Friday, October 29, 2010


For regular visitors to this blogsite, you may have noticed Charlotte's name cropping up lately whenever anything funny is said or done. It is not coincidental that again Charlotte is involved in an anecdote.

Halloween fell on Sunday this year, and Thursday and Friday were Parent-Teacher Conference Days so there was no school. Our principal is a cool guy, a decent and approachable man, and he allowed our middle-schoolers to wear Halloween costumes on Wednesday. Anything was tolerated except revealing clothing or real and fake weapons. I timed my curriculum so that on Costume Day we would have a quiz on material that should have been mastered. This would prevent any mischief or costume distractions during class. The quiz kept every class quiet and focused until sixth period.

Charlotte came dressed up as a green M&M candy, and she gave me an M&M as she entered the room. Her costume was a giant ball enveloping her torso and I asked her to take off the M&M ball. Charlotte informed me that it was inflatable, and she would deflate it for class.

Twenty minutes later, during the ponderous silence of the test, I slowly came to the realization I could vaguely hear a humming noise..........a very subtle, quiet, whirring. I got up from my desk, wandered around in search of the source of this humming, and then I discovered Charlotte had turned on her M&M inflator motor and was now pinned in her desk by her M&M costume which was now fully inflated. She had a distressed look on her face because the M&M had pushed her away from her desk writing surface and had also tilted her slightly backwards.

Being of strange mind and influenced by the Brezik Method of Reacting, I saw it as a hilarious situation and wanted to laugh but kept it under control. Very calmly I told Charlotte to turn off her inflator motor and deflate her M&M costume.

With a pained and embarrassed look on her face, Charlotte reached down somewhere and flipped a switch. It was then that the deflating noise started. You could make it with your mouth, right now. Breathe in deeply, and then very slowly release the air through your teeth. It was at eight seconds into the deflating that the sound of the escaping air and Charlotte's intensifyingly distressed look caused me to bust into laughter. I think the kids were relieved at my reaction, and there was some nervous snickering.

If any of them grow up and make a movie about middle schoolers, they should not neglect to put that incident into their film.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Over half of the students in one of my math classes have decided that homework is something that does not need to be done. I was informing them of the foolishness of this academic technique when one of them piped up, "But Mr. W., every teacher is giving us lots of homework and it's eating my clock."

Friday, October 22, 2010


One of my favorite movies of all time is Destry Rides Again starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. Stewart plays a legendary gunfighter's son who is hired to be the sheriff of a corrupt town because it is assumed he is like his gun-totin' father. However, the new "Destry" uses psychology and the law to round up the bad guys. A great film.

Destry, played by James Stewart, tells wonderful stories with a moral that are meant to teach someone a little lesson about life. The townspeople never quite figure out what he is saying.

One of my classes is a remedial math class. That means the students get a double dose of math, and my class is designed to cover material taught a few years ago that they haven't learned yet. They generally hate math, hate my class, and don't do well in math. However, one of the girls is doing exceptionally well.

I told her, "Marty, if you would work harder in your other math class and raise your DBA scores, you could be promoted out of this class. You are like a fish that has bitten a hook and you find yourself on the bottom of a boat flopping around. You don't want to be there, about to be be gutted, scaled, and thrown in a frying pan. If you would do better, it would be like you were the fish but you were thrown back into the water. You'd be saved from the frying pan."

Marty stared at me with a blank face and said, "I don't like fish."

That's the same reaction Destry got from his little stories.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I can tolerate sleepy students, but my first period seventh grade math class is taking drowsiness to irritatingly unauthorized levels. The entire class is comprised of students who are so sleep deprived they act like brain dead zombie flatliners, and by the end of class I am shooing buzzards away from their carcasses with a meter stick. All of them sit frozen in a dormant state of slumberous sedation, and most of the time they are too lazy to even yawn.

This morning the thought entered my mind that they may have been tranquilized with opiates. At one point one of the boys slid down in his desk with his feet stuck straight out in front of him, and a cadaver sliding out of its casket came to mind.

I was able to get their attention by firing a few shots over their heads, but it wasn't long before they returned to their lethargic stupor.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


There is a documentary film showing in our theaters that I am very interested in viewing titled, Waiting for 'Superman'. It is a harsh look at the failing American educational system.

I welcome constructive criticism of the educational system. Lousy teachers are insidiously protected by teachers' unions as openly revealed by John Stossel. Bureaucracies and management far removed from the realities of the classroom make instructional decisions. Government policies drive decision making. Economic and employment problems and realities no longer provide undereducated workers a decent wage.

I am concerned that the successful charter school in the film has an advantage with an uneven playing field. Do they have the right to expel low achieving, under-performing students who do not study or work and disrupt the classroom and the learning of others? Are they allowed to "cull" their students (choose from the best)? Are the intense desires to enter this exemplary charter school matched by the desires of the students to enter their local public schools? Are the students in the charter school living the same lifestyle and applying the same work ethics and study habits as those in the "inferior" public schools?

I will watch the film and give my opinion.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


M wife and I were reading the newspaper together at the kitchen table. She was deep into the sports section, and I was probably contemplating comments on the editorial page.

Suddenly the urge for sweets overcame me, and I looked up at Peggy and said, "I'm in the mood for some puffed pastry."

Peggy looked up from her newspaper and with just a slight pause replied, "I looked in the mirror yesterday, and I am puffed pastry."

Monday, October 11, 2010


I have two anecdotes. The first incident occurred in a math class that is struggling. Some grades are extremely low, and the overall grades are the lowest of all my classes. At the end of a whole group instruction and before anyone began independent practice, I asked if there were any questions. Every student in that class firmly maintained they knew the material and understood what to do. It was not surprising to find that most of their independent classwork was inaccurate and based on a confused and inadequate understanding of the new mathematical concept.

The other incident occurred in the math class that is excelling. Some grades are extremely high, and the overall grades are the highest of all my classes. At the end of instruction and before anyone began independent practice, I asked if there were any questions. A few hands went up in the air, and they started asking questions before I had a chance to call on anyone. When I explained it further, most of the students in the class acknowledged that there was still a little uncertainty, but they would give it a try. It was not surprising to find that most of their independent work was accurate and based on a rudimentary understanding of the new math concept.

What do these two incidents suggest?

- Some would say the first class' lack of ability refutes the value of self-esteem.
- Others would suggest that cognitive awareness, or the ability to reflect and evaluate one's thinking process, can benefit understanding, and the first class has less cognitive awareness than the second.
- Others would say that the first class lacks intellectual curiosity and just wants to be done with it.
- Some would say that peer pressure in the first class forces all the students to keep a low profile and not attempt to please the teacher by showing some interest.
- Others would recommend that more data needs to be gathered in order to verify a hypothesis.

You parents may have a clue as to what's going on. All I know is that I have observed this type of phenomenon all my teaching career, and in middle school the phenomenon is more pronounced and observable.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


I was teaching a math class on how to solve word problems that require taking a percentage off the price of a purchase in order to calculate the discounted price.

I have always used the names of students in my problems in order to personalize them, so for this class, I took Trisha's name and put her at one of the better stores in one of the better malls and devised a scenario:

I told the students, "Trisha goes to the Cottonwood Mall and wants to buy some new shoes at Dillards. They are expensive and cost $106.00, but she knows there is a 40% off sale. How much will the shoes cost her? Please find the cost and when you figure out the price, put your pencil down."

This class is my best math class, and shortly therafter all the students had put their pencils down. Everyone came up with the correct answer, $63.60.

"Very good. Now let's solve a problem that is a little harder."

Immediately, Charlotte raised her hand, started furiously waving it back and forth, and had a very concerned look on her face. Without me calling on her, she yelled out, "Wait a minute! Wait a minute!"

I called on her and said, "Yes, Charlotte? Do you have a question about that last problem?

"Yes!" she yelled. I want to know if Trisha bought the shoes!"

Where does she get this material?

Thursday, October 07, 2010


One of my favorite TV shows of all times is "Seinfeld." In one of the episodes, Elaine keeps breaking up and making up over and over again with her boyfriend, Puddy. At one point in the show, they are on an airplane flying to Italy or France or someplace romantic, and they break up on the plane. Then they make-up again. All is well for about twelve seconds until Elaine settles in with a magazine, and Puddy stares off into space. After a moment, Elaine can't help herself. She asks Puddy what he's doing, and he tells her he is just sitting there. She asks if he wants a magazine to read and he turns that down. He tells her he just wants to sit there. Elaine asks him what he's thinking about, and he replies that he's not thinking about anything. He's just sitting there. Sure enough, Puddy stares off into space until finally Elaine can't stand it anymore and breaks up with him, right then and there. She claimed it was weird of him to stare into space. Surely Puddy was thinking about something. You can't be just sitting' there with your brain on flatline, right?

I was reminded of that "Seinfeld" episode today when a teacher across the hall from me had a student who was reading during their twenty minute silent reading time, but the book she was reading looked very small, and the girl had it up very close to her face, so the teacher wandered over to investigate. Turns out it was a blank journal for writing daily thoughts and ideas. It was completely blank, and instead of saying something, the teacher decided to watch. The girl "read" the blank book for fifteen minutes. Finally, the teacher went over to the girl and confronted her with the fact that she had been "reading" a blank book for fifteen minutes. The teacher suggested she get a real book to read. The girl insisted that the blank journal was the book she wanted to "read," and that she didn't want to read a different book.

Puddy's sister, perhaps?


Monday, October 04, 2010


After teaching for twenty years, and even though I am in a new school and it's middle school not elementary school, I have honed my "eyes in the back of my head" to the point that I know what's going on "behind my back", or at least have a clue, which is more than my students will give me credit for having. Here are some of the things that I "sense" go on behind my back.

1. The passing of items of interest such as cosmetics, candy, books, answers, pharmaceuticals, colognes and fragrances, CDs, DVDs, glasses, iPods, Karaoke machines, oil and acrylic paintings, school supplies, "contraband," gum, candy, and tamales

2. Foots placed on backs of the students sitting in front of another for the purposes of instigating irritation, infatuation, ingratiation, and stimulation

3. Conversations about but not limited to: other conversations, another student, each other, another class, another teacher, music, love, romance, exterior body parts, grapefruit, pancakes, bananas, homework, other students' behavior, clothing, tattoes (real and permanent markered), breakfast, brunch, lunch, relationships, TV, plans, problems, perfume, and gaseous emissions

4. The passing of notes of which the subjects have been about but not limited to love, romance, perfume, cologne, after-shave, a member of the opposite sex or the same sex, homework, cheating (on both love and tests), computers, iPods, sports, exterior body parts, music, sex, relationships, TV and movie stars, cash, food, gum, books, passing, failing, Popular Mechanics magazine, the mall, the fall, video games, candles, matches, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, friends, phones, fiends, Sponge Bob Square Pants, tickling, and orifices

4. Giggling over a secret joke, a secret look, a secret book, a secret, and another person's walk, looks, eyes, voice, mannerisms, affectations, hairstyle, clothing, make-up (boy and girl), tattoes (real and permanant-markered), and my saggy old man's butt.

I pretty sure these have taken place. I can only imagine what else has been going on behind my back.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


I have just started teaching middle school, and I could write about all the long faces of middle school teachers and the harsh lessons they learn. Students who are disruptive and don't care about school who take up all the class' time. Parents who misunderstand what really happens in class and make up their mind that you are a horrible teacher without hearing all the facts. Students with troubled home lives completely unable to concentrate on school and who are being asked to pay the price: educational shame. A society that mistakenly believes that the ownership of learning is in the hands of the educator and not the learner. Unions that exist in order to protect the status quo of lousy teachers. Politicians who tell me what to do in my business but do not listen to me when I tell them how I should do my job.

The educational apple that teachers and students chew on has rotten spots. Always has. Always will. These rotten spots are exacerbated by the age of the middle school students we teach. I consciously choose not to concentrate on those rotten spots. In almost every blog I write, the decision is made to keep it cheerful, humorous, and upbeat. Now that I am teaching middle school, the decision is made more consciously and more frequently, but I refuse to say middle school is worse. For just as it is rotten, it is also sweeter. Here are two examples why:


Frank: "Mr. W., I want to thank you for what you did with my test."

Me: "Pardon me? What?"

Frank: "I didn't put my name on it and you could have just thrown it in the trash."

Me: "Oh yeah. I know what you're talking about now. Yeah. I'm not gonna throw away a 100%, A+ math test in the trash. I spent some time figuring out whose it was, and it turned out to be you. Yeah, that's right. It was you."

Frank: That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I appreciate that very much, and I won't forget what you did."

Me: "Well thank you, Frank. I am touched by what you just said."

Frank: "No, thank you, Mr. W."

(Frank walks off. Teacher mutters something about life being worthwhile after all.)


James: "Mr. W., you said my father and every one's parents help pay for your salary, right?"

Me: "Yes, I did. Their taxes pay my salary. I feel like I owe them my very best, and that means you have to give me your very best."

James: "Well then how come you ripped me off?"

Me: "Pardon me? What do you mean, I 'ripped you off!' "

James: "Yeah. I had a great front row center desk, and you moved me to the side. You ripped me off."

Me: "James, your father's taxes pay for my salary, but they don't pay for a guaranteed best seat in the house. Don't talk to me so disrespectfully. I 'ripped you off?' That's strong language and I don't appreciate it."

(Next day after class)

James: "Mr. W., I want to apologize for talking to you like I did. I used the wrong words and probably hurt your feelings. I want to apologize."

Me: "James, your apology is accepted."

James: "I went too far and I want to apologize. I'm sorry I said it."

Me: "I have already forgiven you, James, but I accept your apology again."

James: "It was wrong what I said and I'm really sorry."

Me: "James, when I forgive someone three times, because that is how many times you have asked for forgiveness and I am now forgiving you for the third time, I don't just forgive the person and forget about what they said. I remember what they said and did forever, and I forgive them for forever. You are a fine young man to talk to me that way. I will always remember you for that. Thank you, James. Don't worry about it at all."

James: "Thank you, Mr. W."

(Me, looking up at James thinking, life is a sweet apple to bite into after all.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Pamela Pencils

At times my life is spent noticing the unimportant trivialities. For example, how come pencils fly out of the hands of twelve year olds? I'm in the class teaching a captivating geometry lesson and pencils are falling and flying out of students' hands every one minute and twenty seconds. And these pencils don't just fall to the ground. They fly out of their hands, sometimes going as far as five feet. There are several explanations:

1. It could be poltergeist activity caused by the ghostly spirit that inhabits our old wing of the school building.

2. It could be the way they play with their pencils. They're just losing control of the dadgum thing.

3. I remember being in the seventh grade. I don't remember much, but I remember wishing and hoping and planning and dreaming that Pamela, who sat on my right, would drop her pencil on the left side of her desk and bend down to pick it up.

4. It's an attention-seeking behavior. "Look at me! My pencil can fly! Oops! there it goes again!"

5. The kids can tell I am fascinated with the phenomenon and are merely trying to entertain me.

I am sure there are more important things that pencils flying out of seventh graders' hands, but lately, that silly item is on my "Dumb Things to Think About List."

At this time I am going with the Pamela thing as the best explanation. At least that's what caused mine to "fly away."