Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Classics Never Die

I think most people would be surprised to know that my students, most of whom are non-readers, some of whom have language barriers, and all of whom are operating well below a ninth grade reading level, really love classical literature. It's really a shame that there's a movement away from literature towards a non-fiction based curriculum, because I'd love to spend a good quarter of the year exploring Greek and Roman influences. Oh the places we could go...but I digress.

We started The Odyssey this week. Thanks to movies like Troy, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Clash of the Titans, and The Clash of the Gods (a mini-series on the History Channel) the kids come pretty well-versed in the rolls of major gods, goddesses, and mythological creatures. They don't usually know the sordid details of the gods trysts and triangles, and the twisted family tree. Certain revelations usually result in gasps, giggles, and sometimes, sheer disgust. And of course, my kids always have such fresh insights into old work.

On the Olympians general lusting and bickering...

- "So they're always fighting and ho-ing? They're worse than us!"

On Zeus marrying his sister Hera...

- "He married his SISTER! Ewwww! Hillbillies!"

On Athena springing forth full grown from Zeus's forehead...

- "How does that work?"

On Zeus's erotic escapades and his resulting progeny...

- "That dude's got more kids than my dad."
- "He TRICKS them into sleeping with him? Can't you go to jail for that?"

On the concept of women as "beautiful evils"...

- "They've been this way for 3000 years!?"

On the prolific nudity in classical art...

- "These people need to get dressed already!"
- "What's with all the balls?"

And, best of all, on Hesiod's account of Aphrodite's birth...

- " . . . " (horrified silence)
- "Heh he...heh heh heh." (nervous giggling)
- "She's made out of her dad's junk?! ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!???"

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Youth Truth

Bill Gates asked for it, but I don't think he can handle it.

On Monday I lost an hour of class time (which is a HUGE loss considering the kind of pressure we teachers are under these days) by having my students take the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Youth Truth Survey. This annoyed me for several reasons, but I will withhold my opinions and let the kids speak for me.

Anyway, the survey was only supposed to take 20 minutes, but it was quite long and repetitive. That was the first problem. The second problem is that it was written for kids with actual high school reading levels. The biggest problem was that the kids had to type out explanations for several of their choices. My kids, being master manipulators, tried to get around this by going back and changing their answers, hoping to choose the "right" answer, which would allow them to skip the explanation part. (In their defense, the explanations were unnecessary..."You said getting extra help from the teacher after school would help you succeed. Explain why getting extra help from the teacher after school would help you." Seriously?)

Needless to say, they were frustrated about 15 minutes and 3 questions into the thing. To expedite the process, and to prevent anyone from defacing the library computer lab out of spite, I read the survey to several of the kids. This is an actual conversation I had with "J" while helping him through the Youth Truth survey.

Me: (reading from the survey) "Do you feel that you will have better opportunities after graduation because of what your school has done for you?"

"J": "What's an opportunities?"

Me: "Opportunities are like chances to do something you'd like to do."

"J": "Like what?"

Me: "Like go to college, or culinary school, or be a mechanic, or a comedian."

"J": "Helllllls yeah!" (clicks "yes")

Me: (reading from survey) "You indicated that you feel that you will have better opportunities after graduation because of what your school has done for you. Explain why you think you will have better opportunities after graduation."

"J": (Clicks the back button, clicks no) "Awww man!"

Me: "You're going to have to explain your answer either way."

"J": (sighs, starts typing out his answer)"Does this crazy white guy think he's cool 'cuz he made this survey? He's white, right?"

Me: "He just wants to know how you feel about your school."

"J": (finishes typing) " question."

Me: (reading from survey) "Which of the following changes could your school make to help you be more successful in school?"

"J": (clicks on a response)

Me: "You indicated that challenging and relevant course offerings could help you be more successful in school. Explain why challenging and relevant course offerings could help you be more successful."

"J": "Ai ai ai...Did he go to fancy college or what? I can't hardly understand him." (starts typing)

Me: "He went for a little while, but he didn't graduate."

"J": (whips his head around, shocked)"What the - ! Are you serious?!"

Me: "Yep."

"J": "That's it! I'm not using any capitals OR periods!" (deletes response, and retypes with NO caps and NO periods)

Me: (reading) "You're almost done. Before you finish, is there anything you'd like to tell us?"

"J": (typing) "giv me monny"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It has come to my attention that I have a hobophobic in my class. I was grading essays (yeah, AGAIN) when I came across this:

"Some students think there the (BLEEP). Those students who think there the (BLEEP) ruin it for everyone else your teacher is just trying to help you. No teacher wants there students to be hobos." (Sic to all, by the way. This is an exact quote. She even wrote (BLEEP), rather than the actual swear word.)

SAME kid that said hobos shouldn't have human rights...

I've got to keep an eye on this, lest the hobophobia become an epidemic.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What's my age again?

For as much as teaching has aged me, the students keep me young. It helps to have a sense of humor. As one of my charges put it, "students like the teachers that can take a joke and not get all butthurt about everything." She's right - getting butthurt is not helpful. Keeping it light is an ace in the hole. On the Westside, nothing says "I care about you" like trash talk and teasing. It goes a long way in getting the kids to be compliant.

Case Study in the Application of Trash Talk to Gain Compliance

One of my favorite kids is a quiet, serious cholito. He has a little oppositional/defiant streak, and needs to be checked regularly. Of course, it is unwise to get authoritative on a cholito. It's always preferable to charm and disarm them, even if it requires an unorthodox approach. Today, he refused to take a writing exam that will account for 10% of his final grade. This was our conversation:

Cholito: "Maaaaaan! I'm not taking this stupid test! It's BORING."
Me: "It's 10% of your final grade. You're taking the test."
Cholito: (Throws test on floor. Smirks)
Me: (Picks up test, places it gently on Cholito's desk) "If you don't take the test, I'm going to pinch you."
Cholito: (Half horrified, half delighted expression illuminating face) "WHAAAAT!?"
Me: "You heard me. I"ll pinch you!"
Cholito: (completely delighted now, but faking indignance) "That's immature! You're immature!"
Me: "That's what happens when you hang around with 14 year olds all day. It rubs off."
Cholito: "You're like a 14 year old stuck in a 90 year-old body!"
Me: "Finish the test before I hit 100, OK?"

Ultimately, the little guy accused me of being a 14 year old boy in a 95 year old body, but I let him have that. In the end, he took his test.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On Human Rights

I'm grading essays this evening, and I've come across quite a few gems. The assignment was to respond to the following prompt: "Human rights" is a term frequently used but seldom defined. What rights should belong to every human being?

Responses varied from thoughtful, to cliche, to incomprehensible, with a few WTFs thrown in. Here are some of the more entertaining musings on hobos, freedom, voting, and pleading the fifth.

"My opinion about the rights of people from a long time ago is, they should of gotten them right away instead of starting a lot of drama. Human rights belong to everybody. Except hobos. It's their fault they don't have or own anything!"

"Last but not least, every person with a soul should have freedom. Like...come on....freedom. It's a beautiful thing."

"Another important right is to vote. Voting is a way to speak your beliefs. It's a form to have a voice in the government. Remember, the people are the power."

"One human right everyone should have is the 5th ammendment. Also, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th ones. Another right is the right to bear arms. It's not our fault if people can't control thereselves." (I have a pretty good idea of what his extracurricular activities entail.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

That's EXACTLY what it's like.

One of my more entertaining clients, whom I will refer to simply as "J", is an aspiring comedian. I told him to make sure he gives me a shout-out when he makes it big. He really is something else. He's at his best when he's spouting off-the-wall analogies that really don't make much sense at all.

Exhibit A

Friday, November 19th, 2010, 11:15a.m.

(The students are settling in and starting their bell work. "J" approaches me with his sweatshirt, which he customarily drapes over the back of my chair.)

"J": "Whatchoooo dooin' girl?"
Me: "I'm taking attendance. Go start your bell work?"
"J": (Ignoring me) "Is it true I have an F in here?"
Me: "I'm not sure. Probably. I can check for you."
"J": "Well, that Indian lady said I did."
Me: "Indian lady?"
"J": "Yeah, you know, that Indian lady."
Me: ". . . "
"J": "Anyways, I told her it was your fault 'cause YOUUU don't let us DOOOO any EXTRA
CREDIT!" (said in an exaggerated accusatory tone)
Me: "That's because YOUUU have to DOOOO your regular assignments before you can do
EXTRA CREDIT. I just need you to do your regular work."
"J": (stares at me...sighs heavily) "That's like asking a giraffe to be short."

Exibit B

Mid-weekish, November-something, 2010, 11:25am.

I'm in the middle of explaining the day's assignment. I finish the example, and ask the kids if they have any questions. "J" raises his hand.

Me: "Yes, J?"
"J": "You're a G, miss."
Me: "...a G?"
"J": "not G. . . You're a O.G."
Me: "An O.G?"
"J": "You don't feel me or what?"
Me: "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"J": "No no...not O.G. You're like the seventh letter of the alphabet."
Me: "That would be G."
"J": "That's what I said."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Getting Lucky

I looked abnormally cute on Wednesday. So cute, in fact, that my students figured I must be going on a date later. They teased me, I rolled my eyes. The next day, I had this exchange with a few of my students.

Student A: " was your date Ms. G?"
Me : (eye roll) "Do your bell work."
Student A: "No, really. What's his name?"
Me: "Santa"
Student A: "Seriously, Ms. What's his name?"
Student B: (walking up behind student A) "Couch"
Me: "That's about right. I sat on the couch, ate tostadas, and watched hockey."
Student A: "So you got lucky?"