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Shifting Sands

Posts tagged humor

You know you work in a tough high school when you…

1. feel an overwhelming sense of pride when one of your students cares enough to cheat in an exam.

2. are not surprised to find an uprooted tree in your classroom when returning from lunch break.

3. once had a student suspended for plucking out his pubic hairs and flicking them at the girls during class.

4. have at various times confiscated items found in a student’s bag including a pet rat, 2 homing pigeons, a feral kitten, a snake and a bag of filled water balloons.

5. receive an email from a Deputy saying, “If you see Mr. Bloggs on the school grounds today do not approach him. Call me. He may be armed.”

6. set the absolute final, no more extensions! due date for any assignment by saying, “I am doing your reports Tuesday morning. Give it to me before then.”

7. cannot leave white chalk in the classroom because students will steal it to write, “F**k you” and “I am a c**t on the back of each other’s school shirts.

8. regularly receive letters, cards and emails from well behaved students begging you not to quit like their last 14 English teachers.

9. bring soap to class so you can send male students to the bathroom to wash penis drawings from their arms. (my husband wonders why they didn’t draw breasts instead)

10. spend the entire week before Parent Night inspecting files, folders, textbooks, blackboards, display boards and student jerseys for aforementioned penis drawings.

11. are an expert at dealing with belly button and nose piercing emergencies.

12. can’t allow students toilet breaks during class time. The toilets are locked because one of your students keeps setting fire to the toilet paper.

13. regularly send certain students to deliver a sealed letter to the Principal that says, “Please give Bradley (many Bradley’s are naughty) an errand to do and do not, under any circumstances, send him back to my classroom. Thank you.”

14. accept that climbing in and out through the window is a perfectly acceptable way for students to enter and leave the classroom, even when the classroom is on the second floor.

15. form close friendships with fellow survivors (former students, their parents and colleagues).

16. are not alarmed to pass a classroom at lunchtime and see students have made a huge pyramid from their desks and are perched on top of it, watching a video of the Muppet Show.

17. consider not informing certain students (and swearing the others to secrecy) when changes are made to the classroom roster.

18. are delighted when particular students become chronic truants. You are even more delighted when their parents avoid enquiries about the whereabouts of their child through phone calls, letters and the truant officer.

19. understand exactly what a parent means when they say they are, “all parented out” in regards to their offspring because you are “all teachered out.”

20. receive a prestigious teaching award and the first student to send a card congratulating you will be the worst student you ever taught (he actually turned out okay).

I am sure my friends and regular readers would be shocked to hear my lovely husband, Jeff, thinks I am not an entirely honest person. This belief arises from an incident that occurred in the first year or so of our relationship. Jeff had to travel frequently for his work and I would drive him to the airport in his Saab sedan and pick him up. One day we set out somewhere and the Saab started making a strange knocking sound, as cars of a certain age tend to do. The conversation went something like this:

“I should get that noise seen to,” said Jeff

“Has it always made that noise?” I asked.

“Yes. Why?”

“Because I was going to say if you asked me that I had never heard the car making a funny noise before- so you wouldn’t blame me for breaking your car.”

“You would lie to me?” asked Jeff incredulously.

“Of course.”

“You’d lie?”

“Mum said we could lie to protect someone’s feelings- so by lying I save you the feeling of being mad at me for breaking your car.”

“You’d LIE?”

He didn’t seem grateful at all.

My personal history is littered with numerous examples of my consideration for the feelings of others, particularly my teachers. Sometimes, I was just being a mean little kid.

As in this first example:

1. When she was 5 and I was 7, I told my youngest sister she was adopted.

My middle sister (MS) should take some of the credit for this as well. In fact, it was probably her idea. My youngest sister was different to us because she was blonde, slim and green eyed whereas we were brunette, compact and brown eyed. We had her believing she was adopted for ages, although I’m not sure she knew what it meant. We made her do stuff for us because she was like Cinderella. Which, I suppose, made us the ugly sisters. The fun ended one day when she asked our Mum, “Am I dedopted?” (sic) I don’t remember if we got in trouble or not. Probably.

2. When I was 11, I invented 50 literary quotes, books and authors

My last year of primary school was a nightmare. My mother and stepfather sent us to a private Catholic school and our teacher was a maniac. She gave us an exercise book of 50 pages and told us that when we were reading novels and we came to a splendid piece of writing, we had to copy it into the exercise book. We were expected to fill the book. I was a keen reader but the chances of interrupting my reading to laboriously copy out long pieces of prose was zero. Therefore, on the Sunday before the project was due, I made up 50 literary quotes worthy of Dickens with fictitious book titles and authors to match. My teacher was deeply impressed with the quality of my examples and I got an excellent grade.

 3. When I was 12, I invented a parish

In my first year of high school we had to do an assignment on My Parish for Religious EducationThis was a bit of a challenge because we didn’t go to church. Going to church and getting myself a parish for the purposes of the assignment would have meant getting up early and riding my bike to the Catholic church a few streets away for a few weeks. That wasn’t going to happen. So I invented a Parish, complete with a floor plan and sketch of the church. It was a wonderful parish. I got a reasonable mark for it and MS handed it in at her school when she had to do the same assignment the following year.

If everyone showed the same consideration for the feelings of others the world would be a much happier place, that’s all I’m saying.

Photograph by Jeff Corey

Photograph by Jeff Corey

 If you’re a novice teacher ASSUME NOTHING about the students’ prior knowledge. They aren’t completely empty vessels but it would be easier if they were, because a scrap of knowledge is a terrifying thing.

I learned this lesson with a group of 15 year olds during a geography class. It was a hot day, early in the semester and I hadn’t been teaching them long. We were studying a unit on climate types and I gave them a climate graph activity with questions to complete. Everything was going well until it was time to mark the worksheet and discuss the answers. The climate type shown on the graph was in the northern hemisphere whereas we were in Australia, the southern hemisphere. I didn’t anticipate any problems with using a climate graph from the northern half of the planet. I was wrong.

The students answered questions that relied on a literal interpretation of the graph well. They identified the coldest, hottest, wettest and driest months from the information on the line and bar graphs. Eventually we came to the interpretive questions – when are the spring, summer, autumn and winter months? Most of the students chose December, January and February as summer months and June, July and August as winter months, which would be correct for Australia. I breezily explained these answers were incorrect as the climate type depicted was in the northern hemisphere. Naively I assumed this settled the matter.

I was mistaken. My explanation was greeted with a sea of blank faces.

“You’re wrong Miss,” pronounced Johnny, “It’s always summer in December.”

“It is here in Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere, but not in the Northern Hemisphere,” I responded. “This is a climate graph of New York, in North America. It’s summer in July in New York.”

“And it’s always winter in July,” chimed in Doug, ignoring my explanation. By now I was beginning to feel a twinge of despair. The few students who had answered the question correctly were giving me some serious side eye.

I grabbed the world globe from my desk and improvised a sun with a confiscated water balloon. “When we have Christmas here in December, it’s hot because the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun. When people in the northern hemisphere have Christmas in December, it’s cold and snowing because the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun. We did all this last week”, I persisted. My efforts were met with more blank stares, a few wrinkled foreheads and derisive snorts from the “tough” kids on the back row.

“Santa! Sleighs! Jingle bells! Dashing through the snow! Bing Crosby! White Christmas! Snowmen! eggnog!” I yelled.

Not a even a flicker of comprehension, yet when we covered the material about seasons in class previously, they all coloured in their earth-sun diagrams and seemed to understand the concepts.

Suddenly, the fog on Johnny’s face cleared. “I know why you’re confused Miss,” he announced.

“Do you? Oh please! Enlighten me!” I sarcased (this is a word I invented- it means, to reply back sarcastically when exasperated).

“Miss Valentine” he explained with elaborate patience. “Just because it’s December over here, doesn’t mean it’s December over there!”

“Yeah!” chorused the rest of the students relieved Johnny, at least, knew his stuff.

Apparently most of the class were under the impression that when it’s December in Australia, it’s actually June in the United States.

I wasn’t looking forward to teaching time zones.

Scan

When I wore my new red, white and black striped pullover to school for my Year 3 photo, a boy in my class said, “You look like a dick-head.” I received the set of photographs a few weeks later during class and had to agree that perhaps he was right. Completely mortified, I hid the photographs in my schoolbag and wouldn’t let anyone see them. My mother wasn’t easily put off and I eventually handed them over. Of course, Mum thought I looked adorable and sent copies of the wretched thing to my grandparents in Queensland. It’s one of those copies I have now.

I had to admit Year 3 wasn’t going very well. My devotion to the sweets shop had resulted in an alarming weight gain and I was moved to the “dumb kids” Maths class, where I regularly made the teacher weep with frustration. The obvious answer to my rapidly developing self esteem issue would have been to cut down on the sweets and ride my bike more. I could also stop reading books under my desk in Maths and start paying attention in class. Well, that wasn’t going to happen! At the age of 7, I knew myself enough to realise it would take more than one bad school photo and academic demotion before I’d change my ways.

 If I was going to grow up to be dick-head looking and stupid, I needed to come up with a plan. After giving the matter some thought, I decided I’d become a nun. Of course I knew I couldn’t sign on or whatever you had to do for at least a decade but it was definitely an option.

I didn’t know any nuns and had no idea what religious orders actually do in the world. The tiny bit I did know- that nuns didn’t get married and lived in a nice convent, seemed to fit my needs. Being thin and attractive enough to find a husband would no longer be an issue. Nuns get married to Christ – he apparently had no choice in the matter. Becoming a nun also meant that, in the absence of a husband, I wouldn’t have to be clever enough to get a decent job and support myself.  Living in the convent meant no rent or mortgage, no utilities bills and all my clothing would be provided. As far as plans went, this was foolproof.

My sisters and I were interested in God because we were told in Sunday School that if you wanted something you could pray to God and he might give it to you, if you were good. Our concept of God was slightly confused with Santa Clause. We prayed for God to bring us a kitten (granted), puppy (granted), Barbie townhouse (granted), skateboards (granted) and a flying fox for our backyard (declined). It seemed to us the odds of getting stuff out of God were reasonably good, so we  became believers. I spent the next year collecting religious pictures, cards, candles, rosary beads and statuettes in preparation for my life of piety.

The plan was progressing well (I was still eating sweets and hadn’t learned my tables) until one rainy afternoon the usual Elvis movie was replaced with The Nun’s Story, a 1959 movie staring Audrey Hepburn as Sister Luke. Suddenly being a nun didn’t seem such a great life plan. For a start, Sister Luke has to study and pass exams. Then she is sent to work in a mental hospital where she is nearly killed by one of the patients.Finally she ends up in the Congo and nearly dies of tuberculosis. While in the Congo she is spiritually tortured by her attraction to the surgeon, Dr. Fortunati, played by Peter Finch. When she reluctantly returns to Belgium, her father is killed by the Nazis and she is forced into moral compromises to survive the Nazi occupation. Eventually she leaves the order. The final shot is of her leaving the convent and walking down the empty Belgium street, carrying nothing but the tiny suitcase she arrived with some years before.

I was throughly shocked. This film was nothing like the religious life I envisioned, which mainly involved me drifting poetically around the convent sucking on sweets, looking holy and doing stuff-all.

Realising a nun’s life wasn’t the cake walk I imagined didn’t prompt me to change my lazy habits. During the next few years I  searched for a Plan B – a road to career and personal success involving as little effort  as possible. I never found it!

Would you share your most embarrassing school photograph with the world?

My life changed forever the year I turned 14. The change was seemingly permanent and caused a lifetime of frustration and expense that could have been avoided if action had been taken earlier. Thirty years earlier.

In July 1982, my mother drove me to her hairdresser and I had my long hair cut short. The die was cast and life was forever altered.

For most of my childhood I had waist length hair, as did my two sisters. It was poker straight, reddish brown and shiny. I was an awkward, dumpy kid but my long “swingy hair” (as my mother called it) was probably my only claim to beauty, besides freakishly long eyelashes. In fact, at our Grade 7 camp at the Lazy Crab Resort, I was involved in a brawl with some girls from a different school who thought I was getting too much attention from the boys at a social dance. My fabulous hair, glamourously blow dried by our teacher, was blamed.

The rot set in when I started high school at Santa Maria’s Ladies College. We had to wear our hair completely scragged off our faces and tied back. This was a terrible look for me with my chipmunk cheeks and rapidly developing acne. In primary school I could wear an Alice band or tie my long fringe back in a style called a “carousel” (probably not the official name!) with the rest of my hair flowing free. It was a softer look and I could still “hide” behind my curtain of hair.

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Caramel highlights and a fringed bob

 We were not allowed to wear makeup at Santa but some girls obviously did. They got away with it because they wore makeup on the Year 8 Orientation Day so the Sisters of Mercy believed they actually did have peachy complexions, jet black eyelashes and cheekbones. I regretted not sneaking into Mum’s bathroom and helping myself to her foundation, as I did most weekends before my stepfather took us to the roller disco, where boys invited you to skate around with them. I credited the liberal use of Estee Lauder natural beige to my social successes at the Roller dome.

Natural hair colour bob

Natural hair colour bob

After a few weeks of seeing my shiny, pimply, chipmunky face in the mirror every time I visited the school toilets/locker room, I decided to wear a bit of makeup as well. Of course, I didn’t get away with it. I had barely got off the bus before the Principal, Sister Sheila saw me and made me wash it off. Oh the injustice! I realised my error. I should never have let the  world see my natural face – a philosophy I have followed ever since.

Mum was sympathetic and suggested I get my hair cut shoulder length and permed. The perm was flattering, I was thrilled and got away with wearing my curly hair out for a few weeks until it grew too long and I was pinged by the school Hair Police (a Year 11 prefect). I was thrown into hair hell once again.

a red, layered variation on the theme..

a red, layered variation on the theme..

Mum’s hairdresser suggested I get the old perm cut out and my hair cut into a pixie cut with a side swept fringe. I agreed and admitted that having a fringe softened my features and more height on the crown drew attention away from my full cheeks and heavy jawline. What the hairdresser didn’t mention, however, was that fine, straight hair requires skilled cutting, hair drying and the liberal application of “product” to prevent it flopping and looking like a hairy swimming cap. If it’s cut too short, the scalp shows through. Basically, the only thing that holds a short haircut together for we fine haired folk is hot air, artfully blown in with a hairdryer and the liberal application of $50 hair products.

Lots of bobs- different colours!

The blonde bob- an expensive option!

So the next morning I stood naked and afraid in Mum’s bathroom, armed with her hair dryer and trying to shape my new haircut. This was to be my fate for the next 32 years. My hair as an adult has been a variation of the bob (of various colours and lengths, with or without a fringe) and short cuts. Because my hair is so fine, it doesn’t dry straight. It sticks out in bizarre angles. I was completely dependent on a hairdryer and styling products to make it behave.

My hair in 2012, lots of product and blow drying!

My hair in 2012, lots of product and blow drying!

When we moved to Nigeria a few years ago, I had extremely short hair. I realised it would be difficult to find a hairdresser in Lagos who would be able to cut it properly so I let it grow, with a few trims in London, Munich and Seattle. For the first time in over 30 years my hair is long enough to be tied back. What a relief! I can get up in the mornings, brush it out and tie it back with a band or hair clip. It is also easy to blow dry as the hair just hangs straight and I don’t have a fringe.

It sounds silly but the simple act of growing my hair longer has made life a lot easier. When we went on safari recently I was able to tie my hair back and forget about it.

On safari with my hair tied back!

On safari with my hair tied back!

The time and effort I put into my small ration of hair is pathetically slack compared to the thousands of Naira and hours of time Nigerian ladies devote to their coiffure. My housemaid, Angie, turned up yesterday with an elaborately coiled weave that completely transformed her from a shy wallflower to city sophisticate. She glowed with happiness and seemed taller than her 3 feet 11 inches.

My hair is finally long enough to be tied back!

My hair is finally long enough to be tied back!

  Gabriel Ba, the author of Day-tripper, described the importance of womanly tresses when he observed,  She was the most beautiful creature on Earth- her hair said so in that language only hair can speak.

What hairstyle do you find yourself returning to over the years?

A Australian Green Tree Frog

A  Green Tree Frog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago I had an email from my sister in Australia. It appears my lovely little niece, who is 3 next March, had been at the doctors because she put a bead up her nose. I reminded my sister that I too had once had a penchant for putting objects up my nose at around the same age, although my preference was for crayons. It’s obviously in the genes, I assured her.

My mother and the doctor gave me a stern talk about the dangers of putting things up my nose, even though I was quite young to be reasoned with. We lived in Fiji at the time and one aspect of life on the island was the huge number of dead frogs on the roads- casualties of the increasing number of cars and trucks in Suva. I was fascinated by tree frogs and would often sneak out of bed at night so I could watch them climb around the trees outside. I found the number of dead frogs we passed every day quite distressing.

My mother decided to use this as a teaching moment and explained in quite dramatic terms that if I continued to put crayons up my nose, I would end up like the froggies on the road. Dead! Gone! Finished! Forever! I don’t remember this but I can readily imagine the impression it must have made on my toddler brain.

A few days later Mum, my younger sister and I were walking down the road outside our house. Tina (my niece’s mother) was only a baby but I was in the habit of happily chatting away to her as she surveyed the scene from her stroller.

After staring thoughtfully at the hundreds of squashed- and most certainly dead – frogs on the road I whispered confidentially to my sister, “Tina, did you know that froggies put crayons up their noses?”