had written a note on it that said, “This is Justin’s baseball gear. I’ll get it after 8th period. Don’t let me forget it … FAG!” That’s when you know a kid really likes you.

* * *

Over the past year I have developed a bizarre allergic reaction to some unknown stimulant. It has happened maybe a dozen times. My eyes swell almost completely shut, and they take almost 24 hours to return to normal. I missed a day of school this winter due to one violent attack, and when I returned to work the next day, my eyelids were still fairly swollen, resulting in endless playful abuse from my dickhead students. After the requisite five minutes of merciless teasing stopped, we began class. I asked a boy in the back a question in reference to something on the board. He said, “I can’t see the board.” Just as I was about to call him on his bullshit, as his vision had been fine all year, he said, “Your eye is in the way.” It was easily the wittiest line a kid delivered all year.

* * *

One smartass, who was obsessed with my age, tried to nail me (apropos of nothing, mind you) with this pointed barb: “Man Bitters, you’re getting pretty thin on top!” Before the rest of the class could get a cheap laugh at my middle aged expense, I returned his weak volley with this overhand smash: “Well, I’d have a lot more hair up their if your mom would quit yanking on it when I get her all excited.” Winner. Game, set, and match. I don’t believe Renaldo made any more comments about my age for the rest of the year.

* * *

We read something in an honors class in which a woman cheated on her husband. One future officer of the Moral Majority said, in true horror, “She cheated on him. That is just so … like … wrong!” Another kid in the class, a bitter precocious little fucker who I just loved, said in his most sarcastic tone, “What’s that James? A little louder please. We can’t year you from all the way back there in the ’50s.” I’d have rebuked him and supported the first kid had I been able to talk, but I was too busy laughing.

* * *

One day a teacher had her kids create some kind of white doughy stuff out of baking soda, water and who the hell knows what else. It was pretty cool stuff, though. It had the consistency of heated gum, yet it did not stick to one’s hands at all. One girl, seeing me so enthralled with the stuff, gave me her baggie with the white doughy ball inside so that I could play with it. We were watching Julius Caesar that day, so while they pretended to enjoy that shit movie, two wiseasses near my desk asked if they could play with my “white goo.” I broke off a piece for each of them and said, “Yeah, let me give you some of my goo.” We laughed, and it was on.

For the next 20 minutes, these two wits put on serious faces and played with my goo, making comment after comment, under their breaths and with straight faces, comments such as, “Oh no, I got some of Mr. Bitters’ goo in my hair” and “Don’t get any of his goo in your eyes or it will burn” and “I just tasted Mr. Bitters’ goo and it’s really salty” and “Mr. Bitters’ goo can get really stringy if you run it around your fingers.” I couldn’t write the rest of the lines down because I was heaving with laughter behind my computer. They never smiled once, which made it even funnier.

fter the movie, a different girl asked, “Mr. Bitters, can you give me some of your goo?” She was not trying to be funny. I threw it to her. She said with absolutely no crude intent, “Man, Mr. Bitters. Your goo is so warm.” The two boys and I nearly suffered hernias from holding in our laughter.

* * *

I had a Chinese kid who spoke much like white people do when imitating Chinese people. One day he finished his work and asked me, “Mr. Bitters … you correcting this?” I told him I was. He tried to hand it to me. I said I’d get it later. He said again, “But you say you correcting this, right?” I said, “Yes, but I’ll get it later.” He looked puzzled and asked, “Why you no just correct now then?” Just as I was about to lose my patience, I realized what was happening. This kid was trying to say “collecting,” but it was coming out “correcting.” It was right out of an old Hollywood movie, when guys named Bill Jones used to don black wigs with pony tails, squint their eyes and do bad Chinese accents where the L’s turn into R’s. The only thing missing was the pointy straw hat and rickshaw.

* * *

Yep, I laugh hard at this job every single day. I won’t even tell you about the kid who peed in the lab jar when the teacher wouldn’t let him use the restroom, or about the time a teacher brought his lunch (leftover steak dinner from Applebee’s) for the first time all year, only to find the empty container in the trash when he went to enjoy it, or the kid who, when I asked how he got those nasty brushburns on his knees, said, “That shit’s from bangin’, son!” or about the girl who came to my class the period after the National Honor Society induction ceremony, laughing hysterically because one of the new inductees had asked if she could cheat off that student earlier that morning.

I have all this fun and they still give me over two months off every summer. So if you ever hear me complain about this job, just shoot me an email and call me every dirty name you can think of. I’m serious. I know I have it great, so don’t let me forget it … FAG!

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

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