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!
-- 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!
-- 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!
-- 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?
-- 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!
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
And from then on they were more than friends. They were lovers."
(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?
Me: Is that an activity we should do again?
Me: And are you ready to learn now?
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?
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]]
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?
Anna: Ms. Backes?
Anna: Jenny says your brain never grows, but I say she's wrong.
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!!
-- 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!
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!
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!
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.
Kurt: YOU go CLUBBING?
Cyndi: What clubs do you go to?
MB: Clubs in Albuquerque.
Cyndi: Which ones?
MB: Why, so you can meet me out this weekend?
MB: You're TWELVE.
Cyndi: So? I got into Isleta Casino once!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.....
MB: I was going to say big.
Brad: No, they're small! (to himself) Small, and ugly.
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.
-- Two questions. One, someone raise a hand and tell me when your revision sheet is due?
-- Ooh! Pick me!
-- 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?
-- 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!
-- (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.
-- Seriously, you want our KIDNAPPERS to write us a note of excuse?
-- (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?
-- Um.... 35?
-- 40! Do I look 40? Are you kidding me?
-- Oh. Um.... 29?
-- 27? 25?
-- Just tell us!
-- 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.
-- 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.
-- (suspiciously) Ms. Backes, is that, like, just another way of saying that there's no excuse?