Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who knew anything that came from the same animal that gave us tasty, tasty bacon could be so wrong?

It's that time of year again... the flowers are budding, the grass is greening, birds and bees are trying to have sex with each other, and that can only mean one thing:

It's time for a pandemic!

Ordinarily, I am not a worrier when it comes to various plagues and ailments. I accept the fact that in this line of work, since I spend so much of my time around so many germy children, that I will get sick. And I've had 4 colds this winter alone (the standard number is 1...). And then comes Swine Flu to freak me the fuck out. It's a controlled freak, to be sure, but a freak nonetheless.

The closest confirmed case of Swine Flu is probably about 200 miles away. But when you work in schools and then hear that the schools in the next largest city have been closed because of contamination, you start to get a little worried. And realistically, I wouldn't be concerned if I had a damn contract job. And what, you may ask, is the correlation between the two?

Health insurance.

Yes, my friends, Mrs. Spatula has been uninsured for almost a year. I live in fear that I will get t-boned by some fucktard while driving, or that I'll cut myself while cooking. When I fell at school and sprained my foot, and they denied my claim (at first), I about shit myself. And now there's a freakin' pandemic on the horizon and I'm not woried about dying from it; I'm worried about how to pay for it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


A student was working on a typing program first hour. The program gave a pictogram and the student had to decipher it, then type the solution into the appropriate boxes. She was stuck:

"Hey, Mrs. Spatula... do you know what this is?"

I look over. I see a "DO", an arrow pointing to a knot, a hand with the five numbered fingers, a "Y", an arrow pointing to an oar in the water, and two obviously male chickens.

I started to think out loud. "Do.... not.... finger? Your...."


Thankfully, she figured it out before I continued with my thought. It was "Do not count your chickens", not "Do not finger your cocks".

Thursday, April 23, 2009

So now I suck at what I do. Brilliant.

Next week I will have my first parent conference. This student, ("Jimmy", for the sake of simplicity), is a good kid. He's personable, funny, and really bright. He's also really fucking lazy. The first week I was here he asked me every day to go get something out of his locker, and only after threatening him with detention and manual labor did he start to come to class prepared. I mean, c'mon... it's an English class and we're reading a novel. You *should* know that you're going to need the book in class.Especially since it's To Kill a Mockingbird which takes about three years to get through.

At the end of the unit, all the kids had to write a thesis paper. And by paper, I mean essay. A five paragraph essay. And we gave them everything they needed: we gave them a list of topics to choose from. We gave them a study guide which they filled out through the entire 10 weeks of reading, with room to write quotes and page numbers. We gave them a huge packet with graphic organizers to get their ideas on paper and work with them to make them cohesive. We showed them that, with a three pronged thesis, each paragraph should deal with one idea of the thesis statement. Topic sentences for each paragraph should relate directly to said thesis. Examples should support the topic sentence, which supports the thesis. We offered our advice and help; we did everything short of write the damn thing for them.

We spent what seemed like DAYS in the computer lab. And you know what happens to kids on computers.... Jimmy was no exception. Of all the students, he was one of the worst offenders of violating the "NO FUCKING INTERNET" rule. So when I got his rough draft, I was not in the least surprised to see a haphazardly slapped together paper without a thesis, correct punctuation, supporting details, and the two quotes required from the book.

He got a 2 out of 60.

I really hemmed and hawed about giving him such a low score. It's not that the kid didn't earn it. But it's such a drastic score...his grade in the class was fairly high- a B- and I didn't want to fuck that up. On the other hand, he didn't do the most basic requirements. He was online instead.

So the score stuck. He was rather surprised when he got his paper back; at least he didn't go ballistic on me, like I have seen other students do in the past. He seemed reserved, he didn't say much. I figured he would turn it around for the final draft.

Yeah, not so much. In fact, rather than making the SCREAMING corrections (like, I dunno, WRITING A THESIS STATEMENT) he hastily corrected *some* of the grammar mistakes in between getting busted on the internet and goofing off in class. He even took some things out completely rather than correcting them. And I know this because they had to turn the rough draft in with the final draft... I was really kinda pissed when I saw how little he did over the course of two days.

This was all a few weeks ago. Then suddenly, out of the blue, his father emails my co-teacher:

I’m the father of Jimmy Jones and would like to meet for an explanation of a couple of his grades. He received a grade of ‘2’ out of ‘60’ on the TKAM rough draft and a ‘1’ out of ‘60’ on the final draft. How can a grade go down after making corrections? Mrs. Spatula did the grading. Perhaps she could sit in on the session to explain this. I would like to know what in the content constituted ‘59’ points to be taken off and what was the only correct part of the paper to earn that single point. There seems to be a huge drop off in grades for a number of students in the class, beginning when Mrs. Spatula took over. This lack of consistency can be frustrating and confusing for the students. While I think his previous grades might have been too generous, I don’t understand how any student can get a ‘1’ on a written paper, that has undergone corrections.

I can meet at 3:30 or later on any weekday. Please let me know a time that would be convenient for you.

Oh boy.

"...beginning when Mrs. Spatula took over". I would like to think that this father isn't blaming ME for the class' decline in grades, but that's sure as hell what it sounds like. I want to email him back and say, "Dude. Your kid fucked off for four days when he should have been writing this paper. And it's not like we made them write it at home... he wrote in IN CLASS where at ANY point he could have either asked for help or taken it one of the NUMEROUS TIMES it was offered to him. I had been here for all of a week when I had to help said kid write this essay, and then I had to read 150 poorly written essays on the same fucking book, and you're bitching to ME about a lack of consistency and irregularities? I just show up, pal."

This is going to kill my weekend.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm sure you'd understand the irony of the situation if you knew what "irony" was...

I have two classes that are going to kill me.

These two classes each have seven students in them. Some of those students overlap. So really, it's going to be death by twelve 15 year olds. The first class is a reading class; these sophomores read, at best, at the 6th grade level. Not all of them are that advanced. The other class is a supervised study hall, since these students can't be trusted (in every case) to do their work on their own (some just need the extra help on homework).

The study hall is in a classroom that's attached to a very small computer lab. These computers will play a huge role in my demise. Because children CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT THE INTERNET. The minute they see a computer, they drool. All other though processes cease, only to be replaced with Myspace, Facebook, eBay, and inappropriate rap videos (seriously, how many booties shakin' in a single convertable before it's deemed too over-the-top?). The kids know they're supposed to PROVE to me that they need the computers before they can work on them. The sneaky bastards try everything in their power, however, to make up reasons to be on one.

The best part about the whole thing is that they think I'm stupid. Hello, it's Windows. I can see when you have the browser open, and conveniently enough, the minimized window even TELLS ME WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING AT. Feigning surprise when I bust your ass for being on You Tube only makes me angrier. And at this point, I'm the friggin' Hulk.

First hour is a whole 'nother story. This is the reading class... who will do whatever they can to get out of reading. The cirriculum suppliments in-class activities with a computer reading program, so with ten minutes left in class, we march down the hallway to the affore mentiond lab.

You can imagine what happens next.

It got to the point that I threatened to stop taking them. TEN MINUTES of a reading program... you'd have thought I was waterboarding them. They fought to be online: "I needs to check muh grade" (Newsflash: you're failing everything), "I needs to check muh emails" (WHY is everything plural??), "Dis one right heah don' be werkin'" (if I had a nickel for every misuse of the language that I heard in a day, Sallie Mae would have been paid off by week 2 of this job). The simple fact of the matter is, they don't care. They can't see past the immediate need/want. I don't think they can even tell the difference between needs and wants; everything is a NEED. They NEED to no be working. They NEED to talk obnoxiously during class. They NEED my foot up their ass...

So yesterday, the computer program wasn't working on all the computers. I gave them fair warning that we may not be going to the lab today. Today rolls around and surprise surprise, no one was paying attention to me when I made the announcement, so it was a venerable mutiny when I said we may stay in the classroom and read. One girl in particular, we'll call her Monica, took special exception to this:

"Giiiiiirrl (yes, she calls me 'girl'), you need to no be changin' stuff up in heah. Dis ain't yo class to me changin stuff in. We be goin' to the lab ebery (yes, ebery) day, and if they computers not be workin' , you need to be fixin' it and not punishin' us by makin' us stay in the classroom and be readin' when we supposedto be in the lab. I ain't readin'. This is bogus. YOU bogus."

Oh, how this made me feel all warm and squishy inside. The ironic thing is, this is the same girl who, not two weeks ago, told me that I needed to "be the teacher and not be the sub anymore".

What was my response, you may ask? Well, I had one of those seconds where a shit-ton of thoughts come running at you at once. Is she going to hit me? Could I take her? Aim for the thumbs... If I stand here and argue, she's just going to get louder. She may storm out. Would that be such a bad thing? No, but she can't be in the hallways while other people are in the classroom. I knew I should have given them all detentions on the first day to establish my alpha role...

I decided to take the ath of least resistance and ignored the hell out of her. She went on her little tirade and I told the rest of the class to open their books and we started reading. And guess what? Monica volunteered to read first. And she was SILENT the rest of the class period, and once we were in the computer lab, EVERYONE did what they were supposed to.


I don't understand this mindset. They're obviously not good readers, or else they wouldn't be in this class. But the theme for the majority of my students, even the ones outside of these two classes, is "what the fuck ever, dude". Forget consequences of their actions; these kids don't even stop to consider their actions. They have no idea when they're being disrespectful, or disruptive, or mean, and they really don't give a shit. They don't care if it's towards me or another classmate. As long as their immediate NEED is satiated then what the fuck ever, dude.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I'm currently sitting in a confined space in which the heat is blasting and a student reeks of hot socks rolled in ass. There are five more minutes until the bell rings and I'm not sure I'm not going to asphyxiate before then...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Let's see if we can beat 150...

Thus hubby's been collecting rejection letters. He, too, is an out of work teacher, but of the art professor variety. He's slowly being turned away from every position he applied for. And since his retail job evaporated about a year ago due to the corporate headquarters being run by highly trained monkeys (who closes a store that's making a profit?!?), the future looks drab. Not bleak; I'm forcing optimism here. But only because I'm not sure it could get much worse.

Oh, how about the $100K+ in student loan debt?

Like I said, I'm trying to be optimistic. But after a while, it's hard. Really hard. When today's letter came I immediately grabbed the closest bottle of booze at hand (green apple vodka, in case you were wondering). I'm currently staying awake long enough to go to bed sober. And this was seven hours ago. We've already been without health insurance for almost a year; I seem to live in perpetual fear that one (or both, god forbid) will get into an accident (because other people are morons) and need medical attention. And it's not even a horrific accident that can set us back... one false move while chopping tomatoes and we're in the poorhouse. I mean, we're right on the cusp here. Outside of education loans, we really don't have a lot of debt and are able to squeak by by keeping our champagne dreams well below our beer budget (hey, did you know Aldi's has beer now? We're living the dream, my friend). But when I say we're able to squeak by, I mean only JUST able to squeak by...

Our neighbor is a theater history professor. He's the perfect man for me to be living next too... he's funny, crude, loves my dogs, is GAY!!!, and loves theater. He came over last week for dinner with his partner (who is equally fantastic) and was regaling us with stories of how *his* professor in grad school received 150 rejection letters before he got his professorship. He saved them all.

I don't think I can do 150. But I have a feeling we're going to come close.

::drinks myself into oblivion::

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dear Mr. President,

What and when are you going to help the middle class struggling with student loans? I have, in the last year, managed to earn a whopping $10K in INTEREST on a $40K loan through Sallie Mae thanks to the 9.25% interest rate they're charging me. They want me to pay them $800+ dollars now and $400 a month for the rest of my life... which would be great, if I were employed. I'm an out of work teacher scraping by as a substitute, while my husband (who has an MFA) is doing temp work after almost a year of unemployment as well. And Sallie Mae is now telling me that it's MY FAULT that I can't afford to make my monthly payments! My sister, who is in a similar situation, gets over TWELVE CALLS A DAY looking for exorbitant payments after ridiculous fees are added on to her principal balance. And whatever interest we're accruing while we're unable to make these payments gets capitalized and ADDED TO THE PRINCIPAL BALANCE!

I don't want to *not* fulfill my financial obligations. It's bad enough that I have to swallow my pride every month to borrow money to pay my rent. But these companies are resorting to what amounts to usury, and they're not willing to work out an agreement. I actually had a Sallie Mae representative ask me what I can afford to pay a month, and when I told him I could MAYBE scrape together $150 a month, he told me that sending that little would essentially be a waste of my time since it wouldn't make a bit of difference on my account. And then he had the audacity to ask me how I was even going to be able to afford that if I can't make the $400 payment!

If billions can be given to struggling banks, what about those of us in everyday America who struggle just to keep from getting evicted? How can we be used and abused for profit? I went back to school to become a teacher so I could make a difference; however, if I default on this education loan because I can't find a full time position, I risk jeopardizing potential positions if the employer decides to do a credit check.

So I could bite the bullet, move back in with my parents (who are also unemployed), and send everything to Sallie Mae, or I can ignore the growing debt that this predatory company keeps shoving down my gullet and risk not getting the job I need SO I CAN PAY THEM BACK.

I'm screwed if I do, I'm screwed if I don't!!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The sub's sub.

It's currently 4:53 and I've been up for almost 2 hours with stabbing pain between my shoulders. I think it's gas. Whatever it is, since I can't sleep, or sit, or walk comfortably, I think I'm going to need a sub today. This sucks because 1. the students have just gotten comfortable enough with me to start misbehaving, and 2. if I'm not there, I don't get paid. Subs don't have sick days.

So I'm trying to decide if I can tough it out if I squirrel enough Tums away in my cheeks to last the day, or do I say "fuck it", call in, and try to get some sleep and hope that the students don't set the classroom on fire? Hrmmmmmmm.....

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I have doubled my caffeine intake since I started teaching. You'd think I'd be able to stay awake during class, or that the headaches would stop. I suppose the latter can be attributed to 25 students all hollering back and forth to each other across the classroom....

Monday, April 13, 2009


Today I learned how to say "bitch" in Russian.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I was led to believe there would be booze...

Yesterday I experienced my first faculty meeting. Contrary to popular belief, faculty meetings do not consist of teachers hanging out in the lounge, smoking, drinking, and making fun of students. I was so disappointed...

Instead, we head over to the local university for a discussion hosted by their writing department. This is, incidentally, the same university where I got *both* of my (non consecutive) undergrad degrees, so you can imagine my joy when I found out that they were going to hand out parking vouchers, because Parking Services has taken from me, over the course of 6 1/2 years, the equivalent of the GDP of Tuvalu. And I got free breakfast. I consider it reparations for two years of dorm food.

I was one of the first on the scene, and since I'm a long term sub, I really didn't HAVE to go in the first place, but since being a sub sucks, and I'd really like to have a big-girl job next year, I went in the hopes of shmoozing. Instead, the whole thing reminded me of high school, and it's as if I were the unpopular kid with B.O. It's pretty safe to say that not a single teacher spoke to me the whole time I was there, save my co-teacher, and I got there before he did. So I had 10 minutes of sitting alone trying not to look like a loser.

There are definite cliques: the young, attractive teachers all group together. Seasoned veterans all sit and talk about family or classes, and there are even a few wannabes that flit around and try to wedge themselves into one group or another. The hardest part about being an imposed observer of this whole thing is how desperately I want to be in one of those cliques, becuase it would mean I had a job and a classroom of my own. And the health insurance would be nice...

The topic of the day's meeting: research papers and research writing. What does the university expect incoming freshmen to have experienced once they get into college; in other words, what do we need to cover to prepare them for 100 level English and writing courses. Here's the probblem I have with this: I'd say that the majority of the students I have contact with on any given day can't even write a fucking sentence. Let's not even touch upon spelling, even with spell check. There is such a dosconnect between students' lives and school in this area; they see school as an inconvenience. Or a social gathering. They don't give a shit about writing, reading, or anything that comes in between them and their interactions (oh my god, WHY does every sixteen year old need a cell phone?!?!). The theories discussed in the meeting were noble, but also idealistic. By the time the students get to us, they have completely given up because the system has already failed them.

Here's the problem that I have now... I'm a damn sub. And I'm in a co-taught classroom for most of the day, so I basically function as a support for the other teacher in the room since I've had no previous input as to what is being taught. I spend my days following lesson plans that have been implemented by other people. So how do I make these kids care? Bottom line is, I have to get them to get this work done. How much room do I have to rock the boat? I find it hard to be spending this time talking about preparing students for college when the vast majority aren't ready for high school. Where is the joint meeting of high school and grade school teachers to discuss what they need to know to be prepared for high school, so that by the time I see them, I can get them ready for college?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I am the Anti-Christ, apparently.

The assignment: Thesis essay on To Kill A Mockingbird. Choose one of five given themes and write a minimum of four paragraphs explaining your theme. Examples should relate back to thesis.

Oh boy.

Nothing kills the classics like having to read 50 poorly written essays butchering great literary works. I wish I could say there were some saving graces in this bunch; sadly, this batch would have poor Harper Lee turning in her grave (if she were dead).

One in particular stood out among the group:

First, he gets his rough draft back and sees the score is a zero. It’s not like I just GIVE grades, you have to earn them. And to earn a zero, you have to fail pretty magnificently. I was completely justified (for example, if you turn it in printed in magenta, that’s a pretty good indication that you sat at a computer for two days fucking around with the settings and doing little else). He tried handing in a thesis paper..... without a thesis. This isn’t rocket science, but Jesus, give me some credit for intelligence. I KNOW what a piece of shit essay looks like, and PINK is one of the warning signs.

He fancies himself a writer, yet he probably had ONE grammatically correct sentence in the entire two paragraph (should have been five) paper. He referred to the "...heart stopping love tail" that is apparently the main storyline for To Kill A Mockingbird (Scout has a romance with Boo??? What edition was he reading and where can I get a copy?). Words were misspelled, commas were either missing or used gratuitously where one wasn’t needed, proper names either weren’t capitalized or were completely wrong, events were pulled out of NOWHERE, and the whole thing was fucking pink.

When he got it back, he was "devastated". He talked to everyone about it except me. I offered him help. Numerous times. He told me, "No. I don’t need your help. I know what you think I did wrong. Now it’s just a matter of pride." I actually started to feel bad, but I hoped that if his pride was damaged, he’d try harder next time....

I got the final copy, which was worse. He changed NOTHING. Oh, wait, it wasn’t pink. And when I asked him today if he was SURE he wanted that to be his final copy, that this was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime redo, he looked me square in the face and said "No." And when I told him that the final was actually WORSE than the rough draft, suddenly it was MY fault for not telling him what was wrong. To which I told him, "Produce the rough draft and tell me where I didn’t show you what was wrong." And thank god I have a co-teacher in that class who had my back the whole time... because the student simply walked away. The sad thing is that he’s already failing the class, and this will only make it worse. And he’s one of those kids who you can TELL is super smart, but lazy as fuck. It kills me.

Ah, teenagers. At least by having to play teacher all day I feel like a grownup again.