As a so-called teacher in a daycare I often have the dubious opportunity of being exposed to a variety of teaching strategies and classroom management techniques. Many of these come from long-time teachers who apparently know what they’re doing, but sometimes you have to wonder.
You know what I’m talking about. There was at least one teacher that you can remember from elementary school or high school who tried every strategy in the book and all you can remember about her is her complete failure to ever teach you anything.
When I was in third grade my teacher had a little bell that she used to get our attention. It was one of those bells that you tap– the kind they have in waiting rooms to get the receptionist off the phone with her boyfriend and actually up at the front desk where she belongs– and our teacher had us well-trained to be quiet after the fourth or fifth ding (which was when her face would turn red and she would start handing out “written detentions”– which was a whole other brilliant teaching strategy that backfired all over the place). Didja like that run-on sentence? Anyway, our dear Miss Jones got very ill and had to have a sub for like a month. The substitute’s name was Mrs. P. and she had a son in our class who always wore corduroy pants that made the most obnoxious noise when he paraded like a girl around the room. Mrs. P. did not demand a particularly large amount of respect, and the bell method– even with the written detentions (“I will be quiet in class. I will be quiet in class. I will be quiet in class . . .”)– did not work well for her. In fact, one day she got so mad at the class because we wouldn’t shut up that she banged on that darn bell so hard the thing broke. I was lucky enough to be sitting near the desk, so I was able to hear the death throes of the bell over the chaos in the classroom. It sounded kinda like this: “I“– ding–“WILL“– ding— “NOT“–ding– “TOLERATE“– ding — “THIS“– kerchunk — “DISRESPECT!“– click. click click click. The last few clicks were Mrs. P.’s unsuccessful attempts to resurrect the bell by hitting it again. I guess it supposedly works when someone stops breathing, so why not?
In high school I was again blessed by an amazing teacher, a gentle?man by the name of Mr. S. Mr. S. taught science and was just a complete weirdo. I don’t even know how to explain him. I took one year of chemistry with him and my sister had a couple years with him and there are only five things I really remember about him. One is that he possessed the dubious ability to stand next to the counter in the classroom and jump straight up and land on the counter. Sometimes he would do this to get our attention, and it usually worked, but I have to say that I’m not sure it counts as a successful teaching method since the only thing I really learned was to keep your fingers off the counter. I also have this very distinct memory of him with his yellow shirt sticking out of his fly, which was completely unzipped. Also I remember him talking about the periodic table of elements, and singing “lycopodium (apparently this is an element?), touched for the very first time.” I think that if my dad had known that my science teacher in my Christian school was singing any version of “Like a Virgin” there would have been words. Also one time Mr. S. threw my sister’s book across the room. My dad did have some words about that.
My most distinct memory of Mr. S., however, is from my second day in his class. I was passing notes to my friend Reanna and we totally got busted. He leaned down with his elbows on the table and his crooked teeth all in my face and said “I’ve heard you’re supposed to be smart but obviously that’s not true because smart kids don’t pass notes.” Yup. Passing notes is a sure sign of a low IQ, that’s what I’ve always said. Anyway, this amazing method of classroom discipline backfired because my friend Reanna was also the head teacher’s daughter and she told her dad what Mr. S. said and Mr. S. got in trouble for making “personal derogatory comments” about a student. Eleven years later, I still think I won that one.
What got me thinking along these lines today was a post at scrapbook.com about ice cream toppings of all things. Apparently this woman’s daughter has been assigned to bring an ice cream topping that begins with the first letter of her first name. The child’s name is Emily. So we were all trying to come up with ideas– English walnuts, anyone?– and I got thinking how stupid this is. I mean, yeah, it’s a creative idea, but as one of the ladies there pointed out, her son’s name starts with X. Anyone have any brilliant ice cream topping ideas that start with X? I am all for teaching creatively but seriously, wouldn’t it have been easier to just assign chocolate syrup to one kid and caramel syrup to another and call it a day? Now this poor girl’s mother has to go shopping and try to find elderberry jam or English shortbread for a bunch of 2nd graders who all just want hot fudge and rainbow sprinkles anyway.
So teachers, I want to challenge you today. Before you use that brilliant idea you just had, please think through all the ramifications. Unless you really want little Annie bringing in her favorite anchovy paste for your last day of school ice cream party.