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)