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

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