We’re playing taboo today. I had to share some of these conversations. Some of what they were saying – both as clues and as guesses – was pretty funny and other times it was just clever. These are from all different kids.

1: They like salads.
2: Vegetarians.
1: Like that.
2: Oh…oh…uh…[snap]…Vegan!

1: I’m about to…
2. Flip. Scream. Go crazy.
1. When you’re banging a *** and you finish, you…
Me: School appropriate, please.
1. Rhymes with “lust.”
2. Is it the “f” word?
1. No. When cops raid your house. And they find multiple things that change your mind state, it’s a…
2: Bust.

1: They’re the first people in the world. According to the Bible.
Boy: You can’t say Bible.
1: Oh, uh, they’re the first two people. I know you know them. There’s also a store named this.
2. Oh! Adam and Eve!

1: People do this all the time to cool off in…I can’t say that word…It’s where families go…It’s a certain device…That keeps you afloat.
2: Boat. Paddle boat.
1: There’s more words for it.
2: Float.
1: You can do it on the river.
2: Float.
1: No! What would you use to do that?
2: Raft!

1: It’s a certain kind of food.
2: That doesn’t help me.
1: When you watch Netflix, you eat…
2: Chips.
1: What category of food is that in? It makes you fat.
2: Junk food?

1: This is a little live animal. It’s kind of like, um, red with little, like, dots.
2: Red…with…dots…
1: Yeah. It’s little.
2: Ladybug.

1: We were just talking about this earlier.
2: Polka dots?
1: You gotta catch ’em all.
2: Pokemon.

1: Sticks come in what?
2: Bundles

1: Cars have this kinda.
2: Horn.
1: What else?
2: Beeper.

1: It’s a state. They legalized marijuana.
2: Colorado…Washington…
1: It’s always sunny.
2: Oh, California.





Boy: Hey, have you ever tied one of these to the back of a car?
Me: A desk?
Boy: No. One of these.
Me: A roller chair? No. I haven’t.
Boy: Have you ever tied a desk to the back of a car?
Me: I don’t think I’ve ever tied anything to the back of a car. It has always seemed to me to be a rather bad idea.
Boy: I tied a sled to the back of a car once. My dad slammed on the brakes and I ate the bumper.
Me: I bet you did.

At least they sort of remember the book.

Girl: Have you read the book How to Kill a Mockingbird?
Me: You mean To Kill a Mockingbird?
Girl: Right. God. You know what I’m talking about.
Other Girl: That’s the book with Boo Radley.
Boy 1: No, it’s the book about the kids who can’t read in school because they live in the south.
Girl: Yeah, it’s about these two kids and their dad is a lawyer who goes to court to defend an African-American man who’s accused of something…raping some girl…?
Boy 2: Cunningham’s daughter.
Me: Ewell’s daughter.
Other Girl: He’s defending Boo Radley.
Me: Boo Radley isn’t involved in the trial. He lives in a house down the street.
Boy 1: Boo is the kid who comes to visit in the summers.
Me: Dill is the kid who comes to visit in the summers.
Other Girl: Then who’s Boo Radley?
Boy 2: Boo Radley is the old guy who scares the kids.
Girl: No, he saves the kids.
Other Girl: Then who’s on trial for rape?
Me: Tom Robinson.
Other Girl: No, who’s the guy on trial?
Me: Yeah. Tom Robinson.
Other Girl: Then who was Boo Radley???
The One Girl Who Eivdently Paid Attention In Ninth Grade: The book is about Jem and Scout whose father is a lawyer. Boo Radley lives down the street, but he’s not that old and the kids just think he’s scary, but he’s nice, and Dill comes to visit in the summer. Their dad defends Tom Robinson in a rape trial, but he’s found guilty

Mad Dash

This Monday, we started fourth quarter. This is a true nine week quarter, as there are no breaks until the last day of school in June. That makes it simultaneously a looooong quarter and a very quick one (compare it to, say, second quarter, which is something like 14 calendar weeks long due to so much time off).

Today is Friday of our first week, so I know I only have eight weeks left. Eight weeks to cover two major texts and a handful of writing assignments. Eight weeks to do SATs and state standardized testing. Eight weeks to get as many of my 50-ish students as I can to pass junior English. Eight weeks to wake up in the dark hours, put together professional outfits, apply mascara, and hope traffic isn’t bad so bad that I fly through the front doors of the building after the bell rings. Eight weeks of hoping I’m getting this all right.

I toyed with the idea of leaving this year – leaving my building, leaving my job – but in the end I think I’ll be staying. If something else amazing comes up, then maybe. But I have some things coming up next year that will make it nice to be in the same spot, the same job, where I’m comfortable and I know what to expect. Who knows what changes the future will bring? But in the meantime I’m engaged in this mad dash to the finish line. Eight more weeks.

Slightly Awkward

Well, the other day I referred to a new kid as “she” and was corrected. “He” is the preferred pronoun. I even checked our grade book and the student is listed as a male. I should have noticed that one when I was making my new class list. Dang it. It doesn’t seem to have bothered the student any, but I’ve been kicking myself because in times when I’m uncertain I always always make sure to keep things genderless. I doubted my use of the female pronoun, but it came out anyway. Oy. Moving on.

Yesterday, I had this conversation with a student:

Girl: Ms. H! Guess what! I’m a lady now!
Me: You’re a lady now?
Girl: Yup. Officially. It’s real. I’m a lady.
Me: A lady, huh? That’s…big.
Girl: Yeah. It was great. My dad made a big deal of it and got me all kinds of presents.
Me: That’s cool! Sometimes dads are weird about that kind of stuff.
Girl: My dad used to be, but I have an older sister, so I think that makes it easier for him that I’m growing up and stuff.
Me: Wow. Well, thank goodness for older sisters.
Girl: Seriously! Yeah, this was my favorite birthday ever.
Me: Oh! That’s right! It was your sixteenth birthday over spring break! Oh my gosh, I thought you were talking about getting your period!
Girl [laughing]: Oh gosh! No! That happened years ago and my dad wasn’t ready for it even though I have an older sister! Thanks for being so supportive, though!

Career Options

Keep in mind that this conversation happened during an observation (I had another teacher in my room, not an admin).

Me: So you’re all done with your paper?
Boy: Yup.
Me: Great. How about you work on something else until the bell rings? You have about 20 minutes; you could get a lot done.
Boy: No thanks.
Me: Well, you can’t just sit here and watch YouTube videos.
Boy: Why not?
Me: Because this is class, not your living room. We work in here.
Boy: That’s dumb.
Me: OK, maybe, but it’s still what we do. So what are you going to work on?
Boy: I don’t have anything to work on.
Me: Nothing? Are you sure? I know you only have, like, a 63% in here.
Boy: So?
Me: So that means you’re missing work. Which means you have stuff you could work on. Would you like me to print off a grade report?
Boy: No thanks.
Me: Or if there’s another class you’d like to catch up on, you could work on that instead.
Boy: It doesn’t matter anyway.
Me: What doesn’t matter?
Boy: My grades.
Me: But it sure is nice to pass classes.
Boy: I don’t care. I won’t be here much longer anyway.
Me: What does that mean?
Boy: I’m dropping out.
Me: Again?
Boy: Yeah.
Me: Why?
Boy: I need to get away from teachers.
Me: Ah! Sure! That’s cool. No one will try to teach you anything outside of school.
Boy: And because school is dumb and I don’t need it.
Me: Oh! So you already have something better to do?
Boy: Yeah.
Me: A good job waiting for you “on the outside”? [NOTE: My prison joke went unacknowledged, unfortunately.]
Boy: Yeah.
Me: You have a job already?
Boy: Yeah.
Me: Where do you work?
Boy: Taco Bell.
Me: Very cool. You planning on working there for a while?
Boy: Yeah.
Me: Maybe you could be the manager some day.
Boy: Yeah.
Me: Do they let employees without a high school equivalency become managers?
Boy: {shrug} Probably.
Me: Maybe you should look into that.
Boy: {shrug}
Me: You know, some day, when you’re, like, 35, and the manager of a Taco Bell, you’ll get to, like, teach the teenagers that you hire how to do their jobs. That would make you a teacher.
Boy: {laughs like I’m the one being ridiculous} I’ll never become a teacher.
Me: Well, probably not at a school, but anyone who teaches anyone else anything is, by definition, a teacher. So if you’re teaching people how to build a burrito, you’re a teacher.
Boy: I guess.
Me: So are you pretty sure that’s what you want to do forever?
Boy: What do you mean?
Me: Do you want to be a burrito teacher for the rest of your life?
Boy: I guess. I don’t know. Not really.
Me: Well, what other job could you get that you would want to do forever that wouldn’t require a diploma?
Boy: I don’t know. Lots of jobs.
Me: Hmmm. I don’t know either. I guess you should figure that out before you drop out again, huh? We have about 15 minutes left in class, how about you use this time to research your career options?
Boy: {defiantly} I guess I could.
Me: Absolutely. Because, I mean, you’ve got it all pretty well figured out right now, but still, it’s nice to know what’s out there, you know?
Boy: Yeah.

Then he took out his phone and actually did some research. I turned to walk away and there were two students and the teacher observing me trying hard to hold in laughter.

Sometimes I just can’t even.









Just. Do. The. Work.

Two weeks ago, I assigned what I thought was going to be a pretty easy assignment. They had to write a letter that starts, “Dear Students,” to the students at our school. It could be about anything at all – as long as it had the audience in mind. And they had to use pathos – emotion – to get their point across. Yell! Plead! Flatter! Anything emotional. Easy, right?

Dear Students, Get off your lazy asses and come to school every day! Dear Students, Put away your cell phones during class! They make you feel so important, but it’s a lie! That text can wait another half hour until the bell rings! Dear Students, Speak up in class! When you refuse to participate, you don’t get the luxury of also complaining about how boring school is!

Oh, wait. Those are my letters I’d write to students. Back on track…

So the assignment was an easy one. And they had two whole class periods to do it in – three hours to write the minimum requirement of 300 words.

Only about half of them turned it in. The ones I received were meh. So it goes.

This Monday, I had a kid ask me if he could still turn his in. Yes. Absolutely. Please turn it in. It was a decently large grade in the grade book, so getting this paper in will make a difference for him.

All I have to say is: thank the gods I know more about functional technology than my students.

This student turns in to me a nearly four-page paper about cell phone use. It’s not set up like a letter, so I just scan through. That’s when I found them: in-text citations. This kid who’s on his phone all class period, barely pulling a D in most classes, never has the answers to questions, turning in the assignment two weeks late…this kid wrote two extra pages, did research, and cited his sources? Right. Then I noticed the title of the document: Cell Phones 12A. He did the paper for English 12A – another class!

I emailed him back and told him he must have sent me the wrong paper. Yesterday in class he asked if I’d changed his grade yet and I let him know about the email (which he said he saw). He tried telling me it was the right paper. *ahem* I told him why I thought this – the research, the document title. He looked at me wide-eyed and finally stuttered out “Oh…uh…yeah…I…I mean…Yeah, that’s…like…not the…not it…not the right paper…”

This morning I have another paper from him. It’s about teacher tenure – not exactly a topic I would have expected a student to write about in a letter to other students. Well, Google Docs has this awesome feature at the top of the page that allows you to see all the edits made to the document. According to this log, the student started writing this assignment two weeks before it was even assigned. That means he’s either clairvoyant or lying again.

I’m giving him one more chance – and told him so. He’s feigning ignorance, saying that he had no idea that those documents weren’t the right ones. I told him to double check this time because the next time I received a file that wasn’t the right assignment, I would write him up for plagiarism. He argued that he really did write those papers, so we had to talk about the definition of plagiarism a little.

Then he asked, “So, if I can’t find the right essay, should I rewrite it?”

Yes, child. Yes you should.


Yesterday, I had a conversation in one of my classes where I asked them if it’s worth it to work more than 40 hours a week in order to be financially secure. The class was made up of six teenage boys, all under-performing high school students in an academic support class, all who identify as non-white.

I’ve asked students this question before. At my old school. At my old school where my students were mostly from two-parent households where one or more parent have a college degree. My students there were all high achievers, socially conscious, and carried a basket full of ambitions. When I asked them this question, they almost unanimously said no. Those students wanted to have families. They wanted to travel. They wanted leisure time. And they counted on their future job opportunities to be salaried positions that would grant them the time and flexibility to be able to enjoy their evenings and weekends. Forty hours, they said, is enough, and very few jobs are worth the extra stress and time away from personal interests.

But yesterday, my students mostly said yes. They said that sometimes you have to work more than 40 hours a week if you’re going to support your family and still have enough money to do extra things like go on trips or buy a new TV. Then they decided that it was more about money – specifically how much they were making per hour. They settled on $9.50. “If I am making $9.50 an hour,” said one of the boys, “then I will definitely work more than 40 hours a week. I would work 100 hours a week!” Some of the other boys tried to tell him that 100 hours a week was too much, but he insisted. “Do you know how awesome it would be? That’s like $900 a week! I would be making bank!” There were no arguments with that. Nine hundred dollars a week would, they decided, be bank.

At first, I smiled inwardly. This kid is newly 16 years old and I don’t think he’s had a job yet. I remember as a younger person when I got my first job that paid me more than minimum wage and how rich I felt then. Of course, if my job now started paying me $9.50 an hour, I’d walk out and be furious and frustrated with my stupid little paycheck, but there was a time when that giant paycheck of $400 felt like it could easily solve so many problems. This kid is naive and simple and doesn’t understand adult finances.

Then I realized that it’s not just that. I was the one being simple. This kid doesn’t have the same chance to get a job that pays enough in a 40-hour work week that my students from that other school had. He can barely read. His math skills are years behind grade level. His work ethic is virtually non-existent. Yes, he incorrectly thinks that $9.50 is going to make him rich enough to buy the fancy car, clothes and house that he sees in his future, but he probably correctly thinks that that’s the amount of money he’s going to make some day. The amount of money he’s probably going to make for a long time.

This is where I spin off to philosophical points about opportunities and giving children what they need and taking care of poor people and educating the masses and inequities in the system, but I’m not going to do that here. Not now. But as you finish reading this, please consider all those topics. Because they’re huge topics that aren’t getting any better on their own.


Four years ago, I played the presidential inauguration on the screen in my classroom all day on mute. When the actual swearing in happened, we paused our work and paid attention, but for the most part, it was just on in the background for students to watch. I told them, “I don’t care about your political leaning or your parents’ politics. We, as a nation, are inaugurating a new president today and that is a historic event. It’s something we’ve only done a handful of times in our nation’s history and with only 44 people total. This is a big deal and you should at least be aware of it and what it looks like, even if we’re not devoting all of our attention to it.”

M had asked me if I would do the same thing if “the other guy” had won. I said absolutely. I wasn’t showing my classes the inauguration because I liked the outcome of the election; it was because they should be informed citizens, aware of our political process and what goes on in our nation’s capital.

Today is again inauguration day.

And I will again be playing the inauguration on my screen on silent while students work on essays.

Because this is a historic day and I believe that young people need to know what happens on major political occasions like this.

I don’t like it and I find our soon-to-be-president to be a moral degenerate, but I can’t say that if I allow myself to be a hypocrite on the issue. Coming to this decision has not been easy for me.

So it goes.

A Dream Deferred

I gave my students a writing prompt the other day that, let’s be honest, I was really proud of. It pulled together two great days of learning with a poem and asked for analysis and synthesis of information. Plus, I’ve been working with them all quarter on how to properly respond to literature. Now, this writing prompt could easily have been an essay prompt, but I only gave them about fifteen minutes to write in class. I wanted them to be thorough, but I didn’t need them going crazy with seven pages and footnotes and proper headers and all that. As if. Three minutes later, every single student had turned in their response. Baffled, I cautioned them, “You guys, you still have eleven minutes until the bell rings! Are you sure you wrote everything you needed to write about the poem?” I even went to individual students. “You already turned your paper in? Did you give me an A+ response?” I went so far as to tell them, “If you didn’t directly quote the poem, at least one source from yesterday and one source from today, don’t bother turning in your paper. You are NOT DONE.” No one retrieved their papers from the basket. No one.

Well, I read their responses today. First, though, the prompt:

What dream is Langston Hughes talking about in his poem “Harlem”? Was he right about the outcome of the dream? Use evidence from class – both yesterday and today – to support your answer.

Here are some of the responses that kids told me to my face they were sure were good and would receive an A+:

  • He’s dreaming about being equal and free. Yes he was cause it eventually happened cause MLK and Lil Rock 9.
  • I think he is talking about the end of segregation and the hatred between races. He was wrong about what would happen, the dream came true and all races were able to integrate and have the chance for a better tomorrow, that they will get along and not complain. Sources of thought: Real reasons the US became less racist toward Asian Americans [that’s an actual title of an article we read the day before]
  • His dream is to have racism come to end. He’s asking if this sore topic, that americans refused to talk about and resolve, will ever be rendered
  • A dream that’s deferred doesn’t go away, it just waits until the right time. Like Abolishing slavery and all racist laws, if you’re patient it’ll come true. but you still have to fight for what’s right, and it certainly wont easy.
  • the MLK Jr. Dream and if it will ever happen.

Obviously, this is an assignment I’m going to have to revisit on Monday.