Zeus is the best god

Every day I present a person from mythology.  Mythology is chock full of rape, incest, adultery, cannibalism, mutilation, betrayal,… you get the idea.  After awhile I started to think,

“ How can  I teach this stuff to kids? “  and then I would listen to a rap song.  Straightened my thinking right out.

Zeus has a lot of women, goddesses, nymphs, mortals, willing or unwilling. He is the MAN,to the hormone filled skins of teenage boys.  I assigned presentations on the Greek gods. A big red haired freckled boy got up.

“Zeus is the BEST god.”

He thought for a moment. His catholic upbringing kicked in.

“Except for Jesus.”

the duck caper

One day a French teacher decided to kidnap the German  class mascot, a tiger striped wooden yellow and black  duck. Yes, I was wondering the same thing.  Who knows?  German, its like a cult. They don’t need a reason.

Anyway, a substitute teacher told us  the duck  was  in French class. So at the end of the day, my kids trooped down to her class with a diversion, leftover cake, and in the confusion we snatched the duck and ran like hell.

Now, the duck isn’t little. At least four feet long.

tiger striped wooden duck with roman helmetWe sent a picture of the duck to the Germans with a message:  ” We have the duck. Send ten thousand deuche marks.” Yes, the duck is wearing a Roman helmet.

We then hid the duck as carefully as one can hide a four foot tiger striped duck in a classroom. We then sent another photo of us all gloating over the duck.

The substitute teacher, in a moment of sadistic glee, did not tell the French teacher who stole the duck. The French teacher walked around frantically, no doubt  muttering      “Oh, merde! He’s going to  kill me!”  meaning, no doubt, the German teacher.

While I was out of my class for ONE period, SOMEONE came in, found the duck and absconded with it.

The Spanish teachers all acted totally innocent, like they hadn’t seen anyone running out of my room and down the hall with a four foot tiger striped duck in tow. Right.  Channel 6 news would have shown up for a shot of  people running down a hall with a contraband duck.

This incident clarified for me a glaring lacuna among my possessions. I do not have the equivalent of  the duck. So I set my students to making a Trojan Horse.  And its bigger and taller than the duck.  The problem was at the end of the year when I had to do something with the horse.  My husband looked at the horse and said, ” Just what are we going to do with that?

horse looking out windowHe looks out the window, waiting for the day he does battle with the duck.

more memories from a juvenile delinquent

Back in the day ( what does that mean, anyway? ten years ago? five hundred ? my childhood?)  everyone had to buy their own padlock for their lockers, they weren’t  built into the locker like they are nowadays.

We  (me and  my partner in crime, Scuz )hatched a new plan. We casually stood around and talked to our friends while they were unlocking their lockers and memorized the combinations. We got about ten locker combinations.

We came in really early and switched them. Some of them we put on backwards so that the numbers were facing the locker. You would have to get down on your knees and try to lift the lock up to see the combination and then it still  wouldn’t open.  We also selected people who all didn’t know each other.

And this time, as a protective measure, we selected people that didn’t know me or didn’t know Scuz, so we would not be targeted as the obvious perpetrators.

This one was a victory. We were never suspected.

Well, we were never accused, anyway.

Don’t try this at home. Professionals only.

Speaking of things that no one found out about — my best friend, Scuz and I (Scuz was a shortened and pejorative form of her real  name) grew up on HARRIET THE SPY.  If you haven’t read this book, go buy it and read it immediately. So what if you’re thirty five? Pretend it’s a gift.

Anyway, the two of us spent time thinking up creative ways to torture various people of our acquaintance. One of these victims was The Mop.

The Mop sat in front of me in homeroom and had a lot of hair. I suppose I must have liked him and that’s why he was a target, but that’s beside the point.

We  had the brilliant idea of putting a pink bunny decal on his locker.  A permanent decal.  You bought them in paint stores. They were for baby furniture. You  put them on furniture by rubbing a wet sponge over them and they stayed forever.

We bought a really really big, really really pink bunny rabbit. We stayed after school one day and did a really really wonderful job of applying it to his locker.

It would never ever come off.

The Mop went to Burke and told her what we had done. He knew that the only teacher who would know for an absolute fact that we would do this to him was Burke, and that she was  the only teacher we were afraid of. She called us on the carpet.

“Get rid of the bunny.  Now.”

We tried to deny all knowledge.

“What? What are you talking about?”

She gave us The Look.  “Don’t even try.  Go.”

The problem was that it was a permanent decal.   You couldn’t remove it.  That was the point.

Eventually we had to scrape the paint right off the locker to get it off.  It stayed scraped up like that for years.

Um…is the statute of limitations up yet?  When I reflect on this now, I recall that not a single adult stopped to ask what we were doing, and that nowadays we would be arrested for vandalism.

murder in the classroom

One day I looked down at my desk and saw that someone had written “The Conquistadors are coming,” probably from the one Spanish class that used the room.  So I wrote, “The gladiators are coming.”   My secret friend wrote back  “The conquistadors will kick gladiator butt.”  Our correspondence went on for days, till the desk top was black with pencil, at which point Burke, the teacher, noticed and made me clean it off. I was heartbroken. A budding relationship nipped in the, well, bud.  I never knew who my pencil pal was. I still wonder  if I will be at cocktail party someday and meet some local person, we’ll start talking about high school  and we will discover that each is the mystery student from long ago.  I still try and guilt Burke about making me clean the desk, but she has that Teflon quality about certain things, and the guilt ain’t sticking.

Her room didn’t have a pencil sharpener. Normally I wouldn’t have noticed, since I rarely did any work in school and hence did not need a pencil, so I may have needed the sharpened point to poke someone.


Why didn’t this room have one?  She told me it fell out the window. I looked at the window. It was an old school building with very wide wooden sills. The sill must have been a good eighteen inches wide.

“So, the pencil sharpener unscrewed its four screws, hopped over, what, a foot or so, pushed up the window, and then leapt to its death?”

I leaned out the window. “Then the body should  be in the bushes.”  I went outside later. No dead pencil sharpener in the  junipers.  Every day I brought this up. Had she hidden the body of the pencil sharpener?  Was the pencil sharpener suicidal?  When she was out of the room, I wrote a list of suspects on the board. Burke generally headed the list. Finally she cracked. I walked in class and the other kids ran up to me. “Burke wants to see you right away.”   A hush fell over the room.  Was I in  trouble? What did I do?  Well, I always did something, just usually no one found out about it.  She  walked up to me and looked at me sternly.  “Come here.”  She put her hands over my eyes and marched me to the  window.  She had requisitioned me a new pencil sharpener.

“You know that I know that you only did this to divert suspicion away from you and the foul crime you committed against his predecessor.”

I think back and try to remember why I liked this class. One, she put up with my babble. Two, she thought we were all human beings.  She said she liked teaching because,

“I never know what interesting people will show up in my class from  year to year,”

and I distinctly recall thinking,

“Wow.  She thinks we’re  people.


Very often a second or third year student has come up to me and told me earnestly that they are no longer cheating in my class.Then they beam at me,  waiting for praise. I can imagine this behavior in the workplace. “Boss, I’ve decided not to short the register anymore.”    When I recall their grades from their cheating days they are almost always  C grades. My recommendation: If you aren’t smart enough to study, at least be smart enough to cheat off someone who knows more than you do.

Discovering someone cheating is sometimes so entertaining  that it’s a shame to call them on it. Particularly when it is rather clear that none of the cheaters actually read or were cognizant of what they wrote.  Sample translation:  ” then on the third sailor the road to the island was great and brave and many.”   I have had up to six identical translations of this sort, but the best was when someone  had scrawled some unintelligible letters.

Illegible scrawl

Like this, but more illegible

and then I had a second one :

illegible scrawl 2

yep, identical to illegible scrawl 1

and then a little later I found:

illegible scrawl identical to first twoI found a total of four. Not only were they not words, they weren’t even letters.

I put the papers in a file, marked it “CHEATERS FILE”  and put it on the overhead projector. “If you cheated, come down and talk to me about it. If you don’t, then I’ll hand it my own way.”

Eighteen students came to my desk.

Two boys came to my desk and said, ” Can we see what you have there? We aren’t sure whether we cheated.”

“Either you did all the work, and handed it to someone else to copy, or someone else did all the work, and you copied it verbatim. That’s how you tell.”

The boys conferred with one another.  ” Okay, we’ll be right back.”   They talked for awhile in whispers. ” Well, we just aren’t sure if we cheated on this one.”

I once wrote in fine print on a test that the answers were posted on the ceiling.  Lots of students never read the instructions, much less in fine print. Then I did tape the answers on the ceiling, but in print too fine to be read from the ground. I also wrote that the answers were taped under the desk.  When they looked under the desk they found a paper that said we have to stop meeting like this. The best part was noticing that at least two thirds of the class had not read the fine print.

mad craziness in the classroom

My first class in public high school had been sitting out in the hallway for two months, unsupervised, until I was hired.  They  gave me a mentor. She collected four hundred and fifty dollars for this task, which was automatically withdrawn from my paycheck.  An eighty something year old former first grade teacher was assigned to a high school Latin teacher to offer advice on teaching skills.  She made sure that I told the students to keep their book bags out of the aisles.

One day I asked my Latin I class if they knew the story of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.  A very shy boy tentatively raised his hand.  My mentor, at the back of the room, shot up her hand.

“Oh, oh, I know this!”

“Um, that’s nice, but I was checking to see what the students remembered”.

I pointed to the boy. As he was on his third or fourth word, she shouted,

“Romulus and Remus were twins and were set adrift in the river and the she wolf saved them!”

I looked at my student. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders with a “ what the hell?”  expression on his face.

In an upper level class I was discussing the possibility of offering an advanced placement poetry class. There were six students in the class. Suddenly my mentor piped up from the back of the room,

“Yep, that Bill Gates, he started Microsoft from a garage and now he’s the richest man in the world.”

I looked down at my students. They were all sitting bolt upright, hands on desks, eyes wide open fixed on me and carefully averted away from my mentor. Lips tightly, tightly compressed.  I started up again on Latin epic poetry.

“Yep, that Bill Gates, he started out in a garage and now he’s the richest man in the world. He sure showed those Harvard boys a thing or two.”

She beamed at me. Non sequitur. Latin for it does not follow. Although non compos mentis fit also. I started to laugh.

Biting my tongue  until I tasted blood, I switched to digging my nails into my palm. Why did my students have so much more facial control than I had? It was almost like they planned this.

Eventually her tenure of supervision was over and I was left to muddle through on my own.  She graciously offered to come in anytime to help me out because she had enjoyed herself so much.