Takes One To Know One

, , , , , , | | Learning | June 3, 2019

When I was in grade seven, our class got a substitute teacher one day. The teacher had a condescending attitude and was talking down to the class. She started off lecturing them about good behavior and then said, “I want you all to be benevolent. You do know what that means?”

I put up my hand and asked, “Is it okay if we act malevolent, instead?”

Forced To Question Their Behavior

, , , , , | | Learning | June 1, 2019

(This takes place in a US Government class. Whenever our teacher is absent, he leaves instructions for us to do some questions from our textbooks. Today, however, we have a substitute who is notorious through our school for being bossy, smug, and generally rude to the students.)

Substitute: “All right, Mr. [Regular Teacher] left me instructions for you to do [questions] in the textbook. Bring them to me at the end of the period.”

([Classmate #1], a very withdrawn but smart kid, finishes his questions in fifteen minutes and takes them up to the substitute. My desk is right next to the teacher’s desk, so I can hear the conversation clearly.)

Classmate #1: “Here are the questions.”

Substitute: *not even looking at the paper* “Why are you lying to me?”

Classmate #1: “Excuse me?”

Substitute: “There is no way you completed all those questions in fifteen minutes. Go back to your desk and finish them.”

([Classmate #1] goes back to his desk. Since we’re only fifteen minutes into an hour-and-a-half period, he gets out a journal and starts writing. After about a minute, the substitute gets up from the desk and storms over to him.)

Substitute: *almost shouting* “What are you doing?”

Classmate #1: “Um… I’m writing.”

Substitute: “I told you to finish the questions! Give me that!” *snatches journal out of [Classmate #1]’s hands*

Classmate #1: “I already finished the questions! And that’s mine!”

(He tries to grab his journal, but the substitute SLAPS him. The entire class has gone silent by now.)

Substitute: *with a smug smile* “It’s mine now. This is what happens to students who don’t do their work.”

(The substitute tears a handful of pages out of the journal and rips them to shreds. [Classmate #1] roars, leaps from his desk, and PUNCHES the substitute in her stomach and her face!  The substitute backs away, one hand on her stomach, and another on her face.)


(The substitute runs from the room, and [Classmate #1] kneels on the floor and starts to cry. A few of us, myself included, try to comfort him. A few minutes later, the substitute returns with an administrator in tow. She points at [Classmate #1].)

Substitute: “That’s him! He refused to do his work, swore at me, and assaulted me!”

Administrator: “[Classmate #1], is this true?”

([Classmate #1] is still crying, so I speak up.)

Me: “No. No, it’s not. [Classmate #1] did his work, but Ms. [Substitute] wouldn’t accept it, and she slapped him and tore up his journal when he tried to write in it.”

(The rest of the class speaks up against the substitute.)

Substitute: “YOU LYING—”

Classmate #2: “I recorded the whole thing!”

(The substitute went pale, and the administrator reviewed the recording. He ordered the substitute to the office, and asked [Classmate #1] if he’d like to go to the nurse. They all left, and we didn’t see [Classmate #1] until the next class, when he thanked us for standing up for him. We later learned that the substitute was banned from ever teaching in a school again!)

[Citation Needed]

, , , , , | | Learning | May 29, 2019

(I’m at a conference for school librarians, attending a discussion about disinformation on the Internet.)

Speaker: “It’s amazing how often educated teachers will blindly believe something they’ve read on the Internet without bothering to verify it. One district banned the Amelia Bedelia books because of something false they read online.”

Me: “What did they read?”

Speaker: “I’m not sure.”

Me: “When did this happen?”

Speaker: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Could you give us the URL of your source? I’d like to read this.”

Speaker: “I can’t; I saw it on a friend’s page.”

Me: *thinking* “So, you just read something on the Internet and blindly believed it without bothering to verify it?”

Babies: The Madness!

, , , , , | | Learning | May 27, 2019

(I’m a PhD student visiting a local high school with my professor. It’s Science Day, and it is not going well. A demonstration on the dangers of electricity shorted out, setting off the fire alarm and blowing the fuses. Several students’ science projects were knocked over or destroyed in the evacuation, and someone has been bitten by a goat. Everything’s out of control, but after the regular lights come back on, the principal has gotten on a mic and is trying to calm everyone down.)

Principal: “Okay, everyone, please settle down. We may be off track, but there’s still plenty of science day to get to! I think we’re going to skip ahead now. We have a nice treat for everyone: eight parents of [High School] students in scientific and medical fields are going to tell you all about what they do and their exciting and important careers in science!”

(She pulls out a stack of index cards, and I recognize them: we learned early on that the science teachers had been organizing everything, and the principal didn’t really know what the plan was, so she asked each presenter to jot down a few notes about their backgrounds and what they’d be talking about.)

Principal: “We’re going to hear from… Let’s see… Dr. [Doctor #1] at [Local University]! She’s an entomologist, which means she studies insects. Her work focuses on… uh…”

(The principal is holding the cards at arm’s length, and it becomes apparent that she’s used to using reading glasses but doesn’t have them with her.)

Principal: “On… the ecosystem… of…” *squinting* “…of… migratory beetles?”

(There’s applause and then silence. At the back of the room, I see an AV tech bring up the slides.)

Principal: “Is Dr. [Doctor #1] here?”

Parent: “Oh! No. She fell in the lake when the fire alarm went off. She and [School Nurse] went off to find her some dry clothes.”

Principal: “That’s fine. That’s fine! Let’s find someone nice and pleasant. How about [My Professor]. He’s going to be talking… about… ”

(Her eyes go wide, and she puts the index card in the back of the stack. I guess “Infection Control in Spinal Surgery” doesn’t count as nice and pleasant.)

Principal: “Oookay. Here we go. Dr. [Doctor #2]! Here we go. He’s a doctor and a scientist, and he spends his time working with babies!”

(She puts the cards back in her pocket. The AV tech in the back is violently shaking his head, giving a thumbs down, and crossing his arms in an X, but she doesn’t see him.)

Principal: “Caring for vulnerable people like babies is what makes science so important, you know? Dr. [Doctor #2], can you join us on stage? And can we please get the slides up?”

(Next to me, someone who seems about the right age to be another PhD student speaks up.)

PhD Student: “Oh, s***. Oh no.”

(A worried-looking man walks onto the stage. He tries to push the mic away for a moment – probably to whisper in the principal’s ear – but she interprets it differently and hands him the mic. He stands there for a second in silence, looking at it awkwardly. The principal leans into the mic one more time.)

Principal: “Can we get those slides, please?”

(The AV tech gives a shrug and hits a button while starting to laugh. An image of a snarling dog appears on the screen alongside the words, “RABIES: THE VIRUS OF MADNESS.” The students EXPLODE into applause and cheers, and the principal looks delighted until she sits down and notices the slides. She drops her head into her hands.)

Presenter: “The first thing you need to know about science is the importance of clearly communicating your findings, and the first thing you need to know about medicine is that every cliché about doctors’ handwriting is absolutely true.”

(The rest of the event goes off without a hitch, to the students’ delight and the principal’s mixed feelings. After the presentations, I meet the other PhD student and we’re talking about the mixup.)

PhD Student: “I’m disappointed that [Principal] stopped reading off the card when she did. As soon as I worked out she’d misread ‘rabies’ as ‘babies,’ I was really hoping to hear her read our goals of eradicating the scourge of babies from the globe.”

This Teacher’s Attitude Is Crippling

, , , , , , | | Learning | May 25, 2019

(I am at the high school for my sixteen-year-old son’s parent-teacher conference. I am about to meet his English teacher. My son has warned me that she is not an incredibly nice person nor a good teacher, but I have until this point thought he was exaggerating.)

Teacher: “Okay. Just before we start, I wanted to let you know that your son is kind of a loser nerd.”

(My son is a big nerd, but I’m not sure he’s a “loser,” as he has many friends and is good at making more. Besides, he seems happy with his situation.)

Teacher: *continuing* “Also, he’s good friends with some girls.”

(He has a group of about six or seven good friends, of whom two are girls.)

Me: “Why would that matter?”

Teacher: “Oh, nothing. It’s just that he might be gay and some parents don’t like that.”

(I do not believe my son to be gay, not in the least because he has a girlfriend. But even if he was, it wouldn’t really make a difference for us. Also, I’m pretty sure that if the parents were not okay with it, the last thing you would want to do would be to tell the parents.)

Me: “I believe that we were here to talk about my son’s performance in class.”

Teacher: “Right. Well, your son seems to have trouble making friends in class; he only talks to his friends when given the option to. In group projects, he would prefer to work with his friends over other students.”

Me: “I feel this is how most teenagers act.”

Teacher: “Oh, just a side note: do you think your son is unathletic? All the other boys in the class are on sports teams, and they always come in wearing their jerseys except for your son and his friend. Do you think you could convince him to join the track team or something? I’d like the seating chart to be symmetrical, and with two boys not on any teams it’s a bit harder.”

(My son is not too fat nor too thin, not terribly weak — though not very strong, either — and I see no point in making him join a sports team that he won’t want to participate in.)

Me: “Could we continue talking about him in class?”

(She gives actual important information about how he’s struggling in something and recommends some tutor or something. Then, I’m about to leave.)

Teacher: “I saw him talking to a crippled girl once.”

(The “crippled girl” is a freshman with one leg, who is my son’s friend’s sister and my daughter’s good friend, and I do believe he was comforting her about something — she has low self-esteem and my daughter brought up something about an interaction between the girl and my son. Luckily, this teacher retired from teaching at the end of that school year.)

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