This past January, I described some of my favorite moments from the first half of the school year. June is here, and it’s time for another year-end recap that explains why I spend so much time laughing my ass off at this job.
Six Million Murdered? Oy vey, forgive and forget
In last year’s third and final installment of the school year’s funniest moments, I told the story of the boy who shaved his mustache into a Hitler ‘stache, then walked around the school shouting, “Have you seen Kyle?” (it sounds like “Sieg heil!”) and then pointing in a Nazi salute and saying, “ I zink I zaw him over zere!” He got in some trouble and had to apologize to the school’s lone Jewish teacher, who also happened to be this kid’s junior English teacher. (Just one Jewish teacher? Little wonder our school floats in the Sea of Mediocrity.)
This year that quasi-Hitler kid had me as his senior English teacher. He once again provided countless hilarious moments, but the one I enjoyed most took place this past March. It’s not the funniest thing he said all year, but I enjoyed it the most because it captured the kid’s ability to perceive the absurdity that is public education.
The seniors in our district must complete a senior portfolio, a burdensome, meaningless project that includes a career essay, highlights of their high school years and many other silly components that allow educators to delude ourselves into the fantastical notion that what we do in high school has some sort of actual tie-in to the students’ post-high school real life.
As this kid was completing his portfolio, he came to class all excited one day holding a piece of paper in his hand. He said, “Do you remember last year when I got in trouble for going around the school like Hitler?” I told him I’d remember that even if I were in the sixth year of Alzheimer’s. He said, “Well, I asked [the Jewish teacher] for a letter of recommendation, and he actually wrote a good one! Can you believe it? A Jew writing a glowing report for junior Hitler! And look. He even used the words ‘tact’ and ‘maturity’ about me.”
Maybe I Should Do a Little More Vocabulary Instruction in My Classroom
Another kid, who I’ll call Steven, was showing his senior portfolio to one of his friends. The friend leafed through it and saw that Steven had been accepted to a culinary arts school in the Philadelphia area. The friend said, “Cool. What are you going to school for?”
Steven replied, in his best “duh” tone, “Culinary arts.”
The friend looked up with a puzzled expression and said, “I thought you wanted to be a chef!”
Steven looked at me, looked at his friend, looked back at me, and then, no doubt sensing the futility of an actual explanation, just sighed and said to his friend, “Well, I did, but now I’ve changed my mind, so I’m going for culinary arts instead.” The explanation sufficed, for the friend did not follow up with a question about the definition of culinary arts. I still have no idea what he thinks it means, and another teachable moment evaporated because I was too busy laughing.
Perhaps the Senior Portfolio Should Include an Irony Component
A big, hulking boy I’ll call Rex was showing me the rough draft of a few sections of his portfolio. One of these mandatory sections is the “Personal Responsibility” component. Here a student includes some sort of artifact (a picture, a certificate, etc.) and a brief written explanation that are supposed to indicate how he/she does, indeed, possess a modicum of personal responsibility in his/her outside-of-school life.
When I got to Rex’s Personal Responsibility section, I saw a picture of a cute infant. I asked him how this little baby evidenced Rex’s personal responsibility in real life. He replied, “That’s my son. He’s almost one. I been takin’ care of him, so it shows I got personal responsibility.” He did have a point. But he also had a baby. At 17. Last I checked, there are roughly 137 ways a person can have sex and still not make a baby. This young man, obviously, did not avail himself of these precautions, which would have been an better example of personal responsibility.
So, unable to resist the smart ass urge that rules my life, I said, “Well gee, Rex. Maybe you should include this in the Personal Irresponsibility section instead.” Rex didn’t laugh. He didn’t get angry either. He processed my suggestion, considered it, then winced and said, in complete seriousness, “Shit Bitt! You mean there’s a Personal Irresponsibility section to this bitch, too? What the hell I’m gonna do for that?”
The Pittsburgh Pirates Probably Have a Play Called “Alabama,” Too
In my dumbest class this spring, we watched the classic documentary Hoop Dreams. Despite its being twenty years old, the movie still holds kids’ attention and the kids become heavily invested in the film’s two protagonists, teenage basketball starts William Gates and Arthur Agee.
In one scene, the high school basketball coach screams, “Alabama! Alabama!” as he’s calling a play from the bench. A female basketball player in the class yells out excitedly, “Hey! I think we had a play called ‘Alabama’ this year, too!”
I said, “You think? Don’t you know?”
She said, “I think so … I don’t know … I can’t really remember … maybe … what the fuck … was it called ‘Alabama?’”
This girl was a three-year varsity starter, yet one month after the season ended she was not sure if they had a play called “Alabama”. Oh, their record this year? 0-18. I’m guessing you can imply the connection there.
Then I Guess “I Always Sarcasm”
Our principal is an extremely bright man in many ways. He’s a strong leader who cleaned up our school’s discipline problems. I trust his decision-making skills as much as any boss I’ve had, and he possesses a refreshingly realistic, crystal clear vision of what our student body is capable of. I could lay out a lengthy, boring list of all that the qualities I admire in this man.
Therefore, I don’t feel bad picking on his biggest weakness. Let’s see, how do I put it? How about like this. If you listen to this man for more than 30 seconds, it becomes immediately apparent that he was not a Communications major in college. When he takes to the P.A. for any unscripted announcement, the kids go crazy with laughter, derision and outright anger. And believe me, the majority of our kids are not going to make their living by plying their language skills, so it takes some doing to get them to attack someone’s bad grammar. The principal will start talking, and the kids will begin shouting for him to shut up, saying things like, “Bitt, he needs to take your class!” or “Who the hell lets him near that microphone!”
Subject-verb agreement is ignored, “gonna’s” and “hafta’s” abound and an occasional “ain’t” might find its way into some admonitory message. My favorite is how he slurs the word “breakfast” into “breh-fiss.”
So it came as no surprise when a fellow teacher, fresh off his year-end evaluation with the principal, walked into my room at lunch and said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
He proceeded to tell me how the principal went through the checklist of items on the evaluation form, telling this man where he excelled and where he could improve. When the principal got to the very big word “integrity,” he looked at it for an extra second, thought about the level of professional integrity demonstrated by my friend, and summed up his performance thusly: “Oh, you always integrity.”
Next time: A few of the more ridiculous teacher comments and a Greatest Hits list of lines I overheard in the hall this year.
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.