Category Archives: Teacher Moments
Happy New Year! I’m not going to apologize or feel guilty for not blogging in a while, but I will warn that this is completely non math teaching related.
And the winner of “Favorite Student Interaction of 2011″ goes to…
Mitch was a student in my non-AP Calculus class this fall and was struggling. His overall grade was floating in the 30s and it was looking pretty bleak. One day, I popped out of my apartment to grab something from the dorm kitchen. I passed through the dorm and noticed Mitch sitting in the common room, which was strange because he did not live in my dorm. I greeted him and then continued on my business, going into the narrow alleyway that leads to the tiny, little enclosed kitchen.
I looked behind me and Mitch had followed me in there. Grinning, he says “I’m sorry Mr. Rami, but I’m going to have to kill you now” (NB: Rami is my Arabic name).
My mind: What!? Is he serious? I mean, he could be, he’s not doing well in the class. But no, that’s crazy. Things like that don’t happen in real life. I’m not Samuel L. Jackson in one of those turn-around-the-violent-inner-city-school stories.
My mouth: [makes a nervous chuckle]
At this point, he pulls something out of the bundle he was carrying… a bejeweled Bedouin dagger in its sheath.
My mind: Ho-o-okay, that’s officially the first time someone has pulled a weapon on me. I think he is serious. I’m trapped in this narrow kitchen and I’m officially freaked out.
My eyes: [widen in panic]
I think he could tell I was a bit nervous, so in an attempt to soothe me he pulls the knife out of its sheath. He says, “Don’t worry, it’s not sharp.” Then, he puts the knife up to his face and demonstrates that it’s not sharp by running it along each of his cheeks.
My mind: Okay, I feel like saw Hannibal Lector do that in a movie and then slice the crap out of someone to eat their brains. This image in my mind is slowly morphing into Mitch doing the same to me. Not very helpful.
My face: [has a look of panic that has spread from eyes to other facial features]
Finally, seemingly confused that his actions are having eliciting these reactions from me, Mitch shows me that the face of the blade has “Rami” engraved in Arabic (رامي) on it. It was a gift, and this was the wonderful way that he decided to present it to me. He handed me the engraved dagger and a Jordanian keffiyeh, a completely unprompted, middle of the semester gift, which was perhaps perplexing, but really nice. He told me he wanted to give it to me because I enjoyed “Bedouin things” (not sure how he came to that conclusion). I asked him where he got it and he said he wasn’t sure because his driver had picked it up for him. Well… okay. Sweet gesture though.
I honestly don’t think he was giving it to me so that I would bump his grade, or get in my favor in any way. I think he actually just wanted to express his appreciation to me… for something, I’m not sure what. It reminded me of what I found to be one of the most surprising things I found out about teaching. I was always a really good student and teachers liked me so I think I kind of assumed that teachers only really liked the good students. I quickly found out that this is patently false – some of my favorite students over the past three years have been some of the ones who have struggled most. Conversely, I have less-than-enjoyed a handful of the A students I have taught.
So thank you Mitch for reminding me how wonderful it is to be able to see potential in everyone and for making me wet my pants for the first time since 1st grade.*
We do many things during a 45 minute class, but I am always surprised at how little things seem to stick unless you go through a calculated process. When I’m teaching skills and we’re not doing inquiry, I often go by a mantra that one of my friends working at Teach For America shared me when I was beginning teaching and had absolutely no clue how to start: I do, we do, you do. I say/share/discuss/talk about something, then we do guided practice/an activity/a lab together as a class, and then I release them to do the same thing individually. They see it three times gradually getting a more active role in the process and still it doesn’t always stick.
[I swear I'm done rambling about teaching pedagogy]… But sometimes things that they see once magically stick. You know that you are having one of those moments when the students whip out their Blackberries and take a picture of what’s going on. The times this year and last when I have had that happen:
- My entire class was rubbing my sweater at the same time with balloons to make static electricity
- We had a physics dance party to talk about the transfer of heat (while I hosted visitors to the school who didn’t speak English…)
- When I used my college ID to do a demonstration, someone picked it up and took a picture of it because I guess I look really young in it
- Dressed up as a pumpkin for Halloween, I made my Calculus class of 17 year old almost legal to marry each other seniors sing a version of Old MacDonald with words written to help them learn the rule for taking the derivative of a quotient, and little did I know, while I was directing them in this, someone was taking a video
- I defined mass as “how much junk is in your trunk” and as a girl was leaving the room at the end she took out her phone and took a picture of the board. Later in that class, without thinking, I defined weight as “how attractive your junk is” (and wrote it on the board) before realizing what I had said (and had written).
While all of those aren’t necessarily gems of rigorous academic thought, they are certainly some of my most memorable moments teaching. The last one I think did help them learn the material actually. A few weeks later, after a week long break, I was correcting the question on our test “What is the difference between mass and weight” and – I’m not sure why I was surprised by this – at least a third of the students wrote “Mass is how much junk is in your trunk.” I couldn’t possibly take points off for that; they remembered exactly what we talked about…
[PS Apologies for the long gap in writing! We just had a week long break. Also, you might be wondering where the post before this one went... I had to get rid of it for reasons that might seem obvious given that contact, but I would still love to share individually if you missed it because it was an experience of a lifetime]
One of my favorite students keeps tricking me into calling him really inappropriate nicknames, and it makes me feel really old and stupid because I just totally don’t realize that they are inappropriate until weeks later. Or maybe it’s not because I’m old, maybe it’s just because I am foreign – like when we would always get the Japanese exchange student in high school to say really nasty things to our math teacher.
Well first, he friended me on Facebook (request denied) and his middle name is listed on there as “Parliament”. I thought that this was some strange nickname having to do with the government, or perhaps that it was some sort of nickname like a professional wrestler, so I started calling him that. Turns out that Parliament is a brand of cigarettes – the last thing that our students need is more people encouraging them to smoke…
Then, somewhere else on Facebook he had written his nickname as “Abu Henry” (replace Henry with the actual name of one of the other students in my class), which translates as “Father of Henry” which I thought was really funny because oh look these guys are pretending to be each other’s sons and fathers…. but no. When an idiot high schooler say Abu [someone's name] they are saying it because they are insinuating that they may or may not be sleeping with the other person’s mother. Fool me twice, shame on me.
And lastly (and this is the worst one): he and another student in the class were working together on a lab, and they are supposed to write their lab partner’s name on the top of their lab next to theirs. So this guy wrote “Susu El-Mutawahish” for his friend, which means “SuSu the monster” and then the other guy wrote “Abu Mreij” for my inappropriate friend. Well I didn’t know what that meant, but I started writing it on his paper thinking it was something innocent like Susu El-Mutawahish (which p.s. I hope is innocent). Then I mentioned this to another student and he was too embarrassed to tell me what it meant (red flag!)… I eventually got it out of this other kid that “Mreij” is masturbation. Again, Abu means “father of” basically… so Abu Mreij is the Arabic way of saying King of Masturbation (there’s a cocktail party fact for you). Fool me thrice…
I spent about 5 minutes on Thursday trying to steer the class back to reality when one students asked “Mr. Bowman, did you ever try absinthe in college?” (and no, we aren’t studying the physics of hallucinogenic alcohols at the moment).
I’ll add that to the list of questions-that-were-completely-inappropriate-but-I-secretly-laughed-about with
- “Mr. Bowman, what girls at the school do you think are good looking?” (you seriously thought it was okay to ask that, and you seriously thought that I might give you an answer?) and
- “Mr. Bowman, is that a hickey?” (nope, I am just bad a shaving).
If I end up teaching until late in my life, I hope that students will continue to ask these gems to my old, dried up self, then they will be even funnier.
The fact that this is only number 4 on my teacher moment series doesn’t really paint the full picture of how many of these moments I have had as of late. For example(s)… I’ve started to realize that I think I’m funnier than I actually am in front of the class (classic teacher trait), I’ve started to dress more like a teacher (corduroy, weird blazers, bowties and sweaters which are all worn in an attempt to not look like a student in my classic Navy Blue blazer), and I now have this teacher death glare down so well (and I’m never short of situations in which to use it).
But a good teacher moment the other day… I needed to get a second passport to help facilitate travel around the region (story for another day), but the embassy in Amman has ridiculous hours like 11:15 am until 11:21 am on Weekdays or something, so you have to find ways to get there during the school day. On Wednesdays, I have a nice little 3 hour break, so I decided to risk it and try to make it to the embassy and back before my afternoon class. I went in (about a 30 minute drive) with the school driver, got dropped off at the embassy and did my business. Surprisingly, it only took about 45 minutes after the ridiculous security checkpoints, so I left very pleased.
I called the driver to see when we were going back, and he said “Give me 3 minutes and I will come get you.” Immediately after hanging up, he called back and said “did I say 3? I meant 30, give me a half hour.” Okay, fine, that will still be plenty of time. I walked around the area for a while trying to kill time – an hour passed. I gave him a call again to ask when we were going back and he said “I’ll be there in a half hour.” Uh-oh. I now had class in 45 minutes, so a 30 minute wait plus a 30 minute drive equals an unattended classroom. I freaked out, hopped in a cab, and used all of my Jordan skills to make it back to school in 3 different cabs for a total of 6 JD (which is pretty good).
I ended up being only 5 minutes late for class, but the other snag was that I had left my bag in the driver’s car because I didn’t want to take it into the embassy… my bag with my lesson plan and all of my teaching materials. I grabbed 2 whiteboard markers from the supply room, went to the class anyway, and taught like I’d never taught before (unprepared that is). It actually ended up being an okay lesson… but that’s when I knew I’d hit the big time. If you had asked me to do that in September, I would have been tense and nervous, and probably would have just let my class go, but I managed to go with the flow and deal with it. Oh, the little victories.
I have to go back to the embassy to pick up the passport now that it’s ready. Maybe I’ll wait until we have a school holiday this time…
I never really understood why my Dad went to bed at 10 pm until I started teaching. I’m just exhausted every night, and especially every weekend. Sometimes I could be convinced to do something fun and crazy, but usually I just want to relax and do nothing.
I had a real teacher moment today when another teacher asked if I wanted to go to the Turkish Bath/Spa and sit in the steam room, relax in the jacuzzi and get a combination massage and exfoliating scrub down. Non-teacher Bowman would have been like “no thanks, I’m not into that” but teacher Mr. Bowman was like “that sounds wonderful.” And it was. My skin feels like a baby, I am currently radiating warmth and I got myself a two-in-one – not only did I relax and essentially do nothing, but I got out of my apartment and feel like I actually did something. Win, win, win.
On the weekends, I’m usually too exhausted to do anything. I watch a lot of movies (you can buy pirated movies for 1 JD ~ $1.40 here, which is wonderful), workout, relax, and then do the occasional grading, lesson preparation. Sometimes, I can be convinced to do something fun (and there is some really fun stuff to do around here), but sometimes I just want to sleep.
Last night was one of those rarer times where I was convinced to do something fun. I went with a bunch of other younger teachers out to a bar/restaurant that has a salsa band every Friday night. After about 15 minutes, and after ordering some really obnoxious drink that came in a huge container with very long straws, I looked to the side to see one of my students eating a very late dinner with his parents. He came over to say hi, and we chatted awkwardly for about 30 seconds. As he was leaving, he said “Enjoy your dinner” and walked away. No more than one minute later, the waiter pushed a serving cart right by his table with about 15 drinks on it (there were a lot of us!), including my obnoxious one, and certainly no food.
He was incredibly awkward when I saw him in the dining hall today. Moral of the story: no matter how hard you try, you can never escape the fact that you’re a teacher, not even for two hours on a Friday night.
The school celebrated Halloween today (and yes, we do celebrate that here in Jordan… at least at our school) which meant that people could come to school in costume. Well, one teacher had the brilliant idea of dressing as King’s Academy students. Our kids are always so disheveled, shirts untucked, ties in strange knots that I don’t think even people who sail know, pants halfway down the butt, everything wrinkled, and sneakers (which I’m wearing but you can’t see in the picture). It was a pretty funny day, and I certainly make a very convincing student given that I am pretty much their age anyway. Some people definitely had to look twice.
Being on this side of the equation reminded how much I’ve forgotten about what it’s like to be a high school student, how much my perspective has shifted. I may have just graduated in May, but after two and a half months teaching, I’m already starting to become a hard-nosed, no-nonsense, food-fight-breaking-up, inappropriate-joke-hating, grumpy-before-my-tea, out-of-dress-code hating teacher. Furthermore, my students told me that I give the MOST homework of all of the teachers!!! And I had NO. CLUE. I guess I was somewhat prepared to become fully teacher-ized, but I wasn’t prepared to become THAT teacher.
My kids don’t have homework this weekend. It’s not too late to remember.
I have a lot of moments while doing this job where I step back and think about how I knew so little of the hard work my teachers did. This past week, midterm comments were due, so I wrote a considerable amount for all 36 of my students while trying to keep up with planning class, grading, supervising co-curriculars and being worken up at 1:30 am by a pulled fire alarm. I was absolutely exhausted last week.
For one of my buddies in the class, a senior boy who also lives on my hallway, I wrote in his comment that he was a “goofball” because, well, he is! He calls me Mr. B, sometimes does this strange dance when he sees me, and I’m holding one of his homework assignments right now that has the title <3 Physics <3 with two little hearts drawn around it. Classic goofball.
I showed him his comment, and he didn’t know what the word goofball meant, so went to his room and looked it up online. Most definitions are something like “A foolish, incompetent, or stupid person,” and the thesaurus gives a slew of wonderful synonyms:
ass, birdbrain, blockhead, bonehead, buffoon, dimwit, dolt, donkey, dope, dork, drip*, dullard, dunderhead, fool, goof, goof ball, half-wit, idiot, ignoramus, imbecile, jerk, knucklehead, lame-brain, lightweight, moron, nerd*, nincompoop, ninny, nitwit, numskull, oaf, pinhead, scatterbrain, schnook, simpleton, twit. –> Maybe I’ll stop describing myself as a goofball…
Needless to say he was upset at me. Even after I explained that I really think the thesaurus is off on this one and I was NOT trying to say he is stupid (okay, sure I was calling him goofy though), THEN he told me that his parents’ English isn’t good, and they will probably just look up the word online and see all of that stuff. Phew. Okay. True.
I think we finally reached an understanding, which will probably include an email to his parents and maybe a pity college recommendation, so the issue’s resolved. But who would have thought that calling someone a goofball could cause such a ruckus?
Last night I bumped into one of my students at the grocery store and had my first teacher moment. Great kid, one of my favorites, but still he said something like “What are you doing here?” Uh, grocery shopping? Teachers eat too.
What I never realized until now though is that it goes both ways. In my head, I was thinking – “What is HE doing here?” I guess grocery shopping? Students must do that too. Maybe they aren’t just strange little people that sit and listen to you talk 5 times a week.