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Stories from school and college

A Blue Label Has This Scot Seeing Red

, , , , , , | Learning | November 13, 2021

This happened when I was a new high school teacher. Our school had close to 2,000 students and I’m guessing eighty or so teachers. There was one department (geography) that had two teachers: the head, who was a tall, gentlemanly Scandinavian fellow, and the other guy, who was a 5’5″ Scot with a short temper and a hugely inflated sense of his importance. [Scot] was what my own Scots parents would call a bumptious twit: smarter than everyone, loved the sound of his own voice and, what’s worse, treated the school secretaries like a lower form of life. When we had our bi-monthly staff meetings, he was one of those who insisted on dragging things out with stupid questions, points of order, and such, while not realizing that most everyone there just wanted to get out and go home. Not a good way to make friends.

It happened that the geography department head took a semester-long sabbatical to take a few courses, which left wee [Scot] as the acting department head. Everyone was going to know about this. In the main staff room, there was a wall of drawers where all our mail, memos, and so on were placed. Each was labelled with those old-style plastic labels — the ones where you spun the dial, clicked to emboss the plastic strip, and then did the peel and stick thing. Everyone had a blue label except for department heads; theirs were red. The first thing [Scot] did was go around the back and make himself a red label because he was now important.

I would usually arrive early, pick up any mail, and book it up to my department office — new guy always has to get the coffee ready. One day, an older teacher stopped me.

Teacher: “Hang on, take a seat. This will be fun.”

About ten minutes later, [Scot] came in, looked at the blue label on his drawer, and stood there vibrating like his head was about to explode. He tore the label off and ran out into the hall and through the door into the office area behind the mail drawers. We could all hear a frantic “click, click, click” as he made a new label. He stormed back in and put his new RED label on his drawer, stood back, gave it a nod, and then left.

There were some smug looks of satisfaction but nobody laughed out loud.

Teacher: “The first person in always puts a regular blue label on [Scot]’s drawer, and then we all sit back to enjoy the fireworks. We’ve been doing it for weeks just to get back at him for being a d**k for so many years.”

It’s Hard To Know It All When You Don’t Show Up

, , , , , , | Learning | November 11, 2021

In college, I’m taking a class on the history and cultures of North Africa with a professor who was born in Algeria. We have a typical aggressive, argumentative know-it-all in class who regularly questions our professor when he thinks something is wrong.

The next class after our first test, our professor asks if anyone has any questions about their scores. Mr. Know-it-All raises his hand.

Professor: “Yes, what is your question?”

Mr. Know-it-All: “You marked my answer for question number six as wrong, but I don’t think it is.”

Professor: “Please remind me what your answer was?”

Question number six was something like, “Why is the African coast of the Mediterranean Sea known as the Barbary Coast?” It should be simple, but…

Mr. Know-it-All: “I wrote that the Barbary Coast was called that because of the pirates that used to be there. The pirates had a reputation as barbarians, so that’s why they called it the Barbary Coast. Barbarian, Barbary.”

Professor: “Ah, I see. The Barbary Coast was not named after simple barbarians, but after the Berber people who lived throughout North Africa. Do you see?”

Mr. Know-it-All: “That’s not right, though. The people who lived there were Tuaregs, like the Volkswagen Tuareg that was named after them.”

Professor: “The Tuareg were only one group of Berbers. Think of it like this. In Europe, all people are known as Europeans, but there are several different types of Europeans, like French or English or German. In North Africa, it is the same way; all people together are Berber, but there are many different groups of Berber, like the Tuareg or the Kabyles. Do you see?”

Mr. Know-it-All: “Well, no. I’ve never heard the word Berber before. I just think…”

Professor: “Then perhaps you need to come to class more often? All this month has been about the Berber people, and I have told you several times that I myself am Berber, of the Kabyle people. Now, you may please be quiet, or you may leave for the day and return when you are ready to learn about my people and others in North Africa. That is all. Does anyone else have questions?”

Mr. Know-it-All sat back and pouted for the rest of the class and continued to pout throughout the semester, but he never tried to openly challenge our professor again. Meanwhile, the rest of us students couldn’t help but be impressed by how our professor shut him down so completely, and he quickly became a favorite professor for many of us, me included.

If You Fall Asleep, You’ll Have A Cow

, , , , | Learning | November 9, 2021

My sixth-grade English teacher was one of my most favorite teachers that I’ve ever had. I’ve always loved reading, so I always looked forward to quiet reading time in class, especially since she let us bring our own books. One of her quirks was that she threw cows at people. That is not a turn of phrase; she had a basket of little plush cows on her desk, and if you were sleeping or goofing off in class, you could expect to be bonked with one. It was hilarious and probably not something she could get away with today.

When I read at my desk, I liked to sit forward with my head tilted down and my chin resting in my hand. My eyes are heavy-lidded, so it can look like they’re closed when my head’s tilted down or forward.

One day, during quiet reading time, I was sitting this way and I noticed [Teacher] looking at me out of the corner of my eye. I ignored it until I saw her frown, shake her head, and reach for a cow. I realized she thought I was asleep a split second before the cow was launched — and her aim was DEADLY.

Without thinking, I took my chin from my hand, caught the bovine projectile one-handed, put it on my desk next to me, and resumed my reading position without lifting my eyes from my book.

Teacher: *Clearly startled* “Oh! I thought… Well then, my apologies. Cow withdrawn!”

I laughed and kept reading. Seriously, I loved Mrs. H so much!

They’re Just Keeping You On Your Toes

, , , , , | Learning | November 7, 2021

I did ballet for ten years, from age six to age fifteen. I remember my teachers yelling at my class to fix their movements and postures.

While doing barre work:

Teacher: “Don’t lift your leg too high; you look like a dog going potty.”

During “The Nutcracker” rehearsals:

Teacher: “Cows stomp. Horses stomp. Angels do not stomp.”

While doing arm exercises:

Teacher: “Your arms look like chicken wings. Pretend your arms are like clothing hangers.”

Doing pliés, where you put your heels together and bend your knees:

Teacher: “Pretend that you are a merry-go-round going up and down. You have a glass of water on your head.”

Normally, We Say, “Eyes On The Road,” But This Is Better

, , , , , | Learning | November 5, 2021

I bought my first car and went to driving school very late. I was nervous, and before the driving lessons, I asked my old friend, who was my age but had already been driving for ten years, to give me a private lesson in his car.

He readily agreed, and we went and found an empty country road where I took the wheel and drove up and down for some hours, just to get the most basic skills, feeling the brakes, clutch, changing gears, etc. My friend was riding shotgun and gently pointed out my mistakes.

After some time, I felt more confident, so I thanked him and asked if there was any general advice he would like to give me before I went to the driving school. He thought deeply for a minute or so.

Friend: “When driving, do not watch the pedals.”

Not what I expected, but trust me, VERY good driving advice!