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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tales From The Classroom

("Tales from the Classroom" is a feature posted occasionally here at this blog.  All tales are true and present matters about which I have personal knowledge.  The following tale relates the story of something that happened the first time that I as a student teacher was in sole charge of teaching a class — in 1973, at a school in an upper-middle-class and wealthy area)

The following paragraph from this recent essay at the Washington Post's web site prompted me to recall the first time that I took the helm as a classroom teacher of a high school class:
All of you former students: you did not design curricula, plan lessons, attend faculty meetings, assess papers, design rubrics, create exams, prepare report cards, and monitor attendance. You did not tutor students, review rough drafts, and create study questions. You did not assign homework. You did not write daily lesson objectives on the white board. You did not write poems of the week on the white board. You did not write homework on the white board. You did not learn to write legibly on the white board while simultaneously making sure that none of your students threw a chair out a window.
If only my first test as a teacher able to control a room full of students had been limited to the possibility of a student's tossing a chair out a window!

Almost as soon as the bell had rung, Kerry, a ninth grader over six feet tall and an above-average student academically, stood up and announced to the entire classroom: "I'm gonna piss out the window!"  He then proceeded to unzip.

I had visions of someone below our second-story window being doused.

I had visions of losing my university's sponsorship of the required interval of student teaching.

I had visions of my losing any possibility of obtaining my teacher certification.

I don't know how I kept my composure.  But I did.

I didn't even raise my voice or drop my vocal register into the gutteral range.  I calmly stated: "The men's room is down the hall."

Kerry: "Sh*t!"

AOW: "That, too, is down the hall.  In the men's room."

Laughter all around, and Kerry sat down.  He never challenged me again.  No disciplinary action was taken, either — at my request. No point in feeding a frenzy.

A few years later, I ran into Kerry at our local Wendy's.  He and I both laughed as we remember that day in the classroom.  He said: "I wasn't really going to piss out the window, you know.  I just wanted to see how you would react.  Good thing you didn't say 'boys' room'.  If you had, I might have had to prove that I wasn't a boy."

Those few moments in 1973 are moments that I'll never forget.


  1. 1973 !?!? I didn't know it was that bad back then. I graduated in 72.

    1. Ed,
      It wasn't bad back then -- usually and if the regular teacher was in charge. Substitutes, however, had a difficult time even back then here in Northern Virginia. Usually, the challenges were along the lines of spit balls, passive-aggressive resistance, and the like. I've remembered Kerry all these years precisely because the incident was so unusual.

  2. Teaching is not an easy profession. My wife retired two years ago after 34 years as a school librarian. No way she wanted to be a classroom teacher. By the way, 1973 was a good year for business, but 1974 was recession time, We were serving an exile in Texas, with me having been recruited to move there from Tennessee. It sounds like you and Ed are relative youngsters.

    1. Bob,
      Teaching is not an easy profession.

      No kidding!

      Be sure to have your wife read this link.

      I'm sure that school librarians have tales to tell, too! Much mischief occurs in school libraries because students so often regard library time as play time.

  3. I think I would have made a horrible teacher. I'd probably be in prison for child abuse.

    1. Jim,
      Hahaha! Kids can really push buttons.

    2. Jim, I thought I'd be the ULTIMATE DICTATOR and I'm mush in their sweet hands, but I'm in a PRIVATE school. BIG BIG BIG DIFFERENCE. And, BROTHER, is our school getting ridiculously popular for its values and its academics/sports, etc; I think parents are waking up BIG TIME to the mess at public schools. If you can even call them schools anymore.

  4. I'm going to be Sub'ing a LOT in the coming months....I love your retort about the men's room!
    By the way, my most horrible story about teaching was told to me by an LA High School grad in his 70's today. His class couldn't stand their sub, so while she had her back to them and was writing on the chalk board, they sent a guy downstairs to lay on the ground as if he'd fallen. Suddenly, they said "Oh, my GOSH, Mrs. Jones! Look outside! Philip JUMPED!" She ran to the window, saw him splayed on the grass and nearly had a heart attack! Imagine?

    Another funnier story was when a pretty blonde senior stood up, very diffident after having had a particularly difficult experience on a text, called a "pop quizzie" by the teacher, and said "Mr Smith, if THIS is your idea of QUIZZIES, I'd hate to see your TESTIES! " (true story...) She was BEET RED after realizing what she'd said and the class was convulsed!
    teaching experiences can be very entertaining! :-)

    1. Z,
      Great anecdotes! I can relate, too. I've had similar situations happen.

      About that first anecdote...

      Perhaps most kids are Tom Sawyer at heart.

      Subbing is tricky, Z. I know. I've been there, done that. The main thing is "to get the class on your side." Doable, but difficult to train someone how to do so.

  5. You did a great job keeping your cool AOW. I would have been a terrible teacher, no doubt about it. I have taught all age groups in church, mission groups, etc. in Religious Education Ministry, but that is just once a week, ha. I would not have the patience to do it all day long every day.

    God bless teachers like you.

    Right Truth

    1. Debbie,
      No matter the venue, a classroom of students can be a handful. Every class has its own dynamic, and much of what a teacher does should be done with an awareness of that dynamic. Class control is tricky sometimes!

      Yesterday, one of my students had an outburst, He was frustrated. Furthermore, from previous experience in classes (He's new to the homeschool group this year), he had learned that such an outburst can have the outcome he intended. Well, that tactic won't work with me -- and he found that out. I got him settled down without a time out. Also, neither of us let the incident ruin the entire class day. While the outburst was in progress, the rest of the class sat quietly -- probably in shock as well as in disapproval of the outburst. The class dynamic contributed to the good outcome of the student's outburst. I didn't have to worry about losing control of the entire class; sometimes the possibility of losing control of a batch of teenagers is a factor, a difficult factor to handle.

  6. I don't always handle situations as well as I did this one. So much of the outcome depends on the students themselves.

    Kerry wasn't a classroom clown -- or not much of one, anyway. And he certainly wasn't malicious. He was merely testing "the new teacher."

    Nothing in teacher training really teaches us how to handle situations like the one related in this blog post.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. The only way I could hope to "teach" in a public school today would be with a turreted machine gun mounted on my desk.

      Teaching has become a high-risk profession. The decline in education and abdication of proper control by adults began almost immediately after the Kennedy Assassination. I date it to the race riots in Rochester, NY and Watts, LA, and the unruly Student Protests of the Vietnam War on campuses across the nation. Woodstock pretty well finished us as a serious people with hope for a bright future.

      Sorry, but you know I'm right.

    2. FT,
      The only way I could hope to "teach" in a public school today would be with a turreted machine gun mounted on my desk.


  8. AOW, it is tricky, no doubt about it, but I know all these kids so well that their affection and respect shows and we have a wonderful time. WHen I walk in, it's all "mrs. Z, are you the sub today?" and applause!
    it's a wonderful feeling...my teachers ask for me now because they tell me at least they don't lose a day of curriculum like they do with the other subs ...and the kids tell me most of the subs just text and talk on their phones while they have the kids read their texts or answer question on paper....sad. I LOVE the curriculum and follow the teachers' daily plans.......
    I will admit to having the kids react with such loud applause at short presentations the kids were making one day that I finally had to ask them to click their fingers instead so the class next door wouldn't hear their noise :-) So, I admit sometimes their enthusiasm is hard to squelch!! But that's a good thing!

    1. Z,
      Both private education and classes of homeschoolers are hugely different from the situation in most public schools.

      A good sign: my teachers ask for me now because they tell me at least they don't lose a day of curriculum like they do with the other subs.

      Personally, I like enthusiastic noise when that noise is made in the process of actual learning.

  9. Up the Down Staircase.

    Anyone read it lately? It still holds true, possibly even more today than when it was written.

    -----------> Katharine Heartburn

    1. Up the Down Staircase should be required reading for every aspiring teacher. So much of what is depicted therein happens with frequency throughout today's public schools in the United States.

      Part of Wikipedia blurb about the 1965 novel:

      The plot revolves around Sylvia Barrett, an idealistic English language teacher at an inner-city high school who hopes to nurture her students' interest in classic literature (especially Chaucer and writing). She quickly becomes discouraged during her first year of teaching, frustrated by bureaucracy (the name of the novel refers to an infraction for which one of her students is punished), the indifference of her students, and the incompetence of many of her colleagues....

      I read the book before I started my student teaching and said to myself, "None of this would ever happen where I'm going to be doing my student teaching." I was somewhat wrong -- and the situation in schools that are not inner city is much like some of what is depicted in the novel.

  10. AOW, like I said, "it's a good thing!" And, oh YES! VERY VERY different in private schools and homeschooling than PUBLIC.
    I'm substituting at the moment ....gad, I LOVE these lunkhead high schoolers SO MUCH! :-)


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