A Poem For Her
Grade 11 Student: “Sir, have you ever written a poem for a girl?”
Me: “Yes. I was about your age.”
Him: “How did she take it?”
Me: “She wasn’t impressed.”
Him: “I thought girls liked that kind of stuff.”
Me: “Here’s the thing: if a girl already likes you, she’ll find it romantic. If she’s on the fence about you, she’ll find it creepy.”
Me: “I don’t know. That’s how I justified it in my mind.”
I love this blog! Only discovered it rhis morning and i've already finished it. Hahaha. You remind me of an old English teacher, i was wondering what your favourite book is and why you liked it so much?
Thank you! There are so many books I love for different reasons, but I think my favourite novel-reading experience was with “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro. I consider it a perfect piece of literature. There is not a word out of place and I’m envious of the wordscapes Ishiguro paints with his gentle prose. And the book really hit me where it hurts: the emotional distance a son has from his father. Every guy I’ve recommended this to told me that they had trouble holding back the tears reading it.
And it reminded me when I was quite young that if you don’t seize the day, all you have left are the remains of a life not fully lived. Since then, I’ve lived my life accordingly.
How do you feel about teacher favoritism? I mean, there's obviously always going to be some kids you like and some you don't but how do you deal with that? Have you seen teachers deal with it really badly and, conversely, really well?
I don’t know if I’m objective enough here to honestly appraise my tendencies towards favouritism. But I’ve never been accused of favouring students, and I don’t think I’ve really had favourites since I love so many of them. Each kid offers something quite unique. However, I’m sure there’s been students I’ve not paid enough attention to. This is a function of large class sizes which is why I’m constantly badgering our government for more funding to provide class sizes that allow for teachers to provide quality instruction to every child.
I have seen one teacher deal poorly with a student he didn’t like. That teacher was me.
It was early in my career and it was a tough situation. She was a definite “mean girl” and did her best to make every other girl in my class feel insecure. I absolutely hated the way she treated other female students in my class. Whenever a shy student would give an answer or try to contribute in class, this girl would roll her eyes, whisper things to her friends, laugh under her breath, and mutter really hurtful things to shut down that student (these comments often picked on the other girls’ race, weight, looks, sexuality, etc.). Her behaviour was awful. I don’t know how many times I removed her from class to talk to her about her attitude and the effect she was having on others, but nothing sank in with her. I talked to her parents about her attitude and they didn’t understand at all, which helped me understand how this student grew up to be this mean. I filed several reports on her bullying but my administrator did nothing because they didn’t know what else to do with her and she wasn’t physically assaulting anyone (this was before anti-bullying campaigns were taken seriously). The counsellor also gave up on her. And eventually, I gave up on her, too. She ended up dropping out of school and I didn’t miss her.
But I often think of how I would deal with that now if I had another student like her (which I haven’t). And to be honest, in terms of strategy, I don’t know. But I’m a much better teacher now than I was back then, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t give up on her today if someone like that walked into my classroom.
Breakfast of Champions
It’s before first bell and I’m in my classroom eating an Egg McMuffin and hashbrown with my coffee. One of my grade 10 students walks in early.
Her: “Sir, you call that breakfast?”
Me: “Yes, I do.”
Her: “Do you know what’s in that sandwich?”
Me: “Yes. But I was in a rush and didn’t have time to make my breakfast.”
Her: “Being in a rush is no excuse. Can you imagine all the factory farms and pollutants that could be reduced if people like you stopped being in a rush?”
Me: “Are you trying to guilt me out of this breakfast?”
Her: “Yeah. Is it working?”
Her: “My work here is done.”
This is an illustrated vignette of one of the stories (Saving Face) written by the mysterious, poignant and incredibly hilarious Canadian teacher, YOUSUCK,SIR.
I have never binge read a blog until I came across yousucksir. I spent three hours devouring anecdotes of pedagogy. It made me want to go back to school to finally pursue a masters in art education.
Hope you like!
2014//Laura Grace Marchi
I have never reblogged anything on You Suck, Sir—just because it wouldn’t fit the content I have in mind for my followers. But after being knocked speechless by Laura Grace Marchi’s blog, I have to make an exception. This is beautiful beyond words and I’m struggling to express the appreciation I have of her gift. Please follow her, reblog, and let her know how gifted she is.
Grade 11 Student: “Sir, have you ever cheated on a girlfriend?”
Him: “What stopped you?”
Me: “Have you ever hurt someone so bad that they look at you and you can’t ever forget that face? And it makes looking in a mirror at yourself a disgusting experience? As if the inside of your marked soul is suddenly there on your face for everyone to see?”
Me: “Neither have I. And I want to keep it that way.”
*sees your picture* I KNEW IT! You're hot!
I just showed my girlfriend your comment. I’ve never seen her roll her eyes as much as she did just now. Thank you for the generous words and a reason for the happy moonwalk I did a few minutes ago in front of her.
What's the difference between embarrassing a student in front of his peers and other things? Like if you threaten to call parents, is that embarrassing? I'm just struggling to understand the difference between joking with a student in front of the class and embarrassing them in front of the class. Love your blog!!
This is one of the best questions I’ve had (and most of the questions I receive are excellent). I just found out from one of my Twitter followers a few days ago that his university teachers’ education course uses You Suck, Sir as required reading as of this year. They use it as a discussion starter on what teaching methods they approve of and which ones they don’t. As an educator, I would hate it if my blog were used as a how-to guide because there is no one method for effective teaching.
My joking style is a perfect fit for me. I’m also a stand-up comedian and have played the largest comedy festival in the world and some of the crappiest bars in small towns across Canada (and the US west coast). I’m quite quick on my feet and am used to dealing with hecklers and interruptions. And here’s what I’ve learned: you can position your heckler so that he’s either in on the joke or the butt of the joke.
In the classroom, you never want to make a student the butt of your joke. Never. You don’t want students laughing AT him, but WITH him. Early in my career, I made the mistake a few times of accidentally stepping over that line and have hurt students with my words. I always apologized immediately after in private and things were fine, but those moments stayed with me. Once you see your words sting a young person, you never forget it.
But I have students who love being called out by me. They know if they are smart alecks, I’ll say something funny to put them in their place. And they love it. And this is allowed because of one thing: TRUST. They trust I respect all of them so I can get away with it. (And to be honest, they’ve also seen me online and heard me on radio so know they’re sometimes getting a free show and revel in that.)
But you have to find a teaching style that integrates your natural personality with a strong pedagogical, professional style that is honest and respectful of the learning space. And, again, there is no one fit for all.
I had a French teacher back in ‘84. Madame Kearns. She was not what you would call a funny person. She was quite serious. Almost scary. But we knew she cared about us. I walked into class late one day wearing tight black jeans tucked into high black leather boots with chains and stuff over my jacket. (Hello, 80s!) She coolly said, “Three belts? Who wears three belts? Why in God’s name would you need three belts to hold up those skinny jeans in particular?” The whole class laughed. I looked at her and she had the tiniest, wryest of smiles and I immediately knew she had said it out of love—and to make sure I’m never late again. If any other teacher had said that to me, I would have been angry. But I trusted her.
Do your students know you run this blog or do you secretly run it without anyone knowing?
My students have no clue and I prefer it that way or before you know it, they’ll be competing to see who’s antics end up in here. My classrooms would be a nightmare!
However, I do allow my students to add me on Facebook a few months after they graduate so I have a ton of former students following You Suck, Sir. On a couple of occasions, I have had to privately ask specific students if I may share their story because there’s no way she wouldn’t recognize herself and it’s a sensitive subject, but I want to share it because I think it would be inspirational to many readers. They have always given me permission and were flattered at my rendering of it and my memory of details (thank you, journals!).
The great part is when a former student ‘likes’ one of my posts on the YSS Facebook page and has no idea that it’s about him because I’ve altered enough details (gender, grade, specifics if it’s not crucial to the story, etc) to make him unrecognizable. This has happened a few times.
In one instance, a former student messaged me with, “Hey, is today’s post about John _____ who used to sit next to me?” And I wrote back, “It’s about you! Don’t you remember? You were…” (I added in a bunch of details about that moment that are not in the YSS redacted version.) And he wrote back, “Holy s#*t! I was a moron!! How did you put up with me??”
I laughed for days.
How would you recommend improving one's spelling? I am not a very good speller and now they are going to start grading spelling. Do you have any tricks that help you or your students spell better?
As you can tell, I like journaling. The great thing about doing it in a word processing program is that you can set your spell check on and catch these errors. So my advice: start writing. A lot. Keep a lined notebook next to you and a pen. Try to journal every day. Don’t correct your spelling as you type. Just push through. Once done that entry, copy every word that’s highlighted in spell check into your notebook. (Make sure you triple-space.)
Now, look up the words and copy them slowly and carefully several times on the same line. Next day, spell it again several times on the line under that one. If you find this isn’t enough practice, leave another line in future so that you can do it again on the third day. (I hope this is making sense!) I strongly believe there’s a link between the way our brain recalls the arrangement of letters/words and our physicality; that is, for a lot of people, the physical act of writing it out will help you remember it.
You ever type out a word that you’ve known all your life and you look at it and it suddenly strikes you as strange? Like, “Wow, that’s a weird way of spelling receipt.” I think the act of your hand spelling out the words will help your brain “connect” with that word. I know it sounds strange but I’ve seen plenty of evidence in my classrooms of this working.
Please let me know after a month of this if it works. And good luck!