Today was my first break from teaching since I started, so I think it's time I cataloged my victories and defeats for the year up until now.

Victory 1: I learned all the students' names within two weeks of class starting. This one was difficult, since I hadn't met any of the students before this year. I'll call a student by the wrong name once a week, but I'm going to chalk that up to faulty wiring rather than not knowing the actual names.

Victory 2: Students occasionally enjoy the warm-ups I prepare for them, and they tend to get invested in answering the questions correctly. I have become the master of warm-ups, and I really think it helps the students remember the material better than they would otherwise. Plus, it gives me a chance to assess what they know, what they don't know, and what the hell they think they know.

Victory 3: My spirit is intact. Back when I was working at Mackubin Consolidated Widgets, my spirit was nearly broken. While I've worked at the Wobegone International School of Culinary Arts, my students have punched, kicked, stomped, and electrocuted my spirit, but it has brushed off all assaults. The joy in seeing them do something correctly is a fine salve for any spiritual wound.

Defeat 1: The students still respect Frau Funkenhaus much, much more than I. I'm not entirely sure what I could do to change this, but I'm going to spend the rest of the year trying to figure that out.

Defeat 2: I'm still staring down the barrel of a test-passing rate of about 65%. Some of my brightest students get Ds on tests. How is that possible? Among the myriad reasons, the ESL problem and the "don't give a flying rodent's posterior" reasons seem to stick out. Motivation is key, and I can't figure out how to motivate them. Reading comprehension is key, and I can't teach them how to read.

While there have been more defeats, I'm going to keep the list at two because I want this webberly blog thing to be upbeat and happy. At this point, I'm rocking a 3-2 record, and that'll get me in the playoffs in the NFC North.


I just realized I haven't written for awhile. The following post is heretofore known as "Exarcly--The Returnne" The extra NE is to make it fancy, like the Malt Shoppe.

Last week was homecoming week, and that meant that my students were a little more than rowdy, a little less than respectful. By the end of the week, I was being told "It's HOME-coming! We're not going to do any WORK."

I pondered these two assertions, and I came to the conclusion that they were definitely non-sequiturs. The first statement, "It's HOME-coming!" had no bearing on the second, "We're not going to do any WORK." Sadly, the climate of work has been chilly for days now, and it doesn't seem like a warm front is coming through any time soon.

I don't yet know how to get these students motivated to the point where they'll do their work, and that is something that I'm really having a tough time wrapping my mind around. Where I came from, when a teacher assigned work, you did it. Or, if you didn't do it, you copied it from someone who did. In all honesty, I'd rather have the students copying the assignments from those who did it, since that would mean that someone would have done something.

Sadly, this is not the case.

Last week, we gave the students 2 1/2 days to work on review worksheets. I cut my instruction down to the first fifteen minutes in class, which gave them nearly 40 minutes to work on their assignments. These assignments were not particularly difficult, and if the students had actually paid attention in class (a vain hope, I know), they'd have been able to complete them in approximately forty minutes. This would have left 40-60 minutes of socializing time, considering that they had about 80-100 minutes of work time in class to do the assignments.

Instead of using their 80-100 minutes in class productively, however, they spent their time trying to figure out who they should give "shout outs" to in the yearbook. Instead of asking for assistance from their teacher or fellow students, they wallowed in self-pity, because the teachers were being unfair by forcing them to do work.

Now, I don't want to sound cynical. I'm not cynical yet, I'm just astonished. I'm astonished that other teachers have allowed these students to progress through the grade levels with such a lax work ethic. I'm astonished that the parents of these students don't have some sort of interest in their children's education. I'm astonished that I've yet to yell at a student in anger. I'm astonished that they think we as teachers are imposing too much work on them, when kids in the suburbs receive two or three times the amount of work.

In all this astonishment, I take solace in the fact that there must be at least one or two students in my class who actually want to learn. I take solace in the fact that I've taught at least a few that math is one of the most important things you can know. I take solace in the fact that these students are seniors, and I won't have to deal with them again next year. Just kidding. That's a little old-school snark for you haters out there.


I have a problem.

Well, my students have a problem.

Well, I have a problem, and my students have a problem.

Actually, even my problems have problems.

The problem is that I can't give problems to my students, because they have a problems solving problems.

Here's the deal: In order to do physics, you have to understand how math works. You and I and a billion Chinese people don't think math is all that hard, but these students couldn't be more confused if we were using Roman numerals.

Velocity equals distance divided by time. V = d/t. If that is true, then it is also true that distance equals time times velocity. d = V x t. Since we know that is true, then time equals distance divided by velocity. t = d/v. Why is all of this true? Because math works that way. I mean, it's not even something that can be argued.

If v = 10, and d = 20, then t = 2. And that works for every version of the equation. 10 = 20/2. 20 = 10 x 2. 2 = 20/10. It's math. It works. It doesn't just work some of the time, it works every time.

Now, my students don't seem to want to believe that math is unchanging. Perhaps it's a consequence of transient living, of not knowing where your next meal will come from, or from not knowing if you'll see your mom or dad any time in the next few weeks. Maybe it's a symptom of our fractured national identity. Maybe it's just that they don't care. Either way, they have to learn math. Math math math. It works, every time.


What to do?

My students took a test yesterday, and they failed. They failed so inexorably bad that I couldn't even berate them for it. There was no way that they could fail so horribly and I not share some of the blame.

I didn't do the arithmetic on the stats about their tests, but I'm guessing the median score was approx. 22/40, the average was 19/20 and the mode was 18.

When I finished grading them, my stomach felt as sick as a choleric prostitute in Mumbai (Yes, that's the simile I'm using. Just go with it). And, much like a choleric prostitue in Mumbai, I spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling wishing what had just happened was just the etching of a nightmare on the inside of my skull.

How could Frau Funkenhaus and I failed so miserably in our instruction? I was very careful to look over the entire test and certify that every question was something that we had previously covered in class. I have been working on all of the warm-ups (the problems on the board that students are supposed to work on immediately upon entering the room), and I was fastidious and fanatical about making sure they were relevant to exactly what we were supposed to be studying.

My warm-ups, in general, have between 2 and 5 questions. The first question is a review from the lesson two days previous. The second question is generally a synthesis of the previous two days' lessons. The final questions are review of the previous day. I am always sure to be building upon their knowledge and attempting to expand it beyond its current level.

For example: We studied the base units for the SI system in the chapter. So, my warm-up for every day after that was always in SI units. We then studied density, and I wrote warm-ups that incorporated density into the problems until the end of the chapter. After that, we studied experimental error/percent error. I wrote warm-ups using SI units, which had questions about density, and the densities determined through the problem were compared to the accepted value of densities of certain elements, which were then used to determine percent error. Finally, we studied accuracy and precision, for which I used SI-units in density problems that had to determine percent error based on accepted values of densities in order to figure out if the various answers for the density problems were precise or accurate. It was all quite involved.

So: What did this show me?

Problem 1: My students don't know how to take tests.

Many of them do not even attempt word problems, even though they are not all ELL. I can understand it (though not condone it) for ELL students, but students who speak English should never do this. They are just lazy. In addition: most of them don't know how to look for what the question is asking. They determine what they think the question is asking, then they guess, since most of the time their answer isn't actually on the page.

It was astonishing to see a number of students do absolutely no arithmetic on their tests, even though there were a number of problems that required mathematics.

After reading all of the tests, I came to the determination that some students don't believe that the tests will actually give you fair questions. We had one question that seemed simple. It went something like:

There are three trials for an experiment below, which one is the most accurate? The percent errors are given

Then below it, there was a heading that said Percent Error, and below that there were three choices:

Trial 1: .05
Trial 2: .02
Trial 3: .01

A majority of my students got this question wrong. Half of them did not answer it. It was as though they thought there was some trick to it, some sort of alchemical formula that they had to pull from their headspaces in order to answer it. The answer, of course, is Trial 3, since THE PERCENT ERROR IS EASILY THE LOWEST. It's not even tricky, yet they couldn't figure it out.

Problem 2: Students don't know what's important.

I've made it a policy to write all important notes on the board in black pen. Whenever I pick up a black pen, I ask the students, "Why am I picking up a black pen?" I will continue to ask this question until I am satisfied that every student knows how important the black pen is.

Having looked over their notes, however, I've come to realize that they just don't know what they're supposed to study. Too often, they focus their attention on minutia to the detriment of all other information. It's just insanity.

Problem 3: They don't feel embarrassed when they do poorly.

This is the saddest of all the problems, because it's one that I might not be able to help them work on. If students don't have any stake in their education, what point is there in learning? What point is there to anything, if they don't take pride in doing well and, conversely, feel shame at doing poorly? This is a systemic problem at my school, a one which I'm going to have to think about for a long time before I'll be able to come up with an even halfway-satisfactory answer.

First use of the "Choleric Prostitutes" tag

Ah, Youth

There are words we say at home. There are words we say at church. There are words we say in private.

We say some words with friends. We say some words with family. We say some words with colleagues.

All words have their time and place. And there are some words we shouldn't say.

One of my students said those words that we shouldn't say. We were in the midst of a lesson about SI Units, and I was failing to control the class effectively. Frau Funkenhausen was out of the classroom this day, so I was flying solo.

Much like a lone top gun pilot flying over the fruited plains of this fair country, I was at least 30% in control of what I was doing. And then this bashful little barn owl unleashed a wonderful expression that made me question exactly why I was teaching her in the first place.

My little owl wondered aloud at the mental state of her teacher. She helpfully questioned if her teacher was one of the faithful departed. Or, was freezing, dark-hearted. Fleeing the garden? Let's just say it started with a f, had a middle "ing" and ended with a tarded.

As it stands, students are not supposed to question the mental capacity of their teacher in such a coarse manner. I'm going to say that approximately 100% of teachers do not have a developmental disability that results in lowered brain function. That's just not good policy.

My bashful little barn owl's claim about my mental fitness for educatifying was a real weight on my mind. I mean, if a girl who's so smart--I mean, she did use a swear word in a class in a school that frowns upon such things--calls me something -arded, I am going to worry. She's, what, 17 years old...she must know everything, as all teenagers do. Yes, her calling me such words was devastating to my ego. I had to slink around the classroom for the rest of the day (sans my little owl, of course, since she was definitely on her way to ISS). I was forced to contemplate my own intelligence, as any student who is smart enough to mouth off is obviously a good judge of character. In the end, I went home and ate gallons of ice cream to soothe the pain. Sadly sadly sadly.

Oddly enough, my bashful little barn owl has been wonderfully sweet and jovial the last few days.

Days of Awe

I haven't been entirely honest with you.

While I say that I'm a teacher, I am in fact a co-teacher. I do not have my own classroom; instead, I'm one-half of a two-headed monster of educatifying. We're like Cerebus after a terrible guillotine accident, but less barking and more teaching.

This co-teacher of mine has been at WISoCA for more years than I have fingers and toes, so I'm in a sort of master-apprentice relationship. This has led to me learning a lot about the classroom, but it has also led to a number of problems.

Problem 1: Though I am a fully licensed teacher, students may be under the impression that I am merely a student teacher. We tried to nip this in the bud early, but it's not always easy to convince students of such things. They never have co-teachers, so they try to put the relationship within a framework they know, and the only framework they know is the teacher-student teacher.

Problem 2: Since it's not my classroom, I don't know the correct procedures for how the class should do things. I know how I would want things done, but I don't want to step on my co-teacher, Frau Funkenhaus's, toes. Frau has certain ways of doing things, and those ways are completely and totally acceptable. However, those are not the ways I would do things, and as such I'm always at a disadvantage when talking to students. Furthermore, as I don't have the sort of organic knowledge of processes necessary to talk candidly with students, I'm forced to send worried glances to Frau in order to get information about where we want students to write their names on their papers.

Problem 3: If I were running a classroom, it would basically be run completely different from how I am currently running it. While this may be a good way for me to see different teaching styles and to practice getting outside of my comfort zone, it will not prepare me for my own classroom (hopefully) next year. This is the big problem right now. Boo-hoo.


I've never considered myself racist.  The last week in school, however, made me start hating one particular race of students: white kids.

Of course, I am white myself, which makes this bit of racism all the more troubling.  Ought I to start making snide comments about myself to myself behind my own back?  Should I grab my girl and pull her tightly to me when I see myself walk by a window and I catch a glimpse of myself in it?  Would it be wrong for me to burn a cross on my own yard?  Should I call myself a credit to my own race, or am I an Uncle Tom for caring about how whites present themselves in school?

Ridiculously premised, grandstanding jokes notwithstanding, there is a serious undercurrent to all of this that I picked up on at the end of last week.  Most of my classes have, at most 2 white kids.  The Wobegon International School of Culinary Arts is quite a diverse campus, so it's not at all odd to have a melting pot of different races represented in each classroom.  About this, I have no qualms.  In fact, I really enjoy the diversity of the school, and I think that being in an environment like that is going to make me grow as a person.


One of my classes has a higher-than-average number of white kids in it, and they are the brattiest, most unrepentant snots this world has ever seen.  These curmudgeonly little koalas (yes, I realize I changed consonants, but it's the alliteration that matters...) are unproductive, verbally abusive, ridiculously entitled young men and women.  I have never had a group of students who felt that they were better than the instructor.  It's not that I think I'm better than them, but I do believe that we should respect one another, and that one should respect his/her teacher.

The little koalas talk back, refuse to do work, and generally decide not to devote any energy to class.  The saddest part about all of it, though, is that these are supposed to be the best students in the school.  My little koalas are tops of their class, are in all of the advanced classes, yet they can't manage to spend forty-five minutes staying on task, treating one another with respect, and taking an interest in their own education.

When I got into this teaching thing, I was told a lot of things re: the different races of students within my fair inner-city district.  The first week has completely blown these expectations out of the water.

Please realize that my semi-offensive statements earlier about my racism were not intended solely for humor's sake.  One of the things that Caucasians tend to ignore, either wilfully or not, is that we are privileged.  The fact that I'm saying this about this group of students didn't make my fellow white readers out there believe that all white kids are like that.  Instead, they figured that I just happen to have an annoying group of kids in one room.

What if I had told the same story and said that the students were black?  Would those of you out there who dismissed the little koalas as an anomalous group of spoiled kids have instead been unsurprised?  Would it merely have confirmed your prejudices, however latent?

The nice thing about being white, as many people have previously pointed out, is that your actions as a white person do not reflect upon your race as a whole.  Since we are the dominant culture, we get to set the expectations for everyone.  If a member of the dominant culture falls short, it is overlooked.  Woe to those in the minority, however, who make a mistake, since their mistake only confirms the internalized prejudices of those who notice.

Special Needs

Given that I have a special ed class, that WISoCA has a large deaf and hard of hearing contingent, and that the student body is incredibly diverse, I've had numerous novel experiences in my first few days.

The oddest experience, or at least the most surreal one for me so far, was trying to respond to a student with physical disabilities.  I wanted to be helpful to my precious little petunia without being condescending, attentive without being overbearing.  

I don't want to get into it too far, but my precious little petunia has significant difficulty doing anything with their (yes, this is a plural pronoun, but there is no way to do a nongendered pronoun in English without resorting to the neutered "it" that dehisces the humanity from the subject, so suck it.) hands.  Our class agenda was to create a notebook template that would be used for the entire year. Creating this template required a lot of taping, gluing, and cutting paper.  For this reason, I began to hesitate with regards to how to help this student.  

After the students had all picked up the template papers, I asked the petunia if I should go pick up papers for their notebook, and they assented.  I dropped the papers off, but then realized that they would have a difficult time taping, gluing, etc.  This left me with a choice: hover over my precious little petunia until they asked for help, or offer the help and risk being rejected.

Now, this is a problem for me, since my whole life is a study in the constant pursuit of acceptance, and by that rubric any rejection is a disruption of my life plan.  Asking the student if I should help, then, was a huge leap in the direction of dynamic personal rejiggering.  

Luckily, my precious little petunia of a student is a real class act, and they confidently answered that it would be helpful if I would put the notebook together for them.  

Thus, my trepidation was relieved, my fear of rejection abated, my life as I know it confidently run and confidently lived.  Or something like that.  Another day, another challenge.

First Day

First Day, Woo.

I've been blessed to have moved from the LoLMEECoA to a full-time job at the Wobegon International School of Culinary Arts (WISoCA). Instead of teaching the precious petunias in 7th grade, I've moved up to the big leagues, teaching the gruff giants of upperclassmen.

At this point, I have no major observations, other than the fact that I'm working with a completely new age group of students, and I am no longer confident that I can body slam them.


Summer school has ended, which means posting will be quite light until the school year begins ~Aug. 25 (school doesn't start until the 2nd, but training will begin prior to that).

Here are some observations that came out of summer school:

Students do not like to be called on their behavior. Yes, this should seem obvious, but it's a little more counterintuitive than that. While students might pretend that they don't know that they're doing anything wrong (e.g. a student is talking with his/her friend during work time, but they're also done with their work), they know that they're supposed to be meeting my expectations, and they are failing to do so. In all honesty, I think it's embarrassing for them to fail to meet expectations. The rub, though, is this: I need to find a way to keep expectations so high that students, even when falling short, will still act appropriately.

All students can learn. This is one of those buzzworthy catchphrases that gets used by the most progressive of progressive educators. There are problem students, students with behavioral disabilities, and students with learning disabilities. There are students who know better, students who know nothing, students who go to bed hungry and wake up starving. The myriad students have myriad problems, and life keeps blundering forward without them. Except. Except that teachers can slow life down, can push them into the crowd. Perhaps we cannot teach them how to run, but at least we can teach them how to fall forward and let the momentum of the crowd push them along until they can get their own footing.

I may have spoken of this student before, but one of my precious little petunias made so much progress by the end of the summer that I couldn't help but be a little teary-eyed when I saw her test scores. This is a student who had no desire, no will, no visible ability. But we worked with her, pushed her, kept her moving when she wanted to stop, and by the end of the summer she had gone from understanding naught to getting a 96% on her test. It took a lot of work, a lot of frustration, a lot of elbow grease. I would finish working with her and just sit in my chair with my eyes staring at the ceiling because I was exhausted from explaining. But she did the progressives proud, even though she was LD and ADD and whatever other acronyms they wanted to append to her name.

I'm going to get pissed off, but I need to keep my temper. I'm usually on a pretty even keel. I don't like to get mad, and I truly enjoy working with students. But students know how to push buttons, and that's something I need to keep in my cortex. Even when I worked in Korea I had this problem, and those students were positively angels compared to what I've dealt with here. Students will eventually insult me, my family, my future children, my car, my clothing, my way of walking, my way of talking, my sense of humor, and pretty much everything else there is about me. I have to maintain a sense of balance in all of this, though, and realize that what they say doesn't matter. Tough to do, indubitably, but possible.

More observations later this week...


Sometimes, you just can't win.

Today started off fine. My second hour class, who had been part of the problem of the previous day, actually did their work. My LD/ADHD students did their work, other students kept doing what they had been doing, and the world was a beautiful place.

Of course, by the end of the hour the student who had her mom called the previous day decided to throw a fit and get all pissy about whether you have to do multiplication or division first in math (hint: you do them in order from left to right, unless you are a pigheaded 12-year-old). By the end of the hour, however, we were able to at least get her to finish her worksheet.

Third hour is where the escalation started. I shouldn't have done it, but I wanted to start the day off right. I talked to one of the three students who had had trouble the previous day, told him I wanted him to have a good day today, that tomorrow was past, etc. I then went to talk to the girl I made cry and her quite boisterous table-mate. I told her table-mate that I wanted to have a good day today, that I know she was rude yesterday....and that's where I lost her.

I made a rookie mistake by referring to the previous day's crapitude. I should have just let it go, I should have said that today was going to be a great day, and left it at that. But no, like a jackass of epic proportions, I decided to call attention to the fact that she was an insolent little cur yesterday (perhaps "prickly little pineapple" would have been a been a better use of nomenclature). She then went into a crazy rant about how she was going to apologize (she really wasn't) and act like an adult today (ditto), but I should have just let it go. Instead, I kept pushing until I couldn't push any further. The boundaries broke, and I lost her. I had to spend the rest of the hour attempting to keep her quiet.

It didn't help that the principal scheduled a tornado drill at 10:15, which is 20 minutes into class, and that lunch is at 10:40, so we had a completely disjointed class period. Between the drill and refocusing on our work following it, we didn't get much done before lunch.

After lunch, my insolent little cur didn't return. Other students told me that she had been taken out of lunch and was in the office. I wasn't entirely sure whether it was because of behavior or because of counseling matters (after this student's mother had a stroke, she had apparently taken her out of school for a full year so that the student could take care of her). Either way, the prickly little pineapple made it back to class with about fifteen minutes to spare. I told her I was glad to see her (in a weak attempt to build up a rapport that had been thoroughly trashed with the whole "rude" debacle from earlier). She said she was doing fine, and I told her that we had started to work on order of operations, and that she could copy down the notes in her notebook. She seemed amenable to this, then asked me if she could ask me a question. I said sure.

"Which food do you like more, tacos or sausages?"

Given that I have been 13 years old before, and given that I still watch the same type of movies 13 year olds watch, I was fully aware of the innuendo.

"That's inappropriate. Please sit down."

"What!? What's your problem? I'm not being inappropriate!"

"Just sit down. It's inappropriate. Get to work."

"You're the one who's inappropriate!"

And then the gates of hell decided to open, and demons decided to fly on brimstone wings, and students decided to talk loudly for no damn reason. While it hadn't been a great class period so far, it also hadn't been that bad. Even with the tornado drill, we were still able to do a bit of work, and the students seemed to understand Order of Operations.

What's funny about being a 13 year old is that you assume that everyone else is naive, when it is you, in fact, who is naive. My mom once told me a story about how she told her parents--whom she had never heard utter a swear word in her entire life--that "her generation" had a new word for sexual intercourse. The word started with an F and ended with what I assume should have been a mouth being washed out with soap.

Of course, I'm no better, since at the age of 12 I assumed that golf had been invented about 5 or 6 years before I started playing it, since I had never heard of it before then.

There is bliss in not knowing how unbelievably little you know.

Everything Changes

So, here goes this: Today was not a good day.

I've had a few bad days so far, but it's rare that I have a day so bad that I feel horrible about myself when I go home. Usually, the feeling bad about myself floats in my emotional soup for a few minutes, but it sublimes into the air with the rest of the barely perceptible emotions before I leave for the day. Not today.

Today we had to call parents, had to separate students, had to do pretty much everything you don't want to have to do in order to get the class under control. Though none of this actually happened during my lessons, it still stuck with me because I'm still a contributing member of the teaching team (motto: We educate young minds so you don't have to, you complete failure of a parent). Being a part of a teaching team means that I'm not really "responsible" for what occurs when I'm not at the front of the class teaching, but it effectively means that I'm "hugely, positively, definitely responsible" for making sure the students are behaving when the other teacher is teaching.

This hasn't really presented a problem until today. Today was a bad day, as I have previously stated, but it was a bad day in many, many ways.

We were learning about Scientific Notation today, i.e. changing large numbers with lots of digits into fewer-digit numbers multiplied by a power of ten (292,000,000 = 2.92 x 10^8). This isn't a difficult lesson, especially considering that we worked on square roots yesterday and they understood that about as well as your average Papua New Guinean understands the electoral college. Today was supposed to be a break for everyone, since the lessons should have been easy and both the students and we would be able to work through it quickly.

First hour, the hour I taught, went that way. We got through the lesson (barely...need better time management skillz), and I thought everything was working well.

Second hour started auspiciously. All of the students were able to do the warm-up problems, even the ones who are perpetually having trouble. One wonderful little wallaby, a girl with learning disabilities who usually quits after the problems get too difficult, was able to push through and finish the warm-up as well as pay attention during instruction. Two other students, however, decided that they didn't want to learn that day. These prickly little pineapples kept their heads on their desks, no matter how many times we tried to adjust their attitude. One of them understood the lesson, which made it difficult to discipline her, but the other had absolutely no clue how to change a problem to/from scientific notation.

The student who understood kept putting her head down on her desk and looking askance at the board in order to technically be "looking at the board" but in reality just sitting with her head on her desk. The student who didn't understand wouldn't even make the effort to work on problems. This was a quandary.

When a student is insolent, the teacher has a few choices. One choice is to just let it go, to allow the student to get her way, and to keep pushing the class (other than her) forward. This option is probably the worst, since it allows the student to dictate the attitude of the class and the acceptable level of defiance. Another option is to hound the student until he/she gives in to your will as teacher. This method can get boring for both the student and the teacher, since both of them are fighting so hard to actually get their way that they are completely tired of the game by the end. The last option, at least in this discussion of various options, is the teacher immediately and completely bending the will of the student to her own. This requires the teacher to be in absolute control in the classroom and for the classroom to have norms established that make students feel uncomfortable if they don't conform. It's funny, I'm a huge fan of individuality, but I realize the need for conformity when it comes to behavioral norms in the classroom. There's just no conceivable way to keep control if all of the students are enforcing their own ideas about normative behavior upon the classroom.

Well, the teacher in charge of the class attempted to do option 3 on our prickly pineapple. That...did not go well. The student whined, complained, got angry, got more insolent, and finally got a trip out to the hall for all her trouble. While in the hall, she got the wonderful opportunity to talk to her mom at work, which I'm sure is what every student wants. And every mom, for that matter: it must be fun to get a call during your work day telling you how completely unmanageable your child is. Fun, fun stuff.

Since this post is getting long, I'll attempt to distill what happened in the final class period into a short paragraph or two.

Two girls in the back refused to listen. They didn't pay attention, then got mad at me because we made it a requirement that they finish the problems on the board in order for them to leave the classroom for the day. I told them that if they had listened, they'd have no trouble completing the problems (and, honestly, they wouldn't have. The problems took most students about 1 minute, if that).

After I took the time to explain how to do scientific notation to one of them, I attempted to explain it to the other one. She was having none of it. I told her she couldn't leave until we finished the problems, and I got her to finish one of the two sets. The bell rang, and she still hadn't completed the second set of problems. I told her that we'd work together to get it done, and that's when she started weeping.

I'm not heartless. Seeing a tiny, thirteen year old girl cry basically made me feel like an ogre of some variety (possibly one who lives under a bridge--yes, I know trolls usually live under bridges, but my capacity for imagination was a little skewed: there was a vulnerable child crying, and I was the presumptive cause). This girl, as I'd learned earlier in the summer, has ADHD, learning disabilities, and she no longer takes her meds. This girl is a mess, and I made her cry. I let her go without doing the problems. I have a feeling that will come back to bite me.

The big bad wolf is alive and well.

Well, that was fun

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to observe a fellow newbie's classroom on Friday, and let me tell you: Everything I've written about my students now has to be re-examined. This poor teacher had just about the worst group of kids I'd ever seen, and that's saying a lot.

The thing about it was, the students were not blatantly bad. None of them cursed her out, none of them was defiant to the point of being cruel or mean, none of them really DID anything wrong. It was just an amazing accumulation of attitude and asshole-ery that undermined the entire classroom structure.

For example: A student was supposed to come up to the front of the board in order to do a problem. Most of the students in the class have some sort of behavioral disorder, whether it's ADHD or FAS or anything in between, I really don't know. The second another student came up to the front of the class and got the teacher's attention, there was nothing she could do to control the rest of them. They were shouting across the room at one another--nothing rude, nothing mean, just yelling random statments across the room that had zero relevance to the problem on the board--and once they started to lose focus it was nearly impossible to get them back on track.

I talked to the teacher afterwards, and she knew what the problems were. Since most of the students had either a behavioral disorder or, in some cases, a learning disability, them getting kicked out of class really didn't have much effect on them. In addition, she has yet to refer a student down to the office, so they know that they can get away with murder--well, maybe not murder, but at least a kidnapping with request for ransom--without getting sent to the office.

We actually talked about what she should do within our big classroom group, and the technique was basically to be sure to send one of the students to the office the next time it happens in order to show them you mean business. This struck me as odd, however, because then you're basically premeditating a dismissal for a student, though you don't necessarily know which student the dismissal will fall upon. Someone else mentioned this in class, and the explanation we got seemed satisfactory:

You oughtn't to decide that a student is going to get kicked out of class, but you must leave yourself open to that possibility. When it gets to a point where the students are no longer learning, that's the point where someone needs to be sent out to send a message. Give a warning, such as "the next person to do X will get kicked out." But what if the person who does X is actually behaving better than other students, but mistakenly does X at the wrong time? Then you should take that student aside and talk to him/her while waiting for another student to do X, because another student, invariably, will do X, because students are dumb like that. When a worse stduent does X, you can send that student down to the office without feeling bad about sending a kid who wasn't acting THAT bad down to the office.

Lesson learned.

I am the Big Bad Wolf

With all that's going on right now, I must say that I'm impressed that I somehow figured into a student's journal entry in her writing class. My precious petunia of a student got it into her head that I was treating her differently from every other student in class, so she decided to write about it instead of stab me. Or at least that's what I figure her two choices were.

Here is what happened, as far as I can recall: This industrious little ibis brought her cellular telephone to school (so many sixth graders to call, so little time...). Being that it's summer school, students get a little more leeway with respect to this, but that doesn't mean they can have their phones sitting out in the open during class.

When I saw the phone, I asked the little angel to put the phone away. As it happened, this clever student had dressed herself in athletic shorts this morning, so she didn't have a way to put her phone in her pockets. I told her that I didn't care that she had decided to wear clothes that were particularly impractical for both storing telephones and ballroom dancing, but that she had to put it away somewhere I couldn't see it anyway. Another student offered to hold it for the hour, but this precious petunia thought option Double-Q Lamda B, to put it between the pages of her notebook, was the best option. I told her that it was fine to put it there, but to make sure I didn't see it.

So what happened when I walked by her desk again? Of course the phone was sitting out right on the table. Being the strict disciplinarian that I am, I grabbed the phone and put it in my pocket, and immediately told her that I would give it back to her at the end of class, but no earlier.

She huffed and puffed, acting as though I had treated her differently than any other student. At the end of class, I returned the phone to her, as promised. I thought the issue was over, but her writing teacher let me know that she had said rather unkind things about me in her journal, which the teacher had read aloud in front of the class. The teacher, of course, didn't read the entry prior to reading it aloud, so the whole class was able to hear about my treacherous nature.


An error in judgment, to be more precise. I've exercised pretty good judgment since I started training at LoLMEECoA, but a situation occurred today which exhibited just how much further I need to go.

Let me back up: Good judgment, up to this point, has meant keeping my cool and not underestimating the lack of gateway skills (i.e. skills that allow students to work on a given subject, like being able to subtract is a gateway skill for being able to divide, since it is a component of long division) of my students. I haven't gotten into many arguments with students, which is also a good thing, since those types of arguments never end well. No matter how sure I am that one does, indeed, need to use math outside of a classroom, it is difficult to convey such an obvious concept to a 7th grader with a chip on his shoulder. I've done my best to steer clear of power struggles and all of the drama that comes with them.

But my good judgment ran out today. One of my wonderful little wallabies and I were working on some problems, and that little scamp asked me if he could use the bathroom. Given that students tend to ask that approximately five times per class period, per student, I let the student know (cleverly, I thought) that he could go to the bathroom in exactly 6 minutes, since that was when the class period ended. This is a standard teacher thing to do, something that gives students what they want, but puts it inside the teacher's time-frame.

So, this little guy and I were working together for another minute or two, when all of the sudden some yellow liquid spurted out of his mouth and onto the paper. That was odd, I thought. Why would that yellow...oh my God he just threw up. Yes, my precocious little piranha had just thrown up in the classroom as a direct result of me not allowing him to go to the restroom.

Now, I don't want to blame the student, but if you're going to throw up, don't you mention that that's why you want to go to the bathroom? Just say, "Glorious Teacher, might I be allowed to head to the bathroom, because my pyloric valve has been acting up."

Instead, though, he sat silently, threw up, and made me feel about as awful as I've felt while teaching.

Politics, Schmolitics

The program that's training me to become a teacher guarantees that I will have a job, but they don't guarantee where it will be, other than that it will be in the district in which I'm teaching summer school, Hieronymus Bosch School Districtinarium. Why don't I have a job yet, even though I teach a particularly hard to fill subject? That, ladies and germs, is where Politics, schmolitics comes in.

See, teachers who gain tenure are free to transfer between schools in a district. Also, teachers who are both tenured and amazingly bad at their job are often given the option of being put on an "improvement plan," which means they have to have someone watch them and help them get better at their job, or they can get "pink slipped" and sent to another job in the district. Most choose the second option, since then they don't actually have to learn how to raise achievement levels and are instead able to sit in class and do absolutely nothing. This is one reason the achievement gap is alive and well.

So, an amazingly unimpressive tenured teacher gets pink slipped, and another principal HAS to accept this wonderful mound of flesh and blood. But principals know that this mound is bad, so they don't want to hire said mound. In order to not hire this person, they don't announce the openings they have at their school until some other poor schmuck of a principal has hired the mound. I've heard it's "like a game of chicken," and the principals are doing everything they can not to hire the pink-slipped mounds.

Where I come into this is that principals aren't releasing their openings until other principals have released them, and they're doing this to keep themselves shielded from mounds. Sadly, the mounds are going to get jobs no matter what, and they'll get them as soon as a frightened principal blinks. This means that I'm going to be waiting--and the entire school is going to be waiting--for some principal to finally blink (possibly not until the day before school starts), because union rules allow really, really terrible mounds of flesh and blood to occupy seats in the classroom and do absolutely nothing to help close the achievement gap. Lamez0rz


It's surprising how easily things can come to you if you've done them even once before.

My first day in front of a class was, as I have previously relayed, a minor disaster. The second time I got up there, however, I felt comfortable, in control, and completely at ease with the educational process. Then the bell rang to dismiss the students.

It's not that the bell's act of ringing changed anything, it's just that I was still feeling jittery from the previous day's debacle and wasn't inclined to cede control of the classroom to the capricious whims of an inanimate object that happened to announce itself to the world through its ringing. That's exactly what happened, however. I let the bell control my class instead of me.

In general, my classroom is dismissed only after all the materials are put away and every student is in his or her seat. This is how it has been since the first day my cooperating teacher (CT) laid down the rules, and it will continue until the end of the summer. The problem, though, is that in my enthusiasm and elation with my increased teaching aptitude, I forgot about this rule. Depressingly enough, this is a rule that has been ingrained into my head from the first moment I sat in the classroom and observed my CT, so it's doubly depressing that I forgot about it. As soon as that bell rang, I said "Have a good day" instead of going through the proper procedure, instead of making sure our animated little anemones had their butts in their seats.

Did my screw up ruin anything? No, of course not. The students would have eventually had to leave the classroom, with or without my permission. The aardvarkian little aardvarks need things like food, water, attention, computer games, awesome haircuts, etc., and not all of those things can be requisitioned for a 7th grade classroom. The bell had rung, so I did nothing technically wrong with respect to the rules of the school or the procedures laid forth by the LoLMEECoA association of concerned and slightly bemused parents (LoLMEECoAAoCaSBP). One of the things that I've learned in my classroom management workshops, though, is that you need to have control at all times, that you need to model the behavior you want to see, and that you need to be consistent. My letting the students go at the bell instead of after the arbitrary time set forth by my CT changed the structure of the classroom, it shifted the balance of power from me to the bell, and it shook up the consistency of the learning environment.

Since these adorable dust-mites are not forced to be in summer school, and since it is a bit more like daycare than real school, this inconsistency hasn't done any lasting damage. But what if I do the same thing next year? A lot of the students I'll be working with will have little to no structure in their lives. Many will have moved around dozens of times in the last few years, and at least a handful will be living in a homeless shelter. It isn't fair for me to take away what little consistency they have in their lives by succumbing to the tyranny of the bell. I must do better. I will do better.

Lunch Duty

I am going to be teaching solo again tomorrow and Wednesday, but today I had the privilege of lunch duty. As it's summer school here at LoLMEECoA, all of the students get free lunch at about 11:30, which is halfway through their third hour class. Why the bearded wizards in administration conjured up a split class rather than just allowing half of the students to eat before and half after 3rd period I am not sure, but it's on par with Napoleon's decision to go all the way into Russia. In the winter, of course. All I'm saying is that not much learning goes on after lunch is over.

Lunch is a strange time in middle school. You see the cliques, the outcasts, the lovebirds and the mortal enemies. One thing that has been seen, though not by me, every day since summer school began, is pizza. The cafeteria has basically given the students the choice of eating pizza or going hungry. Oh, the students could also get a prefabricated graham cracker peanut butter sandwich and a string cheese, but that sounds about as appetizing as, well, a prefabricated graham cracker and peanut butter sandwich with crappy, Crystal Farms string cheese. That's a tautology, but I don't care.

So, students are currently on day 11 of the pizza feast. It's like the Irish potato famine, but exactly the opposite. Students are clamoring for something, anything else, but the school cafeteria is no place for innovation. Or so I thought. The students are learning, innovating. And in their innovation, the students are revolting.

It would seem, at least to me, that pizza isn't the kind of food that needs a lot of dressing up. Some people like parmesan cheese, some like red pepper. And, sure, Papa John's has their dipping sauces, but those are really just a secret government conspiracy to make Americans obese. (From what I've heard, we'd totally be thin if it weren't for the garlic butter sauce.) My stuffy, old-school brand of thinking is not shared by the student body, however.

These effervescent little echinoderms are taking their pizza and jazzing it up a bit. They aren't so stodgy in their thinking as to believe that pizza can't be improved. These wonderful little wallabies are taking the quart-sized squirt containers of ranch dressing and hot sauce and splurting those ingredients together in ridiculous proportions onto their trays and then dipping their doughy, soupy pizza into that unholy alliance of condiments. I understand that they're trying to do whatever they can to make their food palatable, but it's depressing to see them create a sorry-looking pink paste of hot ranch into which they can dip their pizza. I even saw one dip his mushy pineapple cubes in this evil concoction. Truly, truly I say to you: the students are revolting.

So Damn Unprepared

I thought I was ready.

I worked with my teachers to create a lesson plan, determined what standards I wanted the students to reach, and wrote a lesson that used the classroom's available technology.

Then the bell rang.

Yesterday, I used the word "disaster" and was careful to note that it was a SF Earthquake of 89 disaster. Today, I can unequivocally say, it was dust bowl 1930s.

I'm a pretty genial person; people I meet generally like me within minutes of talking to me. These kids, though, they just... These kids, though, they... These kids.

I know what I did wrong, which is everything. I didn't keep my class in control; I didn't teach the lesson quickly enough; I couldn't keep them interested. I'm pretty sure I know how to fix the first, I can definitely fix the second, but the third is a problem.

I observed another teacher and determined a better way to keep students in control. Most of what it comes down to is that I need to be a complete hardass. No smiles, no happy looks, nothing that would even approach the level of good cheer I'd deal out to a waiter or barista. Nope, it's complete and total hardassery, 100% of the time. It's the only thing these kids understand, and the only way they'll respect me.

The second is just a matter of setting a schedule and sticking to it. No big trick, really. I just need to be sure I'm keeping the class occupied.

The final problem, about keeping their attention, is tough. Today we were working on rounding, and I held them for about three minutes. After that, they didn't care, weren't interested, and were actively trying to get on my nerves. I didn't crack, but I also failed to really inspire them. There was dead time because the technology froze, but I did too much talking. The best way to keep students out of trouble is to keep them engaged.

Engagement is an issue for every teacher, but as a first-year teacher I will have less of a schema to work with when trying to figure out how to grab their attention. I need more visuals, more interesting experiments, and I need to push their buttons--but in a good way. We'll see how that works out for me.

After the debacle, I got to watch another teacher teach the same material. I noticed that she kept students engaged much better by pushing through the material quickly. I was impressed by her, and I told her so. We teachers need ego boosts as often as possible. She will be a fantastic teacher when she gets her own classroom.

HOWEVER, did one of her students tell her that she was the best teacher and the nicest and that the student wished she could be her teacher forever? No? Oh, that's because one of my sweet little popinjays told me that exact thing. After feeling like garbage following my first solo lessons, I assume this was the universe sort of evening out.

In Praise of Drilling

Boys and girls, today we have a problem. I'm currently teaching division at LoLMEECoA, and it's starting to frustrate me. Dear readers, nobody has drilled these kids on their multiplication tables.

I used to think that drilling and repetition of things like multiplication tables, single-digit subtraction and addition, and the various other math drills that we halfheartedly repeated in elementary school were relics of a time when teachers didn't know any better. Problem is, those drills prepared us for higher math.

I can instantly tell you the product of any two one-digit numbers, and drilling in elementary school (along with my grandparents giving me a plastic game/contraption that had all the times tables from 1-9 on semi-opaque square buttons, and which would show me the product when I pushed down on each semi-opaque button). My students, well, let's just say that they have a hard time telling me what the word "product" means.

We're currently working on division in my classes, and it has been a disaster up till now. I guess disaster is a vague word. Let's say it's more '89 SF earthquake and less huge tsunami in the Pacific. Given that my students don't know their multiplication tables, they have a tough time with division. "Tough time," in this context, means that I can sit at their table for 45 minutes working on two simple division problems (I'm talking single-digit number into triple-digit number) and by the time they're finished they still don't know why the answer is what it is.

Monday was the first time I've been so exhausted by class that I just wanted to crawl into bed and pull my legs up to my chest and fall asleep afterward. Attempting to teach division to kids who can't do multiplication is like trying to teach the Hindenberg blimp not to explode: You know it wants to not explode, but it's just so full of hydrogen and there are so many damn sparks flying around, it's gonna explode eventually, and people will read about it in the paper. Put another way: I'm trying to show these kids how to write diaries in cursive before teaching them how to spell.

The average session attempting to teach division goes something like this:

Teacher (Me): Alright, what's 156 divided by 3?

My Precious Petunia of a Student: I don't know.

T: Alright, what's the first step?

MPPS: I don't know.

T: What numbers are we dividing?

MPPS: 3 divided by 186.

T: Well, no, you copied that wrong. Look at the board again. Good. We're actually dividing 156 by 3. Do you know what that means? We're trying to find out how many times 3 will go into 156. Okay, first step, can 3 go into 1?

MPPS: Yes.

T: You can put three gallons of water into a one gallon jug?


T: Then can 3 go into 1?

MPPS: Yes.

T: (Eyebrow raised in confusion)

MPPS: No, no.

T: Correct. Alright, so let's move over one place. Can 3 go into 15?


T: (Confused look)

MPPS: Yes, yes it can.

T: Okay, how many times can 3 go into 15? What's your guess?

MPPS: 20.

T: 20? (Head starting to hurt) 20? But that's bigger than 15.

MPPS: (Confused look) 30?

T: Thir...Ok, let's try to multiply. What's 3 times 30?

MPPS: I don't know.

T: Let's do it on your paper. Ok, 3 times 30 equals.

MPPS: I don't know.

T: Alright, what's 3 times 0?

MPPS: 3.

T: 3?

MPPS: Yes, 3! (exasperated)

T: Ok, then what's 3 times 1?

MPPS: 3.

T: So they're both 3?

MPPS: Yes. (Light bulb) No.

T: So what's 3 times 0?

MPPS: 0.

T: Ok, good. So where do we put the zero?

MPPS: (Puts zero behind a decimal point. Teacher is not quite sure where the decimal point came from, but realizes that the students have been learning about decimals, so the student has just decided to put them everywhere.)

T: Um, are you sure you want to put it behind the decimal? There's no decimal in the problem.

MPPS: Yes. (Studies paper) No.

T: Right, it has to go in front of the decimal. Actually, you don't even need a decimal in this one.

MPPS: Why not?

T: This time you don't, because there's no decimal in the problem. Ok, the zero goes there. So what's 3 times 3?

MPPS: (Looks quizically at paper)

T: Alright, let's count it up. What's 3 plus 3?

MPPS: 5. No, 6.

T: Yes, 6. And what's 3 plus 6?

MPPS: Why do we need to know 3 plus 6?

T: Because that's 3 times 3. We're doing 3 plus 3 plus 3, which is the same as 3 times 3.

MPPS: 3 plus 6 is 9.

T: Good, so what is 3 times 30?

MPPS: Nineteen.

T: Nineteen?

MPPS: Ninety.

T: Is ninety bigger than 15?

MPPS: Yes.

T: So can we put 90 into 15?

MPPS: No. Yes. I don't know. No.

T: (Mouth open)


T: Good. Okay, what you have to remember about division is that you can only use the numbers 0 through 9 for each part of the division. It can't be more than 9. So what do you guess? How many times does 3 go into 15? Remember, the most we can do is 9.

MPPS: 9!

T: No, I wasn't. ..I wasn't trying to tell you 9...

(This continues for twenty minutes. Eventually, the answer is determined, but the student doesn't understand why. It is at this point that the teacher seriously considers all of the great times he had at Mackubin Consolidated Widgets of Schenectady, New York. Since great is not an adjective that normally precedes times when referencing the Widgetorium, the teacher starts thinking about Battlestar Galactica, and how he should really finish up Season 3 as soon as possible.)

Third Day of Teaching

Ok, this is what I've been preparing for since day one. At the LoLMEECoA, I'm student teaching in three classes. Two of those classes, as I believe I've mentioned before, are eager, enjoyable, and easy to control. These two classes may have their missteps--some of the kids are often too loud and boisterous when they should be paying attention--but there is nothing insolent about them.

Another class, however, may be in the employ of Satan. I don't mean as a sort of demon or anything that dramatic. I just think the class is full of lower-level flunkies along the lines of the worker-bees at Mackubin Consolidated Widgets who deliver the finished-product widgets to the Widgeteers on pushcarts. These students are the type of flunkies who are so low on the food chain that they don't realize there is a food chain, but they still have some sort of Satanic influence nonetheless.

Having explained the general demeanor of the class, our Wormwood class had a lot of trouble on Friday.

First, one student of the fairer sex found it necessary to just keep letting them rip during class. I don't know if this is a ploy for attention or a sad statement about the level of nutrition in the community, but it was suffocatingly bad. Like sulfur mixed with half-solidified hamburger grease slopped over the edge of the frying pan and onto the burner. After a few minutes of this olfactory assault along with a quick verbal assault at the (actual, non-student) teacher, our precious petunia was sent to the principal's office, directly to the principal's office, without passing go or collecting two hundred dollars. She returned twenty minutes later with slightly less attitude but continued flatulence.

A student of the less fair sex then took it upon himself to declare the entire intention of the day's lessons, "multiplying" to be "fluking bluesclues." At least that's what I think he was saying: when I hear swear words they just sort of turn into nonsense syllables. That little proclamation by our wonderful begonia earned him a well-deserved trip to the principal's office. He didn't make it back in time for the end of class.

It is difficult for me to relate precisely how hard it is to see students acting this way and not do anything drastic. People are allowed to treat other people any way they want, but part of the social contract in society is that one spends most of his time trying to treat people as he wants to be treated. There are always missteps, but the ideal is that one would conduct oneself in a manner that mirrors how one would want others to conduct themselves. Many of these students haven't bought-in to this contract, and as such they treat their teachers and each other like second-class citizens.

I'm not saying, of course, that everyone has to treat me kindly, or even treat me indifferently. I am just saying that I have treated every student with respect, and those students have not always responded in kind. What do I have to do to get some respect around here?

The Second Day

So this is going to be an adventure. My saying that is so cliche. What isn't an adventure? Everything's an adventure to someone who spends half his time on the couch.

My second day of student teaching was similar to the first, except everything was magnified. Everything was so new the first day that I didn't have time to notice what was actually occurring around me. I spent so much time futilely attempting to learn names that I forgot to actually observe what was going on in my classroom.

You must remember that I was previously producing widgets for Mackubin Consolidated Widgets of Schenectady, NY, so I haven't had to do much thinking for the last two years. Because of this, I have to relearn how to think, how to interact, how to crack jokes, how to do just about everything. I'm Robin Williams' character in "Awakenings." Or, maybe that's Robert De Niro's character. There is a character in the book who wakes up after a long time down, and I'm currently that guy.

My school, Land o' Lakes Memorial Edifying Educationifying Center of America (LoLMEECoA for short), is not racially diverse. Or, at least, the summer school program is not racially diverse: the total number of non-minority children in my classes is one. And his family recently immigrated to the US, so I don't know if he would count as a member of the non-minority population, since he's probably ELL.

Of course, this is exactly what I signed on for. The achievement gap in America between white students and minority students is large, and our job is to close that gap. Our mission is to raise achievement standards for all students, but since most of my classes are going to be composed of a similar ethnic mix, I'm going to have more opportunities to close the gap than raise achievement standards.

The first class and the last class of my day are both rambunctious, but neither is what one would call a "bad class." The second class, however, will not make it onto my Christmas card list. There are two students in the class who don't like paying attention, prefer not to follow directions, and basically spend most of the class period trying to get under the teacher's skin.

I am sure I will write about them a lot in the future.

First Day of Teaching

This was my first week student teaching. Because our program moves at such an accelerated pace, I'm expected to be planning lessons by the end of this coming week, and within two weeks I should be leading a few days of lessons a week. This isn't something that I find particularly frightening, as I got into this field in order to teach. What is frightening, however, is that I'm going to eventually have to deal with not knowing an answer, with conflict, and with discipline.

My first day in the class, the students had a list of questions on the board to complete. I'm teaching a middle school math class, but in reality the students' level of math knowledge is more like 4th grade. However, I was stumped the first day. There were 5 questions on the board. The third, fourth, and fifth questions were along the lines of "write 'ten thousand two hundred and fifty-two hundredths,'" but the first two questions were a type of math I'd never seen before:

"What are two characteristics of effective groups?"
"What is an above the line action?"

I thought back to elementary school math. How did we group numbers? What would an effective group look like? Would it be whole numbers? Rational numbers? And what about above the line actions? Would that be something like putting a line over the final number of a repeating decimal?

I walked around the classroom attempting to read student responses, but none of the damn students knew any of the damn answers and I just thought, "Damn, damn, damn" in my head. It was a pretty frustrating experience. A student asked me to help him with the first question and I asked him what he thought the answer was. He, of course, didn't know.

Finally, the teacher started the class and asked for answers to the first question. "What are two characteristics of effective groups?" No hands went up. She prompted them, "Remember, we talked about this yesterday." Finally, one of the kids in the front raised a hand timidly:

"Talking quietly?" she hesitantly mumbled.

I felt bad for her. She didn't look like a dumb kid to me, but then again I didn't know what an effective group was, either.

"Correct," the teacher replied.

Wait a second, I thought. That doesn't make a damn lick of sense, because why would decimals care about talking quietly? And rational numbers? I can't see them caring about the volume of your voice. In fact, the entire set of natural numbers has contacted me by telephone--it was a party line--and they said that the volume of one's voice has no bearing on their being a particular subset of all numerals.

Then it hit me: This wasn't a damn math question.