Gold Star

I had a conversation with a kid today about a teacher he had last year in junior high. It was such an awesome conversation that I emailed that teacher about it.

Do you remember Boy? I have him in class right now and he was telling me all about you. “Mr. D, like, he would, like, make sure you understood one thing really well before, like, moving on to something else.” He said you were the best teacher he ever had, and that your class was really interesting. He was sort of walking down memory lane, looking at essays he’d written for your class, and he said that your class was the first time he ever really felt successful in school. I told him he should keep all those essays as evidence that he can do things at school he thinks are hard. He said he definitely would. He even had me look at a few of them because he’s still proud of that work. He’s also proud of you – he told me about how the year that he had you was your last year teaching and now “Mr. D, is, like, the supervisor for everyone in, like the whole district. And that’s a good job for him. He deserves it. I think he can make a difference for lots more kids that way.” He said it was awesome having you for his basketball coach, too, but that was all he said about that. It seems like the real impact you had on him was in the classroom.

I like sharing things like that with other teachers, but this guy’s response back was just about the best one I’ve ever gotten.

I read this on the fly. Thank you for sending it. I want to write more, but I don’t know what to say except that I appreciate this email more than I can say. Toughest part about this year is not being with kids, especially ones like Boy. I can’t thank you enough for making my day. One favor: say hi to him. And tell him, I’ll drop by in April. 

Don’t Judge

One conversation with a kid:

Him: Hey, remember that one year – I was, like, in seventh grade – and we got, like, hella snow and they canceled school for, like, a whole week.
Me: It was two years ago. You were a freshman. There were eight snow days.
Him: Naw, I think it was longer ago than that.
Me: It was January of 2017.
Him: You sure?
Me: Positive.
Him: Meh. I guess so. I mean, you probably weren’t high that whole week so you probably know better than I do.


Today’s conversation with the same kid:

Me: Hey, the bell rang. Turn off your movie so we can do class.
Him: It’s not a movie. I’m listening to the Cohen trial.
Me: What?
Him: Michael Cohen is testifying against Trump today. It’s so good. I’ve been listening to this all day.
Me: I’m sorry… You’ve been watching the Michael Cohen trial all day?
Him: This shit’s hella interesting! I’m totally into this.
Me: On your own, you just decided to listen to Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony?
Him: Yeah!

Don’t get blood on the carpet.

I have a boy in a soft cast right now. He walked in to class today and…

Cast: I think I’m going to cut my foot off.
Me: I think that’s not a great idea.
Cast: But it would be better than the shooting pains coming from my foot right now.
Me: I feel like you would have other pains if you cut off your foot.
Boy 2: Do it! I’ve never seen anyone cut off their own foot.
Me: You’ll have to do it later. I don’t want blood on the carpet.


Student 1: So do you swing both ways? Or do you just prefer one or the other?
Student 2: Eh…I used to like dick, but it’s just gross any more.
Student 1: I feel you. Give me a wet pussy any day of the week!
Student 2: I haven’t tried that yet. But I think about it all the time.
Student 1: It’s worth it. Trust me.

This, ladies and gentlemen, just as the bell was ringing and everyone was chatting about randomness. I just don’t think everyone else’s randomness was as illicit as these two students’ randomness.

Update on a great kid

Remember Mohawk – from, like, seven years ago? Well, he’s a senior now. And guess what? I just found out that he’s a National Merit Scholar. His mom said he’s the first one from his high school in twelve years. I’m elated – and not at all surprised to hear this about him! This is hands down one of my favorite parts of my job. I love hearing about the cool, wonderful, and awesome accomplishments from all the cool, wonderful, and awesome students I’ve had over the years. It humbles me that I know I got to be a part of their journey.


And on a personal note, let me just tell you that this news made me cry because of the way it juxtaposes yesterday’s news. Finding out that one kid is pregnant and another kid is receiving awards of national distinction…Well, they’re just two really different things. And it feels weird somehow – and hard – to be a part of both of their stories.

Teach on.

Beautiful Young Ladies

Yesterday I was filling in for another teacher when one of the math teachers who was just walking by came in to say hello. When he walked in, one of the girls from the back of the room jumped up, ran over, and gave him a big hug.

Girl: Oh my gosh! I’m so excited to see you! I just got out of juvie!
Teacher: Hey! That’s good news!
Girl: Yeah, I was there for a month. [Jones] arrested me.
Teacher: OK! Well I’m glad you’re back.
Girl: Me too! When I was there at first, I was in detox, and it sucked. It was, like, the second day, and my mom came to visit. I begged her to take me home, but she didn’t want me, so I had to stay there.
Teacher: It sounds like you needed to be there, rather than home, if you were in detox.
Girl: Yeah, I guess.


Today, I went into the bathroom and saw a girl I had last year coming out of the stall. But behind her, I noticed that the seat was up. The only time I use the bathroom with the seat up is if I’m puking…

Sure enough, before I was even done peeing, she was back in the stall, puking. I met her at the sink and asked if she was going down to talk to the nurse. She said no. I told her she shouldn’t be at school if she was puking. Then her boyfriend, who was at the bathroom entrance waiting for her, said, “It’s not like that.” Shit.

So I looked at this girl – 17, smart, troubled past, but motivated to make her life better – and just asked, “How far along are you?” Eight weeks.

The boyfriend is 20. He’s a womanizer. He already has a baby with another woman who he never sees. I specifically requested that he wasn’t in my class any more after I had him two years ago because of the way he spoke to me – flirtatious, full of innuendo.

So I talked to the girl a bit about pregnancy sickness. I made sure our school nurse and social worker knew. I told her I hoped to have her again next quarter when she takes English 11B. And I asked her to talk to me if she needed to.

Then I walked away, and I cried.


I want so much for these kids. I want them to be better, to do more, to grow further than they thought possible.

I want to fix their problems. Or help them fix their own problems.

It’s hard being a closet idealist in a world that is very, very real.

So you want to talk about your penis?

I have a kid in my class who I think is really awesome for an eleven-year-old. Except he’s 16. And he’s (probably permanently) stuck in that period where he thinks it’s funny to talk about his penis in public. He used to (as in: earlier this school year) get in trouble all the time for drawing penises on things, but now he draws roosters on things instead. Because, you know, penis—>cock—>rooster. Right. Probably I didn’t need to explain that, but I explained it to my principal too, and boy, you should’ve seen the way he looked at me like I was an idiot for explaining that to him. I was far more amused than he was for sure and it was totally worth it.


He is always – constantly – saying stupid things in class about sex in the same way that a rooster is a substitute for a penis. It’s because he’s really eleven, remember. And when he says it everyone rolls their eyes and I tell him to stop and we carry on with our lives.


The other day in class I said something about going hiking and the kid says, “My girlfriend went hiking once. On my happy trail.” And he was all smug and proud of himself for his joke alluding to oral sex, nodding and looking around for approval. I put on my best facial expression of pity and said in my most pitying tone, “Only once? Bummer for you.” And then I went on with what I was saying beforehand. Or, rather, I tried to go on with things, but everyone was applauding me for shutting him down because a) I think they didn’t think I had it in me and b) he just sat there opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish and that, my friends, is truly an accomplishment.

And then the next day, he gets up to this sign I have in my room pointing the way to Neverland and makes the sign point right at his crotch, again looking around smugly, waiting for high fives and guffaws of male approval. I looked over and laughed hysterically, right from the belly, with an open mouth and everything. I said, “Oh my gosh, that is the most ironically appropriate joke you’ve made in perhaps your entire life!” He looked confused. I said, “Neverland is where Peter Pan lives. It’s where children go and never grow up! It’s also the name of Michael Jackson’s ranch!” And I’m still laughing this whole time and then he just sits down and stops talking. Other students cheered again.

Today, I said, about something (obviously, because it was during class in front of a dozen teenagers) not at all about sex: “It just feels really big.” So the kid said, “Heh heh, it feels really big,” and used his elbow to bump the elbow of the boy next to him, who just sat there staring at him like he’s an idiot. So I say, “Ugh, stop pretending like you have ever in your life had someone say that to you,” and went back to whatever else I was talking about. He just sat there quietly. The rest of the class commented that the score this week was 0-3 and that they’re really enjoying how easy it is to shut him up.

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.

Somehow, my class started talking about Pottermore while I was taking attendance. They were comparing houses and traits and so on.

One girl asked, “Hey, Ms. H, have you taken the quiz? What house are you in?”

I said, “It should be pretty easy to guess which house I’m in.”

Another girl spoke up with authority: “She’s Ravenclaw.”

The first girl asked, “How did you know that?”

“Because she said it was obvious,” she responded plainly.


Last year when I taught Slaughterhouse Five, it was difficult to help students take all the notes they would need to take – and then keep those notes straight so they would be able to access them at the end of the novel for our big project.

This year, I arranged for the English department to purchase books for my students. Each student received their very own copy of the novel to write in and mark up and highlight and sticky note…and then take home at the end of the unit and keep for ever and ever. I was so, so excited for them. They were so, so surprised, and, most of them, really appreciative.

Well I had this girl. Great girl. Sad story. Issues with mental illness, problems with homelessness, off-and-on drug use. Collapsed social network and nonexistent adult presence. She’s been in and out of school my entire three years here (because of the aforementioned issues). She started strong in my class last quarter, but then things got rocky and she stopped coming every day. Then she just stopped coming altogether.

Yesterday, I saw her in the hall. She ran up to me and said, “I love that book! I finished it and then I read it again! Twice! I’m going to start it again this weekend! I love it so much! Thank you for buying me a copy! I’m so glad I took it with me when I left!” And then she ran on and caught up with her friends.

I don’t know all the demons she’s wrestling with. I don’t know how OK she’s going to be a year from now or ten years from now or even tomorrow. But knowing that she has Kurt Vonnegut and Billy Pilgrim to keep her company makes my heart swell and my eyes leak. I wish that she, too, finds peace on Tralfamadore.

Starting Class

Today I started class with these directions:

Today, everyone should be finished writing their EOC paper. If you’re not done yet, then that’s where you need to start. Everyone else who is done will move on to pages 13 and 15 in your packets [gesture to the list of directions on the board]. If you don’t yet have a partner for these pages, let me know and I’ll set you up with someone. The directions are on each sheet, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week. And remember, everyone’s paper is turned in the same way, so to find your partner’s paper, just go to the document where you gave me the link for your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday. Your partner’s paper will be there too.

When you’re done with that, let me know and I will give you the next step for our writing process today.

Then, a few minutes later:

Me: Boy 1 says he’s done. Is anyone else finished and ready for a partner?
Boy 2: I am.
Me: OK. So you two are going to read each other’s papers and complete those pages in the packet.
Boy 1: What pages?
Me: Pages 13 and 15.
Boy 1: What packet?
Me: The orange packet. The packet we’ve done all of your EOC work in all week.
Boy 1: I don’t have that.
Me: Where is it?
Boy 1: I think I put it in the basket.
Me: OK, then it’s still in the basket. Go ahead and get it.
Boy 2: Which pages are we doing?
Me: Pages 13 and 15.
Boy 2: I don’t have my packet.
Me: Where is it?
Boy 2: It’s at home.
Me: That packet has three of your EOC grades in it.
Boy 2: Yeah, can you just print the pages for today for me?

So I print the pages, then when I bring them to Boy 2, the boy next to him speaks up.

Boy 3: What do I do when I’m done?
Me: You’ll get together with someone and read their paper. These two haven’t started yet, so how about we do a triad instead: 3 read 1’s paper, 1 read 2’s, and 2 read 3’s.
Boy 3: What do we do with their paper?
Me: You’ll complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 3: What packet?
Me: The orange packet. The packet we’ve done all of your EOC work in all week.

Boy 2: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday. Boy 1, have you opened 2’s paper yet?
Boy 1: No. Why?
Me: Because you need to read his paper and complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 1: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday.
Boy 2: I have that document open. Now what do I do?
Me: Click the link for the document next to his name.
Boy 1: This document?
Me: Yes, that’s the document where everyone turned in their work. See? There’s yours right there.
Boy 1: OK, now what?
Me: Click the link for the document next to his name.
Boy 1: OK, now what?
Me: You’ll complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 1: I already did this.
Me: This is a new sheet that you’re completing for your partner’s paper, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week.

Boy 3: So what do I do now?
Me: Do you have 1’s paper open?
Boy 3: No. Why do I need his paper?
Me: Because you’re going to read his paper and use it to complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 3: I was reading my paper.
Me: There’s no need to read your paper. You wrote your paper; you already know what you had to say. You need to read someone else’s paper for the analysis.
Boy 3: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday.
Boy 3: The link won’t even open.
Me: You have to click on it to open it.
Boy 3: I already did this.
Me: This is a new sheet that you’re completing for your partner’s paper, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week.

Boy 1: Is this all we’re doing this period?
Me: Based on how well things are going so far, yes, this is probably all you’ll be doing today.
Boy 1: Sweet!

Then about twenty minutes later, I see a girl across the room watching a video on her phone with her laptop put away.

Me: Are you considering yourself all done?
Girl: Yeah.
Me: OK.
Girl: I don’t have a partner though.
Me: I can get you a partner. Are you wanting to get your computer out again so you can do the partner activity?
Girl: No, not really.
Me: OK. Then make sure your packet gets turned in. You’ll just have a zero for that portion of your EOC.
Girl: OK. Do you still want me to do page 15?
Me: No, because that was part of the partner activity and you said you don’t want to do that. So like I said, you’ll have a zero for that portion of your EOC.
Girl: OK.

I promise you, the amount of repetition in this post is entirely accurate.