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?”



Ouch Indeed

Posted on September 24, 2015
Filed Under Maus, Stories of Seventh Grade, Writing | Leave a Comment

This is a flashback to last spring. I had intended to post this right after it happened, but you know how things can get a little hectic in junior high in the spring. I was an astronaut for awhile there. But I remembered this one yesterday while I was telling the family the cereal killer story.

We were reading Maus. They were loving it per usual.

(Aside: My principal says he loves the book too and is now encouraging me to write up a unit so we can go legit and buy some PermaBound versions. I’ve been running on a bootlegged, photocopied (I almost said Xeroxed), tattered, class set my student assistants have been keeping up repairs on over the past few years. It will be nice not to have to keep saying shtuff like, “Who’s missing a page 37-38?” or “What? Half of you don’t have those four pages?” or “Whose page 17 is this?”)

We were at the end of Book One, where Vladek and Anja get juked by the smugglers and are sent to Auschwitz. The kids were responding to some prompt or other before we started Book Two.

(Aside: I have always thought it sort of funny that Maus II has the subtitle, “And Here My Troubles Began.” OMG! As if Vladek hadn’t already had enough troubles for a dozen people by then.)

I was cruising the room, contributing to my 5 miles or so per day I walk in the classroom, and checking out preliminary responses.

The prompt was one of those ones I like to do sometimes, where I will ask them to write one sentence about a particular thing we are discussing. The only requirement besides being on topic is that they have to begin with the word although. Or if. Or because. Or something like that. It encourages more sophisticated writing and thinking.

This was was an “although” sentence. The starter was, “Although Vladek…”

Most of them nailed it…

“Although Valdek (sic) trusted the smugglers, Anja did not.”

“Although Vladek was right about trying to hide Richieu, he was wrong about the smuglers (sic).”

And so forth. Nicely done all round so far.

Then I get to this one:

“Although Vladek and Anja were able to hide for a long time, they were finally sent to…”

I stopped and looked again. Yep. That was indeed the last word of the sentence. Seventh grade strikes again. Whenever you least expect it, expect it.

The kids wondered why I was having trouble breathing for a minute.




Like Cereal? Really? Really?

Posted on September 23, 2015
Filed Under Seventh Grade Behavior | 1 Comment

beavis_buttheadThe theme of this week’s spelling (and some of the vocabulary) list is homonyms. It looks like these days the elementary schools teach the chilluns to call them homophones. Good thing they didn’t do that in my days @ St. Mel’s. We would have been right in there with Beavis and Butthead saying,

“Huh, huh, he said homo.”

(Remember, in the word homonym, the first o is a short sound, making it safe to say out loud.)

Anyway, one of the spelling warm ups today was,

John murdered the Cheerios and then he offed the Captain Crunch and then he snuffed out the Wheaties. John is a _______ killer. Get it? This is a pun on which pair of words?

We’re looking for cereal/serial. ( Just making sure.)

And as I always do, I explained that word serial is based on the word series and the reason they are called serial killers is that the murders are in a series, like 1,2,3, etc.

Lots of light bulbs go on here. “Oh, I get it!” It’s always the same.

However this year I heard something I can safely say I have never heard before. This girl gets a puzzled look on her face and timidly raises her hand and says in all seriousness,

“I thought it was the CEREAL one, like the one you eat, because the cereal killers ate the people like cereal.”

For a moment the entire class was stunned. This is a very polite crew this year (one class excepted), and nobody was quite sure what to say.

“Ummm. Really? Like … cereal? So you thought a cereal killer was a person who ate the victims?”

“Ummm… yes.”

“Like cereal?”

“Ummm… yes?”

And the wall of politeness fell.

It gives a whole new meaning to the Lucky Charms’ pink hearts.



Girls, Girls, Girls… Boiz

Posted on September 21, 2015
Filed Under Seventh Grade Behavior | Leave a Comment

For the first couple of weeks this year I was wondering why my first three periods of English were so different from my last period of English. I initially chalked it up to “last period of the day syndrome,” but then I remembered that my last period of the day (6th) this year is video production. Hmmm, fifth period usually doesn’t manifest that syndrome, with its attendant symptoms: lack of homework and notebooks before, general mayhem during, husks of post-op pens, forgotten handouts and binders after.

Then I looked at the numbers:

Period One: 15/26 girls =58%.
Period Two: Nap Time. But my aide is a girl.
Period Three: 17/27 girls = 63%. My best class so far this year.
Period Four: 17/28 girls = 61%.

Wait for it…

Period Five: 7/27 girls =  27%.

I have a theory. Groups of seventh grade boys, without the mitigating presence of a larger group of girls, are a pain in the butt. (Unless they get to run around and around and into each other. Or if there is some sort of ball involved.) The larger the group of boiz, the lower the collective IQ.

It’s been my personal experience since I was in 5th grade.

So… What to do? What to do?

Back Soon.



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