There’s Only Room for One of Us in This Town

Posted on February 11, 2016
Filed Under Teaching, Management | Leave a Comment

While I am currently on my sixth principal, I am only working on my fourth English department head. The current one is the best since the first one, way back in the day, but it’s only her second year here, so she’s still learning what the junior high animal is all about.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t ever assumed the mantle of “English Department Head” in my 23 tears here, I can only say this:


Why would I want to have to…

All this for an extra 1500 dollah per year? Again I say:

hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! The cost/benefit analysis doesn’t pencil out.

However, lucky for me, I talked D$ (pronounced Dee Money) into taking the job when it opened up this year.

“You can either find out about everything a week after it’s due and never have any whiteboard pens and have district management grumble about us all the time, or you can take the job your own bad self and do it properly.”

She eventually saw things my way, and things have run more smoothly than they have in years.

Anyway, today she had morning prison yard duty in the seventh grade quad. (Our 7th and 8th graders sort of self segregate into the separate quads where their lockers are clustered.) Since she has all eighth grade classes this year, and she doesn’t yet have the history/rep that I have–even kids that don’t have me know who I am–she was a little frustrated trying to ride herd on all the seventh graders who don’t know her from Eve.

“I could lend you one of my sticks.”

“Actually, that’s what one of the kids told me this morning. She said, ‘You need a stick like Mr. Coward.'”

“Smart girl.”

“I told her that this school probably only has room for one Mr. Coward.”

Smart girl. That’s why she’s department head.





The Good Sub

Posted on February 1, 2016
Filed Under substituting | Leave a Comment

I had a sub last Tuesday. Usually, I can tell by the length of the note how much I will like the guest teacher (which is what we call them round these parts). In my eyes, there is a direct correlation between the length and detail of the note and the quality of the sub. Obviously there are exceptions. Outliers, as our big-haired training lady called them. I once had a sub chronicle, in painstaking detail, every single wrong-headed move, right down to not rating the classes. She claimed she didn’t want to be “judgmental.” I have spoken before about the secret weapon, the 1-10 rating, I give all my subs. A concept so simple, yet so effective, that I can’t believe I had to steal it. And she didn’t deploy it. She hasn’t been back.

About five years ago, I had a former student sub for me:

So I get back on Monday, and I read the note. It’s a bit skimpy; I like a lot of details in my sub notes, but…ok. Two classes got nines, one eight (living dangerously), and two tens. Not bad. I never believe it when they all get tens.  Then I look at the name, and a bell goes off. I ask the kids,”

“So how was Mr. B.?”

“He was awesome! We told him that you sometimes kicked our desks when we weren’t paying attention, and about your stick. He said, ‘Like this?’ and threw Jake’s desk across the room. Luckily Jake was absent. The teacher from the room next door is weird.”

“What does that have anything to do with anything?”

“When he threw the desk, it hit the wall, and he was sort of making a lot of noise. She came in and told him to be quiet. Then we did the test. He showed us a picture of his fiance. He was awesome.”

“Did he follow the plan?”

“I guess.”

The note from Tuesday’s sub was a solid two pager. Nice. Let’s break it down.

  1. Hahahahahaha. She fell for the “PLEASE ENTER THROUGH THE OTHER DOOR” joke! Hahahahahaha. She actually admitted it! She even said that another teacher “helped her.” And the best part is, she thought that it was funny!
  2. Looks like the plan was followed… although there were some answers given away. No worries; that’s allowed for. Looks like things took a lot longer than usual. Also figured into the plan.
  3. Uh oh. Gave 4th period less than an 8, but didn’t call out any specific hooligans on the seating chart. Now I gotta get them to give up whom she meant by “some boys.” Not difficult, but I shouldn’t hafta do it.
  4. GOLD! Something new. Something I will probably steal. She took the idea of the 1-10 rating, and raised it to the next level, making it look like an “app” or something. She called it the Good-o-Meter! I like it. I like it a lot.


I have no class second period. That’s my aide rolling the meter over a few times on her own behalf.

All in all, the Good-o-Meter rating for this sub is… 9.0, including a bonus for the invention of the Good-o-Meter.

She’ll be back.

Yeah, I Think He’s the Guy

Posted on January 10, 2016
Filed Under Seventh Grade Behavior | 1 Comment


Quick, who was the 14th President of the United States? Don’t be opening a new tab to look it up now.applecookie

If your cafeteria carried snacks with “Education in Every Bite,” you’d already know. You’d also know that Spanish for apple is manzana. And that the capital of South Dakota is Pierre. (Really?!) sdcapital

Friday I learned that the 14th President was Franklin Pierce. I also learned that “he could have been” the guy who… But wait, I am getting ahead of myself.

More than a year ago, someone from the cafeteria staff left a pile of sample snacks that a sales rep had dropped off. (The district kitchen is at our site.) One of the samples was a bag of little vanilla wafer type cookies with states and capitals stamped on them. I thought it was so funny that the packaging said “Education in Every Bite” that I put the empty bag on the wall.

Friday for some reason, I noticed the little bag again and decided to take it over to the food service lady who does the buying to see if we might get them in stock; they were tasty as well as funny. Twenty two years as a daily customer gives me a little access, but I wasn’t really holding my breath. To my surprise, she said,

“Oh yeah, those should be in Monday. We’re getting Presidents and Spanish words too. You want a couple of bags? I think I have a box of Presidents already in the back.”

Talk about serendipity! She seemed unfazed by the coincidence, but I spent the rest of the time before school showing them off. Got my brother Barak, Lincoln, and William Henry among others. Collect ’em all! Except I ate ’em all. Mmmm… James Madison.

I was still working on them when Homie Base started. I was displaying them one by one under the document camera as I ate them (“I’m the only one who gets to eat in here”) and we got to President Pierce.

Reenter Hayley from a couple of days ago. She was the one who thought it was cool there was a language called Cambrian spoken by only people from a town 45 miles away from here.

This time she says,

“I wonder if he’s the guy who invented piercing… and you know, that’s why we call it that now.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

“Do you know what the word pierce means Hayley?”

Franklin Pierce: Inventor of body piercing?

Franklin Pierce: Inventor of body piercing?

“Of course. It means getting earrings or something through your nose, but that’s gross, or like something that.”

“But the actual definition of the word? You realize it’s a word too? That it doesn’t have to be about piercing your body?”

“But he could be the guy they named it after.”



A New Part of Speech

Posted on January 5, 2016
Filed Under Stories of Seventh Grade, grammar | Leave a Comment

Today, we were working on dependent and independent clauses. The bonus question on the warm up was:

When you use a dependent clause as a “sentence,” that mistake is called a ________ .

The answer we are looking for is “fragment.”

Ok, so… One of the things I like to do is give hints about answers to the warm up questions that refer to other things we have done. Earlier in the year we had had  a grammar sheet about fragments and run-ons. During that time we kept referring to it as the FRO sheet. We talked about spotting and avoiding FROs. It was a thing for awhile.

So today I figure I will refer to that sheet in my hinting for the bonus question.

First I draw a picture of a guy with an afro and gesture at his ‘fro.

A chorus: “Hair?”

“Yeah, the answer to the bonus is “hair.”

Several geniuses start furiously writing.

“Stop. What kind of hair?”

“Red!” I had used a red pen. Silly me.

“Stop. What kind of hair?”


“And we usually leave off the A, don’t we? So…?”

The same geniuses start writing “fro” down in their notebooks.

“Stop. Now think… Didn’t we have a grammar sheet that we kept calling the FRO sheet? What was it about?”



The camera now pans over to “Kily.” Kily is one of those who preface nearly every question with “I have a question.” She too is an astronaut. When last we met her, she was caught in the “Please use other door” loop. Now she appears deep in thought. She even tugs at her chin a bit. Finally she raises her hand, and when I call on her, she doesn’t start with the usual intro. Maybe because what she is about to say is not so much a question, as a… speculation? Reminiscence?  Memory jogging? Whatever you call it, in the end it was pure gold.

“Didn’t we have a handout about these things… these things called…”

This one needs its own line.


We pretty much couldn’t talk about anything but fronouns for awhile after that.

A New Language

Posted on January 4, 2016
Filed Under Stories of Seventh Grade | Leave a Comment

When we come back from Christmas break, every year it’s the same thing: a combination of “it’s like we were never gone” and “I can’t remember where I sit.” Literally. This year was no exception. At least six or eight of them wandered around trying to trigger memories of seating familiarity, and a couple finally just gave up and pleaded,

“Don’t we have a new seating chart?”

I also got a new student joining the Homies in first period. He moved here from Cambria, a small town (pop. 6000) about 45 minutes up the coast from us. He is obviously Latino. I say this because it plays a part in the story. Let’s call him “Jesus” because I just rewatched Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) and can’t stop singing the songs.

I would now like to introduce you to “Hayley.” Picture Stevie Nicks as a 12 year old girl, right down to the shawl, only with ripped jeans instead of flouncy skirts. She got one of her 27 rings (many with large turquoise elements) stuck today. Again. Needless to say she is also an astronaut.

In Homie Base today, I introduce the new guy to the crew.

“We have a new Homie joining us today. His name is Jesus, and he comes to us from Cambria. Try not to scare him too much.”

Hayley was only one step behind today.

“Where is he from again?”


“Oh. I thought he might be from another country.”

hmmm. Suppressed giggles all around. After an eye roll she didn’t notice, I keep a straight face and say,

“No, Hayley, but he does speak Cambrian.”

The rest of the class erupts into laughter, but she is strangely silent. Finally she manages to say,

“That’s cool.” And she goes back to trying to unstick her ring.


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