End of Term

Tomorrow is the last day of school this year, so that means that today and tomorrow are finals. And that means that I’m seeing students I haven’t seen in a while. Because nothing says “last ditch effort” than showing up to take a final exam in a class that you haven’t attended all quarter. By the way, in case it isn’t clear, those students won’t be passing.

This has been a transformative year for me. I’ve gone from being sure that I need to quit my job to being sure that I’ll retire from teaching in another 25 years. I’ve also realized that there’s a little bit of love inside me for this job and for these kids. I never thought I went into teaching because of the people side of the job, but after ten years and some really incredible teacher friends sharing their version of what their passion looks and feels like, I’ve come to accept that yes, I really did want to teach because I wanted to work with people. One teacher friend told me that at the beginning of every year, she tells her students that she intends to love them, and that being together in the classroom every day and reading together and writing together are the glues that form that bond. I like that: I intend to love you. Love has always been a weird thing for me – difficult to recognize and accept and even difficult to pinpoint within myself. But this year I’m seeing it more and more, and in fact I’m seeing it enough that I’m even seeing it in my classroom.

I recently went to a graduation party for a student who I had in middle school. Do you remember that class four years ago? It was a tough year, but we made it through and now those kids are all going off to college. Anyway, the party was for Sweet Girl (read more about her here and here) and it was so, so wonderful to be invited to her party and to hear all about what her and a bunch of those other kids will be doing in the fall. In a strange way, it has been this class coming full circle that has helped me decide that I needed to stay in teaching. Maybe the events of that year were what gave me doubt in the first place, but it has definitely been those kids who have had the greatest impact not only on my decision not to leave, but also my realization that I’m in this for the love, for the heart, for the people. They are all where they are today because of me – not just academically, but emotionally as well. We processed together, healed together. And that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t loved them.

As I clean my desk and get ready for summer vacation, I find that I’m looking forward to next school year more than I have possibly ever. I’m going to enjoy my summer, spending time with my kids at the pool and taking day trips and reading books and laughing with friends, but I think next year is going to be great. I’ll be in the same room (remember, I moved schools two years ago, then changed rooms last summer), teaching the same thing (English 11!), and I have a leadership position working with teachers as we make some pretty drastic (for some) changes to our grading policies district-wide. Things will be good at home, too: my kids will be attending the same school all day for the first time ever, we’re getting a foreign exchange student from Spain, and we’re starting some really awesome remodeling projects. All in all, things are looking bright. And I’m grateful.

Risky Business

My students engage in risky behaviors all the time.

They drink and do drugs. They throw huge, multi-day long parties or “camping trips” as minors. And then they talk about it all at school like it’s no big deal.

They have unprotected sex. And show up pregnant or talking about pregnant girl friends, or they brag about their sex-capades and “smashing” like it’s no big deal.

They go skydiving, cliff jumping, and off-trail mountain biking in forbidden areas.

They tie skateboards to the back of pick-up trucks, light things on fire, pierce and tattoo themselves in the kitchen, and post naked pictures on the internet.

They stay up all night for multiple nights in a row and fuel their tired hours during the day with multiple giant cans of energy drinks.

And yet…

They do not risk speaking in class. They do not answer questions aloud. They do not let anyone else see that they are trying. They would much rather respond with a quiet shake of the head and “I don’t know” than venture a guess, even if it’s something that I literally just gave them the answer to or if I know they wrote about on an assignment the day before.

Why do they do this? Why are they so comfortable doing damage to their bodies, but so uncomfortable answering a direct question?

I get it. I mean, I sort of get it. I get that they don’t want to be seen as dumb and I get that they’ve learned how to fail because teachers (and parents and siblings and society at large) have made them feel like failures and their backgrounds are not set up to provide them with the information they need to feel comfortable answering questions and so on. But good golly. The kid who pierced her own tongue when she was bored one weekend – a thought that sends shivers down my fear-of-face-paralysis spine – won’t tell me one damn thing she remembers from any part of the novel we’ve spent ten days on in class.

We talk a lot about the differences between the kids who “can’t do” and the kids that “won’t do” in terms of turning in work, but I think we need to change the timbre of that conversation. My kids will turn in work, mostly, but they won’t do other, simple things required of a student. My kids won’t venture. They won’t try. And that’s something I don’t know what to do with.

How to spice things up in the bedroom.

Our head secretary told me this story this morning. That lady has all the good stories, I swear. Editor’s note: I have removed all mention of her giggling through this story. It was tough for her to get out…and in a minute, you’ll see why.

I was walking to the copy room the other day to unjam the copier – again – when I overheard this one little freshman boy talking to his little freshman buddies. He said, “I told her if she put a cupcake in her pussy, I would eat it!” I just didn’t know what to say to that, so I just kept right on walking and pretended like I didn’t hear it.


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.