and then the Greeks built a giant talking fiberglas trout, with which they would deceive the Trojans

sometimes to see who cheats, or to entertain myself, I make different versions of the same test. I scramble the order of the answers and don’t tell the class. I also sometimes put such absurd choices down that the student is really only left with one or two options.

BUT ….for this to work, you have to actually read  the questions.

I  gave  a short quiz on the Trojan war. Most people got an A or B.  A  few took it several days later when I changed the order of the answers.

Question: Troy was in present day:   a) Turkey  b) Roast beef   c) Greece   d) Italy

Question: the Trojans were tricked by: a) a giant wooden duck   b) a talking fiberglas trout

c) a jack in the box    d) a giant wooden horse   ( is this question a gift, or what?)

Question: the king was married to:  a) male name of enemy   b) male name of enemy

c) male name of enemy      d)woman’s name

People who took the test later wrote down the exact letters for a perfect score. IF you were taking  the first test. Here are their answers.

  •   the Trojans were deceived by a talking fiberglas trout
  •  the king was married to another guy who happened to be the enemy
  •  Troy was located in present day roast beef.

thats one way of looking at it

After translating, a girl looked at the book with a puzzled frown.

“Wow. Latin is like really bad English.”   ( Her classmates loved her for this. So do I)

This, however, may be the best.

” Latin. Its almost like a foreign language.”

That’s one way of looking at it.

the happy little cow

Mostly what I remember about my high school years  was that I didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on in class. No idea in algebra, which I believe I had three times, no clue in earth science.  I was marginally more clued in Mechanical Drawing, and I did know what was going on English class. This is what I remember from Freshman English.

I was chewing gum. The boy next to me was my next door neighbor. He had hardly spoken to me since we were best friends at the age of 5 and sailed  leaf boats in the gutter together. The English teacher was talking about Pippi Longstocking.  She caught my jaw moving.

“ You spit that gum out. You’re over there chewing  your cud like a happy little cow.”

David (my neighbor)  looked at me completely deadpan.  “Are you a happy little cow? Are you really a happy little cow?”   His first words to me since we were five. The last  until our twentieth reunion.

I have taught all my classes how to say laeta parva vacca sum.    I am a happy little cow. It commemorates that moment in English.

The unexpected visit

The supervisor appeared in my room one day half way through the lesson.

He sat himself at my desk. I continued the lesson and handed him the textbook, open to the translation.   He motioned me over.  The classroom was originally a room for small study groups. It was very small, designed for only ten people.

He pointed to the textbook.

“Where is the teachers edition?” he asked rather loudly

“I don’t have one.”

“Why not?”  in a somewhat argumentative tone.

I didn’t know why not. I had never had a teacher’s edition of any book. No one had ever given me a catalog to order books. I just used what was there.

“ I never ordered one. I don’t even know if they have them for this book.”

He pointed to the story written in Latin.

“ Well, then,how do you know what this says?”

Pause.  Really long pause.

“Ummmm…because….. I’m the Latin teacher?”

He knew.  I was just making it up as I went along.

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.