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written Wednesday, 12/27/2006
Good ol’ fashioned foolishness
Workplace jokes and pranks provided some of my favorite memories from my nine-year career at Lockheed Martin. Sometimes when I’m questioning whether teaching is the right new career for me, people ask whether I miss engineering. For the most part I don’t. However, I do miss some of the lighthearted foolishness that used to help make the days go by more quickly.
Well, the past week spawned a whirlwind of goofiness and creative mischief that resulted in some of the most enjoyable highlights of my professional career. What a way to finish off the 2006 work year!
Setting the stage for the shenanigans was a “feast” that English teacher Mr. Depp had organized several weeks ago with the juniors in his classes. The lavish meal featured formal dress, live music, demonstrations by professional chefs, and dishes provided by the students themselves. Unfortunately Mr. Depp forgot to alert his colleagues that this event would take place during Friday afternoon classes until two days prior. I was slightly annoyed by the need to make alternate plans for a quiz I had planned to give that day. Mr. Depp apologized profusely to his colleagues, and I harbored no harsh feelings against him.
Nonetheless, I made a few tongue-in-cheek remarks in my classes about the short notice, pretending to be bitter about the inconvenience. Furthermore, about a week later a couple students in two of my classes arrived late on the day of a quiz. I allowed them both to stay after the dismissal bell, and wrote them tardy passes to their next class. It just turns out that both have Mr. Depp’s class in the period after mine, and he apparently made some facetious comments about me keeping his students late.
At some point I started drawing comically hostile cartoons on the chalkboard, perpetuating a notion that I was feuding with Mr. Depp. The fictional tensions escalated, with Mr. Depp sending his students to my class to deliver threatening messages.
Students generally were enjoying the exchange, but some students clearly wondered whether there was some real underlying bad blood. Feeding on their uncertainties, Mr. Depp and I increased the rhetoric. One morning he suggested that we make a promotional boxing-style poster, and the next day we found ourselves secretly plotting a public “callout.”
Monday: Morning Confrontation
The plan kicked into motion Monday morning. At the high-school-wide morning conference that starts each school day, Mr. Depp announced that he had found a diary in the hallway. Students were shocked when he proceeded to open the notebook with cuddly kittens on the cover, preparing to share its contents. He proceeded to read passages about how nobody understands how sensitive I really am, and how I cry when students make fun of me for being covered in chalk at the end of the day (a legitimate problem indeed). Most students immediately realized the prank, while others who aren’t taught by either of us were confused. As soon as Mr. Depp finished reading, I sprung out of my seat with an appalled expression on my face. “Hey Depp!” I yelled across the room “Why don’t you teach a real man’s subject like math, huh? I ain’t afraid of you punk!” We both shouted and postured as colleagues restrained us and students roared with laughter. Per plan, the principal finally intervened and proclaimed that such altercations would not be tolerated at our school, and he would need to see Mr. Depp and myself in his office after the morning conference. Kids eventually went on to class to find the boxing-style posters displayed in both of our rooms, as well as the rooms of numerous other teachers.
The morning confrontation was the buzz of the school for the rest of the day.
As I was heading home that afternoon, Bonnie (my TGNO mentor and math department head) mentioned that I should check out some newly-posted signs on the 4th floor, where the English and Humanities teachers reside. On the doors at the hallway entrance were taped a weeeeeeak proclamation of that floor’s superiority (written by another English teacher). War had just been declared!
Tuesday: Hallway signs and Poem #1
Tuesday morning, I posted signs at the entrance of the third floor hallway, where the math and physics classes are held. The tone was clear: If there’s going to be a battle, let’s go ahead and fight dirty!
Quarter exams began on Tuesday. Typically I include some puzzles and a Shel Silverstein poem on the back of my tests, to keep early finishers amused. This time, I included my own poem “Humanities Classes: What a Cruel Tease” on the back of the exam in response to the Monday morning confrontation. The pseudonym Mista Whizz-ite had been affectionately given to me earlier in the year by one of my Algebra 2 students.
During the morning exams, Mr. Depp had one of his students “special deliver” a rebuttal poem back to me. I must admit, I enjoyed his “yellow beignet” simile. Given how coated with yellow chalk dust I am by the end of a typical day, the reference to the powdered-sugar-covered French pastry is quite clever. While my second period PreCalculus continued taking their exam, I immediately began working on my next rhyme.
The bulletin board in the third floor stairwell was becoming the staging ground for our attacks. The Civics teacher had added the following question to her exam:
She posted some of the responses on the bulletin board. Some of them seemed to unintentionally support the necessity of math and science, such as, “Try finding your way around the world without knowing where to go.” However, my favorite responses were, “Without knowing how to read there would be nothing to do in line at the grocery store,” and “…because nobody wants to grow up to be a math teacher!” (Touché).
Tuesday: Poem # 2 and “The Siege”
Tuesday afternoon, after exams had been held for the first and second period classes, students attended their third and fourth period classes for “study hall” sessions. No one felt like studying after four hours of testing, and I had just completed my second rhyme, “Going to Battle the Weakest of Foes.” I suggested to my class that we go on a field trip up to Mr. Depp’s room. To the delight of students from both classes, I challenged Depp to a rap battle, and a fierce clash was waged in enemy territory. One of my students captured video of my rap attack with his camera.
One of my brightest Algebra 2 students, Robert, is also in my after-school Photoshop class. Several weeks ago I briefly wrote about him admiringly. I mentioned that although his strengths and interests lie with the humanities, I was thankful for the work ethic Robert demonstrates in my class. Well, by Tuesday afternoon, Photoshopped images of me started appearing around the school. That backstabbing dog was using the skills I taught him against me!
In fact, Robert and two other lackeys from the Journalism Club rushed to the defense of Mr. Depp, who sponsors the club. The editor of the school newspaper (one of my PreCalculus students) initially proclaimed neutrality, but stayed after school to post a flyer around the school spoofing the shininess of my super-awesome bald head.
In a funny twist, the physics teacher and I managed to find five grammar and spelling errors in the satirical article.
Not being too mature to battle kids half my age, I searched the collection of photos I had taken in the early days of my Photoshop class for ammunition. I also benefited from a student working on my behalf as a double agent. This student is also in the Journalism club, and helped me gather inside information and more photos of the other English minions.
Wednesday: “The Hottest (what?!) ”
Illustrated flyers of the two Mista Whizz-ite poems were now posted throughout the school, along with propaganda from the enemy forces. Following the exams in the morning, my Algebra 1A class convinced me to rap both of my rhymes in class. One girl was so impressed with my mad skillz, that she attempted to write on the chalkboard “Mr. White is the hottest rapper.” I wouldn’t have objected, but by her own admission, she is not a very good speller. Upon noticing that she had left out a critical “p” in “rapper,” I frantically implored her to fix the error before anyone strolling the hallways got a chance to view the erroneously scandalous proclamation.
Friday: Final punchesWednesday afternoon, I wrote my third poem, “For an English Teacher, Your Rhymes Sure are Wack.” I decided to hold off posting it until Friday. My traitorous student Robert had been snapping numerous photos of me earlier in the week, and I knew he had a project in the works. I figured both sides would launch their final attacks on the last school day of 2006.
In addition to posting my final rhyme, I shot back at that dirty dog Robert with a Photoshop punch of my own. By the end of the day, Mr. Depp also posted his second rhyme, with an accompanying Photoshop image by Robert. I’ll give them their due: Depp has some clever lines, and Robert impressed me with how quickly he’s developed his photo editing skills. However, I’ll leave it up to the spectators and all those involved to decide which side came out on top of the great Math vs. English War of 2006.
Final (?) Comments
What a whirlwind week it’s been! A little gag evolved into a thoroughly entertaining war of high school subjects. Numerous other teachers became embroiled in the battles. The students absolutely loved the humorous conflict (and none more than the Journalism kids). While I was initially a bit concerned that such a diversion could be considered too distracting for an exam week, I think it was exactly what this school needed. Any time we can get students arguing vehemently in defense of an academic subject, whether it be math or English, some measure of success has been achieved. I only wish I could get my students this engaged in my everyday lessons.
My favorite irony is that some of the English side’s strongest attacks came from Robert, who relied on the technology of Photoshop. Meanwhile, who was killin’ with the linguistic kung fu chops? Mista Whizz-ite, representin’ the mathsiiiiiiiiiide!