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Here’s Hoping Your Desserts Aren’t THAT Dry!

, , , , , | Learning | December 30, 2021

I teach technology and this particular class is eighth-graders. Before we get into computer stuff, I always start the year off with a “Getting to Know You” questionnaire I have the students fill out about themselves. It’s the easiest grade they’ll get all year and it helps me get to know them. It’s all fluff questions like what their favorite color is, favorite class, something they’d like to learn, etc.

A student raises his hand.

Student #1: “Miss? I don’t have a favorite desert.”

Student #2: *Shouting out* “Mine’s the Gobi!”

Me: “Uh… guys… the question is, ‘What is your favorite dessert?’ You know, cake, ice cream, cookies?”

Cue three other students frantically erasing.

Welcome To Middle School, Where We Crush Your Desire To Learn

, , , , , , | Learning | December 28, 2021

I was really good at math as a kid. We’re talking traded my stupid third-grade crosswords and word searches for my sister’s sixth-grade math homework kind of good… at least until Mom found out and made me stop. I wasn’t in trouble; she just explained that I was doing Sis a disservice by denying her the chance to understand math concepts she would need and be tested on. Busy work exchanges were still cool, though.

Then, I took Algebra 1 from a retired sailor who couldn’t teach to save his soul. And I had knee surgery on September 15th, the day the class learned what y=mx+b meant. When I returned from surgery the following week, I was still high as a kite on pain meds until some time in October. And the teacher flat-out refused to help me catch up. When I asked him to explain that formula, he’d just parrot, “It’s the slope-intercept form of a line!” without ever telling me what that meant.

At one point the following spring, during a conference with my parents, he had the gall to say that I was “too stupid to learn math” and “the stupidest kid in the whole school.”

Dad nearly rage-flipped the table, but Mom put her hand on his knee and then punctured the teacher’s ego.

Mom: “Every student must have aced the math section of their standardized tests, then! I demand to see proof of that.”

He was caught off-guard, with a dazed “Huh?” expression. Then, Mom pulled my test results (just back that week) out of her folio and practically purred:

Mom: “[My Name] only missed one question, so if they’re the stupidest kid in the school, then everyone else must have aced the test, right? Oh, they didn’t? Well, then, perhaps the problem is not a stupid pupil. Hmm…”

We left the teacher gaping like a fish and the school counselor laughing at him. 

That night, my dad went through my entire algebra textbook with me, right from chapter one. He started to gloss over that same equation with the same recursive answer the teacher gave until I stopped him.

Me: “What. Is. Y? What is X? What is M? And what the heck is B?”

Dad: “You don’t know that?”

Me: “NO!”

Dad: “Oh! Well, that explains everything!”

And he proceeded to actually break it down for me. It took less than two minutes, including drawing multiple graphs to illustrate how the formula works. Two freaking minutes would have saved me an entire school year of frustration.

After that, we zoomed through the entire text in about 4 hours. The next day, I took my final. I aced it.

But my love for math was gone. The teacher in question “retired” at the end of that year.

We Graduate But We Never Forget

, , , , , , | Learning | December 15, 2021

Like many others, I had a terrible school experience growing up. Middle school was especially hellish thanks to relentless teasing, both from students and teachers. It was the 1990s. What can I say? 

One teacher, in particular, was a bully, plain and simple. He’d tease me along with other students. He forced me to cut up my brother’s toy dinosaur for a Viking ship project. He made fun of the way my cat scratched at my arms. And so on and so forth. 

After high school, I thought I’d never see him again, but when you have a retail job in the city near where you grew up, it is inevitable. I came across him three times.

I wasn’t working the first time; I was with my sister at a popular gas station/food place. We were on our way out when the teacher came in. He lit up, as teachers do I guess when seeing old students.

Teacher: “Girls! [Dumb Nickname we had in school]! How’re you?”

I briskly walked past without acknowledging him. He looked at my sister questioningly.

Sis: “What’d you expect?”

She walked away, too.

The second time, I was working at a fast food place, taking drive-thru orders when he pulled up. My friendly demeanor immediately turned icy. It took him a moment but I saw the recognition in his eyes.

Me: “That’ll be [total].”

Teacher: *Handing me money* “You probably don’t recognize me, do you?”

Me: *Giving back change* “I know who you are.”

I closed the window and had a coworker give him his order.

The third time, it had been about ten years since school. I was a shift leader at a bookstore, I was married, and I figured I’d moved on from the trauma of school… but when I saw this teacher approach the cash register, I felt anxious as though I were in middle school again.

Me: “Will this be all today?”

I was trying to be cordial and ring through the transaction quickly. I gave him his total. He squinted at me, almost accusingly.

Teacher: “You know who I am.”

Me: “Yes.”

Teacher: “Then why—”

Me: “Your receipt is in the bag. Have a good day.”

He struggled for a moment, his face red. I have no clue what was going on in his head, or why he would think I of all people would be happy to see him. Maybe he was confused that this was the third time his former student was “mean” to him.

It definitely made him angry. He was with two little girls, and I think that’s the main reason why he just grabbed his bag and walked away.

Linda Belcher Did A Stint As A Teacher

, , , , , | Learning | June 24, 2021

Back when I was in middle school, a group of boys apparently decided to start having “peeing contests”. In other words, they were trying to pee into the urinal from as far away as they could and were making a gross mess in the process. Initially, the school freaked out because they thought there was a leak, but the plumber they hired couldn’t find anything — a big financial hit, given how small the school was.

I’m not sure how, but eventually, one of the teachers figured out what was happening and our principal asked all of the teachers to make an announcement about it in their homerooms.

Teacher: *Very sternly* “Now, we don’t know who all is involved with this, but we know that some of you boys are playing a little ‘game’ in the bathroom, and it needs to stop immediately. It’s incredibly gross and you need to put your pee where it’s supposed to be!”

There was a slight pause and the tension in the room immediately dissolved as she realized the accidental rhyme she had just said to a bunch of very immature and now snickering eleven-year-olds.

Teacher: “Ah, jeez… You know what? You know what? I’m going to recreate that Uncle Sam poster and put ‘Put that pee where it’s supposed to be!’ on it and stick it over the urinal.”

And she did! It stayed there for the rest of that school year, and we never had another urine-related incident while I attended that school.

Welcome To The Eco Chamber

, , , , , | Learning | May 28, 2021

I’m part of a panel of scientists giving a virtual guest lecture to a middle school. I’m talking about pollinators, and the class is pretty disengaged, but they get excited — and occasionally grossed out — when I pull out bat skeletons. After I explain the idea of coevolution, the teacher asks if anyone has questions and a number of hands light up on the screen. The teacher has introduced me as an ecologist and repeated that a few times.

Student #1: “Miss [My Name], is it called ecology because of the bats?”

Me: “No, ecology is a lot more than just bats! I used to study—”

Student #1: “So, what’s it called if they don’t echo?”

Me: “Oh… no, eco, not echo, like—”

Student #2: “Also whales and dolphins and sharks.”

Teacher: “[Student #1], you should call her—”

Student #3: “Sharks don’t echo. Except hammerheads.”

Me: “Yes— No, wait, no— It’s not… The prefix ‘eco’ means envir—”

Student #4: “’Eco’ means money like econom—”

The call goes silent; the teacher has used the “mute all” function.

Teacher: “Class, let’s ask our questions one by one. But [Student #1], you should call her Doctor [My Name], not Miss [My Name], because she’s a scientist and has a PhD.”

She unmutes the class and [Student #1] cuts back in.

Student #1: “—can’t be a very good doctor if all her bats are dead, though.”