As always, here are some of my favorite moments from inside the classroom this year …
I Think the &$%@ Problem Is that Your *$)#% Son Struggles with Higher-Level %$&# Grammar Skills. Well, That and He’s a $%@* Lazy Piece of %*#$
I’m sitting in an after-school conference with a student and his mother. (She’s from one of those Caribbean islands. I don’t know which one. They’re all the same, right? The islands, not the women. But maybe the women, too. Whatever.) Also in attendance are the senior class vice-principal and two other teachers. A teacher mentions the boy’s foul language, and the mother goes off (in full Caribbean accent mode, which is always a treat) on a tangent about young people and how their foul language is out of control. The vice-principal, a woman four months from retirement, agrees and agrees, “amen-ing” and “mmm mmm’ing” and “tsk tsk’ing” with the proper amount of disgust. Church-like, solemn head nodding was also involved. She was all in with the mom.
Not three minutes later, a teacher explains that the boy is failing her class because he won’t complete the simplest daily tasks. The vice-principal, apparently forgetting her previous stance on blue language, let go with a long, bitter “Jeeeesus Chriiiiist! That’s all you have to do to pass and you can’t do it? Jeeeesus Christ, Tayvon! Just do the damn daily warm-ups!”
I’m already scripting a twelve-word, parent conference cursefest for when it’s my last year. I’m gonna get my money’s worth.
No Child Left Not Gagging
As part of the new national Common Core curriculum, we are supposed to have kids read more non-fiction. So I try to find high-interest items for these kids to peruse. One day I pass out an article about “poop pills.” Perhaps you saw the story about how they are fixing hard-to-cure intestinal infections with slow-release, feces-filled pills. See, now you want to read the article, too. Or maybe just throw up. That’s called high-interest reading. As the kids are reading the article, a smartass kid in the back says, “You know what the headline for this article should have been? ‘Eat Shit and Live.’”
I’m sure the mother in the item above would take offense, but I found it clever. And, of course, I used his line in my other classes.
I’m Going to Venture Out Onto a Limb Here and Guess That Her Math Score on This Test Wasn’t Very Good
I’m administering the mandatory PSAT to a classroom full of juniors, 80 percent of whom do not want to take it. That’s right. We force kids who will never take the real SAT to sit for three hours and take the practice SAT. Why? Because we want to push and challenge kids. We want to establish rigor and high expectations and … yeah, sure. No, we force-feed these standardized tests because testing companies are for-profit enterprises with effective lobbyists and — voila — the local school system pays for every kid to take this test.
Many of the kids just bubble in anything and go to sleep. These are the dumbest of the dumber kids. But the smartest of the dumber kids know enough to act up and get thrown out. Their punishment? Sit in the cafeteria and talk until the test is over. Either way, the testing company makes their money.
Anyway, the following two exchanges should indicate just how inane it is to make every kid sit for this test that assesses college readiness.
Girl: How much longer until we get outta here?
Me: The schedule is on the board, the clock is on the wall. Just figure it out.
Girl: Ugh … that’s too much work.
Different Girl a Little Later: What time do we get out of here?
Me, Having Learned My Lesson and Just Giving the Girl the Goddamn Time Instead of Making Her Do the Hard Mental Calisthenics of Looking at the Board and then the Clock: 11:10
Girl: Is that the same as ten after eleven?
If He Ever Learns About the Holocaust, He’ll Leave This Awful Country of Ours and Move Somewhere Better … Like Germany
I have a poster in my room of the famous shot from Tiananmen Square, the one with the Chinese student standing defiantly in front of a tank, briefcase in hand and balls no doubt in his throat. A kid asks me what the story is behind the picture. I proceed to give him a fairly-detailed explanation of what happened there, talking about the Chinese government and the Chinese students and Chinese discipline and the Chinese press and Chinese corpses and I think I even mentioned something about Chinese food.
His disgusted reaction when I finished my little piece of Chinese history? “Oh my god, that’s awful. Our country sucks!”
Keep in mind that this occurred in an American classroom with an American teacher and that this students is very much not Chinese.
Makes Me Reconsider What Kind of Pearl Necklace It Was That Malik Said He Gave His Mom for Christmas
I avoid the back hallway where the locker room entrances are for multiple reasons, all of which entail with my hatred of high school sports. But one day I had to walk through that hall to find a teacher. It was my lucky day. One smartass kid from my fourth period came out of the locker room with a few globs of white lotion on his black face, saying, “Yo, why Malik always playin’, yo? Look what he did on my face?” All ten of us in the hall were damn near on the floor laughing at the faux jizz shot. We made it all the way to floor seconds later when an unaware-of-the-joke Malik came out of the locker room tucking in his shirt and saying, “I am so going to take a nap next period.”
And Watch Those Toilet Seats, Kiddo, Because You Don’t Want to Get The AIDS
This exchange took place in the very slow class for seniors who still haven’t passed the state English test they first started taking when they were sophomores.
Kid: Yo, Bitt. I got a cut on my finger. You got any disinfectant? (Keep in mind that this cut is small to the point of near invisibility.)
Me: No, but I got some hand sanitizer.
Kid [Looks at me aghast]: I can’t put that on my cut!
Me: Yeah, I guess that would burn pretty bad.
Kid [Not joking]: It ain’t that. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer will get into my blood from the cut and I can get expelled for being drunk at school if they gimme a breathalyizer test!
Me: Are you fuc…[I realized he is, indeed, fucking serious.] Yeah, you’re right. Just put this band-aid on it.
But She Has Tasted Sticky Buns and Head Cheese
A Spanish teacher shared this one with me. She was asking her students to name a food that they’ve never eaten. One innocent young lady informed the class that she has yet to experience the salty, meaty sensation of “Five Guys.” The teacher said she handled it like the seasoned pro she is. She blurted out, “Thanks for sharing” then proceeded to laugh so hard that she had to step out in the hall to compose herself.
I Write This With Complete Honestacity. This Quote is Verbatimatious.
I actually overheard, in an American high school, the following sentence. “You young ladies need to be more cognitive of the inappropriateness of your dressness.”
And you are thinking, “Well, it’s one of those kids in the slow class at least making an effort to use bigger words, so ease up on the kid, Bitters, you elitist prick.” And you’d be right if that were the case. However, the speaker of that quote was instead one of our school’s administrators on the school’s P.A. system on the first warm day of spring.
Wilford Brimley Would Be Proud
Twice a day I have this one senior with a severely deformed right hand that hangs at the end of a somewhat disfigured right arm. I wondered all year what the story was, but I didn’t know how to broach the subject with any degree of tact. I should add that IQ-wise, he’s bringing up the rear of all my students.
He finally shared his story one day in the slow class when only four kids were present. He told me that he was born with no thumb but six fingers, so they cut off two of the most mangled fingers. I said, “Oh, so it’s a congenital thing.” He corrected me. “No, it’s a birth defect.”
He went on to tell me, “There’s people on my mother’s side of the fambly with 11 toes and people on my dad’s side with 11 fingers.” Admittedly no geneticist, I nevertheless make an assumption and say, “Oh, I guess that explains it. It’s a genetic thing.” He replied, with the utmost sincerity, “No, I think it’s because of my mom’s sugar diabetes.” If that’s not wonderful enough, read it again, this time saying the last word like he said it: “Die-uh-beet-issss.” I decided right then and there to give him an A for the fourth quarter no matter what he did the rest of the school year.
And finally, we have the last installment of “Overheard in School This Year.” These are all student comments. I’d have included some overheard teacher comments, but I avoid being near the other teachers as much as possible. It’s a sanity thing.
“I have an irregular heartbeat but it just comes and goes.” Uh, hence the “irregular”?
“Is Barcelona a French-speaking country?” Which part of that do you correct first?
“Yo, that song is SO old, Mo! It came out like, two or three months ago!” He was not being sarcastic.
“My dad’s 50 and he still gets high.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Me and my dad was so stoned Saturday night.” I exchanged emails with both of those fathers this year. I have no doubt these kids were being honest.
“Today is Cinco de Mayo! I guaran-fucking-tee you that I’ll eat goddamn taco at some Mexican restaurant before the day is over.” He did not share his knowledge of what language they might speak in the fine city known as Mexico.
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.