Sunday, April 27, 2014

Casanovas and Cougars

“I think of all the education that I missed.
But then my homework was never quite like this.
Got it bad, got it bad, got it bad,
I'm hot for teacher.”
- Van Halen

Am I a good looking man?  I would say so.  I’m not trying to sound arrogant, but I know at the very least I am not ugly.  Hell, my students think I look like Zac Efron.  You have to have a certain degree of confidence in this life, especially in the dating world.  When you see a beautiful woman and “inquire”, you subconsciously make a self-judgment in which you deem yourself sexually appealing enough to court this fine young vixen.  Now, if she shoots you down, that all goes to shit, but for a ephemeral moment, you could look in the mirror and see Ryan Reynolds looking back at you.
My first year out of college in my preliminary year of teaching, I was a solitary man who was still somewhat living the college lifestyle.  “Survive till the weekend” was pretty much the motto.  Students would often inquire about your personal life or what you did (if anything).  For the first several months, you would just get random questions as they tested their boundaries, as they learned about this stranger who is so wise in the ways of science:
“Are you married?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Are you gay?”

Their rationality is indeed comical.  “He doesn’t have a wife, nor does he presently date someone.  Well that can only mean ONE thing: this man adores playing butt-darts.”  I could honestly count on multiple hands the amount of Facebook messages (before going completely off the public social media grid) that I would get from students that would say “hai teachr!  Dis iz (name)...r u gay? Cuz (student) said so...”  Ultimately, you realize that there really isn’t anything you can do to stop the murmuring.  Kids are going to talk.  You just hope they don’t discuss these “rumors” with their parents…and thank god it never came to that, because I could not imagine that conversation.
One fall evening, we held parent/teacher conferences.  The format was basically open-house, each teacher to a table.  Parents could mingle around as much as they pleased with whatever teacher they needed to see.  You could typically divide most of the parents of troubled students into classifications based on just two replies:

“They did what?  I’m gonna beat they ass!”
“Well...he/she says they don’t understand, and that you won’t help them.  I just don’t understand how a teacher wouldn’t help their student.”
The latter of these two responses made me want to eat my own head.  I work with your child every single day in class.  I SEE what they do and HEAR what they say.  Are you aware that your son was making spit-wads or “hornets” during class?  How about the time he took 5 minutes to sharpen a pencil?  You do realize that your daughter talks more than any two people, right?  That may inhibit her ability to hear.  But no, that’s fine.  Just believe ANYTHING they say.  After all, why would they lie?  It’s not like they’d get in trouble.  They would?  Oh.
The worst of it is, the kid is sitting there, just looking at you from across that table as their mother defended them to the death...on an outright lie.  “Is it because you don’t understand?” Mom would ask her son.  He would then nod in the most solemn, somber demeanor, as if to show he was ashamed.  Meanwhile, I am glaring at him, unblinking, waiting for him to make eye contact so I could shout, “LIAR!” with only a cold gaze.
After conferences, student behavior typically divided down two roads, either because the kid got his ass beat, or mom/dad made excuses for their child in front of you, pretty much undermining everything you’ve done and pretty much communicate to their child “keep doing what you’re doing.  No matter what happens, I got your back.”  Ah, parents.
The next day, during my 6th period class, there was a little more social activity than usual.  Even weirder was the fact that they were looking at me as they whispered.  You can typically discern between students looking at you because they know they shouldn’t be talking, and students that are looking at you because they are talking ABOUT you.  This instance was the latter.  Regardless, I presumed that I didn’t want to call attention to whatever it was.
After about 30 minutes in, it still hadn’t subsided.  I opened my desk, grabbed a CD (for you youngsters out there a CD or “compact disk” are these amazing circles that can mystically produce melodies) and used it to check my complexion.  Did I have a booger?  Did I grow a beard suddenly?  Is my zipper down?  Am I gay?!  I would soon get my answer (about the talking...not the gay).

One of my students, Seth, finally broke the silence.  He strolled up to me and in his husky voice, inquired, “Mr. W... you’re single right?”
I just replied, “What does this have to do with what we’re working on?”
“We just need to know…”
Hold on...who’s we?
“Yes, I’m single.  Get back to work.”
Seth walked back to his seat, and then whispered something to a quiet girl, named Ali; a quiet girl who was now blushing red.  Seth was kind of smiling as he whispered, then made a gesture toward me, imploring her to do something.
Why was she blushing?  Why did they care if I was single?  I mean, that’s kind of an abnormal question to be asking me.  And what did Ali have to do with all of this?  I expected better things from her.  She was always a nice girl, and her mom was really nice too, who I had just met last night and OH GOD NOOOOOOOO…
But Ali was already walking towards me.  It all made sense.  I wanted to run, but I’m a teacher.  The only place I could have gone was behind my desk, or maybe slightly to the left of my desk.  Ali was the color of a beet by now; she then sighed in embarrassment as she informed me:
“My mom thinks you’re hot.”
“Uh, ok.”
“And she wants to know if you’ll go on a date with her.”
The class waited in anticipation for my response...
"Yes, Mr. W...DO IT."
“That is really nice, Ali, but I don’t think I would be comfortable with that, seeing as you are my student.”
“Pleeeease?  It would make her really happy!”
“No, Ali.”
For the rest of the day, Ali would pop her head in my room and just say “pleeeeease?!”  I would shake my head no.  I started doing the math in my head.  Ali’s mom would have to be at least 30’s, and that’s if she became a mother at 18.  Was she even pretty?  She wasn’t ugly, I know...GOD, WHAT AM I THINKING?!  Maybe it was Ali’s idea...maybe she heard her mom say I was “nice looking” or something and took that as an initiative to “make her mom happy.”
After last transition, Ali popped in again with her plead.  I said no, but this time I asked “was this all your idea?”  Shockingly, Ali said “no, it was hers.  She came home and was like ‘why didn’t you warn me!  I wasn’t ready for THAT!’ and she asked me if I could ask you out.”
My mouth said “Oh…” but my brain said “what the hell kind of mother has her daughter ask out her teacher on her behalf?! What is wrong with people!? There is no such thing as normalcy anymore!  There isn’t any code of conduct anymore!  There is no Dana only Zuul!”
I felt bad for Ali, too; stuck between two hypothetical lovers.  She just wanted her mom to be happy.  And if that was by dating a, at the time, 23 year old, so be it.  I knew the kids would give her a hard time, but she handled it beautifully.
The next day, I hoped that it had all blown over.  I didn’t get any questions about it at all...until 6th period.  Seth, once again, initiated the dialogue:
“Ali’s mom thinks you’re hot.”
“Thank you, Seth. I know.”
“Are you gonna go out with her?”
“Why not?”
“Because Ali is my student, and that would not be very professional.”
“You aren’t gay, are you?”

Modesty:  UNLOCKED.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Answers From the Kids 2.0: My Doppelganger

“We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are...I’m no different.”
- Memento

You know how when you see someone for the first time in years? Well, I would venture to guess with about 95.2% sureness that one of you will say "you've changed" or "you look so different!" When you consider why, the answer is pretty simple:  a good amount of time has passed between encounters.  Ironically, we can then look at ourselves on a daily basis and not think anything of change due to the context of time. 
There was also scientific report that I read over once that basically said that we only know and see ourselves in pictures and reflections, that if we actually saw ourselves in the flesh, we wouldn't recognize our own being because our perception of ourselves is so different from our actual physical appearance. We spend our whole lives looking at the save visage every day, yet we wouldn't be able to identify ourselves in the real world.

Over the years, people say I've changed a lot:  
“Oh, you've gotten thinner!”
"You look like you’re in great shape!"
"Your hair looks longer/shorter!"
"My, you look older!"
"Boy...I can still remember when you were fat in high school!"
I usually didn't know what to say, because I see the same thing every day:  that same smug turd that gawks back at me creepily in the morning.  I would imagine that if pressed, most of us would probably struggle to describe ourselves to someone in a realistic fashion.  We know our basic features, like blue eyes or brown hair; but would be be able to truly describe what we look like? Would it be accurate? My second year of teaching gave me a revelation, as I "discovered" my true form...

As usual, I began the year with my annual interest inventory, and included most of the same questions, namely the final one:
“Mr. W looks like a ______________________________.”
Now the general responses varied, as they did in the previous year, however, this year was different...very different.  A trend began.  The responses weren't so random anymore.  It’s as if the students synced together, or had some kind of a cerebral merging.  Mind you they had no time to discuss their responses, as not only was this the first day, but many of these students were brand new and, therefore, didn't really know anyone.

Here are some of the responses, according to category:
a young man (x2), a teenager (x2), a 19 year old...
Ok, I’ll buy that.  I was still in my early 20’s at the time. No shame in youth.
a doctor, a football player, an actor, a movie star (x2), a person off Leverage(?), a country singer (x2), a rock star (x3), an idol singer, a man model...
Aw, shucks you guys.  You really think so?
a monkey, a short person
Alright, let's pump the breaks a bit there, wise-ass...

Naturally, a good portion responses ranged from basic things like “teacher” and “a nice person.”  There were even some flattering responses, too.  They thought I looked like an actor/football-player/rock-star/model?!  Well that’s pretty cool...
But there was one single answer that vaulted itself above the rest, beginning that year.  A response that still hangs over me with every successive class:
Zac Efron.
Mind you, this was several years ago, so I Googled him, unsure of what it would unleash....
Oh, shit…


As I paged through all the responses, about 1 out of every 3 had the same response:  
“Zak Efron” 
“Zach Efron”
“Zach Effron”
“That one guy from High School Musical.” 
I didn't really look like him, did I?  Was it the eyes?  The hair?  That was probably it.  Probably because I have blue eyes and shaggy hair.  Well at least that was out of the way.  The students answered the questions, and we can move on. I will probably never hear about this again from anyone ever....

It was like that scene from Groundhog Day where “Ned Ryerson” bumps into Phil Connors every day with the same excitement as they walk toward the ceremony to see Punxsutawney Phil....

...only, instead of “do you remember me?” it was, “do you know who you look like?”  And every time, it was as if they were the FIRST PERSON EVER to make the discovery that I resembled a gentleman from a shitty Disney teenage musical.  
Worst of it was, they would always phrase it that *I* looked like *him*.  I am nearly two years older (4 days short, to be exact) than Zac Efron.  If anything *he* looks like *me*.  But they're middle schoolers: they didn't give a shit.  Much like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, I eventually gave up questioning the fact. I can never escape.

Fast forward to October of this year:
Parent: "(Student) really enjoys your class!  This is the first time I think she has ever had a science teacher she likes!"
Mr. W: "Well that's great...I'm glad she's enjoying science."
Parent: "Ok.  I have to tell you, since you seem like such a laid-back guy..."
Mr. W: "Ok..."
Parent: "She and I were talking after back-to-school night...has anyone ever told you that you look like Zac Efron?"
Mr. W: "Why no!  I believe that's the first time I've ever heard that one! (forced laugh)"

Or, I shit you not, this LAST THURSDAY:
Student walks into class...
Student: "Mr. W....has anyone ever told you that you look like Zac Efron?"
Mr. W: "No, Student, never."
Student: "Well I think you do!"

This guy? I don't think so.  But this guy?

Wait...I think I kinda see it now...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Caleb's Rampage


(translation: "GODZILLA!”)


Dogs are great.  You will never encounter a species that is so full of unconditional love, and for no apparent reason other than the fact that you are who you are.  Honestly, is there anything else in this world that you could scream yourself hoarse at, leave, come back to your apartment 2 hours later, and have it sitting there, wagging it’s tail like the most adorable Alzheimer's patient to ever piss on your carpet?  And while the benefits of companionship are great, obviously there is the whole house-breaking thing, where you know that you are literally bringing in a living creature that will piss/shit/puke/chew/hump on/in/around/atop/below anything.  The rollercoaster creature.  The lowest of lows, the highest of highs.  For a moment, you will forget about the tightly coiled turd a puppy left on your khakis because it learned how to howl in unison with you as you bellow out Elton John.
In short, you have to put up with the shit because sometimes it pays off and makes you smile...  

For the first few weeks, “Caleb” drove me insane.  It was a terrible game of Whack-a-Mole, only you didn’t have a mallet, and you couldn’t hit anything.  Here, you have a class to teach, and there is this kid, constantly talking out of turn, behaving like a little jackass…. ”I can’t keep dealing with this,” I finally thought to myself.  Something must be done.

I must break him.  Enough was enough.  As a publicly funded educator, I have a civic duty to teach the rest of this classroom, not chase Caleb around with a stick, tending to his every need.  So one day, I decided that if and when he slipped up, I was going to tear him apart.  He was going to be bombarded with the fury of a thousand suns. I was going DESTROY Caleb, and he will know thy wrath.
Well, it didn’t take long.  Not 5 minutes into class, I was setting the stage for a mineral identification lab, and Caleb is up out of his seat sharpening his pencil, talking to another student...another student who was walking down the hallway, not even apart of the class.  My time had finally come…
My face (probably).

I don’t remember what I said, exactly.  I know I had told him to step in the hall, and then I let him have it.  I imagine it sounded something like this:

Caleb:  (talking)
Caleb steps in the hall.
Caleb: “...but I w-...”

Then, something happened:  Caleb didn't say another word.  
Caleb started to cry.  I hadn’t planned on him crying.  I expected him to argue, and for me to establish my dominance over him.  There can only be one king.  It was time that someone put their foot down; and that FOOT was ME.  However, my assumed verbal combat didn’t end the way I thought it would, because I had an incorrect, preconceived notion.   

Caleb was nothing more than a puppy.  He was a big puppy.  He was a big puppy with ADHD.  Caleb lived his life full of emotion;  the highest of highs, the lowest of lows.  Caleb could be up running around the class, or barking out comments during a lecture one moment, and the next, having tears silently stream down his face during The Lion King, only to whimper between quivering lips:  “Mufasa is DEAD!”
Long live the King.

Caleb wasn’t a bully.  He wasn’t disrespectful.  The kid just didn’t know any better.  And as the year progressed, I felt for him.  Sometimes, he was just “too much” for the other kids, and would often isolate himself socially.  It almost became cool to yell at Caleb when he got out of line.  In one instance during Veteran’s Day, we had an Air Force veteran come in and address the class.  For two days, I reminded them that he was going to visit, and would take questions.  But, “under NO CIRCUMSTANCES, are you to ask about shooting or killing.”  Well I will give you one damn guess as to what happened…

Air Force Lieutenant:  “...and that was my experience over in Iraq.  So, do you guys have any questions for me?  Yes, young man back there…”
Caleb:  “Did y’all ever shoot anybody?!”
Class:  (in unison) “CALEB!!”

And Caleb felt terrible, because that’s what puppies do when they are chided. But, just like a puppy, Caleb had already forgotten not 4 hours later as he was rampaging through my room like Godzilla through the streets of Tokyo.

Caleb’s passion was 2nd to none.  When he was focused on his work or the lesson, he was great to have in class.  Caleb put his all into everything, whether we were debating in class, whether he was sharpening his pencil, or whether he was trying to solve the answer to that age old question:
Caleb: “Mr. W, who would win in a dancing competition:  Prince, or Michael Jackson?”
Mr. W: “Well, seeing as Michael Jackson is dead, I would probably say Prince.”
Mr. W: “...touche.”
"You're paralyzed..."

It really didn’t take long until Caleb and I had an understanding.  I knew sometimes he couldn’t control himself, so all it often took was the People’s Eyebrow until he said “sorry” and continued whatever educational venture he was involved with at the time.  For as many headaches he gave me, I loved having the kid in class.  When he was involved, EVERYONE was involved.  He didn’t do things for popularity, he just did them because that’s who he was.  You would yell at him, he would feel terrible, but the next day, he loved you.

Caleb was a puppy.  A big ol' puppy with ADHD, and minus the shit on the carpet.  Although, he did absolutely mow through pen-caps like no one’s business…