Posted on November 4, 2015
Filed Under Pranks, Seventh Grade Behavior | 1 Comment

I have a pretty big classroom. When they finished remodeling our site back in ’96, our principal passed around a map to everyone and we staked out real estate. Most of the herd wanted into the new wings that were built (“oooh shiny”), but I saw right away how small and cramped they were going to be, especially with all the shtuff I had accumulated over the years. So I managed to snake one of the biggest rooms in the school. It used to be the typing room back in the day. Back in 2010 I blogged a virtual tour of the digs (Part I and Part II), but things have actually gotten much tidier in the past five years (good student assistants), so I will have this year’s girl take some current pics and we can take another tour soon.

But to the point of today’s post. I also have two front doors. Outside they are separated by a long water fountain, inside they are separated by a big whiteboard behind the little stage I have that used to hold the typing teacher’s desk. The way my classroom is arranged though, you are entering from the side of the classroom. (I know, I’ll have Bella take pics tomorrow.)

Only the left-hand (from the outside) door is ever open. Sometimes if there’s a mad rush, a few will exit through the other door, but it’s locked from the outside and never open for entrance except on Back to School Night.

Tuesday morning when I got to school, there was a printed note on the left door that said:


Hmmm. Ok. Whatever. Maybe the night custodian had mopped in front of the door or something. At 6:30 in the morning, I wasn’t really thinking too hard yet. So I entered through the other door and looked for a wet floor sign or a maybe some garbage bins. Or the old bucket over the door trick. It was clear, though. Hmmm.

Awhile later I catch the day custodian and ask him about the sign. Did he know anything about why it might be there?

He had nothing, and as he pointed out, if it were the night guys, they probably wouldn’t have printed it with a computer.

Hmmm. Still a mystery. But it did give me an idea.

I made another sign with the same message and, you guessed it, put it on the other door.

The bell rings for 1st period. Usually at that time I am behind my desk with my feet up, squeezing in 2 more minutes of nap. Today I am outside watching the show.

We have those rubber “lock-block” things that keep the locked doors open a crack so we don’t have to keep locking and unlocking doors. They are actually pretty handy. The main entry door on the left is cracked with the sign just above the handle. The first kid obliviously grabs the handle without looking and starts to open the door.

Now I have a very specific rule about entering my classroom. If the door is propped open all the way, you are welcome to enter, whether I am there or not. If the door is closed, even if there is that crack from the lock-block, you better knock. Open = welcome. Closed = not.

BAM. I whack my stick against a handy recycling bin. Every head in the hallway turns.

“ONE: What’s the rule about the door? TWO: Read the sign!”

Now all the heads turn back toward the door and the sign.


Oh. And the herd migrates to the right. Again the blind tug on the handle.

“That door’s locked!”


“Did you read that sign?”



“Read the sign.”

“We did.”

“And so?”

One kid goes in the door to the next classroom. He gets laughed out of the room.

Some brave souls go back to the left door and start to pull it open.

“Uh uh uh uh uh uh. Read the sign.”

One little girl actually throws her hands in the air and lets them land on her head and looks like that’s the only thing keeping it from exploding.

“What are you doing to us?”

“Trying to get you to follow directions.”

“You’re just messing with us!”

“No way? Really?”

“It’s not April Fools’ Day!”

“I hate April Fools’ Day.”

After I pulled it on 4th period and finally let them in…

“Umm… where’s Kily?”

“She’s still at the other door.”



Report Card Day (Rerun 2011)

Posted on October 26, 2015
Filed Under grades, Me, St. Mel's | Leave a Comment

We just finished the first quarter. I know, really? That was so fast. Glad it’s not just me.  Anyway, grades get sent home this week.

“Looks like you should start doggin’ the mailman around Thursday.”

That used to be my standard joke line whenever it was report card time. You know, the old intercepting the mail before mom gets it thing?

Alas, in these days of online grades and constant “can Junior get extra credit?” emails, the need for intercepting the mailman has passed. It’s already too late baby. Mom knows. All the “report card” is is a printout of the PowerCheese grades at that particular moment. Usually by the time the grade gets home, it’s already out of date.

Of course, the piece of paper does give Mom something to wave around in their faces.

It’s just not the same as Report Card Day was for us back at St. Mel’s. Some nuns would wait until the end of the day to distribute, and make you squirm and stare at the stack on the desk, imagining all sorts of scenarios. Perhaps worse though (depending on your point of view) were the ones who gave them out at the beginning of the day, and left you to deal with any fallout or dread of consequences all through the day.

Back in 2011, I turned fifty. Of course my mom had to come visit. And she came bearing more than gifts…

(November 2011)

Of course my parental units also had to visit for my fittieth birthday. (I tell the kids that as a certified English teacher, I have a license to make up and misuse words. Most of them believe it.)  And here’s Mom sporting my 7th grade report card from the school year 1973-1974.

So let’s deconstruct this “artifact.”


First it comes in one of those tight-fitting envelopes with the little curved notches in the top for ease of sliding the card out. Mom didn’t spring for a yearbook that year, so the envelope has a bunch of signatures and a couple of “see ya next year’s.” It’s also signed by Dean Martin, right above my best friend’s signature. I don’t remember Deano hanging out at Mel’s. I think that’s the logo for the diocese. We were the Saints, but we didn’t have a logo.

1. Old school typewriting, typed by our school secretary (mom of a classmate, and as scary as the nuns). St. Mel was St. Patrick’s cousin.

2. Dunno why the COWARD is in all caps. She does that on the inside too.

Now, let’s look inside.

1. There’s that all caps thing again. Must be intentional.

2. Knowledge of Religion. Catholicism from the infallible pope anyway. My mom taught CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine– generically known as catechism) to those public school kids who were missing out on all that valuable info. At least I didn’t have to sit through it on Saturdays.

3-6. Check this out baby. Four, count ’em, four grades devoted to language arts. Reading was mostly SRA. Literature was mostly novels, discussions, and book reports. English was grammar and punctuation with the Warriner’s book. And an entire, separate grade just for spelling. The kids were dying at that one. We had spelling bees all the time.

7. Foreign language was French. And all our nuns came from the same county in Ireland, where their native language was Gaelic. They used to jabber at each other about us in Gaelic all the time. So imagine French with the hard-core Gaelic accent. No wonder that in high school, Fr. Prat couldn’t cope with my pronunciation.

8. Sr. Kieran was also the principal. She was also one of the more compassionate ones. I happened to flub a test the day after I got a ticket on my bike in front of the whole school. That didn’t have anything to do with my flubbing the test, but she thought it did (and I let her), and she cut me a break. I always liked her for that. All the nuns were Sr. Mary.

Let’s move to facing side.

9. I think Sr. Enda was a bit off. She could swing from sweet and helpful to snarling and vengeful in a heartbeat. “W – I – L and D…That’s what Enda goes at me, WILD!” That was one of our little chants at lunchtime and before school.

10. A grade for handwriting! God, I hated that cursive stuff. Just touching the line, this much of a loop, but not too much. Capital freaking Q! Luckily it wasn’t a letter grade so it didn’t hurt my GPA. I was very competitive that way.

11. I wasn’t very good at the zither and I fooled around too much when we were supposed to be singing Red River Valley. Luckily, the music lady, who was somebody’s mom and also the art lady, didn’t get to give her own grade for conduct. I did scourge Jesus rather smartly in my role as a guard in our lip-synch production of Jesus Christ Superstar. But I guess since it wasn’t actually a speaking role–the other guard at least got to grunt and gloat–it wouldn’t have helped my grade.

12. I still have a folder of shtuff from then. That was also when I made my 8mm cartoon. Again, lucky for all of us, she didn’t get to give her own conduct grade. She called us play-babies once. Forever after we mocked her with it.

13. Sr. Enda got to give this grade. Notice the sudden jump at the end of the year. Must have had something to do with “consequences” or something. I may have blocked this period from my mind.

14. Attitude and effort at home gets a grade! At home! Love that one.

15. And my fave…the 93% for an A. I had that in high school too. I remember getting to college and seeing that 90% for an A thing, and thinking to myself that I was on easy street. Hahahaha fat chance…I was an electronic engineering student back then…before I saw the light.

Anyway, that was kind of fun.

No Wonder They’re Always Squirming

Posted on October 14, 2015
Filed Under Seventh Grade Behavior, Water Bottles | Leave a Comment

image1Can you tell me what is up with this? There actually used to be more, but I wondered aloud at the phenomenon, and some disappeared. But still the line grows.

The custodian started leaving them there a few weeks ago, and as the line got longer, I couldn’t cope. The crinkling as they are emptied is bad enough (“What? I’m just drinking water!”) but now they are taking over. It has become sort of a science art project. How many will there be at the end of the year? What will the lineup look like in June? Will it span the length of the whiteboard? Maybe we can tune them all and do a water bottle orchestra thing.

And it’s not just the disposable ones (recyclable my patootie) turning up in the lineup of forgotten water bottles. Before my servant girl snapped the pic today, the row had featured at least three of those high-end, high-tech, space-age, reusable models. Usually they come back for those. Usually.

But what is it with all the water guzzling? Every one of them is toting some sort of water receptacle and sucking on it all day. And those that ain’t are forever asking if they can go get a drink.

Wish I could too.  😉

(Aside: In one of the warm ups yesterday, I used the word receptacle. OMG, you would’ve thought I was speaking Farsi. I warned them, “Looks like I have another question for the test Friday.”)

I thought the “8 glasses of water per day” myth had been debunked by now. I know we’ve been in a practically perpetual heatwave for months out here in Cali, but still… really?

One of the hallmarks of middle-schoolers is their squirminess. I think they all just have to pee all the time.

We’re going to do a little “unit” on bottled water later in the year. Looks like I have a perfect intro.

Five Shows a Day…

Posted on October 12, 2015
Filed Under Don Rickles, Teaching | Leave a Comment

ricklesI am headed to Vegas this weekend to see Don Rickles before he offs. He’s 89. He has always been one of my idols along with Steve Martin and Richard Pryor. Steve doesn’t do stand-up any more and Pryor is dead, so…

In the documentary about Rickles, interspersed with screamingly funny clips of his insults, are interviews with a lot of people who have known him his whole life/career. Every single person talks about how nice and caring and loving Don is offstage. Even as he insults people.

A year or so ago, after I had “gone off” on some kid who had asked a dumb question (yes, they do exist you elementary school teachers and motivational speakers) for the third time, the kid I had been helping when I was interrupted said,

“You know what I like about this class? You’re never fake nice.”

The counselors tell me that there are some kids who are intimidated by me in the beginning of the year. They like me and the class. But what about that stick? And the growling?

Part of the package, baby. They soon enough realize that I love this job, and that even if I do growl now and then and get exasperated enough to compare their learning abilities to my dog (“You have a dog? Really?”), I really do like them.

Most of the time.

Three parents at Back-to-School Night this year told me I should be a stand-up comedian. Hmm.

Funny, insulting, caring. Five shows a day, 180 days a year. Still not retired @ 89. I just realized something.

I could be the Don Rickles of the classroom!



Follow the Plan, Stan (Sub Tips)

Posted on October 5, 2015
Filed Under Presenting the Book, substituting, The Outsiders | Leave a Comment

I had a sub a week or so ago who went off plan.


Dear Guest Teacher,

If you are a noob teacher, out there subbing (sorry, guest teachering) your heart out and trying get a foothold on a full time gig, and you’re reading this?

Don’t do that. We don’t forget.

If you’re just someone who likes the freedom of subbing and doesn’t really need the full time work, but likes a semi-regular sub gig?

Don’t do that. You aren’t coming back.

Now it’s a completely different story if you are left holding the metaphorical bag with not a plan in sight beyond “Study Hall” or “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Feel free to bust all the moves you want and then some. Break out your guitar. Photocopy a class set of the front page of the Smell A Times. Steal that class set of Weekly Readers out of the SPED teacher’s box. Make sure to put (most of) them back. Make them draw their vocab words for the week, and then do Pictionary. No vocab in that class? (GASP!) Open their book and start calling out key terms.

Group Nap anyone?

Yes. My name is Mr. Coward and I did all those things as a “guest teacher.” But things like that only happened in classes where I was left without a plan.

Remember, the kids will rat you out in a heartbeat, so if there is a plan it better be followed. To the letter.

And leave a good, detailed note. We know that “Everything was fine, no problems,” is a lie. And a lazy one at that. We want the juicy details. You can’t pretend you didn’t have to tell Jimmy to shut up fourteen times, because that’s the minimum number of times it has to be done WHEN I AM THERE. We want the good ones reported too. They shouldn’t have to rat out the boneheads; that’s your job.

As a sub, my reports were legendary. And I know that they were one of the factors (22 years ago) that led to my current teaching gig.

Follow the plan and do the paperwork.

We don’t forget.



SO… This sub thought that since the kids finished their Friday test a bit early, he would do some Outsiders reading. OMG. We don’t read Fridays. And we especially don’t read Outsiders when I’m not there. We were talking about it a few days later…

“We tried to tell him…”

“He tried to do voices, but they were all so squeaky, we couldn’t understand.”

“Then he went monotone. Sooo boring, I stopped paying attention. I don’t even know where we are.”

(me) “How is that any different from usual?”


“And he didn’t read the “he saids” or anything. It was weird.”

(me) “That is a bit weird.”

“I know! But it was still boring. Weird huh?”

“It’s just not the same when it’s not you.”

(me) “Awww.”

“AND… he didn’t stop and point out important stuff that would be on the test.”

(me) “So the truth comes out! So that’s your excuse, huh? That’s why the wheels fell off the cart on the Outsiders part of the test last week? When I wanted to reread those parts he read that day, you told me, “We read that!” in your annoying voices, and wouldn’t let me go back over it.”


“Can we read Outsiders now?”



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