21 December 2009


For some reason Social Studies departments tend to employ a lot of coaches. I like coaches. Most of them are dedicated and talented teachers who discovered that it's hard to find a teaching job without coaching something, so they took up a sport in order to make themselves more employable. They are fun to work with. They have a lot of personality. They have insane schedules, so they know how to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. They relate with the kids really well, they don't take themselves too seriously, and are in general some of the most supportive and helpful colleagues I have.

Some coaches are stupid. These are the ones that got a degree in education so that they could find a coaching job. They aren't really great at teaching, and they aren't good at coaching, but they are excellent at giving the whole profession a bad name.

I have a student who is failing my AP class. The conversation I had with him last week is a perfect example of the bad influence of an incompetent coach.

Me: You're missing several assignments in this class. You're going to need to turn them in soon, or you won't be able to pass.

Student: I know Miss.

Me: Do you have the list of make up work I gave you?

Student: Yes.

Me: Do you need help with any of the assignments?

Student: No

Me: OK. Semester grades are due on Thursday. I need your stuff turned in before then

Student: It's OK miss...Coach told me I'm eligible to play.

Me: (confused by the abrupt change in subject) What?

Student: Yeah. I didn't do too well in History last year so coach told me I should take AP this year. That way if I fail I'm still eligible to play.

Me: You might be eligible to play, but if you fail you still don't get credit. If you fail history you'll be a Junior again next year.

Student: Oh. Coach didn't tell me that...

09 December 2009

How to be a Real Person

My AP kids are not funny. Sometimes I think that they are not real kids, they are just little grade earning robots. They do their homework, they follow directions, and they're pretty good at multiple choice exams, but they lack creativity. I told them that they have sacrificed their souls to the god of good grades and have no personality.

Seriously, they have no soul. Take, for example, the flu episode. (I'm not sure if it was of the swine variety or not.)

Day 1 : I was feeling pretty horrible and knew that I wouldn't be able to make it to school the next day, so I went to the other AP teacher and asked her if she had something that would be good for me to leave for my kids to do with a substitute. She pulled an article with accompanying questions out of her files. I must have looked pretty sick because she was about to hand it to me, but instead declared it would be better if I didn't touch her stuff, and offered to make copies for me. A few minutes later she came back with a pile of copies. I left them on my desk for the substitute, and went home without really looking at them.

Day 2 : I stayed home to nurse my violently ill self back to health.

Day 3: I still wasn't feeling great, but went back to school. I looked over the assignment that I had left for the kids and realized that it was far more work than anyone really could accomplish in one day. I knew the kids hadn't been able to take the assignment home because there was only a class set of copies, so I told them they could spend the class period finishing their work from the day before. They insisted that they were ready to hand it in. I was certain they were lying to me, but every student was able to produce a completed assignment to hand to me. I was quite baffled. When I asked for an explanation they told me they had asked another teacher to make copies for them so they could take it home and finish it as homework. They are insane.

I have decided that it is time to take action. In addition to the development of political parties, the economic policies of Andrew Jackson, and the effects of the Second Great Awakening on the Abolition movement, I have added to my classroom curriculum a unit entitled "How to be a real person." The following are my unit objectives:

1) Students will understand that in a few years no one in the entire world will care what their high school GPA was.

2) Students will learn that despite their years of academic training it doesn't really matter if you put your name on the right or left corner of the paper, or how many lines you skip between answers.

3) Students will learn to value more than just academic achievement. They will learn to also appreciate having fun, making friends, being creative, and helping their mothers do the dishes.

4) Students will learn that being able to quote a definition from the textbook doesn't actually mean they are intelligent. They will learn to use the book to inform and facilitate their own thinking, but not to substitute for it.

5) Students will learn that their grades are in no way a reflection of their worth as a person.

I'm fairly certain that none of these objectives will ever appear on a state standardized assessment, but I think they are worthwhile anyway.

26 August 2009

The kids are back...

And they are off to a great start. Here are my three favorite comments from the first day of school:

1) Does the United Statets really have a capital? I thought only individual states had those.

2) Wasn't George Washington the President during World War I?

3) Is California on the East coast or the West coast?

In celebration of my new job, I answered the last question by using a map.

23 August 2009

Heat Men

Once upon a time, in my pre-reading days, I was sitting at home, and I was very cold. Specifically my legs were very cold. Being rather young and not too self sufficient i decided to respond to my discomfort by whining. My dad suggested that I could not just sit and whine and remain cold, but rather remedy the situation by putting on a jacket. I knew this was a dumb idea for two reasons:

1) My jacket was hanging in a closet in the cold house, and therefore also cold. Putting this cold jacket on would only serve to make my arms as cold as my legs.

2) A jacket would not cover my legs, which, as you may recall, was the part of me that was freezing.

Therefore, I concluded there was nothing to do but sit and suffer, rather loudly, from hypothermia. Although I am fairly certain hypothermia was not yet a part of my vocabulary I'm sure I was thinking some juvenile synonym of hypothermia which currently escapes me.

My dad explained to me that a jacket was a perfect solution to my impeding death by cold because of the heat men. Heat men are the little men that live inside of your body that keep it warm. But the heat men do not simply sit inside your body contentedly keeping it at a pleasant and comfortable temperature. Heat men want to escape and live in the air. They rush around your body looking for avenues of departure. My dad explained to me that if I put on a jacket the heat men that were trying to escape through my arms would get stuck thereby making the jacket warm. Problem 1 solved. He further explained that those heat men would send out the message to other heat men that the arm escape route had been cut off. The rest of the heat men would rush down to my legs looking for an alternate route, and in no time my legs would be nice and toasty. And thus I would not freeze to death. This made sense to me, and I put on a jacket.

My dad insists that he does not remember this conversation, but to this day every time I put on a jacket I imagine little heat men, who look remarkably like little green army men, rushing around my body trying to escape.

02 August 2009

Public Restrooms

Some thoughts from last summer's vacation...

After spending 5 days in New York City I have come to the following conclusions about public restrooms.
1. There will always be a line in the women’s restroom. I have long claimed this to be one of the Grand Laws of the Universe. Much like gravity, the line in the women’s restroom will always exist. It’s not always a long line, but it is always there.
2. I have never ever ever seen a baby changing table used for changing a baby. I’m sure it’s happened, and I’m sure that someday I will be the one using it for said purpose. But to this point in my life I have never witnessed the changing table being used as it was intended.
3. I strongly prefer paper towels to hand dryers. Despite this preference my environmentalist friends still like me. This makes me happy.
4. There is not a preponderance of public restrooms in New York City. The potential for problems is alleviated by the fact that drinking fountains are also severely limited.
5. An airport will never be a convenient place to use the restroom. Since “the current security threat level is orange,” and no one would ever think of leaving their luggage unattended at any time, many rolling suitcases find their way into the confines of a public restroom that is already overcrowded by the ever-present line (see #1) Getting into the restroom requires successful completion of a rather complicated obstacle course. Exiting the restroom requires feats of agility and strength known only to the most adept escape artists. In spite of the best coaxing suitcases and stall doors do not play well with each other. No matter how you try to rearrange things the suitcase will insist on being in the way and the stall door will refuse to completely open. You will get caught in the middle of the ensuing struggle.
I don’t think I will ever walk into an airport and hear an announcement that says, “May I have your attention please. There is currently no security threat level. Please feel free to leave your baggage unattended wherever you would like. Thank you.” Since this will never happen I think that they should just make the stalls in airports large enough to accommodate a person and a suitcase. Or at least change the doors so that they open out.

29 July 2009

One of my roommates from college came and visited this week. One morning she referred to the tank top she was wearing under her low cut shirt as a "modesty enhancer". It made me giggle.

20 July 2009

Confession- Not of the Catholic Variety

I received a voice mail yesterday requesting that I update my blog with a new entertaining story because “We think you are hilarious.” This request leads me to a sad confession: I’m not funny. I just have frequent interaction with highly amusing teens. I have elicited many a laugh by simply repeating exactly what the kids say. And the best part is they don’t even know that they are being exploited. I steal all of their good material and use it as conversation fodder. And all they get in return is homework. I feel a little like an imperialist colonizing some distant land, stealing the natural resources and telling the natives that it's for their own good.

My blog has suffered a little neglect lately because it’s summer vacation. I am certain that I have a rather large supply of enjoyable anecdotes from previous school years that have not yet been chronicled. However, today’s recollection of school has provoked only frustrating memories of an insane principal who thinks it’s a good idea to teach Social Studies without using maps, a human resources director that has yet to send me my service record despite the fact that I personally hand delivered my written request for said record over a month ago, and a payroll department that deducted 3 months worth of benefits from my last paycheck, but cancelled my insurance coverage effective the last day of school.

So rather than sharing a story from school, today I will share a story my students tend to enjoy that I wrote during my college days of working security. Hopefully it will suffice. It is kind of long, so I think it deserves a separate title. (For a shorter read and a good laugh see my brother's blog. It's pretty awesome)

Security Adventures at the Motion Picture Studio

Things that are good with Cayenne Pepper:
Mexican food in general
French onion soup
Cajun food

Things that are much better without Cayenne Pepper:
Ice cream
Chocolate milk
Blueberry Pie

Despite what I thought, it's not just a rumor or a myth. Security officers who carry pepper spray must, in fact, first be sprayed themselves. I have been warned about pepper spray training since I was hired almost a full ten months ago, but the date kept getting pushed back. I was beginning to think that it was all just an act and at some point they would finally admit it was just a story and then give us the pepper spray. As it turns out, I was wrong.

The whole event took place at the campus motion picture studio. First we had "training" on how to use pepper spray. This was perhaps the most boring hour and a half of my day. There's not much to be said about pepper spray. However, in true bureaucratic fashion, the police department dragged this small amount of information out extensively and then made us take a test. Upon succesfull completion of the multiple choice exam we each had a turn spraying water (not pepper spray) at a picture of shady looking "assailant." Then we were all lined up for our turn to experience pepper spray first hand. They call this "training" or "practical experience." I have not yet determined whether it's training for the security officers or just live target practice for the sergeant.

I was Sarah's partner. She was quite anxious to get the whole thing over with, and so pushed her way to the front of the line. My job as her partner: once she had been blinded and incapacitated by the spray help her find her way to the hose and "decontaminate" her. We had been warned that the pepper spray would get in our hair and that we should make sure to spend enough time at the hose to get all of the pepper off. She was instructed to cover one eye and close her mouth, and then he sprayed her. As soon as the spray hit her face she started vigorously waving her arms, hopping from one foot to the other, and moaning. As she was writhing, I helped her over to the hose and handed it to her. Unfortunately she couldn't see, and got me pretty wet before she got it pointed in the right direction. After she had enough of the hose I was handed a squirt bottle and instructed to take her over to the fan where I would continue to spray her eyes with water. She knelt in front of the fan, rocked back and forth and moaned some more. Her brother, who is also a security officer and has been sprayed before, stepped in to help. He told her she had to hold her eyes open so that the water could get in. She didn't like that suggestion very much, but he took over the decontamination, and I was then sent over to help Jill. Jill preferred screaming to moaning, but did much less squirming than Sarah.

By the time I got Jill over to the fans pretty much everyone had been sprayed. With those encouraging examples, someone else was assigned to oversee the remainder of Jill's decontamination, David was assigned to be my partner, and it was my turn. I was the last person to be sprayed, so I was surrounded by the comforting sound of moaning and screaming officers who were still experiencing the effects of the pepper. I handed my glasses to David, covered my left eye, closed my mouth, squared my shoulders and nervously anticipated the spray of misery in a bottle. As the stream hit my face it instantly sent a message to every particle of fluid in my body to fight it's way out of either my eyes or my nose. Stinging and intense burning ensued. I tried to force my eyes open, but couldn't see a thing. David led me over to the hose. As I stumbled across the parking lot I momentarily forgot that I still had complete control over my respiratory system. I finally remembered that the pepper spray had not inhibited my ability to breath and started to take a gasping breath just as David shoved the hose of cold water in my face. I choked on a mouthful of cold water, grabbed the hose and started to rinse out my eyes.

I was very quickly drenched, and started to shiver. Whoever scheduled pepper spray training at night during the winter must have been from somewhere like Texas. David reminded me to rinse the pepper spray out of my hair. I compliantly put a small amount of water on the very front part of my hair. This wasn't good enough for David, so he told me again. I was freezing cold (although my face was burning) and wasn't about to put more cold water on my head. David took the hose away from me and thoroughly doused my head. Once again I momentarily forgot that I was capable of breathing. I informed him on no uncertain terms that I'd had enough. He then led me still partially blinded and face burning, but now also shivering and gasping/coughing over to the fans and sprayed more cold water into my face. At about the time my teeth started chattering I was able to open my eyes and the intense burning had subsided to a severe stinging. I anxiously moved away from the fans and gratefully put on a dry shirt and my jacket, and tried to remove the icicles from my hair.

As I warmed up to the point where I was again capable of coherent thought I discovered that all of the water that had successfully removed the pepper spray from my eyes had also quite effectively spread it down my face and neck. I also quite proudly noted that while I was the last one to be sprayed, I was not the last one to recover. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for putting up a good fight in the face of Cayenne pepper. Oh wait, the pepper was in my face. Whatever...

In an effort to comfort all of us, our sergeant reminded us that no one had ever died from pepper spray. I asked him if anyone had died from hypothermia during pepper spray training. He didn't think that was very funny. He saw the redness on my face and neck and told me that it would feel like the worst sunburn of my life for a while, and then it would go away. He then reminded us all that we should be careful when we showered because it was very likely that the pepper spray would drip from our hair back into our eyes. Then we left. My neck was a little sore, but as a redhead I've had some pretty hard core sunburns in my life so I wasn't too worried. I went home and hopped in the shower.

I was grateful to have warm water for a change, and washed my hair very carefully. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, some water did drip onto my face. I squeezed my eyes shut and anticipated more stinging, but it wasn't bad. There was almost no pepper spray still in my hair. Props to David for a job well done, even if it was with cold water. The burning on my face and neck was another story. When I got into the shower it felt, as I had been warned, like the worst sunburn I've ever had. Once I got out of the shower it felt about a million times worse than the worst sunburn I've ever had. In addition to the now familiar burning and stinging, it felt like someone was tearing off my skin. Except if they had torn off my skin it might have stopped burning. I tried to cool it off with a wet washcloth, but this made it worse. It was kind of like when you walk around in the snow for a long time, and your feet get really really cold, and then you come inside to warm them up, and warming them up makes it hurt worse. I hopped back in the shower, and this time turned on the cold water. As long as I was standing in the water I was fine, but as soon as I would move my neck would start to hurt again. So I stood shivering and teeth chattering in the shower for quite a while. When I looked at my fingers and noticed they were blue I decided it was time to get out. I soaked my shirt in cold water before I put it on and wrapped a wet towel around my neck like a scarf. Then I pulled my quilt off my bed and sat on the couch feeling quite pathetic and sorry for myself.

So now when I walk into work and grab my keys, radio, and flashlight I can also slip a canister of pepper spray onto my belt. Was it worth it?... Well, I don't think a single security officer has ever used pepper spray on campus, but if I'm the first that would be pretty cool.

editor's note- I never did get to utilize my pepper spray training, and as far as I know neither has any other security officer to date.

22 June 2009

Texas Nationalism

Texans are very proud people. Mostly they are proud of the fact that, for a very short amount of time, Texas was its very own small country. Sometimes they forget the fact that they voluntarily gave up their independence to join the United States. Many a Texan will tell you that they are the only country that can fly their flag as high as the US flag. This is not true. While Texas is the only state that can claim such a distinction, it is not a country. Texans will also be quick to tell you that they are the only state that can secede from the Union. While it makes me happy that this claim does in fact acknowledge that Texas is only a part of a country that includes 49 other states and a handful of territories and commonwealths, this assertion is also untrue.

What Texans will not tell you is that although the United States was willing to go to war with Mexico to get California, the country was not equally willing to fight for Texas. They also get upset if you remind them that if Alaska were to be divided in half, Texas would become the third largest state in the country. I have not yet determined if this is because they don’t like being told that they are not the biggest, or if they are still quite certain that they are an independent nation and not merely another one of the 50 states. I frequently refer to a Texan’s confusion over sovereignty as Texas Nationalism.

I found yet another example of Texas Nationalism during the last week of school as I dutifully stood at my metal detector post and checked student backpacks for weapons. Textbooks were due, so the backpacks were a little more full than usual. I noticed that one student was carrying a blue book with a large Texas flag on the cover. This book piqued my curiosity. Since Texas History is taught in 7th grade, I could not imagine what high school subject this book was for. When this student handed me his backpack I checked said book for the title. Much to my chagrin the book was labeled Texas Algebra 2, as though Algebra is somehow different in Texas than it is in the rest of the world. Slightly irritated I more closely examined the textbooks in every backpack that I inspected. I discovered that the textbooks for each of the following subjects also have Texas in the title:

American History
World History
British Literature

The only title I saw that did not include Texas was for Chemistry

11 June 2009

Registered Mail

Today I had my first experience using Registered Mail. I had to send an item back to the manufacturer for repair. The warranty suggested that I send the item via Registered Mail. It seemed like a good idea to me, so I packaged up my item and headed off the post office (which I am proud to say that I located quickly, without getting lost). When I arrived at the post office I was quite surprised and delighted to discover that I was the only post office patron present, and was not required to wait in line. The postal worker pleasantly greeted me and asked if he could help me. I walked up to the counter, handed him my package, and told him I would like to ship the package as Registered Mail.

He dropped the package as though I had just told him it was radioactive. He coughed, straitened his glasses, leaned across the counter, and confirmed, “You said Registered Mail, Ma’am?” When I verified that he had in fact heard me correctly, pleasant postal worker was replaced with flustered postal worker. Perhaps it was his first experience with Registered mail too. He fumbled in his pocket for a minute and pulled out a key, unlocked a drawer under his desk, and handed me a pile of paperwork. Fortunately I am well practiced in filling out paperwork. While I wielded my ballpoint pen and attacked the forms, he proceeded to wrap my entire package in official brown post office tape. Then he stamped all six surfaces of my package several times with a bold red “REGISTERED” stamp and the date. Then he carefully made sure that the registered date was also stamped around all edges of my package. He mentioned that no one would be able to open my package without the recipient knowing.

The whole procedure took enough time for a long line of disgruntled postal patrons to gather. I could feel their impatience mounting with each stamp, and I felt kind of bad. Once my package was sufficiently secured the flustered postal worker looked nervously around the room. Obviously unsettled by the number of people he saw in the post office lobby, he again leaned across the desk and apologetically whispered, “Ma’am, I need you to declare the value of the item.” I declared the value of the item as requested, and he again glanced anxiously around the room before writing it down on the appropriate space on the form. I almost felt like a spy sending super secret documents involving the most sensitive issues of national security, except for the fact that the process wasn’t subtle at all.

10 June 2009

The End

On the last day of school I went to give my principal my offical letter of resignation. She refused to accept it because it was not on her form. She told me that unless I filled out her resignation form I would not get my last paycheck. I kind of doubt that since my paycheck comes from the district and not from my specific campus, but I decided it was not a battle I was willing to fight, and filled out her form. Then I requested a copy of the form. That made her kind of mad, but it seems to me that a resignation letter is something important that is worth keeping a copy of. So she handed me the copy request form which I also filled out.

Having finally filled out all of the correct paperwork I am currently unemployed. I have recieved a job offer from a school much closer to home and that's my plan for next year. I hope suburban kids are as amusing as inner city kids. The good news is that the last month of school was quite eventful. So I have lots of entertaining stories that I just haven't had time to write about yet. More of those will follow soon.

13 May 2009


1. Today’s assignment required colored paper. Normally I set out an assortment of colors and let the children choose their own paper. Today the kids were in trouble (something about drugs in my classroom twice in a week and a bottle of water thrown at me) and therefore were not allowed out of their seats. So I went to my closet and discovered that the significant majority of my paper supply was pink. I handed each student a piece of pink paper and started to explain the assignment. I was interrupted by the following conversation:

John: This is new, why can’t we choose our own paper?

Red Head: There isn’t a color choice today. Everyone gets pink.

John: I don’t like pink.

Red Head: There isn’t a color choice today. Everyone gets pink.

Virginia: Can I have a piece of blue paper.

Red Head: There isn’t a color choice today. Everyone gets pink.

Charlie: Miss, is it pink for breast cancer awareness?

Red Head: Sure. That sounds good

Virginia: Miss, you have breast cancer?

Red Head: No. I don’t, and please don’t start that rumor.

Fred: Yeah! We’re supposed to be starting the rumor that she’s pregnant.

I don’t know why they think they’re supposed to be starting that rumor, but apparently they’re not up to multitasking in their gossip.

2. Another entertaining conversation:

Jason (of giraffe fame): Miss, are you coming back next year?

Red Head: (in a tired, bitter, frustrated sort of way) Well, I drive 40 miles to get here, which can take up to an hour, so I have to leave around 5:30 in the morning, and I spend a whole lot of money on gas and tolls. I don’t know why I would continue to do that next year.

Andy: Because you love us!

06 May 2009

Animals Yet Again

I am now teaching World War II. With all the fascism and genocide the 1940’s can be kind of a depressing topic, so I try to break up all the Nazism with an occasional inspiring story. Today I told the kids about the Battle of Britain. I told them that the German air force, also known as the Luftwaffe, would come across the English channel and bomb the British every night for nearly an entire year (In case you were wondering, that’s not the inspiring part of the story.) I explained that the airplane was still relatively new technology, and the planes could only attack the southern part of the country before they would have to turn around and refuel. While the southern half of the country lay mostly in ruins, the northern cities of Great Britain remained basically untouched. (Here comes the inspiring part…) So in a motivating display of concern and cooperation the northern British opened their homes to the children from the southern cities. Most of the children were evacuated and lived the war years in relative safety.

Hoping to help the kids get a mental image of the time period, I told them that this is what happens in the beginning of the movie The Chronicles of Narnia, and that the first five minutes of the movie are actually pretty historically accurate. One of the kids raised his hand. I was kind of shocked by his display of appropriate behavior, and almost forgot how to respond. Then I remembered that the correct teacher response to a raised hand is to call on the student by name. When I called on him he asked, “So there really were talking lions back then?”

At least he raised his hand.

20 April 2009

More Animal Noises

Friday morning in academy meeting the AP mentioned that kids are like cattle: when the weather gets bad they go crazy. Having never worked with cattle I cannot comment on the validity of this statement, but I can say that as a rather impressive storm rolled in Friday afternoon my kids went above and beyond their normal level of insanity.

My kids are usually anxious to prove any administrator wrong, so in one particularly boisterous class I mentioned the cattle comparison. Surely they would be insulted by being likened unto livestock, and anxiously prove their superior intelligence by settling down. Instead they embraced the analogy and started mooing.

09 April 2009

Zoo Day Tuesday

Jason loves to make animal noises, and he's really good at it. The problem is that animal noises and World History don't get along well. Jason never interrupts me, and always listens intently to directions, but as soon as the kids are supposed to be working independently animal noises abound. This drives me crazy. I try working with my students to the sporadic accompaniment of a braying donkey, or a bleating sheep, or a squawking chicken, but I find it rather exasperating. Maybe animal noises and World History get along just fine; it's probably animal noises and the Colorado Red Head that don't play well together.

I was helping a student proofread a brilliantly written paragraph about how British Imperialism led to World War I when I was suddenly interrupted by a rather loud and convincing velociraptor call. And it was quite compelling. If I didn't already know that dinosaurs are extinct I probably would have jumped under the student’s desk to avoid the impending attack. Fortunately I am fully aware of the current lack of living dinosaurs on the planet, and knew that the noise was simply coming from Jason on the other side of the room. I decided it was time for decisive action.

Daily requests for the cessation of animal noises were clearly the less-effective approach. I decided that if I gave him a specific time where he was allowed to make animal noises, he might stop making them at random intervals: “Jason, next Tuesday we will have a zoo day. You can come in that day and make all the animal noises you want. But until then I don’t want to hear a single animal noise from you.”

He got really excited about Zoo Day, but didn’t quite believe me at first.

Jason: I can make any animal noises I want?

Red Head: Next Tuesday you can make any noises you want. And I want to hear an elephant, a horse, and a giraffe. But until then I don’t want to hear anything.

Jason: But miss, what does a giraffe sound like?

Red Head: You have until next Tuesday to figure it out.

Zoo Day arrived, and as soon as the bell rang Jason triumphantly bellowed out the sound of an elephant and a horse. Then very seriously he said, “Miss, I’ve been watching the discovery channel, and giraffes don’t make noise. They just chomp. Like this.” Then he opened his mouth as wide as it would go, took a large bite of some imaginary foliage, and started chewing. He continued chomping throughout class. One of the administrators walked in to observe my class for my yearly evaluation. She noticed Jason sitting in the front row cheerfully chewing on air, and gave him an odd look. I decided to clarify, “Jason is being a giraffe today.” She gave me an odd look. I offered no further explanation

04 April 2009


I have never ever ever been anything even remotely close to a morning person. I warned the Texan about this. I think he's starting to figure it out. In order to get to school on time my alarm now rings at 4:45. I am of the opinion that no living creature should be awake before the sun comes up, so an important part of my morning ritual is pouting. Usually after a few minutes of pouting I can be pleasant and cheerful, or at least not bitter and irate. This episode from Friday morning made me laugh:

Redhead: (while turning off the alarm and in a very whiny voice) I don't want to go to school today


Redhead: I should just quit my job. Then I wouldn't have to do this every day

Texan: OK. If you want to you can.

Long pause

Texan: Wait... are we having an important conversation here.

Redhead: No, I'm just pouting

Texan: so you're not quitting your job

Redhead: Not today

Texan: OK

Then he rolled over and went back to sleep. I got up and got ready for school.

28 March 2009


The other day one of my special ed kids came running up to me in a panic. When he got to my door and caught his breath enough to call my name three times, I expected him to tell me that there was a fight somewhere, or someone had passed out in the hallway, or something equally worthy of panic. Instead he exclaimed, "Miss, I heard that pregnant girls aren't supposed to wear heels." Having never researched the recommended footwear for pregnant women I wasn't quite sure what the best response was. I decided there must be more to the story and settled for a non-committal "OK" and waited for him to elaborate. He indignantly pointed down the hallway and shouted loudly "Well that girl is wearing heels, and I know for a fact that she's pregnant." Surely, when a 10th grader is pregnant she has bigger problems than the kind of shoes she is wearing.

After I assured him that no one was in immediate danger of death or dismemberment he became more contemplative:
"Miss I never be seein you wear heels."
"No you don't. I don't like them because I don't think they're comfortable."
"Oh. So you're not pregnant?"
"No I'm not."
"Oh. OK"

24 March 2009


I moved recently. This would be an approprate time to mention the fact that I got married...On March 14th...In Nauvoo. It was fun. So I now drive twice as far to get to school every day. This means I get up much earlier than any person on the planet should. I have now gotten up before 5:00 two days in a row, and am eagerly counting down until the last day of school on June 5th. Ever the optimist, my husband, The Texan, asked me what I like most about the morning. Without hesitation I answered that I love my toothbrush. I have written about my toothbrush before, but that was in my pre-blog days. I feel that it is again time to discourse on the awesomeness of my toothbrush:

I want you all to know that I have a rather delightful toothbrush. I acquired this delightful instrument of dental hygiene in the fairly recent past. Having discovered that my old toothbrush had reached the end of its usefulness I embarked on a quest to replace it. It was not a mission for the feint of heart. I searched far and wide, high and low, to the ends of the toothpaste isle at Target. Just as I was about to give up hope in achieving my goal of owning a toothbrush that was not boring, I caught a glimpse of the most humorous toothbrush I ever have beheld. Much to my delight I discovered that the toothbrush I desired came in a double package. I quickly tossed it in my cart, collected the rest of the items on my list, and triumphantly took my newfound treasure to the checkout stand where I purchased it.

It is a purple crayola toothbrush. Yes, Crayola makes more than just crayons, markers, and paints. The toothbrush looks just like a crayola marker with the brand name emblazoned in the middle of a purple oval and purple squiggly lines around the top and bottom. The head of the toothbrush contains a rainbow of bristles in four different colors. The most practical feature of this toothbrush, and my personal favorite, is the suction cup at the bottom. When I am finished using my toothbrush I can stand it up on the counter AND IT STAYS THERE! Despite heavy traffic across the counter of make-up containers, hair dryers, and contact solution, my toothbrush stays standing upright exactly where I have put it. On days when I am feeling particularly unconventional I can even stick my toothbrush to the mirror and it stays there too; protruding out horizontally and waiting until it is needed again.

And fortunately for me my toothbrush will still be pretty darn amazing even when I don't have to wake up before 5 am.

03 March 2009


I normally give the kids at least 3 chances before I kick them out of class. John used up all three chances within the first minute of class. He refused to sit down, pushed all of the papers off another student’s desk, and then threw his notebook at me. I’m not sure what was going on with him, but when projectiles are thrown directly at me I lose my patience. I sent him outside. This was not a few minutes of time out to cool off and regroup; rather it was a full blown exile. I told him to take his desk, his book, and his assignment, and that he was not coming back into class.

Undeterred, John continued to interrupt my class from the hallway. He jiggled the doorknob, banged on my window, and shouted obscenities in Spanish. At this point assistance from an administrator might have been useful, but they were all busy filling out paperwork for Umbridge. The rest of the class miraculously ignored the hallway distraction and produced some remarkable work on the French Revolution. As I contemplated my options, the noise in the hallway suddenly stopped. Under normal circumstances this would have made me nervous. But, although I was somewhat curious about what had captured John’s attention, I was happy for the silence and didn’t investigate further.

A few minutes later a student sitting next to the door said “Miss, you’ve got mail.” Somewhat bewildered I walked over to see what he was talking about. I discovered that John had pushed a piece of paper under the door. I unfolded the paper and read the following message:

“Diary Entry: High school revolution camp
I got sent outside. Oh so cold. Everything seems lonely. I think I got frostbite on my toes, but I’ll be fine. I’m almost done with my assignment. All I got for survival is girl scout cookies, but they are almost gone. I have a camp fire which is almost out. I used my text book for the fire, and my seat for shelter. My days are now fading so I write to keep my fingers from freezing. My Mohawk broke off that’s how cold it is.”

Although I was highly entertained I did not rescind my order of exile. John was not invited back into class.

25 February 2009

The Triumph of the RedHead

I win. Maps have been reinstated at school. I sent a few choice words to the principal, and she relented. And by a few I mean several.

It's long, and somewhat technical, and I don't really exect anyone to read it, but I'm proud of my letter. And so I present the winning argument:

[Professor Umbridge]

Maps, graphs and charts are an integral part of the Social Studies curriculum. Having the students create maps that demonstrate their understanding of historical and cultural information is an invaluable tool that is an essential part of an effective Social Studies classroom. Map assignments help the students master the TEKS, perform well on TAKS, and function at higher levels on Blooms Taxonomy.

The following TEKS require the use of map assignments:
WH.2A- identify elements in a contemporary situation that parallel a historical situation.
WH.11A - create thematic maps, graphs, charts, models, and databases representing various aspects of world history
WH.11B - pose and answer questions about geographic distributions and patterns in world history shown on maps, graphs, charts, models, and databases.
WH.12A - locate places and regions of historical significance
WH. 12B - analyze the effects of physical and human geographic factors on major events in world history
WH. 12C - interpret historical and contemporary maps to identify and explain geographic factors that have influenced people and events in the past.
WH. 26C - interpret and create databases, research outlines, bibliographies, and visuals including graphs, charts, timelines, and maps
WH. 26D - transfer information from one medium to another, including written to visual and statistical to written or visual
WG. 21C - construct and interpret maps to answer geographic questions, infer geographic relationships, and analyze geographic change

A significant majority of the questions on the Social Studies TAKS test are on maps, graphs, and charts. A student that does not have the ability to correctly interpret the information on a map cannot pass the TAKS test. In our department we have found that students are better able to decipher and analyze a map if they have had practice not only in seeing maps that other people have made, but also in being challenged to present information on a map themselves. Students who complete map assignments constantly throughout the year are better prepared to score well on TAKS

When a student is asked to create a map they are operating at a very high level on Blooms Taxonomy. They take information from a variety of sources (usually written and oral) and synthesize it into an organized visual collection of information that demonstrates a high level of understanding. In all of the map assignments our department gives the assignment takes that synthesis one step further into evaluation when the students are asked high level questions about the map they have created.

Maps are also a valuable form of differentiated instruction that can reach students who are visual and kinesthetic learners, and are a good way for ESL and LEP students to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject without the interference of a language barrier.

24 February 2009

Madame Guillotine

It is once again the time of year for state mandated writing samples. Fortunately this falls right in the middle of the French Revolution, and the kids have enough of an opinion on the guillotine to easily write a decent page. The writing prompt was “The guillotine was invented to be a humane form of execution. Do you think it was? Why or why not?”

Here are some of my favorite responses:

“Chopping someone’s head off is just disrespectful”

“It was really fast and that was a good thing because there were a lot of people that had to be executed.”

“There should have been another way to execute people, like poisoning them”

“Because people are cheering when for their death they will get hurt and sad.”

“It was almost like hanging somebody, but in this case they would lay them down and cut their heads off.”

“The crime has to fit the punishment, or whatever that thing is called that’s included in the Bill of Rights. But wait, that was France not America. French people got issues. Like who in the world chops someone’s head off. That disgusting. Seriously.”

“Unlike being drowned or lit up on fire, the guillotine was a quick and painless death. If you were to be drowned you could at least hold your breath til someone came and recued you, which probably no one did, and that really sucked.”

The assignment also produced the best piece of writing I have ever seen from a 10th grader:

"Lifeless bodies lying in heaps, severed heads on spikes for exhibition, and a cheering multitude glorifying the cold blooded Madame, La Guillotine.

The Guillotine was created during the French Revolution, and was the preferred 'humane' way to execute prisoners. Everyday the Guillotine was assembled, and every day many souls were striped of their earthly forms. Large crowds formed to see the executions and in an amount of minutes equal to the amount of heads on spikes that were later paraded around, the 'big show' was over.

A clean cut was the guillotine’s greatest attribute: painless and bloody. The guillotine was on of the most inhumane machines ever created. Many lost their lives, several were wrongly murdered, and all was done in an act of hypocrisy.

La Guillotine, a femme fatale of the ages. Dominated the French Revolution and brought 'justice' to those who lacked it. Her frigid, cruel, blade devoured millions of lives."

20 February 2009

Educational Decree #27

My principal has just decreed that the Social Studies department is no longer allowed to use maps.

She will hereafter be referred to as Professor Umbridge

16 February 2009

When in the Course of Human Events...

I made my kids read the Declaration of Independence. Actually I read the Declaration of Independence to them. Despite what my students think, I did not come up with this assignment because I hate them or because I am trying to ruin their lives. Mostly I want them to be culturally literate and have some exposure to historically significant founding documents. I was curious about how much they could actually understand of the very archaic and somewhat loquacious language. So I told them to translate the Declaration into modern-everyday- teenage-ghetto-inner city-high school language. They rose to the challenge magnificently. Here is my very favorite translation.

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“Hey Great Britain…We need to talk”

09 February 2009

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

This week I introduced my students to the Scientific Revolution. It took some time to convince them that the Scientific Revolution was not a war, but rather the introduction of a radical new idea: the Scientific Method. They were disappointed until I assured them that some people were killed during the Scientific Revolution. The Catholic Church wasn’t really happy about losing their position as the only source of all knowledge and so made a habit of burning scientists at the stake. Mentioning the inquisition was sufficient to convince them that the Scientific Revolution might actually be interesting. With that introduction I decided to teach them the scientific method the same way that Francis Bacon first introduced the idea in 1620 and explained to them the problem of the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth.

While greatly oversimplified, the lesson goes something like this. In 1620 only two sources of information and knowledge were recognized: 1) the writings of the Great Aristotle, and 2) the Bible. One day a man wondered how many teeth were in a horse’s mouth. The question perplexed him for some time, and finally he decided it was worth some investigation. First he read the complete works of Aristotle. After many days of study he was disappointed to find that the Great Aristotle had not settled the question. The man then went to his second source. Surely the bible could answer his question. After reading the entire Old and New Testaments he found that the Bible in fact did not shed any light on the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth. Therefore the man came to the conclusion that the amount of teeth found in a horse’s mouth was unattainable knowledge. It was one of the great mysteries that man could never solve. The answer to his question was beyond the grasp of human understanding.

At this point my students, being the post-Renaissance thinkers that they are, adamantly declared that this man was stupid. I explained to them that this was Francis Bacon’s point. He wanted people to see that they could learn things through their own observation and experimentation, i.e. the Scientific Method. My kids really got into this idea and wanted to design an experiment to determine the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth. I expected someone to suggest simply finding a horse and counting its teeth, but they had some more adventurous ideas.

1st period wanted to have the horse bite my arm after which they would count the number of puncture wounds in my skin.

2nd period decided that they should shoot the horse and then count the number of teeth that it had.

3rd period wanted to make a mold of the horse’s mouth much like a dentist would to make a retainer. This experiment served two purposes: first the number of teeth could be accurately determined without exposing me to the risk of infectious disease, and second a fashionable grill could then be made for the horse.

5th period thought that rather than shooting the horse they could just tranquilize it prior to counting the number of teeth. I suspect that this class might have been influenced by the PETA. I did have to explain the word tranquilize to half of the class, but once they knew what it meant they thought it was a good idea.

6th period was the most thorough class. One kid suggested chopping the head off of the horse to count the teeth. This significantly distressed one of my special education students who asked “but Miss, what if the horse we chose lost a tooth or something? Then we would get the wrong answer.” Another of my students allayed her fears by suggesting that they could chop the heads off of three horses and take an average. That answer satisfied her.

For those of you who care horses have between 36 and 44 teeth by the time they are five years old.

21 January 2009

I should not try to teach tenth grade while under the influence of cold medicine. That's what sick days are for.

I'm sure there is a funny story that should go here. I honestly don't remember most of what happened today. But I'm certain that my kids have some excellent stories for their friends.

19 January 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day

I would like it noted that the world is a better place when one is wearing dry socks. Seriously, go test it out. The next time it is raining go run some outside errand: check the mail, get something out of the car, get the newspaper, or leave cookies on the neighbors porch. Then come back inside and replace the soggy sock with dry ones. Instantly the world transforms into a much more magical, cheerful, happy place. Hooray for dry socks!

This theory can also be tested by walking into the kitchen or bathroom in stocking feet and inadvertently stepping in a puddle.

16 January 2009

Homework Policy

My school has policies and paperwork for everything. The new principal has decreed that we cannot even get a roll of tape without filling out a form and getting approval of the department chair and an administrator. In order to get new tape I have to explain how the use of this resource will help improve student performance, write a proposal, and get it signed twice. Next year she might require it to be notarized as well. I think she has a goal to keep us from teaching. Instead we spend all of our time filling out forms. Forms to get copies made, forms to get a red pen, forms to get materials from the library, forms to get a new box of paper clips, forms to fill out if you are late for work, forms to fill out if you are on time for work, forms for failing a student, forms for getting new forms... (I'm not even exaggerating for the sake of making the point. She really makes us fill out forms to get new forms.)

In an unprecedented event, the principal decided to share her policy making power. She declared that each department needed to have an official homework policy in writing, and she would even let us come up with it on our own. My department chair did what she always does when we get a new assignment from the principal: she gave it to me to do.

I decided not to reinvent the wheel and just write out the policy that I have been using for the last three years. I arrived at this homework philosophy through much thought, contemplation, and research. I have found that it serves me (and the kids) quite well:

They don't want to do it, I don't want to grade it, at the end of the semester they all have to be passing anyway, so I usually just don't give it.

After I typed that out I decided that the principal probably wouldn't approve this policy, so I translated it into more education friendly terms that she could relate to:

Homework grades will be given for assignments that extend and reinforce daily work and help students prepare for formal assessments.

So far she hasn't noticed that this policy in no way requires me to assign homework on a regular basis.

13 January 2009

Inquiring Minds

My professors in college painted an interesting picture of teaching. They told us that it was our commission to quench the thirst for information in youth. I assumed that this vision of imparting valuable knowledge to the rising generation was a rather idealistic view of education, but it turns out they were at least partially correct. 10th graders are remarkably inquisitive. I’m certain I answer hundreds of questions a week. I have collected some of my favorites:

Lesson on the Magna Carta
Student: Miss*, do you got a husband?
Me: No
Student: Do you got a boyfriend?
Me: No (This was in the days before I met the Texan)
Student: Miss, do you have any friends that play halo?

Lesson on the American Revolution
Miss, if Mexico and Honduras went to war who would win?

Lesson on the Columbian Exchange
Miss, in real life if you break out of prison can they shoot at you?

Lesson on Greek Mythology
Miss, Does God have a mom?

Lesson on the fall of the Roman Empire
Miss, what do you do when someone really ugly tries to talk to you?

Lesson on the Civil War
Miss, if you were black would that bruise on your leg look as bad?

Lesson on the Scientific Revolution
Miss, have you ever liked Mexican food?

Lesson on the French Revolution
Miss, if we build a Guillotine who could we kill first?

Lesson on the Incan Empire (specifically terraced farming)
Miss, why do they call suicide bombers terrorists. That don’t got nothing to do with farming?

*The kids really do just call me miss. I used to think they would eventually learn that I have a name. I have since changed my mind.