15 December 2004

Stories and sundries from last week:


7:15 am (driving to work) question: Why hasn't anyone made a modern adaptation of Lysistrata, a la such teen classics as 10 Things I Hate About You?

7:50 thought: I wish I had perfume that smelled like eggnog.

It's pretty clear, already, how this day will go.


Me: I'm totally the teacher that sits in her room and rocks out to Prince on her prep period.
Me: Wait, what teacher is that?


So my roommate Lisa and I go to see a movie, but as usual she's running way late (for no real reason) and we arrive at the theater 20 minutes after the 5:30. We decide to go across the street first, for dinner, and catch the 7:00. She parks her little Rav4 in the movie theater parking lot (which is HUGE), and before we can go for dinner, she has to stop and put her jacket on, so she sets everything down on the hood of the car and I wait, patiently, distracted, amid the xeriscaping. We go have dinner, the waiter flirts with us and gushes about how much he loves Blue Moon beer (my favorite), whatever. After dinner, we walk across the street and through the parking lot to the theater, where we buy tickets, sit through about 17 previews, and then the movie (the incredibles, cute).

The movie ends around 9:15. Lisa and I are sitting at the end of the row, and I scoot out of my seat immediately so the other people can get out, but Lisa spends like five minutes digging in her purse. I finally coax her into the aisle, where she continues to block people and dig in her purse. "I can't find my keys." "Maybe you could look in the lighted hallway?" I suggest. Okay. We sit down on a bench and Lisa pretty much dumps all the contents of her purse out, but no keys. She leaves her purse with me as she goes back into the theater to crawl around on the floor looking for her keys. Ten minutes later, she comes out of the theater shaking her head. No luck. We go to the lost and found, and though it's full of keys and sunglasses (and someone's social security card!), Lisa's keys aren't among the found lost. "Back to the restaurant," I say. Suddenly, Lisa looks at me in panic. "I put them on the car. When I put my coat on." She bolts out the door and starts running through the parking lot. Confused, I follow. "I hope my car's there! I hope it's still there!" she yells.

The car is still there. Sitting on the hood of Lisa's car are her keys. Sitting on the hood of the car, in a crowded parking lot, for almost FOUR HOURS. We should all be so lucky.


I went out to feed the hawk tonight (mouse soup, because we keep all the frozen mice in our freezer and the best way to defrost them quickly is to boil a bowl of water & drop the mice in) and saw that the gate had blown open in the wind. I realized I hadn't seen the dog in maybe 20 minutes and a deep sense of dread filled my stomach, because he has this tendency to wander off and get really immersed in his own projects (sniffing grass and chasing rabbits, generally) and then get lost, like a little autistic kid who's kind of deaf.

I run through the house to see if he's maybe hiding in one of the bedrooms or putzing around the backyard, but he's not, he's not anywhere and the sun's setting quickly and he's nearly impossible to see in the dark. I put on a pair of sandals and go running into the front yard, up to the top of the driveway where I have a better view of the yard and the neighborhood, all the time whistling and calling for him. I don't see him anywhere, so I start wandering up and down the street, yelling and whistling and worrying about how all the neighbors are looking out their windows at me with a mixture of pity and disgust, like you'd look at the resident crazy homeless person who you try to feel bad for but really you wish they'd get off your front stoop, and I'm also worrying that someone's picked up my perfect dog and realized instantly that he'd be the greatest pet for their eight-year-old twins or maybe they'll sell him to some evil scientist to do experiments on him and I'll never see him again. The sun's setting, and I'm feeling increasingly crazy and desperate but trying to keep my cool, remembering the time last year when he wandered off and I screamed like a madwoman for a half-hour, only to have my neighbor come over and say that the dog had been happily sitting on his front porch the whole time.

It's getting pretty dark and I jump in the truck to drive up and down the streets looking for him, knowing that it won't do much good but I can't just settle down and wait for him to get hit by some teenager joyriding in his grandmother's caddy. I'm driving up and down the streets with my window wide open, going about 3 miles an hour and screaming and whistling through my window, and then stopping in embarassment when some nice old people on their nightly constitutional give me a panicky, frightened look like at any moment I'm going to jump the curb and come after them.

I drive all the way to the top of my street and all the way down, and by now it's almost too dark to see anything, but at the very bottom of my road I see some glowing eyes on the street and whistle at them. A very nice, very calm dog trots up to my truck and I apologize to it, telling it that I'm looking for a different dog and sorry to bother him. He wags his tail and trots up the street, and I continue driving, feeling increasingly crazy and increasingly desperate, but by the time I'm halfway around my very large block I've settled into a feeling of quiet resignation, planning in my head how to explain to Lisa when she gets home and later to my family how Zeke ran away and I'm a horrible person and he's probably in some lab as we speak, being shampooed with some horribly abrasive experimental new Pantene product. I cruise back down my own street so slowly that a truck gets frustrated and passes me just as I reach the driveway, so I have to wait until he gets around me to turn down it, but when I do I see three dark shapes waiting at the bottom near the house, and my heart leaps and catches. I creep all the way down the gravel driveway, thinking about how ironic it would be if I ran over my own dog just when I've found him, and I see in the glow of the headlights that one of the three dark shapes is, indeed, my dog. Another of the three runs off into the yard, quickly disappearing into the tumbleweed and yuccas, but the third shape stays.

It's the other dog, the one from before. It waits until I get all the way down to the bottom of the driveway, watching Zeke, watching me, and then wags its tail at me and starts trotting up the driveway. I know this will sound completely insane, like I've been living in New Mexico too long and really should get back to the midwest where no one talks matter-of-factly about "spirit guides" or "manifestions," but I truly got this strange sense that this other dog had found Zeke and led him home, and then waited to leave until it was sure Zeke was safe. I made Zeke jump in the truck with me and then called after the yellow dog, "Thank you! Thank you for bringing Zeke home!" The dog stopped in the driveway, looked back at me, wagged its tail like a wave, and disappeared into the night.

and the sequel:

-- one, that the third dog in the driveway managed to get locked into our backyard, only to be discovered cowering and shivering in the bushes around 11:00 that night with a terrible injury to his jaw (so sad! SUCH a sweet dog!) so Lisa and I managed to drag him out of the yard across this street to his own house, where his owner (blinking and groggy and none-too-happy to be awakened) didn't even thank us for bringing him home. It was a weird dog night.

-- two, apparently my roommate can communicate with animals, um, psychically, and she later "heard" my dog saying "What's the big deal? I was just hanging out with my friends."

seriously, you just have to laugh.


Lisa: Melanie was telling me about this movie we should see.
Me: Oh yeah? What's that?
Lisa: I don't know, something about this geek who's stuck in the 80s. Just like you!


Five more days. Five more days.

-- Five more days to push against the wall of apathy (my own!) and get all the grading and cleaning done.....
-- Wait a minute, I have a full inservice day to "work on grades" on the 3rd! I don't have to get anything done!
-- No, but wouldn't you feel better if you had all your grading done before the holiday, so it wasn't hanging over your head those two weeks?
-- Maybe.....
-- Yes you would.
-- But I don't want to do any work this week! I want to kick it with some eggnog and claymation tales of reindeer and dentists!
-- It will be worse if you don't do it.
-- But....
-- Way worse.
-- Wait a minute.... Jimminy, is that you? I thought I squooshed you under my boot in college!

09 December 2004


Advisory (aka homeroom).

Andrew: (sounding like a grizzled old man) Ach, maybe I'll go buy myself a drink, after school.
Me: What? I hope you mean orange juice.
Andrew: (muttering to himself) ...mumble...otch mumble rocks.....
Bill: He has $24 to spend.
Andrew: $24.25, please. And it's burning a hole in my pocket.
Me: So you're going to buy SCOTCH?
Andrew: (thoughtfully) It's a possibility....
Me: But you're fourteen.
Bill: Moriarty drives children to desperate acts. It's very sad, isn't it?
Me: You kids are weird. (pause) But seriously, SCOTCH?

1st period.

Karma: One thing I liked about your presentation was that you were funny without going off topic. Unlike ANDREW.
Andrew: That was yesterday!
Lizzil: And it's still funny!
Andrew: Ms. Backes, they're so mean to me.
Me: You'll be a better person, stronger, in the end.
Andrew: No. I'll just be sad.
Dale: As Ms. Backes said yesterday, PULL IT TOGETHER, MAN!

Kid: Z is for Zuni. Zuni people are well known for their artwork. Zuni pueblo is one of the oldest in New Mexico. Back then it was visited by very little Spanish.
Me: What, like midgets?
Kid: (extremely confused) What?
Class: ...
Me: I think you mean, "visited by very few Spanish."
Class: ...
Other Kid: Oh, **I** get it!!


Me: So I'm thinking, why hasn't anyone made Lysistrata into a modern movie?
Dale: Because it's a bad idea!

"I would prefer this book to any kid."


Kitty: Nuh uh! Ms. Backes, candles don't explode when you light them, do they?
Me: No....
Buddy: Yes they do! Yes they do! If they're made of gasoline!!


Patty: My nutcracker looks like Michael Jackson now!
Lizzil: Why?
Patty: We scraped his nose off. Now when you light him on fire, his nose glows!


7th period. Best class ever. I could not stop giggling, and eventually gave up on trying to keep the peace in the room.

Ivy: Ms. Backes, can I [mumble mumble] Kyle?
Me: WHAT??
Ivy: What?
Me: Did you just ask if you can EAT Kyle??
Kyle: Aaaaaahh!
Ivy: No! Can I BEAT Kyle?
Me: Ohhhh!
Kyle: Aaaaaaaahh!!

I go over and turn the radio on.
Jerry, watching me: Ms. Backes, do I hear music??
Me: (stunned) I can't even grace that with an answer!
Summer: It's just the wind blowing through the spaces in your head.
Jerry: Oh, okay!

Summer: Ms. Backes doesn't mind if we swear, do you?
Me: Um.... let's say I'd rather not have to deal with it at all.
Jenny: Yeah, but you swear all the time!
Me: (gasping) I most certainly do NOT!
Jenny: Sure you do.
Me: No I don't!
Jenny: Yeah, like when you said your car was a piece of shit!
Me: I did not say that!
Summer: Yes you did.
Me: I said it was a piece of CRAP, which is a much different thing!
Jenny: No it's not. Shit, crap, it's all the same thing.
Me: Maybe, but I did NOT say shit!
Jenny: Except just then.
Me: Oh, shi-- shucks! See, I never swear!

Jenny: Ms. Backes, why are you drinking coffee at 2:30 in the afternoon?
Me: Um.... let's just say it's because crack is illegal.
Summer: Ha ha! I'm totally going to steal that!
Me: D'oh!

Ivy: Ms. Backes?
Me: Yes?
Ivy: Kyle's scared.
Me: Of what?
Summer: He thinks you're going crazy!!
Me: Ha! I am! If I'm not here on Monday it's because the nice men in white jackets came for me!

2nd period.

Kristine: That's a nice fence you're drawing. You have a lot of barbed wire, though. It's expensive!
Marsha: Yeah... no one will get into this field.
Kristine: Where do you buy all this barbed wire?
Andrew: At the Hitler Warehouse!!

Me: What does that look like to you?
Kristine: A cow?
Me: Ha! I totally can draw a cow!
Everyone: ...?
Me: My 6th period class and I got into a big fight about whether or not I could draw a good cow.
Beth: My sister's in your 6th period class.
Me: I know. She was one of the people fighting with me!
Beth: (nodding wisely) We're good at fighting.

Eddy: Ms. Backes is doing the crossword!
Kristine: Oh, really?
Me: Yes..... badly.
Eddy: She does it every morning!
Me: No I don't!
Eddy: Yes you do! Every morning you sit in the back and do the crossword!
Me: Eddy, that is patently false. In fact, this is the first time all year that I've done the crossword!
Eddy: Well, you read the paper every morning!
Me: Well, that's true.
Eddy: So what do you do with the paper if you're not doing the crossword?
Me: I **READ** it. I take the information into my brain.
Eddy: But..... but that's BORING!!!


Ellery: Ms. Backes, do you know where we turn these in?
Me: Do I know? Let's see, it's an assignment **I** gave you, and ***I'm*** going to be grading it, so yes, I suppose I know where you turn it in.
Ellery: So.....where?
Me: To me! You turn it in to me!!

Ivy: Ms. Backes, how old are you?
Walt: 24! She's 24!
Me: That's right.
Summer: I always think you're 22!
Xander: I thought you were 21!
Me: It's easy to remember, because it's the same as the year. 24, 2004. In 2005 I'll be 25.
Elliot: So... were you born in 1980?
Me: Yup.
Elliot: Me too!
Me: YOU were born in 1980??
Elliot: Oh. Um. No. I mean 1990.
Me: Oh, well that's very different, isn't it?

19 November 2004


New Mexico Trivia.

Mr. K: What town in New Mexico is known as the ski capital of the southwest?
Dale: Oh, the south pole!
Andrew: The south pole??
Dale: Yeah.
Andrew: Dale. The SOUTH POLE is the ski capital of the SOUTHWEST.
Dale: Um... yeah.
Lizzil: South Pole! Antarctica! Southwest! New Mexico!!
Dale: Oh.... oh. Yeah.

Mr. K: Where is the horse race with the world's richest purse?
Me: In portable 7!
Lizzil: What?
Me: You know, like the health classroom?
Andrew: What?
Me: World's richest purse.... Mr. PURCE teaches health....
Karma: Oh, I get it!
Andrew: That's not funny, Ms. Backes.
Me: Shut up.
Andrew: Gasp! That's mental harrassment!

(a few minutes later)

Andrew: Why do we record points if every team earns one?
Me: Maybe it's to make people feel good.
Andrew: It doesn't make me feel good. It makes me feel pointless.
Me: See, but you're not pointless. That's the whole point!
Andrew: ......that's not funny either.


My dad's in town for the week. I, of course, am teaching school full time, so dad gets to be on his own during the days. He's taken it upon himself to spend the days at Wal-Mart, buying STUFF to improve the quality of my life (shelving, new light bulbs, a riostat for my lamp and a new switch because Cam broke it, etc). Every day this week, I've come home to bags of new household offerings from him, until finally.....

Dad: Ready? Ready? The coup de grace!
Me: Yeah. Sure.
Dad: Well, I notice that you have all these weird digital clocks around your room, but you can't really see them.
Me: You mean my clock radio?
Dad: (ignoring me) So I thought, you know what Molly needs?
Me: ...
Dad: You know??
Me: No, what does Molly need?
Dad: Molly needs a clock! Ta da!! (He pulls a clock from a wal-mart bag. It's pink and sparkly, covered with faux gemstones.)
Me: Oh my god!
Dad: Isn't it beautiful?
Me: (laughing hysterically) It's HIDEOUS!!
Dad: (defensively) No, it's perfect! It's a "Royal Princess Clock," and you're a royal princess!

Ah, sometimes it's nice to be daddy's little girl again.


Jay: Ms. Backes, do you know what Hay-soose means in English?
Me: Yeah.
Jesus: What?
Me: Jesus.
Jay: See, I didn't know that.
Me: Well, we god-names have to stick together. My last name is the same as a god, you know.
Xander: Really? What's your last name?
Jay: DUH, Xander!
Xander: Ohhhh, right!
Jay: Ms. Backes, what's your first name?
Me: Evil.
Jay: (thoughtfully) Evil Backes.....
Me: Yep.
Jesus: What's your middle name?
Me: Awesome.
Jay: Evil Awesome Backes?
Me: Yep.
Jay: COOL.
Xander: Really? Is your name really Evil Awesome Backes?
Me: (very slowly and sarcastically) Yes, my name is really Evil Awesome Backes.
Xander: Really??
Me: Uh, no.
Everyone: DUH, XANDER!!!!!!


Jerrod: How old do you have to be to be executed?
Dale: Next year, Jerrod!


current events.

TT: I personally think we should have one six year term for the president, so he wouldn't have to worry about getting re-elected, he could just do what he needs to do. But no one ever agrees with me!
Carl: He's just the little man in the corner!

-- My article is called "If You Like the Sedillo Hill Project, You'll Love What Comes Next." It's about how there's going to be even more road construction on I-40, just like at Sedillo Hill. It's biased because the author likes road construction.
-- Is it possible that the author was being sarcastic?
-- Sarcastic? No. Maybe. I don't know.
-- Well, let's think about this. Do you think anyone really likes driving through the construction on Sedillo Hill?
-- No way! My dad hates it!
-- Mine too!
-- They've been there forever!
-- Okay, so no one really likes road construction, right?
-- Yeah, but the author says, "If you LIKE the Sedillo Hill Project, you'll LOVE what comes next." So he obviously likes it.
-- Sigh.....

-- My article is about the healthiest states in the U.S. Minnesota is number one. The article is biased because it keeps talking about Minnesota.
-- Yeah, what's so great about Minnesota, anyway?
-- It's clean!
-- It's healthy!
-- Good food!
-- Clean!
-- Are you sure it's biased? Because if the article is about the healthiest state, and the healthiest state is Minnesota, then it kind of makes sense that they'd keep talking about it, right?
-- No, I think the writer was just a Minnesota-lover, which is bias.

-- The least healthy state is Louisiana....
-- It's because of Mardi Gras! Beads all over the place!

-- My article is totally biased! It only shows the woman's point of view. It NEVER shows the man's point of view at all!
-- What's your article about?
-- Cervical cancer.


-- The last class wanted to take the picture in the bathroom, but I don't think there's one big enough.
-- Ms. Backes, plus we'd have to find one of those, you know, semi-sexual bathrooms, and I don't think our school has any.


Carl: (singing) It's a giant party... in the mountains.... it's a rendezvous!
Me: (laughing out loud)
Team Teacher: And you wonder why teachers go nuts!!


Summer: Ms. Backes?
Me: Yes?
Summer: Um.... (gets distracted by people around us)
Me: Yes?
Summer: Oh. My question is...
Me: (gets distracted by people around us)
Summer: (starts giggling)
Me: Sorry, what? I got distracted.
Summer: My question -- (gets distracted)
Me: (giggle)
Summer: (giggle)
Me: This is why two ADD people shouldn't try to talk to one another!


Gary: Ms. Backes, is this good enough?
Me: (picking up his paper and reading) "Route 66 runs right through downtown Moriarty. Route 66 was America's first highway...." Looks good, Gary!
Gary: (shocked) You can read my handwriting?!
Me: Oh... sure.
Gary: Awesome! (high five)
Me: (high fiving him) Rock on!


My gifted block is working on "The ABCs of New Mexico" books, which has been extremely fun and funny.

Team Teacher: (stopping the class) Guys, remember that we're going to be reading these to FIRST GRADERS. So make sure your books are age-appropriate. It wouldn't be appropriate to say, for example, to read, "Children, P is for Peyote.... A is for Alcohol!"
Me: (sitting in a student desk, leaning forward to whisper to the Andrew-Brown-doppelganger in front of me) "D is for Drunk Driving!"
ABD: (whispering back) D is for DWI!

(later -- current events)

TT: If you guys get drunk, and you get into a car wreck... don't crash into a cop!

-- Who can tell me what the cold war was?
-- Umm.... when we went to war with Alaska?

Today I dealt with conflict in my classroom in the way I wanted to, the way I'd like to deal with all conflicts given the time and adult support and relative calm of the rest of the kids in the class. Too often I feel we just yell at kids without explaining to them the problem with their actions, but today I actually got to talk to the naughties in a calm and rational way. Of course I'd rather we not have this kind of thing happening in the classroom at all, but in the end I felt good about both interactions.

5th period.

Me: (calmly) Ronny, I'm writing you up.
Ronny: (crestfallen) Okay.
Me: Do you know why?
Ronny: Yes.
Me: Would you like to read your referral?
Ronny: Yes, please.
Me: Here you go. Would you agree with my account of your actions today?
Ronny: Yes. I'm sorry.
Me: Okay, well thank you for that. I'll need you to go to the office, please, and on Monday I know you'll do better, because I know you're capable of it, right?
Ronny: Right.

7th period.

(I turn my back on the class just long enough to prop the door open and turn back to find one child crying and two others shouting accusations.)

Me: What's going on?
Walt: He threw that at him and hit him in the eye!!
Me: What? Jerry, are you okay? Do you need to go to the nurse's office?
Jerry: (sniffle sniffle) No.
Me: What happened?
Walt: Brady threw the eraser and hit Jerry in the eye!!!
Me: (picking up the eraser) Brady, is this true?
Brady: (looking guilty, nods)
Me: You threw this eraser and hit him in the eye with it?
Brady: (nods)
Me: Brady, look at me, please. You threw this eraser hard enough to make a person cry. Do you see Jerry? You hurt him, Brady. This is a person, and you hurt him. You hurt this person, Brady. Do you understand?
Brady: (whispering) yes.
Me: Why would you do such a thing? Why would you hurt a person?
Brady: I don't know.
Me: I don't know either.

(I walk away and spend almost ten minutes trying to decide whether to write him up....finally going back to the boys at the very end of class.)

Me: Look, I'm trying to decide what to do here. Should I write you up?
Jerry: (standing up) Ms. Backes, to tell the truth, I was throwing the eraser at him, so I'm partially to blame.
Me: Should I write you both up?
Both boys: No.
Me: Do you both understand why this can't happen in my classroom?
Both boys: Yes.
Me: Okay then, have a nice weekend. Try not to maim anyone, okay?
Both boys: (obviously relieved) Okay, Ms. Backes! Bye!


Me: (walking past some students hard at work, I point to a picture of a tiger on a girl's folder and say "Roar!"
Kids: (crack up)
Coal: Ms. Backes, why did you do that?
Me: (innocently) What?
Coal: That was totally uncalled for!
Me: I beg to differ. She has a tiger on her folder, and tigers say roar. Hence, it was totally called for. (walks away)
Kids: Did you hear that? She just went -- roar!

30 October 2004


Strange morning. The ROTC offered to take an aerial photo of our students, so the whole school walked across the street to the high school football field and stood in a big huddle, freezing our asses off, for nearly an hour, until a big, spooky black helicopter came and flew around and around us, circling a total of five or six times.

So that's kind of weird, right. Except it gets weirder: an independent movie called "Believe in Me," which apparently is about a girls basketball team in the 60s, is being filmed in Moriarty, and a few of the scenes are actually being filmed on the campus of our high school. So as we walked the students to and from the football field, we had to walk through a big cluster of trailers, costumes, antique cars and an old schoolbus -- all the while trying to make sure that the kids didn't go harass any of the movie people. Of course, it helps that the kids have convinced themselves that Hilary Duff and/or Lindsay Lohan and/or Tom Hanks are all in this movie (not true, on any count), so as they're walking through the trailers they're screaming "I love you Hilary!!" "I love you Lindsay!!"


My new favorite thing ever is being accused, in front of the vice principal and guidance counselor, of being an unprofessional idiot who isn't teaching language arts, isn't teaching reading, doesn't know what she's doing, and promotes gang involvement and parent-hating in her classroom. Oh, and, "I don't think our son even respects you!"


Me: Well, I love having him in class. He's very funny.
Jerrod: But looks aren't everything.

Jerrod: I think I brained my damage!


before school.

Me: [walking down the hallway toward Crusty Old Teacher Next Door] You
look nice today, Mr. Laney!
Me: ..........?
Him: [handing me candy] Have a lollypop! I'm going as an Old Pervert for

after school -- PT conferences.

Parent: No offense, but this IS language arts, isn't it?
Me: Yep!
Parent: Well, it doesn't look like any language arts I've ever seen.
Me: [faking interest] Hmm!
Parent: I mean, when I was in school, we learned how to diagram sentences!
Me: Of course, but did you enjoy it?
Parent: Well, no.... but sometimes you have to do things you don't enjoy!
Me: Okay, true. But have you ever needed to diagram sentences in the real
Parent: Well, no. But I found a note that my kid wrote to a friend, and he
spelled "always" wrong. If you ask me, there's something wrong with that!
Me: Well, he's a smart kid. I'd guess that his poor spelling is more about
making shortcuts than about not being a good speller.
Parent: That's what he told me! That he spells words wrong because it's
Me: Lots of kids do that. It's connected to text-messaging and IMing.
Parent: I know. That's why I'm concerned that he's not learning how to
diagram sentences.
Me: .....???

Me: ...the only thing I'm a little concerned about with your son is that
he's very distracted by the girls. He's quite the ladies man, you know.
Mother: What a relief!
Me: Sorry, what?
Mother: Well, you know! You spend thirteen years waiting and hoping,
worried that he's -- you know -- going to go the wrong way, if you know
what I mean. And he's a late bloomer, so I didn't know for a while! It's
such a relief to know that he's, you know, going in the right direction!

...I'm sorry, what? You wasted thirteen years of your child's life
worrying about whether or not he'd go gay, when you could have been simply
enjoying the treasure of his childhood, loving the funny warm kid in him
without worrying who he might date in 10 years?? Isn't the sexuality of
your child one of those cross-that-bridge-if-we-have-to things? Isn't it
one of those we'll-love-him-no-matter-what things? For the love of god,
people! Stop being such sucky parents!!


7th period.

Jerry: Ms. Backes, I'm done with my test; can I sit in your chair?
Me: What? No!
Jerry: [whining] Please! Mr. C always lets me!
Summer: That's because he thinks you're special ed!!

6th period.

(studying for a test; I'm walking around the classroom carrying a Grinnell
College NSO mug full of coffee)

-- Ms. Backes, I love your mug! It's so cute!
-- Me too, Ms. Backes! Look at that little squirrel!
-- Oh, thanks!
-- Where did you get it?
-- It's from college. My college, ah, had a thing about squirrels.
-- Why?
-- They were just everywhere. The campus had millions of squirrels on it.
And they weren't the skinny creepy black squirrels like you see out here,
they were bunchy and orange and cute.
-- What's your mug say on the other side?
-- Oh, um... Grinnell College, New Student Orientation, 1998.
-- 1998?? That was a LONG time ago!!
-- I was seven!
-- I was seven too! That was five years ago, right?
-- 1998? No, that was six years ago.
-- Oh my gosh, I was SIX! That was, like, a whole lifetime ago!!

Ellery runs into the room at top speed, shouting:

Ellery: MsBackesIsawyelastnightandonthebusandatlunch!!
Me: You saw me last night?
Ellery: AndIsawyethismorningandonthebus....
Me: You saw me on the bus?
Ellery: No, I STUDIED last night and on the bus and this morning....
Me: Oh my gosh, I thought you said you SAW me!
Krystal: That's what I thought, too.
Me: I was a little scared! I thought, maybe he's stalking me!
Krystal: [laughing]
Ellery: [does not catch teasing at all] And I studied this morning and I
studied at lunch and I studied on the bus..........

Bran: Ms. Backes....
Me: Oh, Bran! Oh my gosh, I saw this picture in the paper today that
looked just like you!
Bran: Really?
Me: Yeah, it was some fifth grader pretending to be John Kerry. It's on
the front page of the journal, you should look for it!
Bran: Okay, I will!
Me: I thought, that looks just like Bran! It's so cute!
Bran: Cute?? Ahhhh! [runs away]
Me: Whoops... not cute, um... awesome! Not cute!
Other kid: [shaking his head] You NEVER say cute!


The best parts of today were all hard to translate. Like 7th period, when
I noticed I had ink all over my fingers, and at that moment a girl in the
front row started whispering and waving me over, and I walked over and
said, "What, do I have ink on my nose?" And she said, "What? No!" and then
we both started giggling. Or how two different kids teased me about my
accent today, in a cute way. Or how a girl came up to me right after lunch
and said, "Ms Backes!" and I said, "Oooh, I like your shirt!" and she
said, "Thanks, it says 'I love you!'" and I said, "I love you too!" and
then she said, "I love you too!" and I said, "I -- wait, did you want
something?" And we both started giggling. It was just kind of girly, happy

7th period.

Summer: Ms. Backes, do you remember your first love?
Me: Of course.
Summer: Do you remember his name?
Me: Dominic.
Summer: Are you still in touch with him? What happened to him?
Me: I told you guys about him. Remember? He grew up to be a druggie?
Summer: Oh yeah!

[a few minutes later]

Me: Can I change my answer?
Summer: (giggling) Yeah.
Me: Dominic was my first boyfriend, but before that there was this kid I
was totally in love with from 5th grade through 7th grade. I thought we
were going to get married!
Summer: But you never went out?
Me: Um, no.
Summer: Sad! What happened to him?
Me: Ah... he grew up to be an alcoholic....
Arlene: Ms. Backes! What is it about you??
Me: I know! All my middle school boyfriends grew up to be druggies!

Monday Morning, first thing....

Crusty Old Teacher Next Door: [walking into my room and fiddling with the
thermostat on my wall] Dammit.
Me: Um, I don't think it works, still.
COTND: It's warm in the hallway!
Me: [stepping out of my room] Goodness, yes.
COTND: I asked them to fix this months ago!
Me: [sympathetically] Hmmm.
COTND: I'm on so many drugs, my blood is really thin. I'm always freezing!
Me: Well, I have a cabinet full of sweaters you're welcome to borrow, if
you'd like.
COTND: Got anything that matches my underwear? It's purple!


Today I was informed that, as of the end of the month, I am the head of
the English Department! Isn't that fucking preposterous?? I seriously just
laughed. And then I was informed that I will be taking over as advisor of
the Junior National Honor Society, and I laughed again! Ha ha ha! I don't
even have a grip on all the things I'm supposed to be accomplishing now,
much less two new arenas of responsability! Maybe I should just be the
goddamn principal while I'm at it! Ha ha ha!

7th period.

-- Ms. Backes, will you buy some candy?
-- No.
-- Why naau-aaht?
-- I don't "buy" things.
-- Huh?
-- Why are you kids selling candy anyway?
-- Because... my hamster... needs a heart transplant!
-- ...?
-- Er... so we can go to camp.


6th period.

-- Question number four. If the teacher had been prejudiced against brown
eyes instead of blue eyes, would they have acted the same way as the blue
eyes, in your opinion?
-- Um, so there's, like, no wrong answer?
-- Well....
-- Yeah, Ms. Backes, there could be! Like, you could say: A duck!

1st period.

-- And they [A&E] had a show about the TOP 40 most influential people of
the last 1000 years, like Shakespeare, Columbus, Freud, Isaac Newton....
-- Oprah!
-- (dryly) No, Oprah did not make the list.


But the good thing is that today, for the first time, I really started to
feel that the kids are understanding what we mean when we talk about
prejudice and stereotypes. Granted, it's still on a very abstract level --
like, "When people used to call other people the n-word, it was all about
power, right?" (Picture me frantically nodding my head in surprise, "Yes,
absolutely! You kids are so smart!") But to them, racism is still
something in the past, prejudice is still an abstract concept. It's
amazing, AMAZING, to feel that I'm getting through to these kids at all,
but now I want more. I want to turn it from an abstract concept to a
self-investigation, a check on themselves everytime they whip around to
scream "fag" at someone. My best hope lies in 7th period, where we had a
great discussion of how it feels to be discriminated against, and then
five minutes later one of the kids called someone else gay. I said, "Walt,
that's a perfect example of discrimination right there!" A few minutes
later, he said something again, and I heard another kid say, "That's
discrimination, Walt."

Now THAT was amazing.

6th period.

(watching "A Class Divided," about a teacher in Iowa who taught her 3rd
graders about racism in the 70s by dividing the class into blue-eyes vs.

Lindsay: (whispering) Ms. Backes?
Me: Yes?
Lindsay: How old were you when that happened?
Me: When what happened?
Lindsay: When Martin Luther King, Junior got killed.
Me: Oh! Sweetie, he was killed in 1968.
Lindsay: Okay, so........ how old were you then, a baby?

(before school)

Lindsay: Ms. Backes! I had a dream about you last night!
Me: Oooh, scary. Was I going on a rampage?
Lindsay: No.... you were coaching basketball!
Me: That IS scary!!

Q: What are some stereotypes adults might have about teenagers?
A: If these kids don't correct themselves the whole world with be plunged
into darkness.

Q: What are some stereotypes adults might have about teenagers?
A: If they went out and killed the pears or adultes.

Q: What are some stereotypes adults might have about teenagers?
A: Their all ganstas or rapers.

Q: What behaviors might get kids locked up in a box?
A: A kid would put a rabbit in a garden, running around town, and go dance

Q: What were some of the social norms you saw in your individual TV research?
A: The social norm that I noticed was that to some kids didn't think it
was normal to stuff your bra with tissue.

"I like Audre Lorde because the title wants you to read it."


6th period.

(after class)

Owen: You know what Ms. Backes?
Me: What's that.
Owen: I love to have you as a teacher!
Me: Awww. That's nice to hear.
Owen: Well, it's nice to say, too!

-- Raise your hand and tell me whether you think the narrator of this poem
is a male or a female. Joey?
-- Female!
-- Okay, why?
-- Because it says, 'the boy I cannot live without.'
-- Alright, good. But you know, in the last class we talked about how the
boy could be someone else, not necessarily a boyfriend. Like a best
friend, or a little brother.
-- Ms. Backes. Or maybe it's, like, the little boy that lives inside him,
like his inner child, and he feels protective of that.
-- Wow, that's one no one's come up with yet. (touched) His inner child?
Awww. You kids!

Q: What are two examples of prejudice in daily life?
A: Dog Cat.


Q: What are two examples of prejudice in daily life?
A: "I don't like you," "and I've only known you for 3 min."


Q: What are two examples of prejudice in daily life?
A: When someone of a different color walks up to you and growels.

Q: What are two examples of prejudice in daily life?
A: Like when you call someone "nigel"

Q: What are two examples of prejudice in daily life?
A: You have a small foot!

Q: What are two examples of prejudice in daily life?
A: People that hate other roses.

6th period.

Ellery: (laughing hysterically to himself)
Harry: Ms. Backes, I think Ellery's totally lost it!
Me: Ellery, have you totally lost it?
Ellery: (laughing hysterically)....(pause) Lost what?

5th period.

-- Phillip, what's up with you today? You're usually my rock, and today....
-- I know! I was, like, a disaster!

-- Take 5 minutes to put all your feelings down on paper. Anger,
excitement, happiness, sadness, boredom, whatever. If you're mad at
someone. If you're looking forward to something. Put all your feelings
down on paper so that they won't distract you during class.
-- I don't get it.
-- It's like in Harry Potter, when they dump the old memories into that
bowl. This is your emotion dump.
-- But Ms. Backes, I need my anger!
-- Not in this room you don't.
-- Yes I do, I need it for football practice!
-- What did I just say?
-- But I need -- oh, what?
-- Not in this room. This room. You can be as angry as you want in
football practice, but this is English class!
-- But I have to be angry for football, Ms. Backes!
-- But you can't be angry in English class. And if you keep arguing with
me, **I'll** be angry in English class. And that's a problem for everyone!

2nd period.

(in the library)

Dale: Ms. Backes, look! This website has a lot of information about Acoma
Pueblo, including poetry and pottery!
Me: Wow, great! That will be helpful for your project.
Dale: I have to tell Nick. He's the poetry man.
Me: Well, make sure you have this website written down.
Dale: Can I print it out?
Me: The whole website? No way!
Dale: Well.... can I just print out the address?
Me: No! Write it down.
Dale: (goes to save it under favorites)
Me: Dale! You don't want to be dependent on this computer. Write it down,
so you can find the website again no matter what computer you're using.
Dale: Uhh! Now I have to walk all the way across the library for my
notebook! You're so mean, Ms. Backes!!

"You sound lonely, and we're worried about that. Because if you don't have
enough friends, that's when the jesus people can get you."

-- my father

10 October 2004


(grading papers)

Q: What is the difference between direct characterization and indirect characterization?
A: One you get told they are mean and the other its that they throw cats in the water.

Q: In what part of the story does the climax usually occur?
A: The climax usually occurs 15 minutes into a story.

Q: What is the narrative POINT OF VIEW (P.O.V.) of this story?
A: Yes.

Q: What is the difference between direct characterization and indirect characterization?
A: Direct is when your saying "she is tall with brown eyes." Indirect is when your saying "he is pudgy with rock nerd skin."

Q: How do you know if a story is being told in first, second, or third person narrative Point Of View (P.O.V.)?
A: Because if they use "I was there when I kissed my boyfriend."

Q: Give an example of direct characterization:
A: They were singing!


6th period.

-- You're such a teacher's pet.
-- Who, ME?
-- Um.... yeah! You're a teacher's pet, Ms. Backes.
-- No, I'm the TEACHER.

2nd period.

-- Why do we have to do free writing?? (whine whine)
-- Because you have to practice writing sometimes.
-- I don't! It says in my IEP that I can type instead of write!
-- Okay. But one day you'll have to take the SAT, which requires a handwritten essay. And on that day, you'll want to have practice behind you of just writing.
-- What does SAT stand for?
-- Standard.... test.
-- Standardized achievement test. Aptitude? Aptitude.
-- Aptitude, I think.
-- I think the T should stand for Tetris.
-- Standardized Aptitude Tetris?
-- Yeah!
-- Oooh, I got it: Standard Atari Tetris!
-- Well, that would be an interesting test, I guess.
-- Standard Atari Tetris? I would do so good on that. I would totally get into Harvard!

-- Ms. Backes, do you have to write essays a lot?
-- What? Me, personally?
-- No, like, are there a lot of tests with essays?
-- Oh yeah, sure there are. A few years ago I had to take a test where I had to write twelve essays in something like two hours!
-- Twelve?? How long did they have to be?
-- Well... there wasn't a required length, but you wanted to cram as much information as you could into each. A page or two each, I guess.
-- In two hours?
-- Yeah.
-- Did you have fun?
-- What? No! It was terrible! By the end my hand was just aching, and it totally stressed me out. It wasn't fun at all.
-- Yeah, but you had college professor brains when you were in 8th grade, Ms. Backes!

-- Did you write a lot, Ms. Backes?
-- Sure. In high school, I always had a journal that I'd pull out whenever there was a slow moment, if I finished a test early or we had to watch a movie in class or something. I was always writing.
-- Yeah, but those were the old days. Kids today would probably just be doodling or drawing little pictures.
-- The old days?
-- Yeah.
-- I went to high school in the nineties! Not that much has changed in the last ten years!
-- See, ten years ago. That's the old days. Like, when I was a baby!

1st period.

-- What's this?
-- It's a NEWSPAPER. They print it every morning, and it has NEWS in it, which means that you can learn what's happening in our town....
-- No, I meant, what's this headline about?? (lightbulb) Ms. Backes, are you messing with me?
-- Never.

Today's teaching rant....

Last night my mother was telling me that I'm ethically responsible for the things that my team-teacher tells his classes (not just our joint class, but all his classes). That when he tells them about the end of the world and shows them Young Guns to show them what it's like to do peyote (an accurate portrayal, I'm sure) and teaches them that the alien-dna theory is just as viable as creationism or evolution, he is damaging their little brains and planting the seeds of evil. "You're planting the seeds of tolerance and creativity and critical thinking, and I'm proud of you, but he's planting the seeds of evil." And honestly, I do take responsibility, and I do feel that I will somehow be held accountable when one of the children tries to smoke a cactus and says it was the teacher's influence.

But. A couple of things: one, I'm a girl. I hate to say that, but the whole third wave passed right by this school, and the good ol'boys get away with pretty much anything (especially if they're coaches!) and really, it's not my place to correct a male colleague of mine. I try to do so sneakily of course, but he gets salty with me even so, like the time I insisted that not all kids who grow up in India are taught that white people come from Mars. He was rather irritated that I would try to correct him on that, even though it's preposterous and bizarre. Anyhow. This is a school where the principal describes my team teaching as a "shot-gun wedding," where my next-door-neighbor teacher literally kicks his students and tells me I'll "get everything but a venereal disease from these kids," etc etc. And I have to teach with this man for the rest of the year, so I don't really want to make an enemy of him by ratting him out or over-correcting him in front of the kids.....

But here's the real thing: One could argue that what I teach my students is just as controversial and perhaps just as inappropriate as what my team-teacher says. He talks about drugs in the classroom, I talk about gays as if they were no big deal. He teaches about aliens, I teach about tolerance for other religions and other ethnicities. ("Yes, but you're right," says my mother.) I think that every argument that could be made against what my team-teacher does could also be made against what I do, and I'm not really eager to bring that level of scrutiny into my own teaching, because I have a feeling that all my tolerance and creativity and love-thy-neighbor lessons would be nixed in favor of worksheets from the textbook.

And yet.... and yet. Where's the ethical line, folks? Ethics in teaching seemed so cut-and-dry when we were in college. Don't sleep with the students, don't share your weed, don't buy them beer, and you'll be fine. Somehow it's not that easy anymore....


Today we played "Social Norming BINGO" (with credit and thanks to Whitney Davidson for the idea). Homework tonight is to go home and watch TV for 20-30 minutes, recording every single person they see, and deciding whether or not that person fits a common stereotype. These are lessons I developed back in Iowa, and there's nothing better than the day that I get to say, "Your homework tonight is to go home and watch TV!"

7th period.

Me: Your homework tonight is to go home and watch television....
Gary: Oh man, I have been waiting my whole LIFE to hear someone say those words!

On the classroom management front, today went extremely well, which is interesting considering I had terrible laryngitis and literally could not talk. (I was so sick, I actually stayed home yesterday.) My class-from-hell was SOOOO good today! I gave them a new seating chart, which seemed to help (they asked for one), and told them that starting tomorrow we'd do a warning/call home/referral plan. Plus, everyone who was working hard got stickers, which will translate into extra credit in a week. A couple of kids (like the kid I threw out of my class twice last week) still had a hard time today, and with those kids I'm going to do some sort of agreement or contract.... yay, behaviorism.

Also, I talked to the school psychologist, who's been a friend of mine for almost as long as I've been in New Mexico (he and I actually ran a bully-proofing workshop together last autumn), and apparently all the psychologists and counselors went to a violence-prevention workshop last year and are excited about piloting this new program in the schools, and were actually thinking about asking me to be the pilot classroom for the year, even before I showed up and asked if someone could do some violence prevention and/or anger management training in my classroom.

So things are looking up, y'all.


7th period.

This area's been battered by severe thunderstorms and hail in the last two days. Last night my neighborhood got 6 inches of hail, and this morning I had to leave 25 minutes early just to get to school on time (because New Mexicans can't drive in "weather"). Then this afternoon, the storm over Moriarty was so bad that we were forced to keep the students in our classrooms for an extra half-hour at the end of the day! The announcement comes at about 2:45, and I just start laughing, because I'm sick, I've almost totally lost my voice, and my kids are already rowdy. But then, one of my students starts to hyperventilate, and a couple other kids around her start waving to me to come over. So I walk over and this girl explains to me that Summer had a dream the other night that it rained so hard that everyone had to stay at school, and then... well, basically, then everyone in the whole school died. So Summer's a little freaked out right now. So I send Amanda and Summer out into the hallway to calm down and valiantly try to keep on with my lesson. Of course, the news -- how we're all going to die -- spreads through the class like, well, middle school gossip, and pretty soon the whole class is freaking out. FREAKING OUT. These kids are convinced that we are going to die. And honestly, the storm was really very spooky, because the rain was just beating down and the thunder was directly over us and the lightning just kept flashing and it was really dark and cold. So I'm trying to keep everyone calm, because after all we still have another forty minutes to be together, but to tell the truth, **I'm** starting to get a little freaked out. I mean, there's nothing like 28 middle schoolers in the middle of a big scary storm all telling you that you're about to die. Nothing. And did I mention that I have literally no voice at this point? No voice. So I can't even calm their fears, I just keep kind of waving at them like I'm trying to land a plane or something, or like they're a big, hormonal, superstitious choir, and I'm the director. Things stay pretty tense like that for a while, the kids trembling in the dark and screaming with every thunder clap, me shaking my head and making shusshing noises, and the sound of the rain drowning out everything else. But eventually, the rain slows, and a rainbow appears over the high school, and Summer calms down, and the kids go back to flirting and fighting and jumping off chairs and drawing on my chalkboard and generally just being the hyper, hilarious, and very non-dead kids I've come to know and love so well.

6th period.

-- Wait, Ms. Backes! Wonderfullest isn't a word!
-- It's called poetic license. I'm a poet, so I can make stuff up.
-- You have to have a LICENSE to be a poet???

5th period.

-- You should hit us more!
-- See, I was raised by counselor-therapist-social worker types. Hitting isn't even in my DNA.
-- Sure it is! You just have to get in touch with your inner violence!!


Four words that strike fear in a teacher's heart:


Oh, shit. When? If it was after school, I was probably singing to myself like a moron, or dancing. Possibly talking on my cell phone and making funny faces. If it was before school, I was probably speeding (the speed limit on 40 is 75, so I'm crusing close to 90 some mornings), maybe yelling at the radio, possibly brushing my hair, and definitely looking sleepy/zoned out/cranky.

This morning....

Walt: Ms. Backes, I saw you driving!
Me: Great.
Walt: On the way to school! You were, like, passing all these semis!
Me: Um....
Walt: You drive a lot faster than my mom does, Ms. Backes!


And on another note entirely....

Me, last night, trying to describe the kind of person I'm looking for in my life:

They have to be earnest, but not too earnest... you know, idealistic, like in theory, but not in practice. They have to be the kind of person who would like their life to involve getting up at 5:30 am to drink tea and mediate, but doesn't actually go through with it very often because they're too hungover or too busy accidentally driving into their house. Wait. I mean, I just can't deal with people who are too nice, too pure, you know? I need a little less, let's talk about our feelings and a little more, eh, fuck you.

Roommate: More fuck you?

Me: Yeah. Like, they have to be idealistic but also cynical... you know, hope for the best but then have a very perverse, sick sense of humor about everything. Someone who isn't easily offended. Like this guy tonight, he was all "I need absolute peace and harmony to tap into my creative spirit," and I'm looking for more mental illness than that, you know, more "Hypercolor is like Osama bin Laden: they both disappeared." I mean, that!

Roommate: ..... what's "hypercolor"?

Me: It's, uh.....well jesus, it's.......oh, Grinnell ruined me!

02 October 2004


After school.

Mr. S: Hey, how was your day?
Me: Let's just say that I'm doing much better now than I was 20 minutes ago.
MS: Fridays!
Me: Gotta love 'em.
MS: So what happened?
Me: (sighing) I don't know, I had to give a kid a referral today and that just made me unhappy for the rest of the day. You know.
MS: These kids are something else! They're out of control! I don't know how you work with middle schoolers all day long!
Me: (laughing) Neither do I!!
MS: I just lost it the other day!
Me: Yeah, I lost my temper the other day, too.
TT: (walking up) Hey guys.
MS: Larry, you probably heard it!
TT: What?
MS: When I lost it the other day.
TT: (laughing) Yeah! I was in my portable, and I hear this guy screaming in the next portable over.
MS: I stood up there in front of the class and I yelled, "You guys are all a bunch of -- (whispering) ASS-HOLES!"
Me: You didn't!
TT: (Laughing) My whole class heard it!
Me: Well, Laney kicks them.
TT: In my first years of teaching, when they'd give me shit, I'd just throw them up against the wall and pin them there, coupla inches off the floor. Those were the days!
MS: Yeah, you can't touch 'em now... too bad!
TT: The other day I walked over to this kid and pounded my fist on his desk so hard that it still hurts!
MS: I grab 'em by the neck sometimes, pretending to be all friendly, but I squeeze hard, and they beg me to let go!!
Me: ................well.... I guess I don't feel so bad for kicking the door open the other day. At least I didn't touch him.
MS: Yeah, good for you! You should get meaner! Kick more doors!
TT: Once I actually tackled a kid, took him down, for flipping me the bird!
MS: Ha ha ha!
Me: Oh my god... I got into teaching thinking I could make a difference... thinking I could make middle school a better place. And now... all my ideals from college are like... PPBBBBBTTTT!!

7th period.

Bronwin: La la la la! I'm hyper! I'm hyper!
Me: Bronwin, chill out.
Bronwin: But... I'm hyper.
Me: Dude, I know. But you need to read today, okay?
Bronwin: ..... did you just call me dude??
Me: Read!
Brownin: (whispering) She called me dude!
Adam: (whispering back) Yeah, that's because she's the COOL teacher!

1st period.

TT: Many people think this election will be a record voter turn out, which means that Bush might be in trouble. Do you know why?
Earl: Oh! Because Bush, like, bombed all those dudes?

TT: Does anyone know how the city of Artesia got its name?
Jerrod: From the President's daughter!
Melody: (beat) What president??


Confession: Yesterday I kicked a student out of my class, and it made my day!! I'd just had enough, so I grabbed his binder and portfolio folder and literally kicked the outside door open and slammed his stuff down on a desk that was sitting outside the art room door. He followed me meekly and I said, "I am so over this!" And then I left him outside and slammed back into my room, and the class was totally quiet for almost 3 whole minutes!

7th period.

Me: Edwin, I'm glad you're back! Without you, our class was so much less...
Edwin: Depressing?
Me: I was going to say fun! I was going to say sunny!
Ty: (whispering) She was going to say depressing!

Gary: Ms. Backes, what's the word that means there are voices in your head that tell you what to do?
Me: Well... like if someone has a mental illness?
Gary: Yeah.
Me: Well, schizophrenia...
Gary: Yeah, that's it!
Me: But you have to be careful how you use that word. Many people use it incorrectly, like if they're talking about having two opinions about a topic, and that's offensive to some people.
Gary: Naw, I know what it means. My mom's, you know, a shrink.
Me: Oh, really?
Gary: Yeah. She has her degree in, you know, shrinkism.


Jerrod: (trips and falls on his face; stands up and tries to look dignified) It's so hard to fit three people in this one small body!

Evidence that I've become, as my students would say, a "full-pledged" loser....

Bill: Ms. Backes, what would you do if you were invisible?
Me: Um....
Marsha: Sneak up on people?
Bill: Rob a bank?
Andrew: Break into a museum?
Me: Um... no. Probably just the same stuff as always.
Me: But invisibility isn't that interesting to me. If I could have any magical power, it would be the ability to instantly transport myself to anywhere in the world.
Marsha: Cool! Where would you go?
Me: (excessively excited) I'd transport myself home during my prep period and walk the dog!
Kids: Uuaaghh.
Me: Or visit my friends across the world. I'd go to Africa!
Bill: Or.... transport yourself in and out of a bank?
Me: ....no, not so much.
Marsha: Wouldn't it be cool if you could stop time!
Me: Oh, that's one I know all about. I used to dream about that power in college.
Andrew: Why?
Me: Well, I'd be sitting in, say, a psych test and realize that I needed to study way more before I took the test. So I'd think about how if I could stop time, I could just leave and study all I needed and then start time and take the test. Oooh, or stop time and take a nap! That way it would be like you wouldn't have to sleep at all!
Bill: Let me get this right. If you could have ANY SUPERPOWER IN THE WORLD, you'd choose powers that would let you walk your dog, sleep, and do more homework?
Me: ...........................well, when you put it that way........ I'm a loser!
Kids: (all nod sadly in agreement)


from my friend Kate:
pet peeve #1: when you're sitting somewhere, waiting for that place to be unlocked, and more and more people come and unsuccessfully try the doors and then sit down and wait with you, and yet every new person to arrive also must try all the doors and determine for himself that it is, indeed, still locked. No, asshole, we're all sitting outside the forum for the hell of it. But yeah, sure, maybe it'll be like the fucking sword in the stone and it'll magically open for alone and you can be fucking king arthur of the forum.

Only it's a bunch of 12 year olds, and instead of just rattling the doorknob, they rattle, then pound, then throw themselves bodily at the door, and when I finally open it, they yell at me for making them wait for even 30 precious seconds. And that's my day.

5th period.

-- Ms. Backes, why did you fly into the room?
-- Um, what?
-- When you kicked Denny out of the room, remember, when you threw him outside? You flew back into the room. Was it, like, a kickback? Like a shockwave?
-- ....Are you finished with your worksheet?
-- You must have thrown him really hard, huh??

6th period.

[the class and I get into a fight about whether or not my drawing of a cow does, in fact, look like a cow]

-- Don't worry, Ms. Backes. I used to draw like that too --- in kindergarten!!

7th period.

-- Ms. Backes, can we move our desks by our friends during worktime today?
-- How do you know we're going to have worktime today?
-- Well... you can just... see it... in a teacher.....!

-- Ms. Backes, someone left their ear here! [holding up a bloody plastic ear]
-- Someone left their.... what?? Gross!

-- You can totally tell if a person smokes, just by how they look!
-- Do I smoke?
-- Do I smoke?
-- What about me, do I smoke?
-- You don't smoke, you raise pigs!


7th period.

-- In my classroom, everyone has the right to be safe.
-- Question. Do I have the right to punch him in the face?
-- No.
-- Even if he stole my pencil??

-- Do you think there are certain rights that every human on the planet should have? Joey?
-- Freedom of speech!
-- Summer?
-- Education!
-- Good, Dakota?
-- Um, life? The right to be alive.
-- Good! Arlene?
-- Love whoever you want. Everyone should get that.
-- Good. Jose?
-- The right.... to have a house. And food. And... respect.
-- Very good. Yes, Walt?
-- Yeah, when does this class get over?

6th period.

Tony: I can't believe you said the right to date or marry who you want is the most important! I mean, come on, people! You could be living on the streets!

2nd period.

Melody: (with a "Sponge Bob" blanket around her legs like a long skirt) Look, Ms. Backes! I'm acclimating to the cold climate -- like an Indian!

Jenna: These pencils are sharp! Let's play darts! Ms. Backes, darts!
Me: Jenna, I am not your dartboard.

Every day I have to have an essay question ready for 5th period, so when they start being disrespectful or fighting with one another, I can stop the class discussion and make them write essays instead. Isn't that sad?

Instead of letting myself get down, though, I just try to imagine my current students sitting in some of my college classes, and how the professors would have dealt with them. I particularly like to juxtapose my 7th graders into Steve Andrews' seminar about nature/writing/women, and watch what happens when the kids just won't sit down, or fall out of their seats, or ask 20 times "what are we doing today?" or "when does this class get over?" Or I like to think of Craft of Fiction, if it was full of these jerry-springer-inspired dramatics. I imagine students jumping across the table to attack one another for saying mean things about a story, or yelling, "Mr. Baechtel, can I punch him?? But he said my dialogue was forced!"
And now, here's something we hope you'll really like....

Ever wondered what it might be like to take a road trip with Donald Rumsfeld? Maybe a little something like this....

"Are parts of the car on fire? Sure. Would we like them not to be? Of course. Have I gone insane from three decades of snorting military-grade rubber cement? Quite possibly. Do we need everything to be perfect for us to go out on the road? Well, that's absurd," says Donald Rumsfeld.
"That's very true," says me. "We cannot make the perfect the enemy of the terrible."

And a link from my friend Kate: Your Lameass Hippie Protests Are Worthless (Kate's title)

24 September 2004


1st period.

(Current Events)

TT: Has anyone heard about the bizarre rape case in Wisconsin?
Kids: No...
TT: Get this: the woman was 76 years old...
Kids: Aaaaahh! Gross!!
TT: ...and the man, if you could call him that, was 11!!
TT: Which just proves that rape isn't about sex, it's about violence.
Me: Power.
TT: Right! Power! It's about power!
Me: A lot of people don't get that. They think women who "act sexy" are more likely to get raped or... that they somehow "deserve" to be raped, like they were "asking for it." It's not about sex at all, it's about power. No one deserves to be raped, ever.
TT: Like, once I had this student who had missed a bunch of class, so after a few days I asked the other kids where he was. "Didn't you hear?" the kids asked. "He went to jail!" Guess why he went to jail.
Kids: He raped someone?
TT: Right! He raped a lot of people! But it gets worse: he went to jail for raping BABIES!

(New Mexico Trivia)

Q: What town in New Mexico is known as the Chile Capitol of the World?
A: Oooh! Peru!

5th period. (I accidentally let down my guard)

-- Ms. Backes, is that your husband?
-- (me, utterly confused) What? Who?
-- Do you have a husband?
-- Are you married?
-- No, no I don't have a husband.
-- Do you have a BOY FRIEND?? Ooooh, oohhh!
-- (me, laughing) Um....
-- Oh my god, she's blushing!
-- You guys, she's blushing!
-- What's his name?
-- No, no I don't have a husband and I don't have a boyfriend.
-- Yes you do!
-- What's his name??
-- It's Mark, right? I can see it in your eyes!
-- No, it's not Mark, I've never dated a Mark in my whole life.
-- I know, it's Mr. Backes!
-- Yeah, Mr. Backes! You love him!!
-- Okay! I'm not married, and the only Mr. Backes I know is my father.
-- (utter confusion) .... you married your FATHER?

6th period.

Me: You should write a writing prompt on your card, something you'd like the class to write about. It should be something we can all write about. Last class someone said, "How about, the first time I knocked someone out was...." Hopefully this is not a topic everyone can write about!
Bob: But you could, Ms. Backes!
Me: What? Me? I've never knocked someone out in my life!
Special Ed Teacher: [laughs to herself]
Joey: What about that kid on the playground when you were little?
Special Ed Teacher: [laughs out loud] What!
Me: I made him cry, I didn't knock him UNCONSCIOUS!
Ty: What? I never heard that story!
Shawna: She was a bully.
Me: I used to beat kids up on the playground.
Ty: Oh my gosh!
Me: Well, I'm not proud of it!
Joey: Why do you always brag about it, then?

Jay: (reading his free-writing exercise in a quiet, slow voice) I dreamed that I had a pack of dogs that could talk. They became quite vicious....

After school: a note that I found on the floor.

I don't know why I said I did not like you when I do. Kaden will you go out with me?

Yes or No

Yes I will but when your friends ask you will you deny were going out? Will hold hug and hold hands?

No I wont deny we're going out. And yes we will hug and hold hands. I love you!!! :-P



Andy: Rrrar! Raaaarrr!
Marsha: Ha ha ha! Oooh, I'm scared!
Andy: Rarrrr!
Bill: You wanna fight? Wait, I can't fight you!
Me: Okay, WHAT is going on?
Marsha: We're all scared of Andy.
Me: Why? Andy isn't very scary.
Andy: Maybe not on my own.... but I have a LETHAL WEAPON LUNCHBOX!!

1st period.

(watching a video about Bandelier)

TT: In another class, someone thought that's what the actual pueblo buildings looked like -- piles of crumbling bricks, three feet tall --
Jared: And bulletproof!

Jared: Whatever that guy's smoking, I want some!
TT: Speaking of smoking... Did you know that Native Americans believe that smoking mind altering substances is good for you. It makes you more intelligent, more open, more wise. Marijuana, peyote, mushrooms, acid... marijuana's even legal on the rez. When I coached, one of my star players got pregnant, and she had to take a weekend off so she could do peyote so she would have a smart baby!
Me: What? Drugs make you stupid!
Brad: How do you know, Ms. Backes?
Me: I just do. Everyone does! Peyote won't make your baby smart!
Jared: Legal pot! I'm moving to the rez!
Me: Aaaargh!

Team Teacher: So on the test tomorrow you have to pick five of the six essay questions to answer. Hint. Pick the ones you know.
Jared: Question. What if you don't know any of the essay answers?
Liz: Then you're screwed.

2nd period.

Melody: Ms Backes, who wrote this [sample essay paper]?
Me: Oh, just someone.
Brad: But WHO?
Me: A student. It was a long time ago.
Jimmy: [looking at the paper] Yeah, 1995? That's, like, prehistoric!
Brad: Seriously, who wrote it?
Me: No one.
Melody: Tell us, Ms Backes!
Me: Okay, okay. I wrote it, when I was about your age.
Class: [stunned silence]
Brad: But -- but -- it has big words! You must be really smart!
Me: Anyway.
Melody: You ARE smart, Ms Backes! You're way too smart to be a teacher!
Me: Now what does that mean? You don't want smart teachers? Dumb teachers of America unite?
Brad: Yeah, cause dumb teachers wouldn't make us work so hard!


Brad: Ms. Backes, why do you make us work so hard? You're evil!
Me: [making little wiggly devil horns over my head]
Bill: [laughs to himself]
Brad: I'm serious, Ms. Backes! It's too early in the morning! This assignment is too hard! Why do we have to do all three articles? Why do we have to write a paper?
Me: Because I answer directly to Satan.
Brad: !!
Bill: [looking between Brad & me, silently shaking with laughter]
Brad: .... really?
Me: No! It's because I know you're smart and capable and I'm trying to help you become a better critical thinker!
Brad: Like I said. You're evil.

21 September 2004


1st period.

MB: Okay, if I said, "Julie is a jerkhead," would that be fact or opinion?
Class: FACT.
MB: Um. Okay. Let's back up. If I said, "Ms. Backes is a teacher," is that fact or opinion?
Class: FACT.
MB: Why?
Bill: Because you teach.
MB: Right. I do teach classes, and I get paid to teach, and I have a teaching license. That's three pieces of evidence we can point to. Whereas, if I said, "Julie is a jerkhead," can you point to a license she has saying so? Is she a card-carrying jerkhead? Did some federal judge decree her to be a jerkhead, officially?
Class: (thinking really hard) .....no......
MB: So if there's no evidence, how could it be a fact?
Ellen: I don't get it.
MB: Okay, think about it this way. Is it possible that someone else in the world thinks Julie is not a jerkhead?
Class: ....maybe....
MB: Can it be a fact if two different people have two different opinions about it?
Class: .... Oh! I get it!!
MB: Whew!

AND I used the story about the deaf people on Martha's Vineyard to talk about the social construction of, you know, EVERYTHING. I never thought I'd say this, but thanks, exceptional child!!

7th period.

Cody: Ms. Backes, can our conflict be that I'm a werewolf who can talk?
Me: .... So, what's the conflict?
Cody: And I eat people?
Me: So... the conflict is that it's hard to talk with your mouth full of people?
Cody: Um... nah.
Me: Okay... so maybe your conflict would be that the people don't want to be eaten.
Cody: Oh, yeah! Good one, Miss B!


1st period.

(I've been outside giving a makeup test, and come in halfway through THIS video....)

Video: [Xmas music playing, mom & daughter happily making cookies, little boy playing with game boy by xmas tree, dad on computer, happy dog and cat curled up by fire, sweet little birdie in cage in kitchen. Joy to the world, etc.]
Narrator on Video: Have you ever thought about how many things you have in your power grid? Computer, microwave, blender, clock radio. Imagine if all of these things gained a life of their own and decided they didn't like you.
Video: [Xmas music gets all screechy, man's computer starts flashing "THE END IS NEAR!!", little girl gets attacked by waffle iron, little boy gets attacked by christmas tree.]
My Team Teacher: I'm not putting up a christmas tree in 2012, that's for sure!
Me: [stunned and speechless in the back of the room]
Narrator on Video: Cats, dogs, pet parakeets, they'll all attack.
Video: [Shots of angry screechy cat and dog, parakeet basically explodes out through its cage.]
Narrator: Chickens, turkeys, horses, they'll all begin to talk and tell us of all our sins against them.
Student: We're all gonna die!
Narrator: This is what will happen on December 21, 2012.... ON THE DAY THE WORLD ENDS IN FLAMES.
Kids: Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!
Team Teacher: [strolling to VCR] Pretty scary, huh? Of course, that's just one theory about the end of the world, from the ancient Mayans.
Kids: Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!! We're all gonna die!!


Me: Um, that video was pretty over-the-top, don't you think?
Team Teacher: Yeah, but I did a pretty good job of emphasizing that it was just a theory, didn't I?
Me: Um...... no. I'm pretty sure the kids got stuck on the "we're all going to die" part, and missed the "or so one theory goes" part.

Team Teacher: Did you know that we are 99.99% genetically identical to chimps?
Jared: My dad says I am! My dad says I'm closer!

TT: There is a consistency around the world of alien intervention.

TT: All schoolchildren in India are taught that white people come from Mars!
Kids: What? That's weird!
TT: It's true!
Me: Wait a minute. I don't know that that IS true. I have several friends from India, and none of them has ever accused me of being from Mars.
TT: Well, maybe not EVERYONE learns that.... but most.
Carly: [turns around and smiles at me, as if to say "don't worry Ms. Backes, we all know that Mr. K is completely demented"]
TT: Let me ask you this. The teachers in India teach this as fact, but what do you think would happen to a teacher here if they were teaching it?
Kids: They'd get fired!
TT: Right!
Me: [strangling myself] Arrrghh! The irony!

6th period.

Me: A conflict is when someone WANTS something, and something stands in their way. For example, if I wanted to put this pencil on that desk, that's not a conflict. But --
Joey: If there was a NINJA.....
Me: Um, right. If there was a ninja standing here, that would be a conflict, because something is standing between me and the desk.
Joey: A NINJA!
Kellie: Or if you had no legs!
Me: True. It would be a conflict if I wanted to get to that desk, but I didn't have legs to get there.
Dave: You're pretty tall. You could probably just lean over and set it there.
Me: Ah, but not if I didn't have legs! Then I'd be short!

7th period.

Me: You should have your blue sheet in front of you.
Class: chatter chatter mumble murmur chitter giggle mumble mumble
Me: Blue sheet. In front of you. Blue.
Class: talky chatter mumble mumble murmur giggle mumble chatter whisper
Kid: Ms Backes, what do we need?
Me: Your blue sheet. Out in front of you. Blue sheet.
Class: whisper mumble mumble chatter giggle! mumble chatter chitter talky talky
Me: You know what I feel like? When Dorothy's house crashes in Oz, and she steps out and all the munchkins are going [munchkin voice] "mutter mutter whisper whisper mumble chatter mumble giggle query chatter talky." And Dorothy stands there totally overwhelmed by the muttering munchkins. That's how I feel!!
Class: Are WE the munchkins?
Me: YOU are paying my therapy bills if you don't get out your blue sheets!
Class: Blue sheets? What blue sheets? What did she say? What do we need? I don't have a blue sheet!
Me: [running for the nearest padded room] Aaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!

I feel so mentally ill today.

The upside is that I made up a good way of remembering teaching 1st/2nd/3rd person POV on the spot today: They couldn't get the difference between the three, so I had two kids come up and stand in a line beside me. I said, "**I** am first. I am first in line." Turned to Ciera. "You are second. YOU are the second one in line." Pointed over her head to Amy. "SHE is third. SHE is third in line." Then I said, "Now when you're trying to remember, just think of me turning to Ciera and telling her YOU are second. And Amy back there, SHE is third. And of course, I am first, because I am always first."


5th period. (free reading)

Kid: Ms. Backes, someone farted!
Me: [rolling eyes]
Class: giggle giggle.
Class: giggle giggle!
Class: Giggle giggle GIGGLE GIGGLE!!!
Me: Guy, you're supposed to be SILENTLY reading. Please get control of yourselves!
Class: HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!

7th period.

Me: Okay, gang. Don't forget that Sunday is National Talk Like a Pirate Day!
Eddie: Do we get extra credit if we do?
Me: What?
Eddie: Do we get extra credit if we talk like a pirate?
Jimmy: Aarrrrr, me matey! Extra credit or walk the plank!

More great lines from 7th grade stories:

From The Year

“By the Jocks booth there was the Cheerleader stand. Maybe I could be a cheerleader. I started to walk up to the stand. When one of the girls stared at me straight in the eye. It was a cold dark stare, like she was saying this is not for you go away your blocking the sign. Suddenly I turned away. I realized why she stared at me like that. I was a short thin blond with glasses who still wore overalls to school. I was a full pledged nerd.”

From The first day of 7th grade

“We had to get our schedule. Then we had to meet all our teachers. Veronica! I saw her! She is the cutest girl out of the 7th and 8th grade. I like her but I don’t think she likes me.”

From 7th Grade Students Who Are Happy

"She hates history, but she likes him."
"She closed her locker and her best friend."

From 7th Grade Blues

"Being a mutant was not normal."

17 September 2004


In case anyone has been questioning the influence of my conspiracy theory team teacher....

-- So let's pick an example most people know. The Lion King. What would the climax of the Lion King be?
-- Oooh, Ms. Backes, I know!
-- Yes?
-- Um, when Mufasa dies?
-- Well, that's pretty dramatic, but it's not the MOST dramatic....
-- I know! I know! When he has a baby!
-- Getting closer....
-- When Nala almost eats the little guy! Timon!
-- Again, though that was dramatic, and it was a turning point, it didn't answer the central question of the movie, which was: Will Simba overcome the shame and guilt he feels at his father's death to take his rightful place at the head of the pride? What part of the movie answered that question?
-- Oh! I know!
-- Yes?
-- When Mufasa dies!
-- Okay, here's a hint. The climax comes near the end of the story.
-- Um......... Scar?
-- What about Scar?
-- When they fight?
-- Yes! Right! The battle between Scar and Simba, when they battle for control of the pride. Remember? It's the MOST dramatic! They're fighting, and everything's in flames, and the flames are leaping higher, and the hyenas are licking their chops, waiting to move in, and the winner takes all! And then Scar falls into the pit and the hyenas eat him! SUCH drama! That's the climax! And remember, we talked about how the climax is the final turning point in the story, so after that scene it starts raining and there's food again and Simba's the king and everyone's happy. The end.
-- Ms Backes! Ms Backes!
-- What?
-- I figured it out, I figured it out!
-- Figured what out?
-- I figured out when it is?
-- When what is, the climax?
-- No, when the Lion King is?
-- What?
-- When it happens.
-- Uh... okay. When does it happen.
-- On December 21, 2012!
-- Okay.... why?
-- Because Mr. K said that that's when the world will end, and everything will be burning, and all the animals will talk to us and tell us how bad we are, and the machines will all turn and attack us!
-- (oh. my. god.) You know, I don't think Mr. K actually believes that, I think he was talking about what some people believe a Mayan calendar predicts.
-- No, he does! He said we'd better be nice to the animals, or they'll tell us how bad we are before they kill us!
-- Ms. Backes, did she say 2012? That's only 8 years away!
-- I'll be 28 then!
-- You're twelve.
-- Yeah, if the world's gonna end in 8 years, so why do we have to learn about plots or whatever?
-- Yeah, what we should be learning is how to fight machines!
-- Yeah!

Why is it that so many of the conversations I have with students leave me feeling like Ricky Ricardo? It's a combination of disbelief and desperation and, secretly, amusement. Oh, Lucy!


Middle Schoolers on Love:

from 7th Grade
"The next day Johnathon asked Lidia if she was ready to hold hands and she said yes. So they held hands during classes and between classes. At lunch Johnathon and Lidia hugged and went to hang out with their friends. Johnathon told his friends he was going to kiss Lidia, and Lidia told her friends she was going to kiss Johnathon. So at the end of the day they went to each other and kissed. They both blushed then kissed again. The next day every one started to hang out with Lidia and her friends. The end."

from Her First Love, but Not His.
"She was still happy though just because she was going out with him. Every second of the day she felt goodness flow through her body. Until after 7th period when he told her that he had lost interest in her and that he wanted to break up with her. She was so crushed she actually loved him more than anything in the world. After she kept trying to get him back even if it took to break him up with every one of his girlfriends...."

from I Made a Fool of myself
"There was this boy named Nick and he was a geek. He had fore friends and they were geeks too. Nick licked a girl name was Christina and she was a popular girl. One day he went up to her and said hi how are you doing and she said go away.... He licked Christina, but Nick still licked her. She picked the pop star because Nick was a loser.... His friends didn't lick him anymore."

from Alex Found Her Guy
"He saw her and walked towererd Alex and Taylor. He asked Taylor to the dance they had announced that morning. Of course she said yes!!! They ended up dating!!!"

from Love at First Fight
"After that Ashley apologized to Derrick (after he got out of OSS) and they were best friends through high school. Then Derrick proposed to her at their senior prom. They got married four years later after collage and had three kids together."

from A Hidden Love

"He kissed Josh smack dab on the lips, and then he shoved a piece of paper into his hand and ran off. Josh stood rooted to the spot unable to speak. He went outside, opened the piece of paper, and leaped into the air with joy. Once P.E. was over he ran to the library and checked out as many books as he could find on grammar for this is what the note had said:

Listen up, I love you
Meet me at my house at
5:00 to practice my grammar
See you

And from then on they were more than friends. They were lovers."


1st period.

(after playing VOCAB CIRCLE OF DEATH! -- which would have gone a little more smoothly if a certain student hadn't dropped his vocab word underneath the portable, aka trailer, where our class meets....)

Me: Okay, gang, do you feel more prepared for the vocab test tomorrow?
Class: Yes!
Me: Is that an activity we should do again?
Class: YES!
Me: And are you ready to learn now?
Class: YES!
Me: Good, because we're learning about APA reference style for your bibliographies.
Class: Wait -- no! Not ready to learn! Ready to sleep!
Jared: Ms. Backes, you tricked us! That was so cheap -- even for you!


Most jaw-dropping moment of the day:

My team-teacher, a NEW MEXICO HISTORY TEACHER, turns to me in the library during research time today and casually asks,

"So, who is this O'Keeffe person, anyway?"


While I was busy cramming my bulging eyeballs back into my skull, he went on: I know she's a writer, but what does she write?
Me: (in utter shock and disbelief) Georgia O'Keeffe?? Um, she was an artist. She was THE artist.
Him: So.... she's from New Mexico?
Me: Well, she was from Wisconsin, actually, but she's the number one artist everyone associates with New Mexico. No other artist so famously captured this landscape.
Him: So.... she's a painter, or what?
Me: Um, yeah. A painter.
Him: So like, what does she paint?
Me: Um. Flowers, and skulls, and.... Okay. Let me find a book and show you her work. I can't explain Georgia O'Keeffe.
Him: I've always heard the name, but I never really knew who she was. So where does she live?
Me: ..... at Ghost Ranch? Up near Abiquiqu?
Him: Hmm.
Me: Also? She's dead.
Him: Oh, really?
Me: Um, yeah. She first came out here in the 20s, I think. Moved out here in the 30s or 40s. She lived to be pretty old, but I'm pretty sure she's been dead for at least 20 years.
Kid: Are you talking about Georgia O'Keeffe? I love her! I was just looking at a book of her paintings!
Me: Would you go grab it for me?
Kid: Sure! Here it is!
Me: (showing my team teacher) See, she painted skulls... crosses... flowers.... and the land.... She said, "New Mexico -- I loved it immediately. From then on, I was always on my way back."
Him: Hey, this painting really looks like New Mexico!
Me: [[staggering out of library and collapsing with the strain of how fucking bizarre my life is]]

6th period.

MB: (conferencing with students about progress reports) Ellery?
Ellery: (running back) I better have an A or B! Do I have an A or B?
MB: (calmly taking his progress report) Well, let's see....
Ellery: You'd better write A or B, or I'll shoot you!
MB: Ellery Jones, you did NOT just say that to me.
Ellery: Whoops! I was just kidding!
MB: That's the kind of thing that is NEVER okay to say!
Ellery: I was just kidding, Mrs. Backes! I'm going to teach you how to play Yu-Gi-Oh!
MB: Okay. Wait, WHAT?

1st period.

Anna: Ms. Backes?
MB: Yes?
Anna: Jenny says your brain never grows, but I say she's wrong.
MB: Well....
Jenny: I'm totally right, Anna!
MB: Think about it this way: if you were born with an adult-sized brain, wouldn't you have a freakishly large head, for a baby?
Anna and Jenny: ............ EWWWWW!!! That would be so gross!!


Picture Day!

2nd period.

-- Ms. Backes, I HATE picture day!
-- Me too.
-- Me too!
-- Everyone hates picture day. Suffer.
-- But Ms. Backes, what if my picture is UGLY?
-- Look, my 8th grade picture was so ugly, my mother refused to have it in her office. She just kept my 7th grade picture up for two years.
-- That's mean!
-- Well, I *was* pretty ugly.
-- Ms. Backes, that's nothing! In my kindergarten picture, I had horns!


last night.

Me: I'm working on a media bias analysis mini-unit for my Humanities block. Every Friday we "do current events," but all that involves is Larry standing in front of the room talking about what's going on.
Teacher Friend Camille: ....in the universe! Ha!
Me: Last week, I asked the kids to bring in articles and summarize them, and half of their summaries sounded like, "Rich Ford is having a huge sale next week!"
TFC: I know. I tell my students to bring in controversial articles, and they bring in "Woman, 26, Murdered."
Me: Um, Miss? I object. How do we REALLY know she was murdered?
TFC: Yeah, that wasn't murder! She was asking for it!
Me: It was a mercy killing!
TFC: She had no right being out after dark in that sweatsuit anyway.
Me & TFC:
Me: .... oh, god! I can't believe I tricked anyone into giving me a teaching license, much less a job. I'm so mentally ill.
TFC: Oh honey, the best ones are the most fucked up!

1st period.

TT: Who can tell me what Linguistics is?
Curtis: Ms. Backes can!

TT: Does anyone know what Linguistics is?
Jared: Oooh! I know! It's a kind of pasta sauce!

5th period.

Kurt: Ms. Backes, Cyndi keeps her money in her (whispers) B-R-A.
Cyndi: So? At least no one tries to steal it that way.
MB: Yeah, I do that too, when I go clubbing.
Every child:
MB: Sure.
Cyndi: What clubs do you go to?
MB: Clubs in Albuquerque.
Cyndi: Which ones?
MB: Why, so you can meet me out this weekend?
Cyndi: Yeah!
MB: You're TWELVE.
Cyndi: So? I got into Isleta Casino once!
MB: Anyway.
Kurt: Oh, man, I can't believe you go clubbing! That's so cool!!


Cyndi: Ms. Backes, you should totally go goth!
MB: Do you think my students would be more likely to do their homework?
Cyndi: Mmmmm... probably not.
MB: Then no.

7th period.

Davey: Hey, Old School!
MB: Did you just call me Old School?
Davey: What? No! I meant the computer!

Charlotte: Ms. Backes, I can't get my thing to work.
MB: What's --
Davey: (calling across the room) Hey Ms Backes!
MB: One moment, please. (to Charlotte) Okay, what --
Jose: Ms. Backes?
MB: Hang on. (to Charlotte) Sorry, wh--
Annabelle: Ms. Backes!
MB: Please wait your turn. (to Charlotte) I'm sorry. So what's wrong with you?
Charlotte: (giggling) .....where do I even begin?
MB: Tell me about it!


before school.

You just know there's something wrong when you're sitting in a meeting with one of your colleagues and all you can think whenever he starts to speak is, "Please don't mention the aliens, Larry. Anything but the aliens."

Here's a conversation I have over and over:

Supportive friend: I'm so glad you're teaching!
Me: Thanks.
SF: Well, how's it going?
Me: Pretty well. It's a lot like working in a home for very small, very fast Alzheimer's patients. They get lost a lot.
SF: Well, that sounds fun! So how's that team teaching thing going? That sounded like it would be pretty interesting.
Me: It's going really well! You know, except for the fact that my team-teacher is a conspiracy-theorist who's devoted much of his life to learning the truth of what happened at Area 51 in Roswell, who believes that aliens came down and altered the DNA of early humans, who believes that the Bible is just a big cover-up for what happened to the city of Atlantis, who thinks that quality education is watching another educational video about trout fishing in the San Juan, and who looks like he just stepped off the set of "That 70's Show." And the principal keeps describing my working relationship with this man as a "shot-gun wedding." But other than that, great!

4th period.

Brad: Ms. Backes? I don't know how to draw an old person!
MB: Well, how is an old person different than a young person?
Brad: Wrinkles... and liver spots? What else.
MB: Okay, are old people usually tall?
Brad: No. Hunched over!
MB: Right. And are old people usually.....
Brad: Ugly?
MB: I was going to say big.
Brad: No, they're small! (to himself) Small, and ugly.

6th period.

Ellery: (holding up a Yu-Gi-Oh card) Ms. Backes, do you think this looks like you?
Troy: We think it looks just like you!
MB: Oh yeah, just like me! What with the tail and the horns and the claws and all.


6th period.

-- Two questions. One, someone raise a hand and tell me when your revision sheet is due?
-- Ooh! Pick me!
-- Yes?
-- Tomorrow!
-- That's right! Second question. Someone raise a hand and tell me what an acceptable excuse would be for not having your assignment finished and here tomorrow.
-- Um, your dog ate it?
-- Wrong!
-- Um, you couldn't get your locker open?
-- Wrong again!
-- Okay, what if you got really into your TV show and you totally just blanked it?
-- No! That's a terrible excuse!
-- I know! I know! Pick me!
-- Yes?
-- (triumphantly) There IS no excuse!!
-- Ding ding ding! We have a winner!
-- Oh! Oh! Ms Backes! Ms Backes!
-- ... yes?
-- Okay. But what if you, like, get KIDNAPPED? And, um, taken across the border??
-- Hmm. (long pause) Okay. IF you get kidnapped, and IF you can bring me reasonable proof of this fact, like a police report AND a video of the story on the news AND notes from both your parents and your kidnappers, then I guess I'll accept late work. Just this once, though.
-- Yes?
-- Seriously, you want our KIDNAPPERS to write us a note of excuse?
-- Seriously.
-- (whispering) Dude, you'd better just do your homework.

-- I just let you all get away with murder.
-- Ooh, really?
-- What? No! Obviously, if your murdered someone, you'd get an F!

-- Ms. Backes, how old are you?
-- Guess.
-- Um.... 35?
-- No...
-- 40?
-- 40! Do I look 40? Are you kidding me?
-- Oh. Um.... 29?
-- Nope.
-- 27? 25?
-- Younger.
-- Just tell us!
-- 24.
-- You're so young!
-- I know. You never thought someone so brilliant could be so young.
-- Not that you're bragging or anything, Ms. Backes.
-- Never.

7th period.

-- Someone raise your hand and tell me a good excuse for not having your homework finished tomorrow.
-- Um, your dog ate it?
-- You forgot?
-- Oooh! I know! There IS no good excuse!
-- That's right!
-- Ms Backes? What if your bus, like, crashes, and you are in a coma?
-- Okay. (long pause) Okay. IF your bus crashes and you go into a coma, and IF you bring back a signed note from your doctor along with witness testimony and polaroids of you lying in that hospital bed, then I'll accept late work. Oh, or if you're kidnapped and taken across the border, but only if you bring me police reports and letters from your kidnappers, the border patrol, and your parents.
-- WHAT???
-- (suspiciously) Ms. Backes, is that, like, just another way of saying that there's no excuse?