Best Thank You Note Ever!

Posted on November 28, 2016
Filed Under Teaching, thank you | Leave a Comment

There are a couple of younger teachers on our staff who occasionally take a couple minutes out of a day and make the kids each write a thank you note to a teacher. One in particular does it fairly regularly, and he obviously has a stash of free blank generic cards and envelopes that he gives out, so they look a little classier than the usual ripped-out-of the-notebook kind.

Now those of you who have been here before know that I am not really into that sort of thing, but even I get stoked now when I see a little stack of mini envelopes with Mr. Coward scrawled, calligraphied, and everything in betweened on the front.

Even yours truly is not totally immune to a little nice word or two, even if forced.

A lot of them are variations on being grateful for the fun-ness of the class. This guy pretty much sums up a lot of those messages:

Dear Mr. Coward, Thank you for being an amazing English teacher. I thought all English teachers are boring, but I was wrong. Thank you.

Quite a few of them leave the first e out of awesome.

Most of them at least say they are grateful for learning something:

Thank you Mr. Coward for advancing my English skills…

A few are grateful for my mercy:

Thank you for not stepping on my phone that one time…

Or that I don’t have any:

Thank you for always whooping people into shape when they’re being annoying…

But today in my box, I got the best one yet. This missive is from an eighth grader whom I had last year, and obviously she too liked the “whooping” aspect of the class. She always had the most serene, I’m-above-all-this air to her that I never… Sure I caught the eye rolling at stupid comments and the knowing smirks when I insulted the whole class and almost nobody got it, but I never expected…

Dear Mr. Coward, Thank you very much for being my 7th grade teacher. You helped me learn how to cope with incredibly annoying students and not punch them in the face. I hope I’m not too awful of an 8th grader.

This is really why we do this.


Rerun: Open Mouth Democracy (2009)

Posted on November 17, 2016
Filed Under open mouth quizzes, Rerun | Leave a Comment

When I wrote the post below back in 2009, I had no idea that our democracy would completely implode this year. Somehow the “correct answer” didn’t float to the surface when it mattered most.


Anyway, this one is from back when I used to do a full-blown 5-6 page research paper thing. And one of the things we worked on leading in was outlining. They always have a lot of trouble with outlining, so I wanted them to try to help each other. Whodathunk that nowadays you HAVE to do that?

So yesterday I told them that this outline will be on the test, but I would give them 15 minutes or so right now to work together, open mouth stylie,  to fill it in. Then they could bring the sheet for the test. I told them I wouldn’t tell them whether their answers were correct or not, but I would try to steer the discussion in the right direction.

Oh boy. Each class showed a distinct “governing” style, and each one accomplished the task (or didn’t) according to the style of government. I’ve talked about how much fun it is to watch open mouth quizzes unfold, but this one was more fun than usual. Warning: Multiple metaphors ahead.

Period A: This class was the closest to a democracy; messy and disorganized, but somehow, most of the correct answers floated to the surface eventually. At first it was just the loud ones that got listened to, but as in a democracy, eventually the crowd figured out who was most reliable. This class went ’round and ’round, but arrived at mostly correct answers.

Period B: This must have been what the dark ages were like. Everyone was staring with puzzlement at the screen, and loudly begging for answers, “What’s IA? What’s IA? How about IIC?” Then the search for a wise man. “What does Annie say? What does Doug say?” Then small cults surround those that seem to have more of a clue. “I’m going with Andrea.”  This class didn’t even finish, except for those few “wizards.” It was a trainwreck; more like a third world country.

Period C: This was a benevolent oligarchy. Three or four of the strongest students basically figured out the answers amongst themselves, working quite well together, but almost ignoring the little people. Then when they were sure they had the correct answers, they deigned to share them with the class. Few questioned their word, and those that did were given polite explanations for why they were wrong.This class got every question correct.

Period D: This was communism that worked. Of course it helps that this is the nice, polite, supportive class with Politeness Girl at the helm. They began with Politeness Girl saying, “OK, first, why don’t we all copy what’s there first, and then when you’re finished, you raise your clicker to show you’re ready, and when everyone is ready, we can go over the answers one by one. OK?” And they actually mostly did just that. They didn’t do the clicker-raising part, but they sort of methodically came to an agreement on each item, and then…the best part. With two minutes to go in the period, Politeness Girl makes sure everyone has the same answers by going over the whole thing. “OK, IA is…right? Everyone has that, OK?” And so on. It was kind of inspiring. Sniff.

Period E: This class simulated the breakup of the Soviet Union. They almost immediately broke up into independent republics of 2-5 kids.  Some of these republics had a strong work ethic, and found their way to the right answers. Some of these republics metaphorically swilled vodka and traded stories, and ummm, didn’t really find their way anywhere. A couple of these groups even sent out envoys to other groups to “trade” (read: mooch) answers.

Only in California

Posted on November 16, 2016
Filed Under Pharmacology | 1 Comment

We endured another Red Ribbon Week recently. There was an assembly with meth-head tooth porn. There was a door decorating contest, where the “leadership” class delivered red paper, cotton balls, glitter, and various other crafty-type items to all the homie base classrooms and wanted us to decorate our doors with a “Say NO to Drugs” theme. I guess there was a contest to see whose door could be the most cheesy or hideous. We declined the “art” supplies. One of the winners was the next-door home ec class: “Save the needles for sewing!”


There were the obligatory dress-up days. Why do kids like wearing their pajamas to school? I mean really. Aren’t those onesies a pain when you have to pee? And what does dress up have to do with Red Ribbon Week?

They did a lunchtime activity where they got to wear beer goggles. Most of them liked it.

Another activity was the signing of the pledge to be drug free. I guess they mean “illegal” drugs, but when a significant percentage of them are on psychotropic drugs, it’s tough to take the thing seriously.

They rolled out a long chunk of red paper with some sort of pledge on it, set up a table out front in the morning, and hounded them all to sign it as they walked in. Then it was proudly pinned up on the wall in the main office for all to see.

The first time I walked by I did a double take. Did they really sneak that in without anyone noticing?

Sure enough.



Rerun: Sunny (2009)

Posted on November 14, 2016
Filed Under Rerun | Leave a Comment

Another fave student from the past story. This one is from 2009.


I have one class that has 20 girls and only 7 boys in it. Obviously this class has a different dynamic, as they say, from my other classes…

(Grammar Tip: I just backspaced, and changed “different…than” to “different…from.” It’s “larger than,” and “different from.” It’s kind of the same as… If you’re old enough to remember cigarette ads on TV, you’ll recall, “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” It was criticized in those grammar-respecting days as being incorrect. It should be, “Winston tastes good AS as cigarette should.” Then Winston followed with ads that sang, “Whattaya want? Good grammar or good taste?” Ah those were the halcyon days of TV. And I still think S. E. Hinton named Dally after the ciggie brand.)

In that class, there is one girl whom I’m thinking will turn up here again (and again — actually, I’m guessing that most of my “seventh grade behavior” posts this year will involve this class or girl one way or another), so we’ll name her now.  “Sunny.” Sunny seems almost physically incapable of being unhappy. Unfortunately, she seems also incapable of keeping her mouth shut. She’s sort of like the female, seventh grade equivalent of Two-Bit. She ALWAYS has to get her two bits in. Or six or eight.  And, just like Two-Bit, it’s just about impossible to get mad at her. Even when she serves detention at break for her unsolicited comments, she comes skipping in the door asking what she can do, and hums to herself as she tidies the room. Then she erases her name off the detention list, and comes back for class two periods later, only to interrupt me 47 times and receive detention again. It is a testament to her Two-Bitness that it takes 47 times for her, before I call on the kid closest to the board to write her name on the detention list. (This is the “Vanna White” job in my class. I can’t be getting up out of my chair every time a kid need his name written on the board. “Don’t make me get outta this chair…stop this car…come over there….” Do dads still say stuff like that?)

And she can do the best “boo-boo lip” ever.

So now she sits where I can reach her, as I like to say. There is one desk that is within a foot or two of where I spend most of my teaching time. There are four “within range,” but that one is for repeat offenders.

The other day, I had already warned her several times, and I was trying to coax an answer out of someone else, when she blurted out the answer. I  happened to be holding my Stick at the time, and when she blurted, I immediately pounded the butt end on her desk, about an inch from her hand. The entire class went silent (per usual when I do that), and there was a collective pause and intake of breath. Sunny jumped just like Pony and Johnny did when Two-Bit pretended to be a Soc jumping them, and the boo-boo lip made a brief appearance.  The silence went for about 30 seconds, as they waited for what I would do.

Then, just as I am about to move on to the next question, letting the silence speak for itself,  Sunny blurts again:

“God, I love this class.”


Pavlov’s Dawgs

Posted on November 7, 2016
Filed Under Beats, Seventh Grade Behavior, Timer | Leave a Comment

Backstory: A while back one of the vocab words was elicit. And one of the practice sentences was:

Every time Dr. Pavlov rang a bell, he _____(ed) a response from the dog, who thought he was going to be fed.

And as we went over it I told the story of the conditioned response; you know ringing the bell and making the dog drool, thinking he was going to be fed. I told them that one of these days I would demo it on them. So it’s about a month later, and we are doing a vocab review, and elicit is on the list again.

Ok, now the story begins.

I was trying to find some new sounds for my activity timer the other day. Somehow I had lost one of my fave opening sounds, the rat chant:

I was able to find the rat chant  again (obviously), but even better, I discovered a beauty 6 second beat. I’ll wait while you click on it over and over for awhile. The original name was something like “jubilee,” but I renamed it “getyopartyon”:

Go ahead, click it again. Notice the barely audible “yo!” at the two second mark. Click it again. There are two.

I put the above player on my class page one day. I guess I just had to share.

In my homie base, I have a kid who likes to project a larger than life image. He likes to spontaneously bust dance moves, brags almost as funny as Muhammad Ali (albeit with a much more tenuous connection with reality), and always has to make an entrance. So that day I tell “Matthew” to close his eyes and visualize his best 6 seconds worth of moves.

He makes a big deal of it and says he’s ready. I have him step up to the little stage I have, and he shakes it out. I ask him if he’s ready. He actually says,

“I was born ready.”

I click the play button… And he freezes.The class doesn’t know whether to groove or to laugh. So they do both. And we give Matthew a second chance.

Oh my, did he take advantage of it! When the beat started, he immediately flopped hard onto his stomach on the floor and did the most frenetic and undulating worm I have ever seen. He was almost levitating.

He limped off the stage.

“Did you hurt yourself?”

“It’s ok, it was worth it.”

So when second period starts coming in, I hit the play button on the groove beat a couple of times for the early birds. Most of them look sheepish and wonder what the heck Mr. Coward is up to now, but a couple of them bust a move as they walk in. Then I have an idea.

I start playing the beat every time one of them walks through the door. Sometimes I get three or four at a time, sometimes one kids gets his own. Some are sheepish and quizzical. Some just bust it right off the bat like it’s the most natural thing in the world to have an entry beat. And very quickly, the ones who are already there start watching the door to see the reaction every time they hear the beat play. It was really a lot of fun.

Then I say, “Is that everybody?” but I leave the door open. I remind them that they should be prepping for the warm up, and as they do, I hit the play button again.

Every single head turns as one toward the door.

That’s what they call a teachable moment.

“Remember when we did elicit and that sentence about Pavlov’s dog…?”

Go ahead, click it again.


Rerun: Politeness Girl (2008)

Posted on November 6, 2016
Filed Under Rerun | Leave a Comment

The chorus of “thank yous” at the end of class has become sort of de rigueur these days–and it sorta bugs to tell you the truth–but back in aught-eight, it was pretty cutting edge for a student to say that. Oh how I miss Politeness Girl. She actually meant it when she said thank you.

One of my classes has only 20 students. That’s right on the verge of being too small for me. I had a class one year that, through attrition and other issues, was down to 12 by February. Not a beautiful thing. One: without enough voices and ideas, discussions are very hard to get going. Instead of eliciting ideas, I have to provide too many. Two: when there are that few, they seem to get the idea that class is like some family dinner, where they can just jabber out and “share” and not bother to raise hands and such. They drive me batty. That same year I had 12, I also had a class of 34. That class was nearly silent, and the Gang of 12 required the Quiet Stick almost daily. The upside is the greatly reduced paper load. This is nothing to sneeze at, but I like 20-25 in a class better.

As I have said before, I don’t usually have a favorite class (although, now and then there is a least favorite). Most years, most classes have their own “endearing” qualities. I usually have a nickname for each period, although I never tell them their own nickname, and I make up alternate names, or use the same one for more than one, so they are always trying to guess which class I’m talking about.

“But which class is your favorite?”

“You’re all so ‘special’ I just can’t pick.”

This year I have (in no particular order): the Homies, the You’ll be the Death of Me’s, the (Out to) Lunch Bunch, the Silent Ones, and the Friendly Class. The nicknames should speak for themselves. I have to say, the Friendly Class is my fave this year. They are always happy to be there, they are supportive of each other, they really get into the characters in the books, and they’re a little sensitive. In fact, I just searched all my old posts and found that this class is the source of some of my best material. Maybe it’s because the class is 2/3 girls. Maybe it’s because they’re the class of 20.  I think mostly it’s because they have Politeness Girl.

(Not to be confused with the cartoon “super hero” Politenessman, the guy with the steel hankie.)

The best way to describe her is by quoting her. Picture a spring in her step and a smile on her face as well. Every day. Always. And every line is spoken with the most genuine sincerity. Really. (If some of these quotes look familiar, well like I said, this is the source of some of my best shtuff.)

On me announcing that henceforth, a score of less than 70% will land you in detention for a week.
“Thank you for helping us do better.”

During a discussion about Pony and Darry’s relationship in The Outsiders.
“It’s all about the love then.”

On Dally and Johnny.
“Aww that’s so sweet, he doesn’t want Johnny to be like him.”

On the new seating chart.
“I really like my new seat. Thank you. I like being in front.”

On me handing the vocabulary lists down the rows.
“Thank you so much.”

On Johnny and Pony hopping the freight to Windrixville.
“How cute, like hobos.”

Upon entering the room one day.
“Don’t I just remind you of yellow? All sunny and bright and cheerful?”

After I used another student’s name and hers for a grammar sentence (Joey knitted Maureen some nice booties for Christmas.)
“That’s so nice, thank you Joey.”

“You do realize, Maureen, that Joey didn’t really knit you booties?”

“I know, but still…that’s so sweet. Thanks Joey.”

Her answer after I asked her if she has ever been angry at anyone.
“I was mad at myself once when I did bad on a test. And I get mad when people are mean.”

To the lunch ladies.
“Everything looks so good Greta, I’ll have the salad, please. Thank you so much.”

On the bailiff ‘s wife in The Midwife’s Apprentice naming the baby Alyce delivered after her.
“Awww, that is so cute, I think Alyce would be a great mother. Thanks for picking this book.”

On rain.
“I just love the rain.”

On wind.
“Aren’t windy days just so refreshing?”

At the beginning of every period.
“Hello, how are you today?”

At the end of every period.
“Thank you.”

No, thank you.


« go backkeep looking »