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Transitioning To A More Accepting Viewpoint

, , , , , , , | Learning | June 20, 2021

I’m a science teacher at a small high school. For a few years, I’ve also been handing out Vetinari points, or vet points, for students that answer difficult questions, ask truly insightful questions, or otherwise do something to impress me. The students can then trade the points in for a few potential benefits, most noticeably a small increase in a future test score.

A little while ago, the parent who gave birth to one of our students came out as trans and started his transition. It seems this detail has only recently filtered down to some of the less enlightened students in our school, though. I’ve recently warned one bully in particular about his transphobic comments and harassment.

On this particular day, I’m alone in my room during a break period grading papers while the student in question is at his locker right outside of my room. I’m not listening to his conversation at first, until I overhear a non-school-appropriate synonym for penis that I won’t be repeating here, coming from the hallway. Since I came in partway into the conversation, I am only able to deduce part of the conversation between the bully and the student, though it is clear from tone and attitude alone that the bully is intentionally harassing my student.

Bully: “…mom has a [penis] now.”

Student: “You clearly don’t understand anything about being trans.”

Bully: “What’s there to know?!”

I have already gotten up and am headed out to handle the situation, but by the time I get out there, the student has already started responding with such confidence that I choose to let him finish before intervening. He is literally counting off points on his finger as he speaks.

Student: “First, I don’t have a mom. Second, of my two fathers, only one has, or will ever have, a [penis]. Three, I think you’re just jealous I can kill Macbeth and you can’t.”

Bully: “Huh?”

They are covering “Macbeth” in English around this time. In the play, it’s prophesied that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.”

Me: “[Student], you just earned yourself one vet point for coming up with a much better subversion of that prophecy than the actual play managed, though you should both use less vulgar terminology next time you wish to discuss a penis.”

Student: “Oh, umm… yes, sir. Thank you.”

Me: “[Bully], I’ve already warned you twice about transphobic comments. Now you will be spending your lunch discussing it with the principal, instead.”

All of us teachers were a little worried for this student originally when his father transitioned, but he proved us all wrong. He handled every question about his father with just as much confidence and conviction, without once losing his cool or lashing out in anger, as he did this time. More than once, I saw him inform ignorant students about what it meant to be trans with such confidence that he managed to convince even some of those who were originally skeptical of the concept to support his father’s transition. It was quite refreshing seeing not only how strongly he stood by his father’s transition but how well (most) of the student body ended up taking and supporting the transition after he explained things to them.


This story is part of our Best Of June 2021 roundup!

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We’re Guessing She Doesn’t Go To Public School

, , , , , | Learning | June 19, 2021

I am an assistant for a Sunday school working with three- to five-year-old children. Class hasn’t yet started today, so I’m trying to entertain some of the early arrivals in the meantime.

Me: “What are you going to dress up as for Halloween?”

A few kids shout out their costume choices. However, one little girl who doesn’t usually frequent our church speaks up afterward. She speaks in a completely serious voice.

Girl: “We don’t do Halloween because it makes baby Jesus cry.”

I swear that was the first, and only, time I’d ever heard someone use the whole “makes baby Jesus cry” phrase with complete seriousness. I had trouble just keeping a straight face and pretending that was a normal comment.

I didn’t see the girl back again. I suppose our heathen church that would allow children to enjoy a secular holiday that wasn’t harming anyone in any way wasn’t up to her parent’s standards.

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This Is Why We Need Black History Month, Part 2

, , , , , , | Right | June 18, 2021

It’s 1988 and I have been with the library for not quite a year.

Black History Month is upon us and children of all shapes, sizes, colors, and cute smiles are looking for information on various famous people.

But they clearly do not know what or who they are looking for.

Child #1: “I am doing a report on a famous black singer. Her name is Martha.”

Me: “Oh, good choice. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were a great singing group!” 

Child #1: “There’s another Martha? My report is on Martha Luther and her Kings.”

Next child:

Child #2: “I need a book on a famous black man who got his leg shot off during the war.”

Me: “Um, I am going to need more information than that. Which war are we talking about?”

Child #2:The war.”

Me: “Honey, there have been lots of wars over the years. Was it the Civil War? The American Revolution? World War II?”

Child #2: “The Revolution! Yes, the revolution! When the people came here from England to fight the Americans to free the slaves.”

We finally figured out we were looking for Crispus Attucks, though I don’t remember him getting his leg “shot off,” only that he was among the first killed at the start of the Revolution.

And then there were the inventors. Not Lattimer or McCoy or Madame C.J. Walker. No, we are talking about the well-known John Doe. Mary Smith. Lotta Peeples. Who “invented” THE comb. The hairbrush. THE washing machine. And of course, the kids needed at least five books on each of these people.

No surprise, there were none. Cue child sobbing because they have to write an eight page paper on this person.  

We had to start writing a form letter to teachers (which soon became known as the Dear Dummy letter) explaining that back in the day, many, many, many people created and patented a new version of the hairbrush or the comb, or created and patented a different version of a wringer for a hand-cranked washing machine. Or new buttons. Or corsets. Shaving creams…

We had to explain that these people were black, white, Hispanic, or Asian background, and that the only reason we know they existed and what their race was is because the forms for the patent office included a little box for this. ALL we know about the inventor is his or her invention, their name, the number assigned their patent… and their race.

Regardless of their race, there are not five paragraphs, let alone five books on each person.

Imagine having to send that out daily with an extra line scrawled at the bottom saying, “Please allow [Student] to choose a new topic so he won’t flunk your class.”

Every year for closing in on ten years, the head of the tech department where patents were kept would contact teachers and explain that we could not supply five books on the life of a citizen who happened to try making something new for an already existing device, so please don’t ask kids to write a ten-page paper on them. Every year, the teachers would say they understood… and then send the kids in to research the same obscure people anyway.

And of course, my favorite kid was the one who came in with his dad. The child darted across the floor to the desk, leaned against it, and crowed, “Hey! Where your dead black people at?” His father — both were African American — did a facepalm and shook his head. He said, “Son, they aren’t keeping the bodies on ice out back. Tell the lady who you want to read about.”

That exchange had the dad and I laughing for most of the exchange. I miss those days, as the demand for writing reports has fallen off. I just hope I never have to explain to another child that the singer she wants to report on is actually a Civil Rights Leader.

Related:
This Is Why We Need Black History Month

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Graduating To A New Level Of Stupid

, , , , , , | Learning | CREDIT: Brandilio | June 18, 2021

Back in 2013, I was a senior at a high school I had just transferred to. I had moved earlier in the year because my parents got divorced, and I made the deliberate choice to leave my old high school and move in with my dad, attending a new high school.

Normally, switching schools isn’t a huge deal, but it was sort of an abrupt move; I wasn’t able to take any of the AP classes I normally would have taken because they all had mandatory summer projects that I wouldn’t have been able to do in a week.

Additionally, a week into the school year, we were told about this stupid senior project they wanted us to do. In a nutshell, there was some acronym — IMPACT or something — and each letter represented a value of the school. They wanted us to write about how IMPACT had influenced us in our time at the school. We were then told that, should we NOT do the senior project, we wouldn’t be able to walk for graduation. Oh, no!

I heard this and thought it was stupid for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that I had only just gotten there, so their dumb acronym didn’t mean anything to me. I brought this concern up to the lady telling us about the project, and her response was that I just “figure something out or don’t walk.”

Well, okay, then.

I brought it up with my dad, asked if he gave a hot s*** whether or not I walked for a high school graduation. He did not. So I just figured that I wouldn’t do the project. End of story, right?

Wrong.

You see, a few months into this senior project, they did a checkup on every senior. We just lined up in our homeroom to talk to some lady from the principal’s office and told her how close we were to being done. When I walked up, I told her that I wasn’t doing it.

Lady: *Confused* “You’re not going to do it? You have to. It’s non-negotiable.”

Me: “No, it’s not. I don’t have to do it.”

Lady: “But you won’t walk if you don’t do it.”

Me: “Yeah.”

Then we just sort of stared at each other, and she wrote my name down and shooed me away. I correctly assumed that this would not be the last interaction I had regarding this non-issue. Several weeks later, my suspicions were confirmed when I was pulled out of class and brought into the main office.

They ushered me into the vice principal’s personal office, where she made a bit of a show of pulling out some papers. She told me that the meeting was regarding a misunderstanding I may have had regarding the senior project. She was apparently told that I didn’t know what to do for the assignment and I had chosen to boycott the whole thing as a result. I quickly corrected her.

Me: “I very clearly understand what you want me to do, but I think it’s stupid and I’m not going to do it. I understand the penalty for not doing it and I’m fine with that.”

She, like the first lady, seemed confused by this course of action and just let me leave, since there wasn’t really much of a conversation to be had.

A few more weeks later, I got pulled out of yet another class for this same thing. Again, I was brought up to the vice principal for a one-on-one. When I got there, she looked like the cat that ate the canary.

Vice Principal: “So, I know you were in here a while ago, and you said you didn’t want to do your senior project—”

Me: *Interrupting* “No. I said wasn’t doing the project.”

Vice Principal: “Well, we had a chat with your mother over the phone earlier this week. She told us that she really wants you to walk at your graduation.”

I was quiet for a moment.

Me: “Um… I live with my dad.”

Vice Principal: “Right, but your mom said she’d like to attend the ceremony and see you walk.”

Me: “I don’t think you get it. I live with my dad for a reason.

If ever there were an expression that perfectly exemplified the dial-up tone, that’s the face she made. After she collected herself, I was released and headed back to class.

By this point, I was mostly just not doing the project because it was dumb. But them calling a family member to strong-arm me was crossing a line. On top of that, they tried to strong-arm me using a parent with whom I was no-contact. I decided right then that, no matter what, I wasn’t caving into their bulls***. F*** the project, f*** the school, and f*** the weird tactics they were trying to use. However, in my anger was also confusion. Why did these people care so much about one guy not doing an optional assignment? I had made myself very clear, so was that the end of it?

Spoiler: it wasn’t.

A few more weeks later, I got pulled into the actual principal’s office. The principal, for reference, was one of those guys that tried to make a show of being overly friendly and goofy but to the point where it came off as superficial. When I got to his office, he was his usual extroverted self, greeted me, and sat me down.

Principal: “I’ve heard about this whole senior project problem you’ve had going on. And I get it. Trust me, I really do; you’re new here, so our motto hasn’t had as much of an impression. So, after talking about it with the folks grading the projects, we think it’d be just fine if you had a modified project. Just do a project on one letter of IMPACT, and you’re golden.”

He gave me a big warm smile.

Me: “No.”

Principal: *Smiling* “Sorry?”

Me: “I’m not doing it.”

His smile was slowly fading now.

Principal: “But you only have to do one letter. It’s really not that much.”

Me: “Yeah, I got that. I’m still not going to do it.”

Principal: “But you won’t be able to walk on graduation day.”

Me: “Yep.”

Principal: “So what’s the issue, exactly?”

Me: “You called my mom.”

His mouth was open like he was going to say something, but I guess nothing came to mind, as we sat in silence for a good twenty seconds — him trying to formulate an argument and me staring back blankly.

Me: “If that’s everything you need to talk about, I’ll be heading back to class.”

He didn’t protest, so I just left.

It was after this meeting that I eventually got some context. Apparently, California schools will shuffle principals around every few years for some reason that probably makes sense, but I don’t care enough to research. Our principal was going to be switching schools after the 2013 semester had ended, and one of his big plans was to leave that high school with 100% participation in the senior projects that would otherwise not affect any final grade.

He used the threat of preventing students from walking at graduation to bully everyone into doing the dumb project — almost everyone. I stuck to my guns and refused to do it. And sure enough, after the deadline had passed, they made a big deal about how happy they were that 99.6% of students completed their senior projects, even though they were hoping for 100%.

And the absolute dumbest part about this exercise in stupid? After everything was said and done, I was called in one last time to the VP’s office. She told me that, despite my refusal to do the senior project, they were still going to let me walk, and they gave me five tickets for friends and family. I laughed, walked out without the tickets, and didn’t attend my own graduation.


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There’s No Substitute For Good Teachers

, , , , | Learning | June 16, 2021

My father was a life-long high school teacher. When he retired from full-time teaching, he became a substitute teacher. Being in rural Alberta, that meant driving long distances to many different schools in all directions. He was in such demand that he ended up working almost full-time and driving much more than he did before. He enjoyed being in demand, though, often having to tell schools that he couldn’t sub for them because another school had already booked him.

Being able to say no was a privilege that he enjoyed being able to have, but in practice, he almost never did if his time wasn’t already spoken for.

He told me about one school he ruled out permanently, though. He said it was due to a single incident, but from talking to him, I knew that there was also an underlying issue that bothered him.

The incident? He had an off period one day and was walking down the school hallway during class. A male teenage student came out of a classroom in front of him and then yelled back into the classroom, “I’m going to take a s***, okay?!”

Dad: “I’m not going to sub there again. Anyway, it is a very long drive there.”

Me: “Did you talk to anyone at the school there about it?”

Dad: “No. I didn’t see a point. He wasn’t my student, it wasn’t my class, and I’m just a sub. The boy’s teacher should deal with it, not me. I don’t have to sub for them.”

Me: “In all the decades that you’ve taught, you must have witnessed bad behavior similar to this before. You also drive just as far to other schools to sub. What makes this different?”

Dad: “Well, I don’t have to put up with stuff like that anymore. I’m semi-retired. Plus, they’re a Roman Catholic school and they made me sign a document stating that I was a Christian. I understand why they do that, but what I believe has nothing to do with being a good teacher.”

I agreed with him whole-hardheartedly. Unfortunately, he felt that he couldn’t just tell that school outright that he wouldn’t sub for them anymore. He was concerned that the word would spread that he was “picky” about schools. So, from then on, he broke his own rule of honesty and always told that school he was already booked or busy when they called.

He continued subbing for several more years at several schools after that before retiring fully. Even after he stopped registering as a substitute teacher with the school boards and schools, he would still get calls occasionally from schools asking him to PLEASE come in for a day. He told me that he liked being needed but that his ailing wife needed him more.

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