Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dad's Ties and Hooker Heels

As a music teacher, it is invariably part of your job description that you have to give a concert. I know many of you are immediately thinking about that Stones concert you saw where you were so drunk that they actually sounded good, or for you younger folks, the Jo Bros concert where you took off your purity ring and your bra and threw both onstage hoping to catch the eye of the one Jonas that’s not married or suffering from diabetes (pronounced Die-uh-BEET-us). I am talking about a formal presentation of actual music. Not old dudes trying to reclaim their youth and young “clean teens” prancing around the stage so that Disney can corner another market. Your concert should be an event where your students show up, dressed tastefully and professionally, and recite/perform beautiful music that they have worked hard to learn. Now, I haven’t been teaching that long, but I have given enough concerts to know that this is a load of horseshit. 

If you ask a music teacher about their best concert ever, most teachers will tell you about a concert that they performed in. We were all inspired at some point to go into this profession, and this inspiration usually stems from a musical experience in which we have participated in. It’s only after we’ve graduated and likely stopped performing that our souls are crushed by the grossly uncultured children of our great nation. There was a point in my life that I loved concerts, loved performing, and yearned to be at the helm, baton in hand, conducting the finest choral literature ever written. Instead, I teach prepubescent middle school students who “ax” me questions and “don’t got no classical crap” on their iPods. Wow, dreams really do come true!

When I am not lamenting the fact that my students can’t sing Mozart, much less spell his name right, I am ripping my hair out, trying to organize and teach this mob something that sounds relatively like music and make sure they don’t look like back up dancers in a Bow Wow video. Concert attire is a huge battle for teachers. Every chorus from here to the Republic of Chad has, at some point or another, required their members to wear black on the bottom and white on the top. This is STANDARD concert clothing, not to mention standard LIFE clothing. Who doesn’t own at least one pair of black pants that aren’t jeans and a nice button up shirt that they can add a tie to? Apparently this wardrobe selection is not popular amongst school age children. 

In my most recent concert, I actually had a girl show up in a white sweater and navy blue Juicy Couture sweat pants. I wanted to smack her and her mother across the mouth. First of all, who thought it was a good idea to get a 12 year old $98.00 sweatpants, and secondly, what about having the word “Juicy” scrawled across your ass screams “Formal wear?” I’d almost rather have the “hooker in training” sweatpants than the wide belts most girls try and pass for skirts. Where do they get these clothes? Is there some sort of store called “Li’l Lindsay Lohan” that people who still have a shred of decency are unaware of? It’s nice to know that they’ll be wearing their concert attire when they either get pregnant behind a Wal-mart or wash up on shore after missing for 5 months. 

The guys are no better. We all know that 12-15 year olds are incapable of wearing black socks with black shoes, and if that were the worst of it, I would be fine. Apparently concert season is the same as mating season in the animal world. Did you see that Planet Earth episode with that Bird that dances all around trying to get a female? That’s what these boys do, only with their clothes. If they’re not sporting an overly “fitted” shirt that holds their abdomen in like a corset, showing off the muscles they are starting to develop, they are wearing something that will attract the ladies they’re too afraid to talk to at school. Attention Parents and Students: Ed Hardy and Sean Jean are not considered “dress clothes”. I’ll concede the fact that Diddy cleans up well, but his clothing line is not something I want to see outside an intercity bus station. Now boys, I understand that your shirt is white and that it buttons up, but it also has a dragon printed on the back of it. A DRAGON? Who thought that was cool? Dear Middle School Boys, No girl has ever uttered the phrase: “Look at that awesome DRAGON shirt?” You’re not cool. I know you paid $45 dollars for that shirt, but you’re never going to get laid…ever. It’s also not ok if you wear a red shirt. The sheet I handed out with what you had to wear said a SOLID WHITE SHIRT. Where did you get Red from? You’re not a matador, although when you wear crap like that, it makes me want to charge and gut you with a pair of horns. In addition to the above, your buttoned shirt SHOULD BE BUTTONED. I actually had a student in my select group last year get on the risers, sleeves rolled up, shirt unbuttoned, showing the audience his 3 chest hairs that poked out from the scooping neck of his wife beater…again, it’s called a WIFE BEATER!!!!! HOW COULD YOU THINK THAT IS FORMAL!?!?!?!?!?!?! 

I never thought clothing would be such a hassle. I always had the correct attire for concerts. The teachers would tell you what you needed to wear in SEPTEMBER! Why is it now the night of the concert and you’re telling me, even though I have been mentioning for weeks what you needed to wear, you don’t have what you need and instead show up in a white t-shirt, black jeans, and the sneakers you clearly wear to mow the lawn? I used to use the phrase, “wear something that you would wear in church” but it’s clear that most of these kids have never set foot in a house of God. They are far too busy knocking off liquor stores, car jacking old ladies, and meeting with the Legion of Doom to plot the destruction of mankind. 

Shoes are, to borrow a phrase my students use, ‘uh hole nuttha” issue. Guys know that they only make 3 types of Men’s shoes: Black, Brown, and Sneakers. Within these types, there are subcategories like Work shoes, or funeral shoes, or in this case “the Police will never catch me in these” shoes. Again, a nice pair of black shoes should be in everyone’s closet. They are always useful, and you can wear them with jeans and a sweater and pass for “semi-casual.” CONVERSE ARE NOT DRESS SHOES. How is it that so many people have Converse shoes? They are EXPENSIVE. You can get a pair of decent dress shoes at Wal-mart for under $20. Not to mention the fact that Converse shoes offer little in the way of comfort and put a great deal of strain on your arches! (The more you know…) Never the less, it is inevitable that some sweaty boy will show up wearing sneakers and will try to hide it. There’s no hiding it, you look like an asshole wearing a tie with your 6 year old sneakers. Shame on you…shame.

Girls shoes never fail to surprise me. I was unaware that Uggs are now acceptable dress shoes. Apparently I was living under a rock when someone decided that wearing footwear that makes you look like a yeti is “classy” and “appropriate.” I love being able to see the salt stains on them from your walk way and I very much enjoy the odor they emit because you wear them everyday, probably without socks. And you’re right, they DO go with that black mini skirt you bought at Charlotte Russe with the money you stole out of your mother’s purse.

Then you have the other extreme: the flip flop. As a general rule, if you wear it in a dorm shower, you shouldn’t wear it to a concert. I love Old Navy as much as the next cheap bastard, but just because they sell $2 flip flops, does not mean you have to by them and wear them, especially not to a concert…in December. I have no desire to see your gnarly toes, most likely poorly painted with some sort of glittery nail polish, staring at me from below your “Juicy” ass pants. 

Then there are the heels. The heels you see now days kill me. First of all, my sisters did not wear heeled shoes until they were in high school. No, we did not grow up in the town from ‘Footloose’, my parents just knew better. Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a girl that doesn’t own a pair of 3 inch clackers. Contrary to many of my fellow music teachers, I LOVE when my students wear these. I get a sick sense of pleasure wondering who is gonna bite the dust. I’ve seen it happen twice. Tight short skirt + 3 inch heels + bright lights+ risers + audience = face plant. I’ve seen 2 girls biff it on the risers, both times were equally hilarious. The audience always laughs, because let’s face it, they’re human, and they have to stand there and sing, all the while wishing they were dead. Both times I had students kiss the floor while trying to get on the risers, I made it a point not to make eye contact with them while I was conducting. It kind of ruins the mood in “Shenandoah” if you start laughing at the welt that is forming on that girl’s forehead. 

One of my former colleagues was relentless when it came to concert dress. Now, there have been times where I didn’t allow students to perform because they were not dressed properly, but this guy was a master mind. He kept a file cabinet of white dress shirts, now yellow with age, a few pairs of black slacks (I call them slacks because that is what my grandfather would have called them, and they looked like something he would wear) and a few pairs of drill masters. Any high school marching band student will tell you that drill masters are probably the ugliest shoes you’ll ever own. They come in one style and look like a thinner orthopedic shoe, something grandma would wear with her compression hose. He would simply walk students over to the cabinet, make a few selections, and ask the student to change. If they refused, they were not allowed to go on stage and would take a zero. It was the most brilliant thing ever. I took that idea and modified it, threatening my chorus with our finest selections from the costume closet. I showed them things that would have made Amish women look like pin-ups, Nuns look like swimsuit models, things that would haunt their dreams. I know when they went home that afternoon, they felt cold shivers at the thought of velvet pants, ruffled shirts (think Seinfeld, but worse), FLOOR LENGTH skirts. OH, THE HUMANITY!!! And wouldn’t you know, all the students came dressed and ready. 


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Drop It Like It's Hot

If you walk into any school in America and ask a student, teacher, or staff member what the elective classes are, they will be able to tell you. It’s likely that the first thing that they tell will tell you is that Music is an elective class. When this happens, if you would be so kind as to forcefully punch that person in the face, I would greatly appreciate it. To music teachers, the word “elective” is offensive. It would be like commenting on someone’s hair lip, lazy eye, or female patterned baldness. You just don’t do it…even if that bald spot is so shiny you can see your face in it! In New York, Music class is MANDATED!!! I don’t know where the administrative bastards got the word “elective” from, but I am pretty sure that they pulled it out of their ass and are using it as a way to section us off from “the real” subjects.  The last time I checked, music was a REAL subject. In music we read (Both music and text), we write (When those little bastards are playing the keyboards when I am talking, you bet I give them a writing assignment) we posses a skill set, and we give assessments to monitor student progress and evaluate learning. This sounds pretty real to me. We don’t just pop in “My World 2.0” by The Biebs, light a cigarette, and let the kids have a period of “chill time.” No, we teach. The douche bags that came up with the term elective were probably students that were seated last in band, or tried out for the solo in chorus and didn’t get it, or were “Tree #4” in their high school musical. They have a score to settle because they are bitter, and most likely, talentless. 

Other synonyms to “electives” are, “Specials”, “Exploratorys”, “Excursions”, or “Optionals.” SERIOUSLY? Who thought that THOSE were better? Every time I hear those words it makes me want to do some “exploring” with my foot into their ass, or to make an “excursion” out to their car and cut the break lines. WINNING!!! 

In addition to the offensive slurs they call Music listed above, some people feel the need to further distance themselves from the arts by creating names for their content area that “put us music slackers in our place”. These include the terms “academics” and “core classes.” I hope that these people fall off of their pedestals and break their necks or that the high horse they’re riding bucks them and hoof stomps their skull. Last time I checked, music is an academic subject, as are Art and Foreign Language. I went to a real accredited college, took real classes, and got a real degree. How is that for academic?

But somehow, this point of view remains the minority.  The students and other teachers feel the need to treat you like peasants or serfs (yeah history teachers! I know all about that! I’M SMART). The part that annoys the hell out of me is when teachers pull kids out of my classes to make-up tests, or quizzes, or other work when they were absent. WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!?!?!?!?!?! I have a job to do and because the kid wasn’t finished with YOUR test you think it is OK to keep them during MY class to finish it. I’m sorry, I must have just had an aneurism, because I don’t understand your thought process. I am pretty sure that if their work is not finished, that is YOUR problem. They should not be missing my class at all. Not only is this incredibly unprofessional, inconsiderate, and insulting, it’s a total double standard. Any Math, Science, English, or History teacher would gut me like a fish if I kept students after class to finish a Music project or assignment. And they have no problem telling you that either. They will tell you that your subject isn’t as important and ask you why you have the gall to interrupt their instruction time. This can be witnessed almost any time a student asks to go to band or choir lessons during one of those “oh so precious ‘core’ classes”. And if your lesson happens to land during an AP class, forget it. You might as well have your leg caught in a bear trap, because there is no way in hell you’re going to that lesson. I understand that it can be frustrating to have your students leave class, but please understand, we start teaching the students their instruments and how to sing properly YEARS after their first exposure to Math or Reading, so cut us some slack, because we’re expected to catch up to you. 

As a student, I went to choir lessons all the time. I used the “lessons excuse” more times than should be possible. It was my male equivalent to girls having their “female time” only it wasn’t gross, I could talk about it without feeling awkward, and it got me out of more than gym. I am most likely the reason that teachers are so pissed when their students have lessons. I never went to class if I could help it. In high school, I took health my Junior year and by “took health” I mean that, as far as my transcript was concerned, I was enrolled in that class. I can count the number of full classes I went to on one hand. Coach C was incredible, he never cared about me going to lessons. He was 2 years from retirement and was smart enough to realize that I was never going to participate in gratuitous drug use or have unprotected sex and get someone pregnant. I was already a lifeguard, so I had my CPR certification, I regularly donated blood, and possessed this amazingly scarce quality called common sense. As far as High School Health was concerned, I was good. 

I also remember being able to “catch up” if missing a class. I would get the notes from someone else and would talk to the teacher about what I missed at the beginning of the next class. In my experiences, most students nowadays are incapable of doing this. They are completely de-railed if they miss even one precious moment of their “core classes.” Seriously? I know things have changed since I was in school, but I am pretty sure students are not learning to cure cancer in 6th Grade Reading/Language Arts. Most likely, they are learning about prepositions, reading “Hatchet” or “Tuck Everlasting”, and are writing poorly constructed paragraphs about what they did the previous weekend. These kids could catch up if they were smart enough to learn the preposition song (to the tune of Yankee Doodle), rent the movie of the book they’re reading, which most likely went straight to video, and bullshitted what they did that weekend, because frankly, your teacher doesn’t give a rats ass about how you spend your free time. You could have gone to the moon and back and they would still hate you, so stop trying so hard. 

And then, if it didn’t suck enough that the kids leave your class all the time to construct that precious diorama about the Sioux Indian Tribe and you can’t dare remove them from their precious “How do you make a potato float?” lab in science, when those little bastards ARE there, they think that they have all the power…oh yeah, that happens. You would not believe how many kids will come to chorus and say “you’re lucky I’m even here!” Really, this is lucky? I didn’t realize that lucky was feeling like the piano falling on you would bring the sweet release of death you have been yearning for. No, you’re the lucky ones…lucky that I can’t tell you that you’re most likely going to fail out of high school, change your name to Trixi…with an “I”, and spend some time in the slammer after your 40 year old boyfriend ODs on the Coke you were snorting in your hotel bathroom. Yes, it’s true, your future is bleak. But I can’t say anything. What I can do is fail you, because not only are you a 4’3” tall future Maury Povich star, you also can’t sing. Their class attendance is like a Kardashian marriage…it only lasts for 72 days, then they leave ( LOVE YOU KIM!!!). However, unlike my obvious love for all things Kardashian adjacent, I hate these kids. It makes my job so much harder, because then they are behind and then I am expected to get them up to snuff. It doesn’t always happen. I’m not Annie Sullivan, I can’t sit there for hours with you signing “water” waiting for you to screech “wa-wa” back to me. I have 30-75 other people I have to worry about. 

Then the time comes when the student realizes that he/she is not doing well. They are shocked and appalled that they did not receive the 100 that they so deserved! How dare you, the teacher, bully them like this. Sure, they never sing, they leave your class all the time to do “research” for a “project”, they are always talking, and if you call them out on it, they will tell you to bite them, but damn it, they are BRILLIANT!!! Why can’t you see that?!? Then they say the 3 words that they expect you to curl up and die at…”I’M GONNA DROP.” When your face doesn’t curl up into a withered mask of sheer horror and your heart does not fail, causing you to collapse, they are, again, puzzled. They pulled the big card…the academic equivalent of saying FUCK YOU! They just delivered their verbal shot to the groin and the fact that you are not doubled over, eyes watering, testicles swelling is unfathomable to even their 7th grade know it all minds. When I think of how I respond to this situation, I can think only of the Grinch, that scene in the movie when Cindy Loo Hoo asks him what he is doing with the Christmas tree. The Grinch suddenly becomes caring and loving and puts the child’s fears to bed with his sweet demeanor and hidden agenda. That’s me. I know that the students are unable to drop the class. The sweetest thing is that THEY don’t know they’re not allowed to drop. And let’s be honest, these kids wouldn’t take any classes if they were allowed to drop the ones where they don’t like the teacher. I very nicely tell them “Well, if that’s how you feel…”, and they leave, all high and mighty, like one of the New Jersey housewives, but sober and with smaller hair. Just as they think they’re really “stickin’ it to the man” I am sitting there, quietly satisfied, knowing that as I sit there, their poor little dreams are being slashed into pieces, like a teenage cheerleader in a horror movie. 

My favorite part about this whole situation is that it is usually followed by excellent behavior by the student in the classes immediately following their administrative beat down. It’s like watching animals in their natural habitat. I feel like Jane Goodall because I too deal with smelly hairy primates. 

There are several different reasons/emotions that motivate this new behavior. One is that the students are simply defeated and sit there in class, quietly singing, as if they were the poor little match girl after she lights her last match in the cold Denmark air and then promptly freezes to death. Then there are the ones who are secretly plotting your demise. I always envision these kids going home, smearing on some war paint, donning some camo, referencing a rudimentary map of the school, done in crayon of course, and considering whether it would be easier to drop a piano on you, or dig and cover a big hole and hope you fall into it. It’s very “Home Alone.” These are the ones that think that you go home at the end of the day and cry because they don’t like you. They have changed their outward assault on your mental capacity to a much more subtle but lethal method. Either way I look at it, they have still shut the hell up! Then there are the “Born Agains.” These are the kids who have “seen the light.” Their main goal is to smother you with how amazing they are. They are helpful, they participate, and they always ask you how you are doing. They make Mother Theresa look like a drunk ex con. And finally, there are the ones who just don’t care. These kids break your heart. Every teacher’s main goal is to get through to their students, to reel them in, to help them be successful. These are the kids that cut the line, who slip from your grip, who don’t need you. That’s the rough part. You don’t hate the kids, you hate the behavior, you hate the situation, and most of all, you hate the fact that you’ve tried everything and they are still resistant…It’s a terrible hopeless feeling, like going to grandma’s and having to sit through the Matlock marathon while she offers you butterscotch and works on her needlepoint. 

Is nice to know that, in this situation, the administration has been exceptionally supportive of me and my other fellow “specials” teachers, even if they do plan on cutting me from the budget and allowing kids to be taken out of my class to do other work.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Sickness and In Health

Nobody likes it when their kid is sick. Parents feel helpless and are forced to supply their children with much needed doses of Theraflu and Robitussin at various intervals throughout the day. Some take off work to nurse their children back to health, constantly monitoring their fever, holding their clammy hands, and bringing them soup and saltines when they are sure it won’t make a return visit 20 minutes later. These are the best kind of parents.

 My parents were like that. My Mom worked nights and when we were sick she would sleep very little during the day. She would constantly check on us and, being a nurse, she always had a knack for coming up with the right cocktail of over the counter meds that would make us feel better and knock us out if we needed it. Dad was great too. He would always get stuck with picking up the medicine on his way home from work, while Mom stayed with us during the day. In addition to the medicine, he would always bring home Sprite if we had an uneasy stomach. It was the REAL Sprite too, not the “Lemon Lime Sierra Mist 7 wannabe Sprite.” Dad knew how to get the good stuff. He was also the one we would call during the day to pick us up from school if my mom was out of town running errands or had to stay at the hospital for a class. Both of them were pretty great about picking us up from school, even during the times when we were CLEARLY faking it. If Dad picked you up, it was on his lunch hour, and he would take you home and you’d crawl into bed and he would go back to work for a few hours. This was only when we were old enough to stay at home, and even then, he was always home early. If Mom picked you up, you’d stop by the pharmacy, go home and lay on the couch. She would sit there with you, risking contamination herself, and bring you ice and feel your forehead from time to time.

 It was the best. If you were lucky enough to have parents that were Saints like this, first of all, thank them, and secondly, pay it forward. Provide your kids with the same love and care you received. And if you didn’t have those parents, break the cycle. Be the parents you were always jealous of, and then, put your parents in a home where the orderlies make them do back breaking labor like in Happy Gilmore…that’ll show ‘em!

 I have to admit, I have a hidden agenda here. While I do think that parents should provide their children with necessary care such as this, my main reason for soap boxing is that I don’t want to be the one who has to deal with your biohazard children! Yeah, I said it! Most parents don’t think twice about sending their kids to school. The drag their pale carcasses out of bed, shove their sweaty bodies into some sweat pants and a shirt, fireman carry them onto the bus, and then go shower off the germs before work. I hate you, parents of the world. Not once during this ritual of expelling the diseased from your house and from your care did you think of the poor schmuck you are leaving in charge of your children. No, you were thinking, “Oh, I have that big marketing meeting today…” or “He’ll be fine, he hasn’t turned green yet…” or, what I believe to be the most common reason, “There is NO WAY I am using another vacation day. This little bastard is going to school!” On behalf of teachers everywhere, I would like to say, “YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE!!!” Everyday, we face students who serve as carriers for every disease, virus, and flu known to man. We are essentially stuck in that movie “Contagion” or “Outbreak” or “Planet of the Apes”, because, let’s face it, some of your children look and behave like animals.  

Parents forget, or rather don’t care, that teachers are human too, and are therefore susceptible to sickness. Veteran teachers will tell you that you will get incredibly sick at least once while in your first few years of teaching. I can tell you from experience that this is true. You can do everything right, but if one of those rats (students) is carrying the bubonic plague, you’re gonna get it. In my first few years of teaching, I was unfortunate enough to get 3 stomach bugs, one for each school I taught at. When you’re a traveling teacher you are essentially battling against illness at 2 or more schools, fighting the good fight on multiple fronts or taking it in from all sides (that’s what she said). Most teachers don’t have to travel. They only make Art, Music, and Foreign Language teachers travel. And I am not talking about switching classrooms (although they never make math and science teachers do that either), I am talking about switching SCHOOLS! Yes, as if it wasn’t insulting enough that they cut your programs first, they then banish the Arts faculty to the far reaches of the building and force them to go to other schools …like prisoner transfers in our penal systems (hahaha, penal systems!) but you have to drive your own car and there are no shackles…unless you’re into that kind of thing…

So there you are, teaching in 2 schools, using 2 different room phones, 2 different sets of door knobs, touching 2 different pianos (that you probably have to move all over the school while those douche bags that teach Math get to stay in their room, even though they only use a fucking marker!), conversing with 2 sets of students, using 2 different computers…you get the point. The amount of things you have to touch everyday while teaching is disgusting, and God knows who uses that stuff when you’re not there…it’s most likely Billy, who fails to implement the vampire sneezing technique* EVERY DAMN TIME! 

Some of you think you can conquer the germs by using hand sanitizer, but you’re kidding yourselves. Hand sanitizer is not match for the super germs that these little monsters bring in today. Also, most hand sanitizers don’t even have the correct percentage of alcohol to kill off the bad germs (Thanks Period 3 Theory!), so in reality, you’re in the lab testing group that is using the placebo. A.K.A: You’re fucked! Hand washing is also really good, but you can’t hold off the germs forever….they’ll find you and they’ll have help. 

My favorite thing about sick students is that they seem to gravitate towards you. Because their parents are assholes and sent them to school, they learn that asshole-y behavior is acceptable and immediately put it into practice. When I am sick, I do my best to avoid physical contact with people, over medicate, and quarantine myself as much as possible. Kids don’t do this. They march right up to your face and say “I’m sick today…I actually just finished throwing up in the bathroom RIGHT before I came here! Let me breathe on you so that you can join in the fun that is going on in my violently retching insides!!!” They have NO idea that they do it too. When you’re sick, you don’t have as much energy and therefore are not as attentive in class. Perhaps they feel the need to tell you personally so that you won’t think that they are lacking in effort. They WANT you to know that you can see every color of the rainbow in the tissue they just used, and that their head is hot enough for you to grill that Lean Cuisine Panini that you brought for lunch that day, and that they now know what a half digested Big Mac looks like. I am getting sick just writing about this…imagine having to hear it first hand from kids you don’t really even know that well or, better yet, kids you don’t even LIKE!

I don’t get it. I am of the opinion that if you are, in fact, sick, STAY HOME! A sore throat is one thing. I can even handle the sniffles, but if you’re coughing continuously and each time you feel as though the only thing keeping your lungs inside your body is your throat, which is so swollen you can barely breathe, then YOU. NEED. TO. GO. HOME! I am not going to commend you for coming in sick. There are no gold stars to be awarded, or bonus points given because you were “brave” enough to attend school in your fragile condition. You’re certainly not doing me any favors. In fact, if it were possible, I would actually deduct points from your final average if you came in to school feeling anything less than 100%. Your progress report would read, “Student is a festering mass of disgusting” or “If your son/daughter comes to school sick again I will seize the first opportunity to push them off the sidewalk into oncoming traffic.” 

Not only are sick kids repulsive for obvious reasons, they’re needy. We’re all needy when we’re sick. That, I understand. However, when you come to school and I have a chorus of 120 people to deal with I can’t take the time out of class to cater to your every need. You know better than anyone what you need to do to feel better, so DO IT! Unless you need to sleep, in which case I would say, “Are you fucking kidding me?” First, you come to school, gross and contagious, you’ve put your germy hands on everything within reach, you have come up and told me you are sick and have most likely breathed directly in my mouth, and then you have the AUDACITY to ask me if you can sleep during my class. You little bastard! NO, YOU CAN NOT SLEEP IN MY CLASS! You can do what everyone else is doing, because that is why you came to school in the first place, RIGHT? If you wanted to sleep, you could have stayed at home. I am just giving you what you want, so don’t complain to me! You asked for it. And then, when I don’t let them sleep, they ask to go to the nurse. Now, I love school nurses. I had the great fortune of having the best school nurse EVER in middle school. She was so kind and nice and friendly. I still say “hello” to her every time I see her and she still knows my name. That is how awesome she is. That being said, she was only a great care giver. She couldn’t give us any medication, or diagnose anything. You only went to see her if you were injured or if you were to sick to stay in school. Now, if you decided to be IN school, what good is it going to the nurse going to do you? They can’t do anything!!! Kids only go there to sleep because you turned out to be a cruel jackass that has no sympathy for their illness. So essentially, they have figured out a way to “legally skip” your class.

The other thing that frustrates the hell out of me is tissues. Do you have any clue how many tissues kids use? They’re like crack to these kids. Even if they’re not sick, they will still find a way to use it. Do you remember when you were younger and everything needed a bandaid? Even if it was just a bruise, or you bumped your arm on the door, or you had a hangnail that you pulled, you needed a fucking bandaid! Tissues are the new bandaids. Kids have special tissue radar. They come into your class and upon entering, they immediately scope out the location of the box of tissues. If they can not immediately see it, they will ask you where you put the tissue box, and God forbid you say “we’re out!” or “I don’t have any.” You might as well have skinned a cat in front of these kids for the look of sheer horror, despair, and anger you will receive. “NO TISSUES!!!! Who are you, HITLER?” No, I don’t have any freaking tissues. You used 26 yesterday when you came to school as a snot factory! 

I used to wonder why we had tissues listed on our school supply list in elementary school. Now I know why!!! The cost for a teacher to buy an entire class tissues would be ASTRONOMICAL! If kids are using this many tissues, perhaps there should be line in the budget for that! Maybe we should apply for some federal funding. Does Obama know about the tissue crisis? Honestly people, if you are a grotesque snotty mucus-y mess, BRING YOUR OWN DAMN TISSUES! I told one of my classes just that last year. They were not pleased. I left the empty box of tissues on the desk, just to screw with them. Next to it was an empty bottle of hand sanitizer, because those bitches used all of that too! No way in HELL am I replacing those things. Each day they would come up to the box and the bottle, hoping beyond hope that the tissue fairy and the sanitizer elf granted their wish and refilled them under cover of night. “Today was the day”, they thought; their mini Christmas morning. Their face would immediately fall upon sing that both containers were once again empty, and the containers would then serve as a receptacle for their broken hopes and dreams. It was my small revenge!

Whenever you’re sick, doctors recommend some rest and relaxation. Now, seeing as how they went to school for about 18 years of their life and, seeing as how you probably have a seasonal flu, you should probably listen to their advice. But instead, you trust the fact that you know best. After all, you are in middle or high school. You CLEARLY already know everything, so that doctor was clearly trying to cheat you out of spending another glorious school day with your friends! The joke’s on him because you ultimately decided to go to school! TAKE THAT DOC! And to the parents who had to go to that marketing meeting, I hope your fly was down and that you tripped over the easel, you selfish bastard.

*Vampire sneezing technique: Sneezing into your elbow as you draw your arm up to your face. If done correctly, you look like Dracula as he draws his cape up to conceal everything but his eyes…yes, this is a real thing…ask an elementary school teacher.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It Is Your Duty

They never tell you what you’re really in for when you decide to become a teacher. I am convinced that if they did, everyone would decide they want to become something else, and teaching would be left to the homeschooling parents like Michelle Duggar, and then those parents would turn into Moms and Dads like Jon and Kate Gosselin...terrifying!!! They don’t tell you about the mounds of paper work you have to do, the long faculty meetings you must endure, usually about boosting math scores, the fundraisers you sponsor that are much more work than they are worth, and on top of all that, you sometimes have a duty. A duty is another task you have to perform during the day, such as hall duty or lunch monitoring, or holding a study hall. At my last job, I was exceptionally fortunate: I was duty free! I taught 5 classes and had 2 prep periods and a lunch period. Life was good. The first and the last period of every day were free for me to do what I wanted. This usually meant making photocopies, usually for the a cappella group I unwillingly advised (yeah, I’m still bitter), and meant I could start my plans and map out the following day.

I loved this schedule. I called these glorious free periods my “unwind time.” Any teacher will tell you that this time is essential to getting through the day. It’s the time in which you answer administrator e-mails, discuss different things with colleagues, put some good music on, and get your work done. You can close the office door and enjoy 40 minutes of no one calling your name in a shrill and accusing tone. It was the best. NO DUTY.

At my most recent job, I have the unfortunate duty of supervising the students that are serving In School Suspension or ISS 3 days in every 4 day cycle. It is a nightmare. ISS offenders are the real life equivalent of misdemeanor criminals, where the real life crimes would be something like reckless driving or petty theft. The kids that are in ISS behave too poorly to be with the “normal” kids, but not so poorly that they are not allowed to attend school for a given period of time. Essentially, it is behavioral segregation. 

The students in ISS are there for various offenses: Cursing, rough housing, bullying, inappropriate behavior, ASSAULT, ect. When I was in school, my parents would have driven to the school and murdered me if I were given ISS. If for some reason they decided to let me live, I guarantee it would have been in solitary confinement, in my room, where my meals would be slipped under the door, and I would only be allowed to leave to use the restroom, that is if they decided NOT to have a toilet installed next to my bed. In addition, I would be completely mortified. I walk the straight and narrow and being the least street savvy person to walk the earth, I would have either gotten my ass kicked, or would have confined myself to the corner where I would slowly rock back and forth, sobbing softly and saying, “I’ll be a good boy” over and over until they brought in the straight jacket.  These kids, however, show no remorse. They are well on their way to becoming hardened criminals. You know its going to be bad when there is a sheet of paper on the desk you sit at that has the words: IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY CALL SECURITY: EXT ****. Below are also listed the numbers for all of the administrators and local police.

WTF?!?!?!?! I chose not to work in an intercity school for a reason. The sheet is also pretty worn, meaning it has been used a lot. I am pretty sure they are looking for me to die there because whoever designed the room decided to put the phone 5 steps away from the desk at the front of the room. And of course, it’s on the wall opposite the door, so if you ran to make a call and one of the students intercepted you, it’s not like you can tuck and roll and make your way out the door. No, you’re trapped…just how they want you. They have also conveniently located the room UNDERGROUND. Yes, the ISS room is built into the side of a hill. There are windows, with the shades closed because bad kids don't get the luxury of looking outside, but you'll never make it to them in time to bust through the screen to freedom. Not only is the room underground, it is also huddled between a janitor's closet and the lunch detention room, so no one can hear you scream, unless it is periods 4, 5, or 6, and let's face it, the poor bastard in the lunch detention room has enough on his hands. You're on your own.

I have ISS Duty period 3 and period 9, depending on the day. No one is in the room next to me, it's just me and the 6 or 7 kids in there. My first day there, 8 kids were lucky enough to have scored ISS. They had all decided that they were going to bolt for the woods during recess, hop the fence, and make their way to the deli down the road where they would spend the day regaling each other with tales of their latest crimes. They hadn't planned on the administrators following them, hopping the fence as well (one of them did it in heels) and apprehending them. It was interesting, they rounded up "the leader" of the group, and once they had him, the others came voluntarily, resigned to their fate of spending the next 2 days in ISS. I was in no way prepared to deal with these kids. Who thought it was a good idea to put all of the school's bad kids in ONE ROOM and have a MUSIC teacher watch them? It was probably a gym teacher's idea...they hate us. I think private cells are a much better idea and, in some cases, it would prepare these students for their future days spent in various state and federal penitentiaries. Alcatraz would be a very fitting place to put these students for ISS, but I am sure that the Department of Education would never go for it…especially considering all of the tourism revenue that would be lost.

On that first day, the students were talking quietly, something they should not have been doing, and the leader was telling the others about his latest criminal exploits. Let’s call this kid Bernardo, after the Sharks gang leader in West Side Story. This kid looked nothing like Bernardo, and I am pretty sure he couldn’t pirouette, but he might own a switch blade and could have been planning a rumble, so I think it works. Bernardo apparently got into a fight at a rival school football game the weekend before and is no longer allowed to attend any school functions in that district. How sweet, his first restraining order! The way he told the story, some high schooler (Bernardo is in Middle School) was trying to “mack it with his girl” and he “punched that motha fucka in the face.” Bernardo did not feel the need to sensor himself for my benefit. Talking I can deal with, but swearing is not something I tolerate (hypocrite?). I had a former student at the high school level who swore a lot, and I told him that swearing is ok if you’re old enough to legally vote. It didn’t really help, but I thought it was clever. Anyway, I told Bernardo to watch his mouth, feeling very much like Officer Krupkie, and he stared at me and said, “Sorry, I didn’t know that ‘motha fucka’ was a bad word.”

Normally, I would have thought that a student that said that was giving me lip, but he genuinely didn’t realize that that was not acceptable language to use. What kind of home environment did this kid have? My parents certainly didn’t allow me to swear and definitely didn’t swear in front of me. I am pretty sure I would die if I ever heard that phrase uttered by either one of my parents. I learned to swear where everyone else did…high school. I guess they start them young here. Thankfully, that group of students didn’t give me any trouble, other than an obvious lack of knowledge regarding appropriate language.

The next day was not so lucky. Having been educated on the proper ISS procedures by my administrator, I now knew the kids were not allowed to talk at all, were not allowed to sit at desks next to or in front or behind of someone else, and if they did not have work to do, we were to assign them work out of the variety of textbooks located in the classroom. When I relieved the security guard, I sat at the desk up front, feeling very commanding in my light blue sweater, collared shirt, and cleanly pressed khaki pants.  As I started filling out some forms I needed to complete for the central office, one of the students started talking to one of their peers. He seemed to think that because the normal ISS person left, the normal rules no longer applied. “Nice try, kid. I know the deal now”, I thought to myself. I was prepared to enforce the rules as a private citizen, looking to keep peace and order in these scary times we live in. “We’re not talking in here” I said in my commanding teacher voice. My teacher voice consists of me raising my voice to ¾ volume and lowering the pitch of it by about half an octave, which, with my abnormally high speaking voice, makes it about the range of any normal person. This is accompanied by my eyes bulging so far out it looks like they are trying to escape my skull, my nostrils flared and ready, and the slightest lean forward. It’s pretty good. Despite my commanding voice and obviously intimidating look, the kid looked me dead in the face and said “fuck you, Grover.”

At first I was so shocked that he swore at me that I didn’t know what to do. Also, where did the whole “Grover” thing come from? I thought, mayhaps (Shout out to my Theory Classes!) it was a reference to the Percy Jackson books where Grover was a satyr and Percy Jackson’s best friend. Then I realized that, not only did that not make sense, because I have human legs and have yet to sprout horns, but this kid had probably never read a book in his life. And then it hit me…the blue sweater! He was calling me Grover from Sesame Street! That little bastard. First of all, my sweater was LIGHT blue, not ROYAL blue, and my head doesn’t split in half when I speak. I could not have looked LESS like Grover. And, out of all of the possible pop culture references, he went with Grover? That’s pretty weak. I was wearing a color that looked more like Cookie Monster (now Salad Monster…tragic.) than anything, and even then, it would have to have been Cookie Monster after he had been left in the sun too long, or gone through the washer about 30 times. The Sesame Street reference was a stretch. I called down to the office and the security guard came to escort him to his administrator’s office. Needless to say, in ISS the next day, I spent 3rd period with my Muppet loving friend!

I wish I could say that this is the worst I have seen so far, but that just wouldn’t be true. Not only do these kids have a mouth like a long shore man, they also enjoy launching projectiles (aka, throwing things). In my experience with ISS thus far, I have concluded that it would be in everyone’s best interest to have a boy’s ISS and a girl’s ISS. I’m not trying to be sexist; it is simply because the hormone clash is almost more than I can deal with. Boys in ISS like to egg each other on, propelling the stupidity to epic heights. The girls laugh and feed into it as well, but there is always a turning point. Something sets off a spark and all of a sudden a line is drawn and the room immediately becomes boys vs. girls. Sometimes it is triggered by the gentlemen, and sometimes it is triggered by the ladies (although, in this case the more accurate terms would be Pimps and Hoes or Playas and Bitches, all terms that I have heard in ISS) but regardless of who starts it, it ALWAYS happens. 

At the end of week 1 in ISS, one of the boys triggered the divide by saying that a girl was ugly. This just so happened to be the best friend of one of the girls serving time that day. They started crumpling up paper and throwing it at each other, and the other students eagerly started joining in. Some were launching paper airplanes, some pencils, thankfully no one threw chairs, although, I am sure the thought crossed their minds. In movies, when stuff like that happens at a school, we usually laugh and enjoy in the good fun. All I could think of, in the moment, was, “And this is how I lose my job…” I brought most of the order back to class, but while the other kids returned to their work, fearful that I would assign them another day in “the slammer”, the initial pair of students was still going strong. I stepped in, confiscated all of their belongings and returned to my desk. They continued to launch things , grabbing paper from their peers nearby until I raised my voice and said “ENOUGH! Continue throwing things and you will earn yourself a trip to the Principal’s Office.” The young man dug his hand in his pocket and retrieved a handful of change, which he promptly launched at my face. I used my legal pad as a shield and missed being hit, but the intent was to hurt me. I wanted to launch the kid out the window or back over him with my sweet Toyota Camry, but instead, I called security. There is something very satisfying about seeing a kid panic with fear, especially after they tried to cause you bodily harm. Before security came, he and the girl decided that they were going to pretend to be asleep to avoid getting in trouble. Really kids…REALLY? What makes you think that being asleep is going to prevent you from getting chewed out by the Vice Principal? Also, let it be known that sleeping is  NOT allowed in ISS, so even when these kids are trying to cover up their massive rule breaking, they are still breaking rules. It’s times like this that I take a step back, observe the situation, and think to myself, “This is my life now…”

Security came, a short but terrifying Italian man from Brooklyn, and after “waking up” the 2 offenders, escorted them to face their judgment. I was mollified after hearing that the boy, let’s call him Wayne because I hate that name, received 3 days of out of school suspension for his actions and the girl, Dorkus (because that name is as ridiculous as she is), received one day of out of school suspension, because it was her “3rd strike.” I’ll bet you it was more than her 3rd strike, considering she was sent to ISS for slugging a girl in the head, but I digress. 

For those of you who have a duty period, I feel your pain…literally… I am pretty sure these kids are going to hurt me! For those of you who were lucky to escape a cruel fate such as this, enjoy your innocence! Don’t take it for granted!!! And for those of you who are majoring in Music Ed, or Art Ed, or anything that people don’t consider a “core” or “academic” class, change your major. Major in Phys Ed. They get to play games, wear sweatpants, and their “teaching” periods are shorter because the kids have to change for class…possible Master’s degree? I think so.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Leave Room For Jesus

As a choral music educator, you face several challenges that people in other professions don’t encounter. Because your job is performance based, usually in a concert setting, you have to make sure that what you produce is appealing to the masses. In most cases, the masses are people who think that you should be teaching their children the latest Taylor Swift song, or that song they heard in that movie…you know, THAT REALLY GOOD MOVIE! Never mind your 4 year degree, your years of singing substantial repertoire in ensembles of every level, your collection of excellent choral recordings, and your network of fellow music teachers who have exciting music to share. We should just throw in the hat and sing “Candle in the Window” (the “Home Alone” theme) or a 4 part arrangement of “Stacy’s Mom.”  

The one problem we face most often, other than an obvious lack of proper concert etiquette and a shortage of Journey songs, is the appropriateness of religious music in public schools.  When I was in high school, my Principal once asked my Choir Teacher how many “Jesus tunes” she was doing: A prime example of musical ignorance. This small troll would venture out of her den every once and a while to eat a small child and occasionally attend a concert, if she wasn’t completely bombed after seeing the Jets lose. She would put on her crisp skirt suit, usually in a pale gray or beige, and after making her opening remarks, would hunker down, stone faced, expecting to be entertained. From her standpoint, the concert could be a complete travesty, but as long as no parents called to complain, it was a success. 

Because I grew up in a fairly progressive town (a.k.a., tons of hippies) there was an absence of the really good “Jesus Tunes”. I love a good Jesus tune. I did several religious pieces in my former job at the high school level. There is nothing I love more than white suburban kids singing gospel songs and struggling to move together on the risers. As a person with no rhythm, I feel compelled to put my students through the same disparaging movement issues I faced. That way that we can be truly be equals…and I can blog about it later. 

Now, there are several types of religious songs:

1)       Foreign Language- We choral music teachers (and by “we”, I mean “I) call these the “sneaky Jesus songs”. This is because these pieces are in Latin, German, French or Italian, and people have no idea what the words mean. Some people will flip out of you say “Jesus” in a piece, but for some reason “Jesu” flies under the radar. You can sneak it in wherever you want:, Gesu Bambino = Baby Jesus, mon Signeur J├ęsus = My Lord Jesus, Jesus ist mein Homeboy = Jesus is my homeboy. It works in every situation. Also, you would be shocked at how many people don’t know that Ave Maria means “Hail/Rejoice Mary”. You can get away with a ton of new testament references and avoid the “separation of church and state” crazies! And you have a valid educational reason for choosing this piece: The Language. Simply state that you are trying to incorporate some cross curricular collaboration (See "Interviewing" blog) and that you are doing your best to make the kids' educational experience more holistic. Of course, this will probably lead to you having to sing The Periodic Table song, but I love Tom Lehar, so I'm down!

2)       Southern- These are what I call SPUR-ituls. A) Because I think it is funny and B) I just assume that southern people can't correctly pronounce their "e" (or [i] for all you IPA people) vowels. This are either the super intense Jesus tunes i.e. Praise His Holy Name (RAH RAH JESUS), or they talk about God and no one knows what they mean...i.e. Wade in the Water (What water? Because there is a pond across the street, but I'm certainly not going to wade around if "God's a gonna trouble" it.) I love southern SPUR-ituls. They have really cool harmonies to generally simple tunes, which is partially what makes them so fun and challenging to sing, and who doesn't like a piece of music where "Lord" is spelled "Lawd"? No one, that's who. I think we all secretly want to be southern, just so we can talk like that and not sound like assholes. It's a whole different world down there, and I want in on it...but I don't want to have to smoke, drive a crappy truck, and have a second first name (i.e. Jim Bob and John Boy...for all of you "Waltons" fans out there). Singing these pieces is "safe southern"...the kind where you get to keep all of your teeth. It's JUUUUUUUUUUST right!

3)        Atonal- For those of you unfamiliar with this musical term, it is a fancy way of saying “This piece will sound like shit.” Some people will be offended by that statement, but I stand by it. Atonal music sucks. I am all for dissonance, but there needs to be some point of resolution so that your ears don’t bleed. Some people are exceptionally talented at accomplishing the balance between tension and resolution. But there are a great deal of atonal composers that failed their Music Theory 2 class in college and decided they could pretend to be “deep” and “troubled” if they composed stuff that sounded like putting a piano through a wood chipper. Some of these compositional failures decided that they would use their “talents” and offer their music up to God. I don’t know about him, but if they composed shit like that in my name, I’d be pissed. The up side of this is that people will be so thrown off by the lack of coherent sound that you can sing whatever text you want. Odds are the audience will be checking sports scores on their phone or texting their friends about how this concert makes them wish they were dead, so you might as well sneak in some biblical verses if you can get away with it.

4)       Traditional- These are the ones that everyone knows. Amazing Grace, There is a Balm in Gilead, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer, ect. This genre also covers Christmas Carols. Everyone loves a good Christmas Carol, whether you’re Christian or you believe in the alien lord Zool (Tom Cruise).Now, if you program one of these pieces AFTER the atonal garbage listed above then no one will care what the words are. They’ll be so relieved that the torture has ceased and will rejoice that they are finally hearing something that they are familiar with that the words will flow over them like a warm security blanket. Also, they will be excited because those pieces were probably sung by Celine Dion, N*Sync, Reba McIntyre, or Sting on his terrible Christmas Album (seriously, it is AWFUL), so you’re in the clear.

5)       Contemporary- These are the songs that you hear on those TV commercials for “The 100 Best Contemporary Christian Songs of the 90’s”: Awesome God, River Constantine, the gospel version of Handel’s Messiah, the list goes on and on. They are often accompanied by electric guitar or synthesizer. I have never programed one of these, partially because I still have some small shred of self-respect, and partially because the kids hate to sing that stuff as much as the audience hates to hear it. Really? “Awesome God”? Who thought that was a good idea? God has been described as omnipotent, mighty, infallible, abundant…and now “awesome”. As a younger person of faith, who this kind of music was obviously directed to, I shake my head and hang it in shame. Shame on you, contemporary Christian composers. And even more shame on you if you decided to add hand motions to your pieces. No one looks good doing hand motions… no one. 

Well, there you have it: Your guide to the “Jesus tunes” in Choral music. There are many others that I could list, but I believe that this is good framework in which to program. It doesn’t matter which religion you are, there are still things to be learned from this genre of music. When I taught Christmas Carols to my former Chamber Choir, I told them if they were offended by singing the word “Jesus” to simply pretend that they are singing about Ironman. And that my friends is called “differentiating instruction.”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Worst Job Ever

When you’re unemployed, there are times you feel desperate to find work. You consider doing unthinkable things to make money, performing necessary but gruesome tasks, all to make a quick buck to pay your student loans or buy that trench coat you saw at Banana Republic that everyone says makes you look like Inspector Gadget. They are obviously mistaken because you aren’t wearing a hat, your dog’s name is not “Brain” and you are not the sole guardian of your niece “Penny”, who’s parents are obviously deadbeat alcoholics because why else would she be hanging out at your place all the time! Some of these jobs include: sanitation worker, pest control specialist, Charlie Sheen’s publicist… the list goes on and on, but there is one profession that I dread more than any other…substitute teacher. 

You first begin to realize that substitute teaching sucks when you are a student. In elementary school, you have a tough time realizing that your teachers are, in fact, humans and that sometimes, they get sick, or use their personal days to go to go out and buy 30 Rock: Season 4, a box of Entenmann’s Chocolate Covered Donuts, and a gallon of milk so they can hunker down in the nest of blankets they made in their living room and escape from having to sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Smitt on more time. You begin to discover that the blackboard (or Smartboard nowadays) does NOT fold down to reveal a bed, much like the ones you see in prison movies, with the chain supports coming out of the wall and a thin uncomfortable mat for them to sleep on. You become offended that they are doing something else and they left you with this STRANGER!!! Did they not pay attention in the “stranger danger” assembly you had last week? 

If you were a good student in elementary school, this doesn’t really phase you and you spend the entire day making the substitute fall in love with you by answering the questions or offering to help them, or sitting right next to them during the movie they are sure to play. You’re lucky if you have 2 or 3 of these kids in a class, and while you’d rather be texting during “Land Before Time XXXXVII: We’re Still Not Dead Yet!”, you appreciate their thoughtfulness and hunker down, trying not to think of the fact that you paid for 4 years of college and are sitting in a 3rd grade room making $70 for a whole days work. Not all of your students are so inviting. Most are indifferent and are happy to be watching a movie instead of struggling with fractions or mourning the fact that Pluto is no longer a planet and trying the shake the feeling that they’ve been lied to. Then, there are the usual trouble makers who view this as a field day of trouble without consequences. If the teacher you’re in for is not an asshole, they usually tell you who to keep an eye out for. They tell you which kids are not allowed to sit together, which students will eat the paste, that sort of thing. Then, there are the teachers who have obviously never subbed a day in their life, so they don’t bother to tell you if you give Aiden scissors he is going to try and cut his neighbor’s hair, or that Annie’s favorite pastime is kicking other students when you’re not looking. It’s these teachers that you hate and don’t for a second regret hiding their last dry erase marker and using the change in their top drawer to buy a soda in the faculty lounge. Thankfully, I am 6’3”, so kids don’t usually mess with me, or with each other when I am in the room. If they do, I have the intimidation factor on my side. I make them come to my desk while I am filling out the sub report so that they can watch me write down that they misbehaved. One of my teachers in college told me that kids need to be told what they did wrong and see that there are consequences to poor behavior. This is how I accomplish that. Most of the time they are horrified that I am telling their regular teacher and visions of losing recess, having to sit in the time out chair, or their teacher holding them in a choke hold flash through their heads and they are not a problem after that. 

Subbing at the middle school level is torture. Come to think of it, everything at the middle school level is torture. I subbed for 8 weeks at the Junior High level and have never filled out so many referrals in my life. The administrators must have hated me, but when a student tells says “bite me” in front of 30 of their peers and you’re not allowed to actually bite them, you have to call in the big guns. Middle schoolers think that they are the shit, instead of smelling like it, because at that point, they are still blissfully unaware of anti-per spirant and deodorant. In addition to thinking they are the coolest thing since Disney’s Camp Rock, they also think that they’re smarter than you. You catch them in lies and they keep insisting they are telling the truth, despite the irrefutable evidence you’ve gathered that suggests otherwise. And of course, there is the “drama factor.” Subbing consistently in a middle school is like being popped into a real live version of “Days of our Lives”, only there is no one famous, no one is in a coma, and little old ladies aren’t sitting there watching you. There is deception, cheating, gossip, and hidden agendas. Middle school students are manipulative, especially the girls. And all middle school students operate under the assumption that you can’t hear them, so they talk about Gavin dumping Taylor and kissing Maddie at an inappropriately loud volume. When you tell them that Gavin can wait and that they should be filling out their sheet on New Orleans Jazz Musicians, they look at you with the look of utmost betrayal and anger and, when they think you can’t hear them, begin talking about how much they hate you and how there is no such thing as “Dress Crocs”, even though your shoes OBVIOUSLY have suede on the top!

High school students are the best to sub for, because they naturally want to do nothing, so when you announce that they are watching a movie, you are instantly their hero! That is, unless you make them do work. Some teachers decide that their being out is no reason for class not to continue as normal. They leave you a lesson to teach and an assessment to give. They are under the assumption that you are knowledgeable in their course subject, which is pretty bold of them because these assholes usually teach something like “Contemporary Russian Literature” or “Aboriginal History and Culture”. Once, I proctored for an Honors Chemistry Final for a high school and the students were having a great deal of trouble. If you have ever been in this situation, you know what it feels like. Naturally, they raised their hands and pleaded for you to help them, knowing that their entire future rests on the successful completion of this exam. And there you, fresh out of college, where you skipped any class that nothing to do with music, managed to fulfill your science credit by having a friend sign your name on the list in Ancient Life, and frantically prayed you could pass the tests on the days when you absolutely had to show up. Then, you have to look that poor knowledge starved kid right in the eye and admit that you was dumber than he/she is. Yeah, we all took chemistry in high school, but we haven’t used it since. I don’t have the periodic table app on my Droid and I am certainly not concerned with the chemical make-up of my large Caramel Iced Latte from Dunkin’ Donuts. We all know Chem is important, but really, I spent my days teaching days playing piano, reading “Opera News”, and practicing the Curwin Solfege Handsigns. Yes, it is true, I have no marketable life skills. I could probably tell you more about the information about the current Met season than I could about the Israel Palestine conflict and I realize that that is pathetic, but no one really wants to hear about the Arab Peace Initiative in Music Theory from their teacher that gets most of his news from The Soup and Conan O’Brien. 

There you sit, at the front of the class, as the students who now know that they’re smarter than you lament your pathetic existence and make a mental note to not throw away their lives like you obviously have. When their normal teacher finally enters the room to answer the questions that you could not, you slip out of the room to the faculty bathroom where you splash water on your face to cool you down after that savage ego beating and let a few soft sobs escape your now chapped lips before you shuffle back to the scene of the crime. You now look at the clock more than the kids do and cope with the fact that students only raise their hands to ask to use the restroom, which is the only thing you are qualified for anyway. You then have to flag down some poor hall monitor to escort the kids to the bathroom because, as we all know, kids have to pee under direct supervision because they might have written the atomic number of Rubidium on the elastic of their underwear. The exam ends and they actually trust you to collect it as the students leave, avoiding you like they do the kids who get to school early to play Magic: The Gathering. 

At the end of the day, you turn in your badge, your evaluations of the class, which include Bobby rubbing a booger on Suzie’s overalls, leave the school, and go home to lick your wounds, wait for your dignity to return, and do it all again the next day when you get the call at 5:30am and are asked to teach Arabic and hope that it is similar to those 2 semesters of French you had in college.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Out In Public

Being a teacher is like being a celebrity, but it’s far less glamorous and your annual salary is equivalent to their Thursday night bar tab at a place probably called “Mood” or “Puzzles”. I am talking of course about the fear of going out in public. Celebrities are constantly bombarded by fans, paparazzi, and people that want to kill them and wear their skin on their face. They have the luxury of employing 400lb body guards with biceps the size of tree trunks and have an army of lawyers that will destroy anyone who so much as sneezes in their general direction. Teachers face an even greater danger while venturing out into the real world: their students. Unlike their famous counterparts, teachers enter this world without protection. They run the risk of being accosted unarmed and without warning. Any teacher will tell you that they hate seeing their students outside of school. We already have to spend all day with them, we don’t want to have to speak with them on our personal time, during which we would rather be nursing that 4th glass of wine or weighing the pros and cons of purchasing another pair of elastic waist sweat pants. Your students always seem to find you when you want to see them the least, like when you’re buying underwear, or dandruff shampoo, or Gilmore Girls Season 6 on DVD. 

Once they spot you, they want to talk, and, if they are younger, they are most likely with their parents, which means you have to talk to them too. I NEVER want to talk to parents. That is the worst part about teaching, because every parent thinks the sun shines out of their kids ass. Don’t get me wrong, some kids are really great. Teachers always have their favorites and I am no exception. In those instances, I am more than happy to chat with their parents about how wonderful their child is and thank them for not implementing what I call the “Dina Lohan School of Parenting.” This was the case at my last school, great kids and great parents. But there is a snowball’s chance in hell of you running into one of those students while out on the town. You always run into the student that you don’t want to see, the student you yelled at yesterday, the student who lost recess, or didn’t turn in their homework, or hasn’t showered since school started 4 months ago. What the hell do you do in that situation? I feel like colleges should offer a class called “Teaching- Outside the Classroom.” That way, they can introduce nervous undergrads to what they should expect when becoming a teacher. This situation should be on the course syllabus with several location addendum such as, “The Grocery Store- What you should do when your student/parent sees that all you are buying are 3 frozen pizzas, a gallon of ice cream, and a margarita bucket”, or “The Mall- What to do when your students see you shopping with your sister and they ask if it’s your girlfriend.” I feel this would both adequately prepare the future educators of our great nation as well as dramatically reduce the number of people who actually follow through with teaching.
Since no one taught you how to deal with your students or their parents outside of school, you do the only thing you can do: Lie. When they finally take you down, like a lion takes down a gazelle, and they begin polite small talk with you, you pepper in short little phrases about how talented and well behaved their son/daughter is and how it has been the greatest pleasure and highest honor of your teaching career to attempt to impart your knowledge on their brilliant and charismatic 6 year old. …And the academy award goes to… Then the parent asks you how you are and you think to yourself, “I have family sized bag of Doritos, when I clearly live alone, and I just rented Gnomeo and Juliette…yes, I am living the dream (Insert eye roll here).” But you answer politely and say that you are doing well, despite the fact that it is laundry day and you are wearing mesh shorts, flip flops, and the shirt you wore when you painted your living room. When the conversation ends and you say your goodbyes the child and their parents leave excited, because seeing a teacher outside of school is like “seeing a dog walk on its hind legs” (Mean Girls, circa 2004). You, however, leave with the need to move to another county and the desperate fear that they are going to tell their peers, which they ultimately do, because you weren’t humiliated enough. 

Even though I didn’t ever live in the same community as the students I taught, I did run into them quite frequently. They pop up out of nowhere, like those 2 girls from The Shining that want you to play with them forever. You just want to ride your tricycle around that creepy hotel in peace, but no, you’ve got those bitches cramping your style! I happen to always be doing something embarrassing when I run into students. When I went to go see Harry Potter 7, Part 1 with my parents, we decided to go to the nice theater across the river so that we could be more comfortable and see it on a bigger screen. While we sat there, I sitting in between my parents like this was my big day out with the grown-ups (I was 23), we saw some people enter with Icees the size of my torso. They were huge! The three of us made eye contact and decided we had to have them. I volunteered to go get them because no one would try to steal my seat in the middle of them, and made the ½ mile trek back to the concession stand. I purchased 3 child sized (and by child sized, I literally mean they were the size of a child) Icees and after the poor concession woman wrestled them into a carrying container, probably made of reinforced steel to support the weight of these monstrous iced treats, I turned around with a grin that I usually only possess on Christmas morning. Sure enough, one of my high school students is standing there, eyes wide, looking from me, to the 4 gallon icees in my hand, and back…I stutter, making a lot of nervous guttural sounds before blurting out, “THESE AREN’T ALL FOR ME!!!!” and then run as fast as I could while carrying the metal drums filled with cherry ice, back to the theater. Sure enough, that student told people on Monday, but the joke was on her, because I devoted 5 minutes of class time to tell my students the story so that they could hear it from my perspective. Clearly it was an excellent use of instructional time. In the end, we all got a good laugh out of it, and while that Icee was delicious, it came at an awful cost. 

I also had the great misfortune of running into a student at Wal-mart. I believe that, to be a successful and beloved teacher, you need to care about your students. I always do my best to keep the mood light, have some down time, and enjoy being there as they learn for the 40 minutes or so that I had them. I love holidays and so I try and give the students a little something to show them that I care and that I appreciate their efforts. It’s usually candy, or if it is a smaller group, delicious homemade baked goods. I was at Wal-mart, right before Christmas, raiding the candy isle, dumping bag after bag of 3 Musketeers, Kit Kat, and Milky Way bite sized bars (because none of those have peanuts in them…yeah, I am even conscious of the peanut allergy, THAT’S how thoughtful I am) into my cart, thinking to myself that I will use the self-check-out register to avoid judgment from any cashier. Then one of my 9th grade students rounds the corner. She is with her mom and they are also looking for some reasonably priced holiday wrapped chocolate confections, when she spots me and comes over. I politely say hello and ask her if she has any exciting plans for break? (this question is perfect around vacation times because it is small talk, but not obvious or awkward, unless they say that they are going to their Dad and Step Mom’s house because their Mom wants some alone time with her new boyfriend…oh yeah, that happened to me.) When she looks in the cart, she sees all of the candy and I explain to her that it is for school tomorrow and she gets excited. She knew I was bringing in candy because I told my students I would in class earlier that week. Awkward moment averted, right? If only it were that easy. At that point, the girl’s mother is having a shit fit in the isle, digging in the back of the shelves looking for a particular candy. She gives up and, as she walks over to us, loudly says “HOW CAN THEY NOT HAVE ANY KIT KATS!?!?!?” She says hello and then looks down in the cart to see, what looks like, every bite sized Kit Kat bar in North America in my cart. To be fair, I taught over 250 students, so I needed a lot of candy, and who doesn’t like a good Kit Kat? The Mom then says “…Oh…” I smile weakly, feeling like I am being crushed by the cumulative weight of the candy overflowing from my cart and graciously part with 2 bags, as if making a peace offering. As they leave, I book it for the check-out area, only to find that none of the self-check-out registers are open, so I wait in line and suffer the judgment of the 18 year old girl checking all 457 bags one at a time.

Sometimes it is nice to see your students, but it is only nice if you see them on your own terms. The best is when you spot them and they don’t see you. Then you get to make the decision about whether or not to approach them. Oh, what power! High school students usually don’t want to see their teachers, especially not when they’re with their friends, so naturally, I always choose to approach them in these situations. I was at the mall one time and I saw a student sitting on a bench outside one of the stores. I never had this student, but I did work with him on the musicals that we did. His name was AJ and he was on the sound crew. Because I was wearing jeans and looked like a hobo, he didn’t recognize me, so I walked up to him when he wasn’t looking and said, “You look like you’re up to no good.” The look on his face was priceless. Aside from the fact that he almost fell off the bench, because I scared him, he didn’t immediately register that it was me. The poor kid thought some stranger wanted to make some creepy small talk and nearly died of fright. That will teach him to do his Christmas shopping there!

That situation was perfect, but sometimes, the approach backfires. Sometimes it backfires so bad that you wish the backlash had killed you, instead of leaving you socially wounded. I was at the mall (I really need to find a new mall) and I was shopping after Christmas with my Mom (can you tell I have no friends?). We had gone our separate ways and were going meet for lunch in the food court. I was early, so I walked at a leisurely pace, burdened by bags filled with new sweaters, sharpie pens, and all 5 Percy Jackson books, when I saw Joe, walking with his parents. Joe was in my period 3 Music Theory class and he always tried (unsuccessfully) to out humor me. We would go back and forth making fun of each other until I got bored and delivered a crushing blow to which he had no retort. He would then smile, laugh a little, and shake his head and say, “Whatever!” or “O.K!” This was my moment. Joe was with his family and I had met his Mom several times. I figured he would be embarrassed if I said hello and struck up a conversation, so naturally, I navigated straight over to them. After apologizing to the Chinese food sample lady for nearly killing her as my bag of sweaters came dangerously close to forcefully colliding with her face, I loudly exclaimed “Joe! How are you?” He turned around with a half smile and said hello as his mom enthusiastically jumped into conversation with me. She said “Oh, Joe is just doing a little after Christmas shopping with his Mom!” Joe looked tortured. Every high school boy LOVES to be seen shopping with his Mom. I gave him a smile that said, “hahahaha…BEST.DAY.OF.MY.LIFE.” when the unthinkable happened: My mom walked up. 

Catching the tail end of that conversation, my mom decided to add, “So is Kyle!” “I’m in hell”, I thought, “This is what hell is like.” I was shocked at how quickly the tables had turned. I saw Joe’s face light us as mine fell, contorting into a look of sheer horror, as his turned to one of deepest joy. In that moment, the power had shifted. Joe owned me. I practically saw his hand fly into his pocket, dig out his cell phone, and text everyone at the school. Not only did my mom embarrass me to the point of near death, she called me Kyle, killing any professional distance I had worked to maintain. I said a hurried goodbye as I furiously wheeled my mother around and dragged her to a vacant table. Needless to say, I had to devote another 5 minutes of class time to telling this story, during which all of the students laughed and Joe chimed in with his reactions and interpretations. Joe handled it well and didn’t publically humiliate me anymore than I deserved. The moral of this story: Get some friends and stop hanging out with your parents in public. It never ends well.