Classy Humour.

I love the fact that my students have great senses of humour. They’re quirky and fun, and they know they have the freedom to express that in my classes.

Last week, one of my students told me a funny story about what he did in Biology class. To his delight, I appreciated the humour a lot more than his classmates or the Biology teacher had done.

He was more than willing to give me permission to write his story creatively. I decided a Drabble would be perfect for creating a snapshot of that moment in the classroom.

I hope you enjoy his very classy humour as much as I did.

And thank you, James, for making me laugh on a regular basis. You’re a legend.

The teacher stood at the front of the room, textbook in hand, as the students settled down to business. 

“Please open your text book to page four hundred and four, and… yes, James?”

The teacher looked with anticipation at the young man sitting in the second row, hand raised and an awkward smile on his face. 

“That page cannot he found.” 

His classmates looked confusedly at James, and then at the specified page in their own books.

The teacher frowned. “Are you sure? There must be some kind of mistake.”

James’ smile became a triumphant grin. “It’s an error 404.”

***

Credit for this story must be given to my student, James, who actually did this in one of his classes, and gave me permission to write it as a drabble.

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On Verbing

Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.

One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’. 

Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher. 

“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”

“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”

“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”

“You know Shakespeare did it?”

“What?” 

“Verbing. He did it all the time.”

“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.” 

“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”

She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too. 

It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling  fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language. 

It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong

My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”. 

This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red. 

My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean. 

The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination. 

The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.

Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language. 

The Squirrels Have Checked Out.

It’s the last day of term. 

Even though I am, like every other teacher, exhausted and keen for that bell to ring at the end of the day, I am still trying desperately to keep the kids on task and get things finished before then. 

The problem is, they’ve already checked out. 
They just don’t care. 
They’re restless. 
They’re talkative. 
They’re twitchy. 
Their eyes have glazed over with the promise of freedom, of late sleep-ins and no school uniforms or restrictions on their social media life for the next two weeks. 

If you’ve ever watched a squirrel running around in a park or a forest, that is the precise image of the mental and emotional engagement in my classroom today.
One or two are evolving into chipmunks as I watch. 

Except for that one kid at the back, who is working like a champion to get everything completed. 
I don’t have favourites, but today I really love that kid. 

Being Fontist.

I am a person who takes others at face value. I don’t immediately classify someone as pretty or ugly, gay or straight, progressive or conservative (unless, either way, they are hateful or prejudiced – then the deal is off) , black or white or some other colour, blonde or brunette, or anything else. I don’t care if they’re plain or fancy, nor do I care if they’re pretty or not. I try to take each person as they are and let their integrity speak louder than their features. I like to get to know them before I make any decisions about them.

When it comes to fonts, however, i am nowhere near as open-minded. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of fonts I like, and many others that I will view with an open mind depending on context and purpose. 
But there ARE two or three fonts I really hate. I refuse to use them. I have handed back an assignment or two, asking for it to be reprinted in a more acceptable typeface. It’s true: I am Fontist. 

I wasn’t raised that way.  We didn’t really need to think about fonts back then. When I was growing up, it seemed as thought books were printed in two, maybe three different standard fonts. From memory, there was something like Times New Roman,  a basic Sans Serif, and possibly another standard typewriter-style serif font. There was never a question of what typeface to submit our work in, because computers weren’t a thing and our school work was all handwritten. When I started university, assignments and essays had to be typed and double-spaced, so I used my parents’ typewriter. Of course, it only got to the typing stage when one or two hand-written drafts had been painstakingly written, proofread, edited, and revised. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad those days are over. I appreciate the ease of writing using my laptop as much as anyone else, and I’m happy for my students to do some – but not all – of their work on their devices. 
My underlying Fontism rears its ugly head, though, when someone hands in an assignment or broadcasts a presentation on the screen that screams “ridiculous font” louder than anything the student is trying to communicate. The same thing happens in meetings and seminars where the important information is obscured by the poor choice of font on the screen or handout. 

You might think I’m overreacting. But consider this: I might read fifty student assignments in less than a week, or sit through twenty five student presentations in two or three days. When their font suggests I shouldn’t be taking their work seriously, that’s a complication neither they nor I need. 

Right at the top of my hate list is Comic Sans. It looks childish, and gets increasingly ridiculous as the size increases, to the point where it is almost impossible for me to take anything printed in that font seriously. It is a font that should never be used for school work of any description by anyone older than six, nor should it be used for slide shows and presentations.  Yes, it is “nice and clear for people to read”, but so are about 3000 other fonts one could choose. If your audience is not entirely in the First Grade, choose something else. 

Another font I hate is Arial. Yes, it is also nice and clear for people to read. It is also entirely bland and unimaginative. Arial is the font equivalent of still having that original iPhone Marimba ring tone from 2008 on your new iPhoneX when you have 2500 different songs on your playlists.  It is the font for lazy people who don’t care how their work looks. It doesn’t take much effort to switch so something equally clear but which looks a lot more polished and professional. In a word: boring. 

The other fonts I really dislike fall into two groups: anything over-decorative and wrongly sized formatting

Over decorative fonts have their place, but trying to read a block of text printed in anything full of swirls and flourishes or trippy lines and shadows will make a teacher’s eyes bleed in less than three minutes. Decorative fonts can work really well for titles, or for a special capital letter or character to start a page or chapter, but they fail miserably for anything that needs to communicate information or arguments clearly and effectively. 

In a similar vein, text printed too small or too large is equally frustrating. If it’s too small and condensed, it’s hard to read and… you guessed it, bleeding eyeballs. At the other end of the equation, students may think they can fool me into believing their 337words meets the 500 word minimum word count if their work is formatted in size 15 Helvetica, but my teacher brain knows better. My teacher brain has been doing this a lot longer than they have. 

So, I guess this is me coming out of the classroom cupboard and acknowledging the ugliness of the deep-seated prejudice that lies deep within me. It is equally as rampant and undeniable as the grammar nerdism that I make no attempt to hide.

Call me fussy. Call me Fontist. I’m okay with that. But don’t call me to complain if I’ve asked your teen cherub to reprint an assignment so that I can read it without tears. Trust me – it’s better that way, and I’ve tried to be nice about it. Well, I’ve probably been nice.. 

Maybe. 

Unless they are a repeat offender. In that case, there are no guarantees. 

Women in History: Claudette Colvin

We’ve all heard of Rosa Parks, and rightly so. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white person on a segregated bus sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. 

The very bus on which she rode is in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, commemorating her actions and their importance in the history of the nation. 

Have you, though, heard of Claudette Colvin? 
Probably not. But you should have. 

Nine months before Rosa Parks’ defiant actions, fifteen year old Claudette Colvin was riding a segregated bus home from school in Montgomery, Alabama, and refused to give her seat up for a white woman. 

Source: Claudette Colvin Biography, https://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378 Accessed March 13, 2019

Colvin was arrested and tried in juvenile court for her defiance.  Her mother discouraged her from speaking publicly about her actions, preferring to let Rosa Parks take the spotlight. 

I have to wonder, though: just how much did Claudette Colvin inspire Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat? And why aren’t we taught with equal admiration about this brave young woman who made her stand by remaining seated?

I am sure of one thing, though: I will be including Claudette Colvin in my lessons on the Civil Rights Movement from now on. My fifteen year old students need to know that nobody is too young to change the world for the better. 

International Women’s Day: March 8th, 2019

“Happy International Wormn’s Day!” one of my students announced as I walked into the classroom today. 

“Ha!” said one of the boys. “How come women get a special day?

“Are you serious?” another girl challenged him.

“Yeah,” he said, “when is it men’s day?”

The girl who had welcomed me rolled her eyes. “Every day is men’s day!”

It seems like a lighthearted story. You could just laugh and keep doing whatever you were doing and not think any more about it. 

Still, there are deeper issues here that I felt the need to address.

These are teenagers. Without quizzing them to find out where they stand individually, some generalized conclusions can be drawn.

The girls are aware enough to know that inequality still exists, but have been raised in a generation that knows we can demand better treatment than what those who have gone before have experienced. 

The boys are less understanding of the issues that still exist.. there are probably as many reasons why as there are boys present in the room. 

So, we had a discussion about recognising and addressing inequality— of various types, about mistakes of the past and not perpetuating them, and about our concepts of respect, acceptance and difference.

Obviously, we didn’t manage to solve all the problems of the world during that lesson. We did, however, leave with the girls feeling both acknowledged and respected, and everyone more aware of the importance of treating one another as equals, regardless of what types of differences exist between us. 

As a Humanities teacher, that made for a happy International Women’s Day indeed.

A Few Picture Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

This is a wonderful collection of children’s books that celebrate significant women in history.

I’m also very encouraged to see that the women featured in these stories are from different countries and cultures.

What a brilliant way to celebrate Women’s History Month in a way that inspires and educates our kids!

Pernille Ripp

Last week, before the calendar switched to March, I changed our book displays in our classroom. Not because we stop celebrating Black history and excellence but because we wanted to add the component of females in history.

I was asked if I would share my list here, and while I don’t mind sharing it, I will say that it has holes. While I wanted to showcase an inclusive mix of picture books, I am still adding picture books that go beyond the well-known stories. I feel like there are many unknown women whose picture books are not on our shelves at the moment, so I am working on finding these for the future. I also want to continue to work on including more indigenous or First Nation stories, as well as stories of women who defy the narrow definition of their gender.

So what is gracing our shelves right now?

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The Problem of Not Overdoing It.

“Don’t overdo it!” everyone says.
Sure. No problem.

One of the things practically everyone has said to me since I came home from surgery is “Don’t overdo it!”

I fully understand their concern. My back is still healing, I can’t sit upright for any length of time without pain, and it would be easy to screw up the progress I’ve made so far. 

I, on the other hand, have been determined to see what I can do, given that I’m quite aware of what I can’t do. It’s also fair to say that I’m feeling the deadlines marching upon me like automatons trained to take me hostage until I meet my obligations for the end of the year. 

Last week, I managed three days at school before I had to admit that I needed to rest. I stayed home on Friday and spent it recovering from three days in a row of doing more than I had done in weeks. 

This week, all our students’ exams and assignments are supposed to be marked and their end-of-year reports written by Friday.

Sure. No problem. 
That’s totally achievable.   *sigh*

I can honestly say I’m trying. Today I’ve graded essays and assignments, and written my evaluations of those tasks for the reports. I’ve had to do that lying in my recliner with my laptop propped up on my knees, because sitting for that long isn’t an option. My eyes are starting to blur, and my brain is mush. I can’t remember how I ever did this stuff on a daily basis without going mental. 

But hey! At least I’m writing… something. 

Today I talked with my GP about my progress, how I am healing, and what I can reasonably expect. She reminded me I had to be patient, to be kind to myself and not expect too much because my body has had significant trauma and I’m still healing. That’s actually where my body and brain are going to be expending most of my energy for some time yet. 

I know she’s right.

My frustration is that it’s really hard to balance being kind to myself in that way with being professional and doing my absolute best for my students and my school. I don’t know how to make both things happen at the same time. 

I know tomorrow is another day, but it’s also a day closer to Friday and those deadlines that it brings. 
And you know, they matter. The whole school has to work on the same timeline so that everything is done well and on time. 

I don’t want to be the one to let everyone down, and I can honestly say that if it weren’t for the absolutely beautiful and generous heart of my colleague who has taken on doing all of that for my Year 11 class, I wouldn’t have any hope of getting everything on my “to do” list done.

In fact, everyone at school has been absolutely marvellous and supportive, and while I’m grateful, that actually makes it harder for me to ask for more time or more help. I don’t like asking for special treatment, and I hate the thought of it looking like I’m wimping out. I hate to admit it, but the work ethic in which I have taken pride for so long is actually not doing me any favours right now.   

I know. I know. 

So, tomorrow I will simply head back to work and do what I can in the day without overdoing anything, and trying to be kind to myself.

Easy.Right?

Sure. No problem. 

Current Status: Thumbs Up!

A riveting précis of my return to work.

Today I returned to work for the first time after my surgery.
As I left home this morning, I told my husband that I was mostly confident and a little bit afraid.

As it turned out, there was no need for fear and my day went pretty well.

I only had to stop once each way to take a walk and stretch as a break between driving.

I cleared/responded to 93 emails from my inbox that were not messages I could just delete.
I also sent a bunch of emails chasing students for work they hadn’t bothered to hand in while I was away. Some of them actually responded by submitting their work!

Very conscious of keeping my spine healthy by not sitting for too long, and still really only comfortable sitting for about fifteen minutes at a time, I completed all my email and admin tasks using my fancy standing desk, located right behind my regular desk. All I have to do is stand up and turn around.

I also stood while I taught my classes, as I often do anyway.

I know my students were happy to see me because they all asked me not to cough in class again, please. I shrugged and commented, “I have more discs” but they didn’t seem to think that was funny. It was, though, because the one kid with a sense of humour as subversive as mine laughed out loud.

With a strange sense of deja vu, I told the kid who always sniffles to blow his nose, and told the kid who chews with his mouth open to chew with his lips together. On both occasions, all I had to do was say their name. It was almost as though they knew!

I entertained Year 9 with puns. It was just like old times.

I sorted the exams, papers and assignments I have to grade into neat bundles. I plan to start on those tomorrow and hopefullly finish them by the end of the week. It was good to get things organised and leave my desk tidy again so I can make a good start in the morning.

By the time I got home, I was all worn out like a Norwegian Blue parrot after a long squawk, so I embraced my bed and had a lovely little nap for a couple of hours.

Ovetall, my first day back on the job gets a thumbs up.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be just as satisfying! 

The Trouble With Names.

A teacher confesses her most regular, and possibly most embarrassing, classroom faux pas.

Your Teacher Apologises

The classroom is busy in a studious kind of way. Students are working on the task I have assigned them, and I am making my way around the room, checking in with each student to see if they need any help or clarification. The tone of the room is positive and the level of noise is low.

I know these kids well enough to know some of their hobbies and interests, which ones love reading, which ones are sporty, and which ones are the introverts who would rather work alone than in a group situation. Suffice to say, I know their names.

As I move toward the first girl in the next row, I quietly whisper to myself, “Don’t call her Susie. Don’t call her Susie. It’s Sharon, not Susie.” In the very next nanosecond, I open my mouth and say, “Hi Susie! How are you going with this assignment?”

Everyone in the room has heard me do it – again. A collective sigh, non-verbal but heavily laced with the essence of “Not again!” can be heard. One kid shakes his head at me in an awkward blend of amusement and newly-refreshed disappointment. It’s fair to say that this has probably happened to him before.

Sharon looks at me with an expression that shows she is torn between saying “I’m Sharon!” and rolling her eyes, pretending I didn’t say it, and answering my question.

“I’m so sorry!” I say. “I know you’re Sharon. I don’t know why that happens. It’s certainly not deliberate. It’s just… my brain. It hates me.”

Sharon nods. Unfortunately, she’s heard this enough times to know it’s true. I give her a pathetic, apologetic smile in response, and go back to talking about the assignment.

How can I remember the details of the Industrial Revolution or talk ad nauseum about the literary qualities of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, and still get some poor kid’s name wrong at least once a day?

It isn’t even always the same student. Occasionally, my brain/mouth coordination goes rogue, and I’ll call Kate ‘Lily’ or ‘Rose’, just to keep things interesting. Just once. Just to make things interesting, I’m sure.

This is one of the things that keeps me humble as a teacher. In my job, I’m required to talk to people and use their names in the classroom. And that very basic thing is something that, from time to time but far too often for comfort, I struggle to do.

The ironic thing is that I’m actually really good at remembering faces and names, where I met someone and conversations I’ve had with them. I have to remind myself that not everyone does that when I’m tempted to take it personally that someone hasn’t remembered my name, or having met me before.

I just don’t understand how the wrong name can come out of my mouth so often in every day situations.

The only thing I can put it down to is the brain fog I have carried since I contracted a delightful tropical disease called Ross River Fever in 2011, and which is also typical of fibromyalgia, which I have been left with as the legacy of the RRF. I know the fog is particularly meddlesome when I’m tired or my pain levels are high, but even at times when I am doing okay and enjoying otherwise greater clarity, some autonomous impulse to self-destruct in front of others fires off and I find myself apologising for calling Tom either ‘Dick’ or ‘Harry’.

I think I’m going to have to just start telling my classes at the beginning of each year or semester that it’s likely to happen, it’s not intentional, and I apologise in advance. It’s either that, or resort to calling everyone “Hey You” or just never using their names, neither of which is a terribly professional option, either.