Rerun: PIA -3 (2011)

Posted on December 8, 2016
Filed Under Rerun, routine, Seventh Grade Behavior | Leave a Comment

Tomorrow is Friday; test day. Tomorrow will be Test #15, because we are in the 15th week of school, and we have a test every week. But this being junior high and all, there are still those getting used to the idea.

“What are we doing today?”

“What day is it?”



“It’s Friday!”

“And… 15 weeks and you still haven’t got this down. Why do you think everybody has their clickers?”

“‘Cause they like it?”

“Just go away.”

So in keeping with our mrC is crabby lately theme, let’s go back to a crabby Friday in February 2011.

I often joke about how many times I have to repeat myself before (almost) everyone gets it. There’s that old saw about people having to hear something seven times before they remember it. Well, make that more like 10, multiply it by 150 (because you KNOW they ain’t all listening at once, not by any stretch of the imagination), and you start to understand what we’re up against. That’s 1500, by the way, for the math impaired. And while admittedly that is an exaggeration, I am sure the real number is well into three figures. Per day.

“I swear, you guys have the memory of a goldfish.”

“The memory of a what?”

“My dog learns faster than you–”

“You have a–”

“–And he’s dead.”

“How sad. Are you going to get another one?”

“How was it on Jupiter?”

“What? Oh…fine.”

“Alzheimer’s must be tough at your age.”

“I thought it was Old Timer’s.” (Really. Several of them have said that in all seriousness.)

“I’ll bet you didn’t think you’d need your head today, so it’s still sitting on the kitchen counter by your notebook.”

“Nuh uh! My head’s right here.” Pointing at head.

“Where’s your notebook?”


But the junior high mind doesn’t work any better at thinking about the future. It can’t see past the next five minutes. Wait, make that three minutes.

They have trouble connecting actions with consequences. They think that thinking about something (or intending to do it) is the same as doing it. They think that saying you’re sorry is the same as being sorry. They believe in infinite second chances.

So it’s always such a surprise to them when the chances run out, and I have to get all, you know, hard-ass on them. (Ooooooh! He said ass.)

This year I have a pair of shmarties who, even if they don’t know it yet and would never admit it, are having a bromance. They’re always poking at each other and stealing each other’s pencils and complaining to me about the other. And yet they always partner up every time I allow it, and then complain that the other is cheating, or lagging, or distracting. They sit near each other because I need them close to me, within range of the Stick. I tell them that way I can get them both at once.

Anyway, last Friday after they had finished their tests, they kept nudging each other and trying to show off their after-test doodles (with the “clicker nightmare” theme) and giggling. After the obligatory three or four rounds of shushing and insincere I’m sorrying, I was starting to lose my mellow Friday groove.

“Just stop. Technically, talking during a test is cheating.”


Uh huh.

After a couple MORE rounds of this (you know how it is–it’s almost more work to punish them than it is to sort of not hear it, but…) I finally stalk over to Bro #1’s desk and grab his test paper.

The top of the Friday test sheet is filled with non-clicker warm up scores and extra credit points and other such stuff that’s in their notebooks but not my gradebook. If they don’t record it there, they don’t get it. So there are all sorts of codes and abbreviations: w/u: 5/6,  vocab +2,  old glory +1. This would translate to, “I got 5/6 on the non-clicker warm up, I got at least 10/12 on Wednesday’s vocabulary pretest so that’s a +2, and I was one of the few (!?) who knew what “Old Glory” is a nickname for.”

So I grab Bro-One’s paper and with my fine purple pen I scrawl,

“PIA -3”

“And that’s a gift. Now just stop acting like you’re five.”

“What’s PIA mean? And why did you write -3?”

“PIA stand for Pain in Ass. And the -3 is instead of the -40 I should oughta be giving you. Now just stop.”

“You mean I lose three points?’

“How is it you say…? Oh yes.  Duh.”

Oh you should have seen the boo-boo lip come out. I thought I was going to get tears over a lousy three points.


You see what I’m talking about?

The best part is Bro-Two then starts working his partner, and gets a -4 for taunting. And then it’s just a war of attrition. By the time the dust settles, they’re both down about 10 and close to tears.

Fridays are usually pretty uneventful.


Somebody Stepped on a Butterfly

Posted on December 7, 2016
Filed Under A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury, The Apocalypse | Leave a Comment

“I don’t try to predict the future, I try to prevent it.” -Ray Bradbury.

Ray Bradbury was as good as The Onion at predicting the future. Too bad he couldn’t actually prevent it this time.

I have been in denial long enough. Somebody went time-travel hunting on November 9th, stepped off the Path, and killed a butterfly. And we’re suffering the consequences.

As I said last time, we just read “A Sound of Thunder.”  One of the key plot points is when the noob Eckels, before the trip back in time,  is talking to the “man behind the desk” about the recent presidential election. They are both happy that a particular candidate lost:

We’re lucky. If Deutscher had gotten in, we’d have the  worst kind of dictatorship. There’s an anti everything man for you, a militarist, anti­ Christ, anti­ human, anti ­intellectual. People called us up, you know, joking but not joking. Said if Deutscher became President they wanted to go live in 1492.

Now let’s substitute the name of a certain malignant-clown-who-shall-never-be-named-in-this-blog for Deutscher, and the word Canada for 1492.

Sound familiar?

Now let’s move to the end of the story, after the poorly spelled sign (another sign of things to come) shows them something is wrong, and our butterfly killer asks about the results of THIS election:

“Who ­ who won the presidential election  yesterday?”  The man behind the desk laughed. “You joking? You know very well. Deutscher, of course! Who else? Not that fool weakling Keith. We got an iron man now, a man with guts!”

Eckels what have you done to us?

“Can’t we start over? Can’t we—”

Don’t I wish.

The Right Tool for the Job

Posted on December 5, 2016
Filed Under A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury, Simpsons, Weaponry | Leave a Comment

timeandpunishmentLast week we read that famous Ray Bradbury time travel story, “A Sound of Thunder.” More on the prescience of that 1952 classic in the next post, but every time I intro this one I always say how pretty much every time travel story/movie/etc. since has ripped off or payed homage to this story.

Back to the Future? The phrase appeared here first.

The expression (and lame movie) “the butterfly effect”? Hmmm, I wonder.

Even The Simpsons, back in the ’94, showed Homer traveling back to a “time when dinosaurs weren’t just confined to zoos” and crushing various things (because he didn’t follow the advice his father gave him on his wedding day) before returning to a “changed universe.” Along the way they parody not only this story, but the novels 1984 and A Clockwork Orange, as well as referring to Carlos Casteneda, with guest appearances by Peabody and Sherman. So of course we watch it every year.

In the Simpsons’ version, Homer’s time machine is a toaster. At first it’s just a broken toaster, but Homer decides to fix it, and he ends up turning it into a time machine. When he first takes it to the cellar to fix it, he says,

“This shouldn’t be too hard to fix… with the right tools,” and then starts by whacking it with a rock.

Ok, now I can start today’s story.

This year, we have had a posse of eighth grade boys and their hangers-on clustering into a penguin mob and blocking the hallway by my room almost every morning. They aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, especially their 7th grade hangers-on, and they like to slap and push each other and yell a lot. Not only are they annoying, the slapping and pushing is contagious if not nipped immediately in the bud. This crew has been a pain all year. When I have morning prison yard duty, I always have to break up the mob and slap my sword on lockers to get them to move out to the quad and disperse.

I even broke the tip off of one of my swords.lightsaber

Finally I was just done. I went to the stick quiver (yes, it will get a post of its own soon), and pulled out the latest model. There are times when you have to blend old school and modern techniques. A student last year gave me this baby. It lights up, it makes sounds, it’s three feet long. It’s a light saber, baby. I finally had the right tool for the job.

All I had to do was hold it out in front of me, sort of like Ponyboy and Tim Shepard would hold a switchblade, and wave it gently about as I approached them slowly. It was like magic. It was like the wind scattering dry leaves. It was like a hot knife slicing through butter. It was like a magnifying glass melting plastic army men.

And they were gone. Really. Even though that was my expectation… it was sort of amazing.


Rerun: Dr. Crankenstein (2010)

Posted on November 30, 2016
Filed Under Rerun | 1 Comment

I’ve been a little cranky lately. The sticks and swords are out a lot more often, and the growling has gotten more frequent. I’m having trouble myself coping with annoying people without punching them in the face. Maybe it’s the time of year. Six years ago at this time, I was also cranky. Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, the original Dr. Crankenstein has since “retired” and is now teaching the one section of drama that we have left, and coaching the 8th grade boys’ basketball team. And I am now officially the new Dr. Crankenstein.

But I’m getting better every day! Let’s go back to November 2010.

There’s a teacher on our staff I used to refer to as Dr. Crankenstein because he always seemed cranky to me. (Remember, in my world everyone has a nickname.) We usually have quite a few kids in common–he teaches one of the less important subjects–and a lot of our conversations are about those kids. Usually we end up talking about the ones that are failing both classes.


He’s an old surfer, so he talks funny. While this greeting seems innocuous enough, it doesn’t really mean what it sounds like. Watch.

“Better every day.”

This is one of my pet expressions. I used to only use it as we approached summer vacation; you know, it’s getting better each day we get closer to vacation. But now it’s  better-every-day-we-get-closer-to-Friday. Some of the part-timers here who don’t know me as well, like the school nurse and the speech pathologist and such, think I mean it as an I’m-growing-as-a-person-in-every-way-every-day affirmation sort of thing. Hahahaha. Maybe I should trademark it. But I once again digress.

“Oh yeah? Do you have _____?”

“Lazy as the day is long.”

And now the moaning begins…

“I have whole classes like that. They’ll all probably end up working at Starbucks…God I hope not; they would probably scald themselves on the first day and sue.”


“I’m serious. I have four parent meetings this week, and I still haven’t answered all the voicemails I got after grades went home.”

“My voicemail is broken. Also I have a thing about phones.”

“You’re lucky. Do you have _____?”


“You’re lucky. They all think they’re going to college! HA! They don’t know from college! They won’t even get out of high school at this rate… Has ______’s mom e-mailed you yet?”

“No. he’s doing ok with me.”

“You’re lucky…”

And so on. In the past few years though, I have noticed that he has seemed less crabby, so maybe someone else will have to assume the nickname.

Lately it’s been me. But man, some people have been bugging.

Parents who expect individual tutoring for their exceptional kid. So much so that they ask for a the week’s worth of spelling/vocab warm ups the Friday before. Uh huh. Asking ain’t the same as getting.

The snifflers. Your trying to read some Ray Bradbury (“The Earth Men”) and build some tension, but SNIFF something SNIFF keeps SNIFF interrupting the flow: “The four men trudged-” SNIFF “-across the hot Martian desert-“SNIFF SNIFF”-and they-“SNIFFFFFF

“Would you blow your dang nose and quit sniffing?!”

“Sorry” SNIFF

(The pen-clickers, foot tappers, and binder cleaners all fall into the same category.)

Closely related but even more annoying are the ones who start packing the backpack with like two or three minutes to go. I like to go bell-to-bell, as it used to be called before we got rid of bells for each period. I hate losing the last couple of minutes to, “Sorry for the interruption…” (no, you’re not) from the PA, or to the sounds of velcro and zippers and paper stuffing.

“Stop! You pack on your time, not mine. We’re still reading. Don’t make me ban backpacks like the science teachers.”

Faculty meetings. At my first full-time job, the staff was so large most of our meetings were what they called period-by-period. The principal, or one of his vp’s, would stay in the faculty lounge all day long, and each teacher would come to the lounge on his/her prep period, and get whatever info they thought they needed a meeting for. Each period would have 10 or 12 teachers a this meeting, which usually only took about 15-20 minutes. This was in the days before e-mail, which would easily take the place of this concept. The only time we met as a whole staff was when we needed to vote on something, or when we actually needed everyone in the same room at the same time. I think it happened twice in my first year.

However, almost 20 years later it’s come to this:

(as handouts are being passed out) “I’m not going to read this to you, but I will hit the highlights.”

Unfortunately that is not true. He does indeed read the majority of it to us. And then waxes philosophical on each point. And then asks for questions.

The faculty meeting snacks didn’t even include any cookies.

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.

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