A bunch of my grade 9s breathlessly barge into my class near the end of lunch. I’m still eating a sandwich.
Student 1: “Sir, you should have seen Sean! He dunked over one of the grade 12s during the intramurals in the gym.”
I look at Sean. He’s beaming.
Me: “Wow. You can dunk? You’re what? Six feet?”
Me: “Man, that’s awesome. I’ve always wished I could dunk. It’s like a super power. You have a super power.”
Student 2: “Yeah. He’s Dunk Man! Leaps tall buildings in a single bound!”
Student 1: “With his balls!”
They start laughing like maniacs.
Me: “Why do you ruin my lunch with this?”
Grade 10 Student: “Sir, you have any snacks in the back room?”
Me: “I have granola bars, power bars and cereal. You hungry?”
Him: “You have any chips?”
Him: “Why don’t you have chips?”
Me: “I try to stock up on healthier snack options. You should try to avoid chips.”
Him: “Sir, I’m fifteen. I’ll burn off any junk I put in my body. It’s not like I’m your age.”
Me: “You have a weird way of asking for free food.”
Keeping My Marbles
I have brought a bag of marbles from home as part of a demonstration for my English 8 class.
Student: “Sir, why do you have those?”
Me: “I’m going to show you guys something.”
Him: “I mean, what do you use them for at home?”
Me: “We used to play games with these when I was a kid.”
Me: “My friends and I would each bring our bags of marbles and roll them at each other and if you won, you got to keep some of the other guy’s marbles.”
Him: “What was the game called?”
Him: “Man, that’s sad. Were all of your friends poor, too?”
A colleague has generously given me a new pair of basketball shoes for one of my grade 9 students. She noticed in her class that his shoes had been falling apart for weeks and knows his family cannot afford new ones for him. She thought that he would be more receptive to taking them from me since I’m a fellow “guy.”
He comes to see me at the break.
Me: “Hey, Mrs. H had these extra kicks laying around because they were too small for her son. And she got them on sale so can’t return them. She asked me if any of my guys would want them and I thought of you since your feet might be big enough for these.”
He looks them over.
Me: “Could you take them off my hands?”
Him: “Maybe. I have to ask my mom first.”
Me: “Should I call your mother for you and ask?”
He thinks about it for a long time.
Him: “You better not.”
Me: “Okay. How’s this: I’ll keep them behind my desk here and you just grab them whenever you want?”
The shoes sat there for the remainder of the year, untouched. His shoes continued to fall apart.
And then his mother moved. I never saw him again.
These are the stories I hate sharing but have to because they happen all the time.
And I still have the shoes. Another boy will need them one day.
In the middle of my English 9 class, as I’m at the board writing, I hear the sound of a camera shutter. I quickly turn and see one of my students with her iPhone out and she is blushing. Her friends are in hysterics that she was caught.
Me: “Okay. Show me.”
She is red in the face and madly shaking her head.
Me: “You can’t just take photos of people in class. It compromises everyone’s privacy and safety. Show me, please.”
Me: “Do you trust me? Do you trust that I’d do nothing to embarrass you?”
She thinks about it. Then, she turns her phone around towards me.
Me: “Photo album please.”
She opens her photo album. The most recent picture is of one of her classmates—a cute boy sitting obliviously on the other side of the room.
Me: “Delete, please.”
She deletes it.
Me: “What is the rule about taking photos in class or using your iPhone?”
Her: “Never do it unless we have special permission.”
Me: (Sternly.) “Are you ever going to do this again?”
Her: “No. I’m sorry.”
The rest of the class is now begging to know who she took a photo of. Her friends are biting down on their lips and she is mortified.
Me: (To her, but loudly so everyone can hear.) “Besides, next time you want a picture of my butt, just ask.”
The class erupts in laughter.
Me: “I won’t let you, of course, so I can see why you had to sneak one, and can see why. I’ve been doing a ton of squats lately. Thanks for noticing.”
She is laughing with the class.
Me: “But, seriously, I want you to write the notes from the board this time. Don’t take photos of it and get lazy this early in the game.”
She thanked me again at the end of the day. And she never did that again.
A grade 9 student has a huge bruise on his forehead.
Me: “What happened?”
His friends start giggling.
Him: “I hurt my head.”
Me: “I can see that. How?”
Him: “I ran into a locker yesterday.”
I look deadpan around the room. The students are laughing.
Me: “Okay, I’m going to ask: Why?”
Him: “I’m not sure. I thought it would be funny.”
Me: “Did you do it to impress the girls?”
Me: “To impress your buddies?”
His friends challenge him on that.
Him: “Okay. Maybe they dared me.”
Me: (To his friends.) “Were any of you impressed?”
They shake their heads no.
Me: “I want you to remember this moment. Please know that for the rest of your life, you’re now the guy in school who ran into a locker for no reason.”
Him: “I don’t think I can remember anything right now.”
A Kind of Attention
Two boys in my English 8 class have detentions with me for ruthlessly teasing one of their female classmates.
Student 1: “Sir, how long is this gonna be?”
Me: “As long as it takes.”
Him: “For what?”
Me: “Until I see that look.”
Him: “What look?”
Me: “Do you guys realize what your teasing does?”
Student 2: “She likes the attention.”
Me: “Trust me: she doesn’t. No one likes that kind of attention. Couldn’t you tell by her crying?”
Student 2: “Better than no attention.”
Me: “Really? Would you like me to give you that kind of attention? What if I give you that kind of attention and tease you in front of a bunch of the popular grade 10 girls? Tomorrow outside the cafeteria. What if I start joking about you the way you joked about her? I guarantee I’ll make it funny. You know I’m going to make it funny. Well, you might not laugh, but everyone else will. Would you like that?”
He looks down at the floor. He’s starting to get it.
Me: “That. That’s the look.”
Grade 10 Student: “Sir, why don’t you wear a wedding ring?”
Me: “I’m not married.”
Her: “But you said you’re in a common-law union with your girlfriend. It’s like being married.”
Me: “I just don’t like rings.”
Her: “Are you afraid it’ll keep other women away?”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Her: “I know how men work. When the wife’s away, it’s time to play.”
Me: “Where do you get this stuff?”
Her: “I read a lot of books.”
In March 2006, I had the pleasure of sharing a small comedy stage with Robin Williams. My sketch partner and I were performing at the club’s anniversary show and Williams dropped by to close the evening. (Disclosure: My night job entails me telling jokes and stories on stage.) It was the highlight of what had been a relatively nascent comedy career at the time. After our sets, I stepped outside for some fresh air and decided not to bother Mr. Williams since he was understandably surrounded by a large number of appreciative fans and comedians.
Twenty minutes later, my sketch partner’s girlfriend found me and said, “Robin wants to meet you.” I thought she was kidding but then remembered that she’s awful at telling lies.
I went inside and found him at the back of the club. He was the warmest, most gracious celebrity I have ever met. He had some very generous things to say about our act and my part in it. We talked about some other things including our choices in shoes and cycling. He also asked what I did when not performing, and I told him I was an English teacher.
And then when no one else was in earshot, I made an attempt at speaking from the heart. I wanted this man to know the impact he had made on me through his art.
Me: “I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but Dead Poets Society was one of the things that helped me decide to be an English teacher.”
Him: ”Hey, that’s not my fault.”
And we laughed.
I have handed out the Macbeth final exam for English 11. I have written a bonus question at the end: “For one point, ask any question about Shakespeare. For two points, answer that question.”
A student raises his hand.
Him: “What if I have a really good question for the bonus but don’t know the answer?”
Giggling starts to spread throughout the room.
Me: “Sorry, I’m not going to help you out on this one. You’re on your own.”
Three minutes later.
Him: “Oh! Right!”